mardi 28 septembre 2010

Catch joy as it flies

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Perhaps the strangest thing about me is that although I have spent the past 6 years living in two different countries, hearing languages that are not my own, I'm not much of a traveller. Years ago, a feeling of empathy came over me when reading Huysmann's A Rebours about the narrator is packed and ready to leave on a long journey, only to stop when he thinks of the inconvenience of getting to the station, how tired travelling will make him and that it would be far more enjoyable just to stay at home and travel in the mind. I wonder why I have that feeling.

Long school holidays were interminable for me, spending most of the days at friends' houses, inviting them over to mine or going away with my parents. My closest friend back then was probably C. who had incredibly long hair put back into a plait. She lived in a semi-detached house just down the road from the school with a pink bedroom and a garden at the front. There were mornings of watching TV programmes or walks into town to buy filled baguettes from a place called the Deli which has since closed down or occasionally fish and chips drowned in salt and malt vinegar from the Crest of the Wave which we would eat perched on top of a wall opposite some offices. Once one of the employees even asked us for a chip. I'm sure the quality of the food was awful but to us it seemed something special.

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There were also the trips away with my parents, often to France or Spain. We took the ferry because my mother doesn't like to fly and one of the nicest things was suddenly seeing the sea on the horizon, hearing the shrieks of the seagulls overhead and getting out of the car to breath the fresh, salty air. I loved watching all the people standing on the piers waving goodbye as we pulled away and later on walking up the cold metal stairs to the deck where it was always a struggle to open the door because of the strong wind. In the restaurants, fellow passengers munched on greasy hamburgers and it seemed exciting to wander round the gift shop which sold large bars of Toblerone or Milka chocolate, as well as teddy bears. The longer trips to Spain though made me seasick and I hated lying in the tiny cabin, desperate to arrive. Other passengers would tell me I looked like death because of my white face. To pass the time we went to the cinema which is strange with the movement of the waves as you look up at the screen. Admittedly, some of the films were not so bad; As good as it gets with Jack Nicholson and Spiderman but City of angels got on my nerves, even if there is a nice scene with pears, especially after watching the original Himmel über Berlin. All that was forgotten though the moment we pulled into the the harbour and were in the car, ready for those first moments on foreign soil. Yet as much as I loved the excitement of other countries, there was no feeling like coming home to my own bed. In a way, I guess that experience has stayed with me and I'm often reluctant to leave the comfort of my surroundings and disrupt the routine I need.

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For the past few weeks though, I've been journeying through Patagonia with Bruce Chatwin's book as well as reading an amazing biography of him by Nicholas Shakespeare, both of which have made me hungry for travel. I can't remember when or how I first heard of Chatwin, the goldon haired, blue eyed writer of books that tread the line between fact and fiction without fitting into any category. Today he's less read, suffering perhaps from a backlash that comes from being popular in his lifetime but people still tend to have strong opinions about him, either liking or loathing him. Even if his sentences are smooth and cold as glass, there's still something inside me that clicks with the spareness of his writing and wonderful stories, perhaps because I have a weakness for storytelling myself. For two weeks I dreamed of giant sloths, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's adventures, a Frenchman who crowned himself King of Patagonia, shipwrecks and Tierra del Fuego. Writing of Argentina:

It was lovely summery weather the week I was there. The Christmas decorations were in the shops. They had just opened the Peron Mausoleum at Olivos; Eva was in good shape after her tour of European bank-vaults. Some Catholics had said a Requiem Mass for the soul of Hitler and they were expecting a military coup.

By day the city quivered in a silvery film of pollution. In the evenings boys and girls walked beside the river. They were hard and sleek and empty-headed, and they walked arm in arm under the trees, laughing cold laughter, separated from the red river by a red granite balustrade."

