Clam Digging

A recent NYT article claimed that steamed clams and melted butter were “summertime perfection.” I have to agree. One of the highlights of our trip to Nova Scotia was an evening spent clam digging! Living in London we rarely get these kind of ‘ground-to-table’ experiences first hand and so it was extremely satisfying to dig the clams ourselves and then eat them. We went with a couple of friends and our local clam digger captain extraordinaire, who was a machine at digging (the rest of us were very slow in comparison!).

clam diggin

When it came to cooking the clams, we rinsed them a few times and then soaked them overnight in water. Most of the sand came out and I had very little grit in the end. Then I steamed them. With some butter (add garlic to make it extra tasty), some bread and/or a garden salad, this is a perfect simple and satisfying summer lunch.

clams

Reykjavik, Iceland

I know I’m publishing two travel posts almost back-to-back, but I am trying to keep some semblance of chronological order on the blog. After our week in Scotland with my family, H. and I spent three weeks back in London. I packed as much as I could in, work-wise, in those 3 weeks — submitted four chapters of my PhD to my second supervisor, and turned in the final copy of the syllabus for the course I am teaching this fall. Then it was time for our ‘real’ summer vacation, Nova Scotia. I say ‘real’ because I have taken/am taking the 2 weeks off completely from work, which I have not done for a very long time and which was desperately needed.

When we originally looked at flights, back in early spring, I figured it wasn’t going to happen this year: return trip prices via Air Canada were out-of-the-question high. However, on further digging we came across an option that we could afford: a three-legged trip, via Iceland on the way there, at half the price of the Air Canada option.

That’s how we ended up spending 30 hours in Reykjavik. Aside from some problems with public transportation, this city completely charmed us. We packed a lot in and managed to eat and drink local delicacies, do a walking tour, and even see the Gay Pride Parade. Reykjavik has a very laid-back, accessible, family feel to it. We loved it, and really want to return to Iceland one day to see it properly.

Delicious sweets at Sandholt
Delicious sweets at Sandholt
The aftermath
The aftermath
Harpa, Reykjavik's concert venue
Harpa, Reykjavik’s concert venue

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Yummy fish and chips @ Reykjavik Fish
Yummy fish and chips @ Reykjavik Fish
Delicious lobster soup
Delicious lobster soup
Gay Pride Parade
Gay Pride Parade

Cherry Clafoutis

This past year has been an annoying one for me, allergy-wise. I developed a severe allergy to some types of raw nuts and was told by the allergist that this would likely also extend to certain fruits and veg in the future. I now have to be very careful with raw fruit, particularly stone fruit. I tried peaches earlier in the summer and had a mild reaction, so unfortunately did not get to sample these cherries in all of their raw glory. However, cooked fruit is absolutely fine, and when I saw this recipe on David Lebovitz’s blog, I thought it looked like a good one to try.

I was sure I had made a clafoutis before, but can’t find a post about it on this blog nor remember exactly what type it was. The fact that we didn’t really like this dessert also confirmed it! There is not much to report on this one. Making it is extremely straightforward, other than the tedious cherry pitting, which I H. did by hand (thank you H.!). Ultimately, though, neither of us really liked the clafoutis, not because it didn’t taste good but because of the custard-y texture. Too eggy. Just not for us. Ah well.

I’m writing this from Nova Scotia where I have been for just over a week. I have about 10 posts sitting waiting to be written/finished/started — a big backlog. I am trying to work my way through them as the days go by here. I will catch up eventually… I hope still roughly in time with the seasons and timely posts, because before you know it fall will be upon us!

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UK Invasion ’15 (Family Trip)

It seems a long time ago now, but last month I spent an incredible 8 days in Scotland with 29 other members of my mum’s side of the family. We stayed in Dumfriesshire, just over the border close to Gretna Green, and enjoyed day trips to different parts of northern England and southern Scotland. Aside from a chapter deadline (me) and a bout of stomach flu (H.), it was another amazing family adventure. Scotland is a very special place to me: it’s the land of birth of my father, the place that connects both sides of my family, and it’s where I met H. (not to mention one of my BFFs!). :) It’s also one of my favourite places to go on holiday. Here are a few snaps.

