dimanche 20 décembre 2009

The dust of snow

I was already awake before the alarm went off and outside there was still the coldness of the night. I made myself some tea and tried to eat something but my mind was busy with the anticipation of the long journey ahead of me and I felt unable to concentrate. Holidays have always seemed more exciting when you begin so early in the silence of those twilight hours. As I pulled my case through the deserted streets, I looked around one last time at the familiar places which I would not see again this year. Above, there were still some stars twinkling brightly and the thinnest sliver of the moon. On the train, other passengers snuggled up in their coats and sweaters and slept or flicked through newspapers. My eyes tried to become adjusted to the pitch black landscapes whizzing by outside and I wrote letters to friends. Little by little as day began to break, the countryside around became white and I was mesmerised by the tiny flakes falling constantly from the sky which became thicker the further South we went. It was a route I've travelled many times and which I've talked about before; I saw the places between Jena and Nuremburg thick with snow, including the graveyard I always looked out for and imagined how magical it would be to explore the silence of the deep, dark woods or go sledge-riding.

The flight from Munich to Birmingham was one of the loveliest I've ever been on. When we took off, there was a stunning patchwork of white fields beneath us and above the clouds, it felt so good to see the sun again and catch its dying rays in an unending sunset with green, orange and purple stripes on the distant horizon.

And then there were the days London. That first day spent wandering through the parks where big grey squirrels chased each other around the flower beds and later in the British Museum where I thought of Rose's beautiful story which made me want to rediscover Greek culture and the ruins of their lost civilisation.

Blossom in December

When night fell, the windows of the beautiful eighteenth century Georgian houses glowed with light and their Christmas trees decorated with red and gold.

Lemon cheesecake in its "jewel box."

Christmas decorations on the South Bank.

A visit to the National Gallery shop after looking at the paintings to find the most beautiful tree decorations.

Self-portrait on a bitterly cold winter's day.

The rest of my time was mostly spent in museums, theatres, cafes, browsing endlessly in favourite bookshops and of course, eating! . There was the cheesecake and coffee in Pret, the beetroot cake at the Royal Academy, the Japanese pastries with red azuki beans on Piccadilly, the visit to the foodhall of Fortnum and Mason but most of all, the macaroons fron Ladurée which I've been badly missing since they left Galeries Lafeyette in Berlin. Entering the shop with its golden walls and pyramids of macaroons, you know something amazing is waiting for you. Every one is a miniature masterpiece and the way they melt in your mouth makes you feel you've gone to heaven.

The days were cold and clear but with enough sunshine to warm your face. Heavy snow was forecast for Thursday so I spent most of the evning in our chilly hotel looking out of the window hopefully, drinking tea and reading I Capture the Castle, a book I've fallen totally in love with. Sadly only the tiniest amount fell and the streets were their usual grey when I awoke the next day

The statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds with the Anish Kapoor exhibit in the courtyard of the Royal Academy.

The unusual, and tasty beetroot cake

A perfect raspberry macaroon (my fingers were suffering a bit with the cold here).

My selection from Ladurée

Fortnum and Mason

Oranges studded with cloves and some baguettes in Fortnum and Mason.

The last morning, we decided to skip breakfast at the hotel and go for brunch at Carluccio's, an amazing Italian cafe close to Russell Square. Just outside were many stalls selling food from all over the world; Mont d'Or cheeses and bread from France, baklavas, Portuguese pastries and custards, jewelled cupcakes, Korean dumplings; everything looked absolutely delicious in the glimmer of the morning sun. It was then that I regretted not being able to eat everything.

When you come in to Carluccio's, the first thing you see is the most exquisite and tempting range of cakes which makes it difficult to think of anything else. I somehow managed to find enough self-control to first order a coffee and eggs Florentine with toast, hollandaise sauce and spinach before choosing the Italian lemon tart which had caught my eye the second I saw it. The pastry was perfectly crisp but crumbly and the filling was thick and not too sweet. In the windows, large pyramids of chocolate pannetones stood like beacons drawing passers-by in and at other tables, people chatted over steaming cups of hot chocolate, savouring this special moments of gourmandise.

Arriving back in Derbyshire last night, I found the snow waiting for me when I was least expecting it, transforming the landscapes of my childhood just as it had done so many years before. As I write to you now in my icy room with its high ceiling, fingers frozen, big thick snowflakes are falling, old Christmas music can be heard from the kitchen and there is the delicious smell of apples and cinnamon. Everything around seems so silent and dark as the ground begins to freeze. I hope there will be many more days like this to come and I promise you some recipes soon. Happy holidays!

22 commentaires:

  1. Have a great time in derbyshire! It must so beautiful there with snow...

    Thanks for the beautiful post and awesome pictures!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!



  2. Every city has its charms! And you are finding London's best and enjoying every minute of it! The food looks divine!
    I can't wait to hear more.....

  3. It's funny seeing those oranges with cloves... I remember trying to make some of those when I was a kid but I could never get them to dry nicely. They always ended up rotten and I felt desperate when I had to throw them away.

  4. Chez nous aussi, il neige ! C'est beau mais, maladroite comme je suis, je passe mon temps à me casser la figure ! Je ne suis jamais allée au British Museum et tes photos (si gracieuses, on dirait que les déesses surgissent vivantes - mais sans tête, ce qui est une idée - des frises et des frontons), tes photos, donc, donnent terriblement envie d'y faire un tour. A moi, London !

  5. Oh, you made me wanna go to London again! I haven't been there in years, although I have some English relatives in London and around.

    I remember going to the British Museum at 13 years old and writing something about the Elgin Marbles - I had fallen in love with them. That was then that my English teacher told me that I should consider becoming a writer. I would love to meet her again and tell her I actually did!