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Last week was both the beginning and end of an Indian summer. Warm enough to go out without a jacket and sit outside in the evenings, you could forget the grey weeks full of rain that went before it. The light in September has a special quality now that the trees have begun to turn yellow in parts, as if someone had dabbed them with a paintbrush. It seemed cruel that all of that sunshine disappeared into relentless rain that fell all weekend. I awoke on Sunday to see small figures of children dressed in brightly coloured macs bending down to hunt for the fallen conkers from the chestnut trees down in the park below. Sunday was only good for thick, hot soups (see recipes below) and epic films for rainy afternoons on the comfort of your sofa. Patagonia is still on the wish list of destinations but there are a few days booked for Venice at the end of October where I hope to fall in love with the city as much as last year.

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Probably the last hot chocolate outside this year in the lovely café in the Bürgerpark

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Perfect autumn days

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The view since Saturday night.

Broccoli and feta soup from A Celebration of soup by Lindsey Bareham

The idea of cooking soup used to terrify me. All the ones I made were tasteless or slushy so I preferred to wait for a good restaurant for a bowlful. Then in the summer, my mother gave me a set of Penguin cookery books by people like Nigel Slater and Elizabeth David but also one called In Celebration of Soup by Lindsey Bareham. I have a miniscule collection of cookbooks but this is really one you want to have. It has every soup recipe you could ever need with all possible ingredients and only a minimum of equipment required. I've rarely felt so inspired in the kitchen! Everything I've tried has been wonderful and this is defintely my book for winter. Here are two recipes to get you through a rainy weekend:

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1 head of fresh broccoli
25g butter
1 medium onion
some fresh tarragon, chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
1.75 litres vegetable stock
200g feta cheese, crumbled (the original recipe calls for Cheddar which is also nice but I somehow prefer the flavour of Feta with broccoli)

1. Melt the butter and fry the onion in it until soft. Add the potoatoes, herbs and seasoning. Pour in enough stock to cover everything. Leave to simmer for around 10 minutes.
2. Cut the broccoli up into tiny florets and boil in the rest of the stock. Only cook the broccoli until no longer hard, you don't want it too soft.
3. Liquidise the broccoli and potato mixtures together with a hand held blender or in a food processor and return to a clean pan.
4. Add more seasoning if you like but remember that the feta is salty. Crumble in the cheese and some more harbs if you like. Heat the soup without boiling it and serve with crusty bread.

Pumpkin and ginger soup (adapted from the same book)

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1 small pumpkin or squash
1 small leek
1 medium onion, choppped
1 small piece of fresh ginger, with the outside removed and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1.5 litres vegetable stock
some butter for frying
150ml double cream
salt and pepper

1. Slice the pumpkin open and remove the seeds and pulp. Cut into small pieces and simmer in the vegetable stock until soft.
2. Cook the leek, cumin seeds, onion and ginger in the butter in a large saucepan until soft. Add to the pumpkin mixture and liquidise with a blender. Return to the heat, add some salt and pepper and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the double cream just before serving and allow to blend into the hot soup.

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What better way to finish off with Heidi's limoncello macaroons as dessert to make you think of sun drenched days in Italy?

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21 commentaires:

  1. A beautiful post with awesome pics! I am someone who likes routine, but I sure would love to se a few countries and why not live somewhere else (and have another routine)...

    Two gorgeous soups and lovely macarons (I made similar cookies the other day - great minds think alike)!



  2. I agree, this is a beautiful post. Those macaroons are very tempting. Great soups for October evenings. I love to travel, my preference is to stay in one place and explore it, rather than do 5 countries in 10 days.

  3. Que ces photos d'automne sont belles...

  4. I love the soup recipes and the maccarons. It is still very warm hear in Denver but we are craving soups! Thanks for the great pictures and sharing the recipes.

  5. You write beautifully, Vanessa. And put so many thoughts on paper that I understand. I am not a good traveler, but I love travel. Does that make sense? I dislike getting there, but love to be there. And I much prefer staying in one place, but so often that is not possible. I took my granddaughter to Europe last year and she only had 10 days. 2 in travel leaves us 8. What could I show her in 8 days? We did London, Paris and Venice. Not enough time in each and to top it all off, she became ill in Paris, which lasted 3 days....finally felt better our last day in Venice! She wrote some good English assignments out of that!