Durham Cathedral & the River Wear
Durham Cathedral & the River Wear
Our home for 10 days
Our home for 10 days
Scottish mist
Scottish mist
Old Scotland meets new
Old Scotland meets new
Robert Burns' former house in Dumfries
Robert Burns’ former house in Dumfries

Zucchini Pasta Bake

One of my favourite pastas ever is this one (a Mimi Thorisson recipe). There is something about the combination of zucchini, cheese, and pasta that I really love. The zucchini somehow seems to keep it much lighter – perfect for summer.

So, as soon as I started seeing zucchini at the farmers market I knew I had to try this dish from Smitten Kitchen. I used a pasta bought from my recent trip to Italy called gnocchetti. Supermarkets there always seem to have much more interesting shapes (not to mention be more affordable — when I looked this type of pasta up at UK supermarkets, it was over £6 a kilo and I paid less than €2 for 500g). Gnocchetti comes from Sardinia and was historically made by pressing the dough on the bottom of a wicker basket. (As soon as H. laid eyes on the bag, he proclaimed that they looked like maggots!).

The dish involves a few different steps — preparing the zucchini, cooking the pasta, making the bechamel — but it comes together quickly, and it’s definitely worth it. Both H. and I thought it was the perfect summer dish — easy to make, not too heavy, and really tasty. The only thing that would make it better, for non-vegetarians of course, is adding bacon. ;)

Maggots?
Maggots?

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PS: for more zucchini recipes, see a roundup here.

Thai Roasted Chicken with Coconut Rice

Thomasina Miers has had a column in the Saturday Guardian magazine for quite a while now. She is the owner of the Wahaca restaurants, which are Mexican, but her columns have always been rather internationally focused, cuisine-wise. Until recently, I hadn’t tried any of her recipes (or at least can’t remember having done so), but this one caught my eye a couple of weeks ago. It had me at “Thai BBQ chicken.”

Ah, barbeques. This is the time of year that I really feel the absence of a back yard or a balcony. Majorly. If I had my way I would be cooking outside most nights, but since that isn’t an option when you live in a small flat in one of the world’s most expensive cities, I did it in the oven.

I followed the recipe fairly carefully (using thighs instead of a whole chicken), but omitted the coconut and raisins in the rice. I don’t like the texture of the former, and the latter is not meant to be eaten in any other form except on their own (no personal preferences here at all! Ha).

This is one of those weird dishes that is really more than the sum of its parts. On its own, each element isn’t anything to write home about — particularly the rice, which I found a bit stodgy and I’m still not sure about the roasted cashews which get a bit lost. But when it’s all mixed together in a mouthful (with the sauce, not pictured below), it’s delicious. It reminded me a bit of a new-ish restaurant in London, a Thai BBQ place called the Smoking Goat, which H. and I tried a couple of months back. Yes, char from a BBQ would have made it a lot better, but this version worked just fine for us. It’s definitely a marinade and sauce combination I would make again.

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Milano

Way back at the beginning of this month (which seems both a long time ago and a very short time ago), I spent four days in Milan at my fifth(!) and final conference of this academic year. I am now completely conferenced out. It was the busiest and most jam-packed conference I’ve been to yet, which unfortunately left very little time for sightseeing. Fortunately, I did manage to eat out a couple of times and tried a few local specialties, and saw a couple of main sites. Here are a couple of pics.

Duomo
Duomo
Such an amazing location for a conference
Such an amazing location for a conference
Not-on-the-menu ragu specialty
Not-on-the-menu ragu specialty
Oh that cheese
Oh that cheese
Rondanini Pietà, Michelangelo’s last sculpture
Rondanini Pietà, Michelangelo’s last sculpture

May/June 2015 Favourites: my 350th post!

It’s July! 2015 is half-over (good lord). Happy belated Canada day e ciao da Milano (more on that later). I missed May’s favourites in a flurry of conferencing and deadlines, but I am pleased to report that I’ve tried to make up for it with this list. :)

◌ Close-up shots of bees.

◌ The best book I read these past two months was The Shepherd’s Life.

◌ I have a weakness for chicken wings and these offerings from one of my favourite chefs make my mouth water (although I have not yet ventured to make them at home….I think they’re best saved for Wednesdays at the pub).

◌ The tree of language.

No-cook salads from Saveur.

◌ LOVE these green kitchens.