    I find the first picture absolutely marvelous. It is magic. And your self-portrait is great, you lovely face! The mirror photo always reminds me of Nan Goldin's style!

    I am a huge Ladurée-fan as well, but I haven't eaten one macaroon since I'm in Paris. Shame on me!

    Have a nice time in England, enjoy your Christmas parties and I'm looking forward to the next post!

  6. oh que tes photos nous donnes envie de quitter un peu la routine pour un peu de fantaisie !!!!

    bons préparatifs de noel à toi


  7. @Rosa - Yes, Derbyshire looks truly stunning. It's nice as well to have a garden so you can go outside and see all the berries and trees buried in snow and when the sun shine, everything sparkles. I just hope it lasts for Christmas. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year too!
    @Barbara - Funnily, in the past London sometimes annoyed me and it can be stressful but I so enjoyed my time there, exploring new things and of course, the fabulous food. It's the first time too that I'd taken so many photos there and it helped me to see different sides of familiar places.
    @Julie - That's an interesting story. I'd actually never seen any like that before and thought how amazing they looked but I can imagine how tricky they are to decorate.
    @Rose - Je crois que c'est un endroit qui te plairait et comme c'est gratuit, on peut y retourner plusieurs fois, sans jamais s'en lasser. J'ai quand meme une preference pour les sculptures grecques et j'ai tres envie de relire les contes des dieux ou Homere pour me replonger dans ce monde si merveilleux.
    @Magda - The Elgin marbles are some of my favourite pieces there and they are so remarkable. I could easily lose myself for hours in the British museum and can understand why they fascinated you. Thanks so much for the comments about the photos; I hadn't thought of Nan Goldin but now you mentioned it...
    There's no shame in not having visited Laduree yet because Paris offers so much and you're really spoilt for choice foodwise. I'm sure you've had other delicious things. Have a lovely Christmas and New Year and a great trip to Poland; I can't wait to hear more about everything, especially your tough decision.
    @Virginie - Ca fait du bien de faire des choses differentes, surtout pendant cette periode parfois stressante quand on n'arrive pas a tout faire. Londres etait si beau et magique et j'ai envie d'y retourner bientot.

  8. Well dear, I had my answer from the stars! Now I'm waiting for the answer from the producer...

  9. what a lovely post, the photos are excellent, did you get to go to borough market? if you are still in england you may be experiencing a very very cold weather (snow everywhere) have a lovely time and merry xmas! cheers from london

  10. Happy holidays to you jeune fille. Enjoy your time in Derbyshire. Thanks for the lovely pictures of London at Chritmastime, i'd love to go back one of these days.
    Joyeuses fetes et a bientot.

  11. @Magda - Wow, it must be such an important decision! I can't wait to hear your news soon..
    @Pity in the kitchen - Thanks so much! Yes, I'm still in England and yes it's cold, cold, cold but luckily, I don't have to rely on the disastrous public transport. Sadly, I didn't make it to Borough market because every day was packed with a full programme but it's on my list for the future. Wishing you a lovely Christmas too, although I wish I could try your pudding.
    @Gracienne - Merci beaucoup. It's nice to have some quieter days at home and tomorrow there's all the mince pies to make but that's also one of my favourite jobs. London has become a special place to me and I seem to enjoy it more and more every time I'm there. Have a wonderful Christmas with your family and lots of good food.

  12. Such beautiful artistic photos! I'm in London for the holidays and your post really made me smile. Happy Holidays!

  13. These photographs are excellent, and I hope that you and your family have a happy holiday season.

  14. I enjoyed reading your post and the photos and felt like I was traveling with you; I love England and especially Derbyshire and all the little villages in the countryside, but I am not sure I would go there in winter!

  15. Your pictures are beautiful as always. You make me dream of spending Christmas in England again. Who knows... Joyeux Noël and looking forward to seeing you in Berlin next year!

  16. @Erica - Have a great time in London. I hope my photos could do it justice because it's such a special place.
    @Des - Thanks so much for stopping by and happy holidays to you too.
    @Taste of Beirut - Thanks so much! So you know Derbyshire? It's true that travaelling conditions aren't fantastic in winter and at the moment, I'm spending all my time at home with small outings to buy groceries. I'd love to go further out because the landscape looks so amazing with the snow.
    @Caroline - I really love spending Christmas in England and experiencing all the lovely traditions; there's a different feel to German ones, although one year I hope to celebrate it in Berlin. Have a great Christmas and New Year and see you in 2010!

  17. Encore de bien jolies photos :)
    Le gâteau à la betterave me tente beaucoup!
    Joyeuses fêtes à toi!

  18. Have a great time in Derbyshire (lucky you ;-p)! Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2010!



  19. Bonjour Vanessa,

    Je te souhaites de très Joyeuses Fêtes à toi et ta famille et une très belle année 2010.

    Au plaisir de se revoir.
    Josée xx

  20. Comme toujours, tes post sont un voyage bien agréable! Merci Vanessa et passe de bonnes fêtes. Bizz

  21. Beautiful pictures,love the festive food :D

  22. @Marion - Merci beaucoup! C'est un gateau tres originale mais bien delicieux et j'ai envie de le faire des mon retour pour prolonger des vacances. Bonnes fetes!
    @Rosa - Happy holidays! The snow here is melting but it was fun while it lasted and I'm thoroughly enjoying my time here.
    @Josee - Bonnes fetes a toi et a ta famille!
    @Sarah - Je suis tres touchee, merci! J'espere que tu as passe de belles journees de fetes. Grosses bises.
    @Yasmeen - Thanks for stopping by and I'm so glad you liked my photos. Happy holidays!