    Love the single oak leaf...yellow and already fallen. I do love fall. Wish we had more of it in Florida.

  6. You caught my attention with Huysmann... his books (even La Bas although it sends chills) are favorites of mine. I love the idea of travel but hate the details of planning. I traveled this summer with no plans and no reservations and it was liberating. I think my favorite travels are always in my head!

    How I love your pictures and musings. The tones in the photos make me feel the autumn air in them... lovely.

  7. Thanks to you all for the lovely comments!
    @Rosa - It's funny how we have the same thoughts and I'm looking forward to seeing your cookies.
    @P.K - I share the same preference for really getting into one place with a few days. Julian Green once said that you never get to know a city unless to waste time there.
    @Julia - Merci Julia! C'est un grand compliment car j'adore tes photos à toi. La lumière était si belle la semaine dernière qu'il fallait vraiment en profiter et sortir autant que possible.
    @Kirsten - I think there's something about autumn that makes us long for soups, regardless of the temperature. I'm glad to hear you still have warm weather. I'd never tried these kinds of macaroons before but they're so much easier than the French kind and I'm keen to make them again.
    @Barbara - You put your finger on it with the feeling of hating the journey butloving being in new places. I start to enjoy myself when I'm finally at there, although train journeys are somehow more relaxing. From the U.S, it's a long journey to Europe so I can't blame you for trying to see as much as possible. Sorry to hear your daughter was ill but I'm pleased you both enjoyed the trip. I'm feeling more adventurous and am hoping for trips to Trieste and Rome next year.
    @Deana - Oh, I really must read more Huysmanns since I only know A Rebours. I'm such a neurotic that the thought of travel with no plans terrifies me, although I admire people who can do that. Perhaps I should simply let myself go.

  8. You always seem to say how I feel! Though I've lived in 29 houses and moved countries something like 8 times, I am a bad traveller and feel tired at the prospect of all the disruption in a way which is why I tend to stay in one place in a new country rather than move on every few days.

    I think I know the penguin set you mean - we had them at La Meune where I worked in France (I think I mentioned La Meune in my pissaladiere post), do they come in a black box about 30 cm long and 14 or so cm tall and each book is only 1/2 cm thick? I thought Simon Hopkins was connected with the soup book perhaps.

  9. I traveled quite a bit with my folks, didn't enjoy it much. Luckily I have been able to travel through my twenties and early thirties and see so much. No real plans, just the spirit of adventure and experimentation.

    I agree with Barbara, you truly have a gift with words. To go along with a keen eye for photography but I've told you this before.

    How I would so love for you to shoot my food.

  10. Heureusement même sans partir très loin il y a toujours des coins qui éveillent la rêverie (je me suis beaucoup baladée ces dernières semaines à côté d'usines abandonnées à l'architecture gothique). Chez nous aussi, c'est la saison des soupes (aux dernières tomates du jardin).

  11. The macaroons look so cute... I loved your memories of crossing the sea. It made me smile when you mentioned the Toblerone bars: when I was a kid, my parents would always get me one of those when we were taking a plane... and I keep doing it! That's my airport ritual, I would never fly without my Toblerone.

  12. So much good in this post. Your soups, your macarons, your thoughts on travel. I rarely enjoy an airport or an extended ride in an airplane, but then I'll so often settle in to the new space, experience life in a new way, and forget the rough journey. This happened during my recent trip to Italy. The journey to Italy seemed to take forever. When we entered our hotel room all I wanted was sleep, but then...everything got better, much better.

  13. Bonjour Vanessa, je reviens doucement à la routine après un été fort occupé et je m'ennuyais de tes voyages littéraires, du partage de ton doux quotidien qui me fait toujours rêver.

    Je te souhaite un beau week-end et à bientôt.