The cod’s comin’ back in Newfoundland, bye.

Sobering, horrifying.

◌ Sometimes I forget that I used to live in such an amazing, historical city (part 2).

Fried.guacamole.

Lolz.

◌ Gin cocktails are my favourite. Here are 12 of them!

◌ They’re starting… A Little Bird’s summer reading list.

◌ Really quite enjoyed this article on a Canadian knife handle designer.

Free full-length docs online.

◌ Joanna’s ‘most beautiful thing you’ve ever read’ picks. Some of them are jaw-dropping.

Liked this, an introvert’s heart :)

By Gemma Correll, found on a Cup of Jo
By Gemma Correll, found on a Cup of Jo

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Apricot Crumble Tart

Nigel Slater is one of my favourite British cooks. He just seems so calm and likable. I wouldn’t normally buy apricots, but Nigel convinced me with this recipe in last Sunday’s Observer. I’m very glad I made this tart, the first tart/crumble/dessert-type thing I’ve baked in months!

It’s sort of an odd one, as the title suggests, a mix between a crumble and a tart. The same mixture, which is what I would call a traditional crumble topping, is used for both the base and the top. For the base, it’s mixed together with a bit of water and pressed into the pan. I was a bit nervous, but it worked perfectly. I even completely forgot to add the pine nuts (oops), and it turned out wonderfully (although, not quite as crumbly as the photo in the link!).

This is a very forgiving dessert in that even if it doesn’t look pretty, unless you forgot to do something crucial, it’s likely going to taste pretty damn good. As Nigel says, you need a bit of cream or ice cream with it (we used a bit of double cream). Overall, it was a thumbs up from both of us (H. proclaimed it “amazing”). It kept overnight in the fridge but didn’t last long after that. :)

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Three (more) summer salads

I haven’t posted a proper ‘food’ post for a long time (the end of April, so almost 2 months). I think that’s a record in the 4+ year history of this blog. Yikes. I refuse to feel guilty about what’s supposed to be a simple fund side project, but I’m not happy with that. I got back from Canada on Sunday the 14th and a week ago today, Tuesday the 16th, finally made supper in my own kitchen for the first time in about a month. That felt strange but very, very good. I really want to get back to a normal posting schedule, but I know with a 6-day trip coming up next week and an 8-day trip following soon after, that’s going to be a bit challenging. So, I’ll do what I can when I can. :)

It might not be sky-high temperatures here in the UK, but it’s finally summer and at this time of year I crave really simple and lighter meals. Last year I did a summer salad post so I thought I’d keep to tradition and do another one this year.

Delia Smith’s Red Rice Salad (recipe)
I’ve written about red rice before (here and here). If you’ve had red rice, you know if you’re a red rice lover or not. I happen to be, and this salad is excellent. In my books, the chewier the rice, the better, and I love the texture of this stuff. Red rice tends to go really well with certain types of cheese and spring onions, both of which this salad features, along with rocket leaves and a simple dressing (I left the shallots out as I didn’t have any). This would be a great BBQ side or it perfectly fine on its own. No picture for this one, sorry — it got gobbled up too quickly!

Fried Chickpeas with Tamarind-Yogurt Sauce
The second is an incredibly easy dish that can be made in about 15 minutes; perfect for a quick supper or lunch. I got the idea from an old Bon Appetit magazine that my aunt had laying around. The idea is to drain a can of chickpeas, and then lightly fry them in oil for about 10-15 minutes, until slightly crispy. While that’s happening, wash and chop up some spring onions and fresh coriander. When the chickpeas are finished, drain them and mix with a couple of tablespoons of Greek yogurt and 1.5 tsp tamarind paste (**these measurements are approximate — adjust accordingly!). The sourness of the tamarind works perfectly with the other flavours. It would also be great with added veggies (cucumbers or red peppers come to mind).
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Thai Mango Salad
Normally the idea of fruit in salad puts me off completely, but I gave this a try recently (in Sandy Cove), and was pleasantly surprised. There are lots of versions of this out there (here is one similar to the one we made) and you can make it veggie or non-veggie with chicken or shrimp. I did the former. I couldn’t eat this every day, but found it to be a really refreshing salad that has the sweet, spicy, and salty trademarks of Thai food.

mango salad