We’re just back from holiday. It’s the first time we have driven around England with the children and as buckets of rain were thrown upon us, we can safely say that we now know a few museums. Avoiding the traffic of London’s Olympics live (we couldn’t get tickets, sniff) we still enjoyed the festive buzz around the country, as each town was proudly strutting their flag and the Best of British in many shop windows.
Windows tempted us with giant scones, carrot cakes, STP (Sticky Toffee Pudding), Bakewell tart, apple turnovers, Victoria Sponge, treacle tarts, Bath buns, giant cookies, peanut brittle, jam tarts…. the list goes on. But if anyone really knows me, I don’t eat the heavier cakes. Since moving to France, it’s something I try to avoid; I’m converted to eating lighter sweet treats and that is why the macaron is one of my perfect sweet afternoon treats: they’re gluten free, not high in calories and above all, they come in so many different flavours.
So where were the macarons? We were definitely looking in the wrong places outside of London. There are many French pâtisseries in England but some didn’t even have macarons. Quoi? There were, however, macaroons…
This is the reason why I prefer to call ‘macaroons’ macarons. When I say ‘macarons’, it’s not to be all French chic and snooty; it’s simply so that we don’t confuse the traditional coconut based macaroon (and in this case it looks like there’s no coconut but an almond biscuit more like a giant amaretti) with the Parisian macaron with it’s fondant filling between two almond-based meringue shells with its characteristic ruffled foot.
When I met with my publisher during the trip, they explained that a couple of outlets didn’t take on the book simply since ‘macaron’ was on the cover and not ‘macaroon’. What would you say to that?
Taking a break from it all meanwhile, we were in awe discovering the crafty engineering work left behind by the Romans, thanks to talented archeologists around Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. At Vindolanda, nearly 4000 shoes were excavated (some of which are still high fashion today) as well as hundreds of Roman coins, jewellery and even postcards with writing – unbelievable seeing face-to-face an invitation to a party from an Officer’s wife.
Can you imagine the fortresses that lined Hadrian’s Wall – built south of the border to keep out the ‘rogue’ Scots – with many of their foundations intact which give us an insight as to how they lived? This image perhaps doesn’t look much but when you realise that these pillar stones were built underneath the stone floors, the Romans were clever engineers; on the left, this is their central heating system, as fires would be lit around these pillars to have warm floors above; on the right, this airing below the granary’s floor would ensure that rats or any other stray unwanted creatures that would threaten their food stocks were chased away easily. They also had communal latrines, complete with communal wiping brushes (if you wanted your own, you had to carry it around all day.) Luckily things have progressed since then.
The Romans also used this crafty heating system as a sauna and steam room around the thermal springs at Bath. The actual thermal springs pool (naturally at 46°C) was sacred and only used by bathers who threw notes to the Goddess Sulis Minerva, who had healing powers. More worshipping would go on in the Temple next door, then self-body worshipping via spa treatment rooms with mud rubs, a plunge pool and a final dip in the thermally heated grand pool. Not bad for 2000 years ago, eh? We were so inspired that we couldn’t resist a day’s pampering ourselves at Titanic Spa further north. Highly recommended for boosting your batteries.
Talking of revamping, as we followed the Romans, somehow a sweet treat or 4 o’clock goûter would always enter into our plans.
Antoine started to stop in his tracks at the word, Pâtisserie. I love using him as an excuse. In Stratford-Upon-Avon, it was much ado about Shakespeare. A brief look at Hobson’s Pâtisserie confirmed alas there were no macarons.
Then in a just as crowded York, there was an even greedier line forming outside its celebrated institution, Betty’s Tea Rooms. Eye spy my little eye – look what was in the window!
The queue was so long and as we had a walking tour of the Secret York, we didn’t have any time to spare and join in line. After discovering some hidden churches, being drenched in the Shambles (watching a couple of ladies being filmed for a documentary), spotting sculptures of cats on some buildings to scare away the pigeons, I found more macarons at Pâtisserie Valerie.
The coffee macaron caught my attention and before it could say try me, disappointment struck. Humbugs! It was more like a dry – really dry – cookie. No wonder some people say they’ve tried a macaron and they didn’t like it. Gosh, these poor folks need to try a good one and see what all the fuss is about.
What do you think? Perhaps they need to make them at home instead (hint, hint.)
So my British macaronivore friends, I’m still hunting down macarons outside of London. Where did I miss? And be totally honest now: do you call them macaroons or macarons?
Update: See my article on Macarons vs Macaroons