  14. Bonjour Vanessa,

    J'ai ete longtemps absente, et suis heureuse de retrouver votre blog et ses jolis recits et photos ! Tres joli billet, en effet, plein de beaux souvenirs.
    Moi, j'adore voyager. Je suis toujours en voyage, en vrai ou dans ma tete, depuis que j'ai decouvert l'etranger, a l'age de 12 ans. :-)

    A bientot,

  15. @Sasa - Wow, 29 houses sounds exhausting, a real nomad's life! You must be glad to stay in one place for a bit. Nice that you also know the penguin set, it sounds like the same one and I use the books an enormous amount, especially the Nigel Slater books. I couldn't find Hopkins' name in the soup book though.
    @Lazaro - Even though I'm not much of a traveller, I couldn't imagine not seeing or living in anywhere different from my home town. It sounds like you have an interesting background. Thanks for the nice comments about the writing and photos, although I totally disagree that you need me to take your food photos. The ones you post are always great!
    @Rose - C'est vrai qu'on n'est pas toujours obligé de partir pour trouver de beaux endroits. Même après 3 ans ici, il y tant de coins que je ne connais pas encore et en les revisitant, je découvre des aspects différents. Ça doit être joli dans les environs de Rouen. Avec des légumes du jardin, les soupes sont encore mieux.
    @Julie - That's such a charming anecdote about the toblerone. now I'll never see them without thinking of you. I love it how the pieces are so huge and stick your teeth together with letters written at the bottom of each one.
    @Denise - Actually, I start to relax when I get into the waiting lounge. The first day is full of adjustment but then by the time I have to leave, I'm heartbroekn and realise how short it was. I hope my trip to Italy will be as good as yours.
    @Josée - Ça fait un moment que je n'ai pas visité ton joli blog non plus, ce qui est vraiment dommage. Merci pour ces mots toujours si gentils.
    @Laurence - En effet, je pensais à vous en lisant votre commentaire chez Patoumi et je regrette de ne pas avoir lu vos billets depuis si longtemps. J'espère que vous allez bien et que vous avez passé un bon été (pourtant cela me semble si loin déjà!). J'espère voyager plus souvent l'année prochaine, vous avez raison, cela fait du bien.

  16. I was thinking about taking the ferry next time I go to England and you just about convinced me to go for this idea ! The eurostar is very convenient, but like you said, you don't get the people waving at you...

  17. Moi je suis une voyageuse incorrigible, mais finalement, à Berlin, je trouve la sérénité que je cherchais souvent par monts et par vaux!

    Quelles merveilleuses recettes, je vais toutes les essayer! J'espère que cela marchera mieux qu'avec le gâteau au chocolat de l'an dernier :) mais maintenant, je sais que je ne cuisine plus rien avec du chocolat à Berlin et je suis tranquille.

    Tu me donnes vraiment envie de lire Chatwin, l'extrait est superbe, minimaliste et tranchant en effet.

  18. I don't know which is more lovely, you're writing or your photos. I am inspired to make both the soups and the macaroons.

  19. @Pia - You know I haven't taken the ferry for years and years but in writing this post, became nostalgic for the strong winds on deck and seeing the spray behind as you travel. Somehow, it's special.
    @Magda - Tes récits de Rom me font rêver et j'espère vivement y aller en février. Toutes les recettes ici sont faciles et celle de Heidi est à suivre les yeux fermés. Quant au chocolat à Berlin, sais-tu qu'ils vendent celui de Valrhona chez Kaufhof à Alex maintenant? Je m'y suis ruinée mais c'est super bon pour les gâteaux, et français aussi!
    @Tracy - I'm really touched by your comment, especially coming from such an artist in all respects. Hope you like the recipes.

  20. Tres joli texte, magnifiques photos, un petit tour en litterature (je n'ai jamais lu Chatwin) que demander de plus en ce jour d'automne?

  21. Merci beaucoup Gracienne! C'est vrai que c'est ma saison préférée et en ce moment il fait un temps magnifique.