Exploring New York City with Teenagers

This is the first time the kids came with us to New York City.  Our last time was two years ago, when I spent a large part of my time checking out baking shops and macaron stores.  This time, I spared the girls from my usual mad pastry tendencies and asked, “What’s the best programme in the Big Apple for a 12 and 14 year old?” Let me share our tourist and casual restaurant tips with you for A WEEK in NYC!

No sooner had we arrived, midnight ringing in our heads, we thought of FOOD.  Checking into the contemporary Conrad Hotel, Downtown, our lucky surprise was that Blue Smoke had a table for us just around the corner (255 Vesey St, near Battery Park).  They serve legendary smoky BBQ beefburgers, full of flavour.

View of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Free Ferry NYC

For the best views of the Statue of Liberty, take the Staten Island ferry

So, how would we spend the weekend as a family? The Statue of Liberty was beckoning: the best way to see it is by taking the Staten Island ferry. What’s more, it’s FREE!  They run every half hour from Pier 1 (Battery Park).

Admittedly, we did the ultra touristy thing and hopped on an open-topped bus with the Grey Line, just outside the terminal.  The hop-on, hop-off tickets last for 2 days, so you have plenty time to discover New York’s bearings if it’s your first time.  We hopped off at East Houston Street (Ludlow and Orchard) for Katz’s Delicatessen which has quite a bit of history, possibly best known for Meg Ryan’s famous fake ‘groaning’ scene in When Harry Met Sally. With the film’s 25th anniversary, the tourists were piling in by the bus-load. Instead we headed next door to the Lobster Joint, where Monsieur Antoine was given a tasting of lagers, including Lobster beer.  Their New England lobster roll certainly had me groaning for real…

Manhattan towers and changing weather skyline in Times' Square

Back on the red bus, the showerproof hoodies were passed around as quick as the change of Manhattan skies, but we were lucky the rest of the week weather-wise.  NYC is hot and humid but air-conditioning in hotels is particularly fresh, so think about bringing a light cardigan – or, French-style, my girls preferred to fling scarves around the shoulders.

We were brave on Sunday morning: we headed well into Harlem for a Gospel Church Service.  I say we were brave, as we were not welcomed and actually turned away!  They turned all visitors away, in fact.  Don’t even consider going to the New Mount Zion Baptist Church on West 140th St. as they obviously see their God as different from the rest of us.  Upset and stunned, luckily our faith was restored as we happened on the most wonderful, welcoming church of Greater Zion Hill BC (2365 Frederick Douglass Blvd).  Visitors –  please don’t forget to take dollars with you for a donation.  This was the most uplifting, moving service I have ever been to and one that Julie and Lucie shall never forget.  We found ourselves singing ‘Jesus is Real’ all the way back to the bus!

Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in NYC

Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

With great thanks to my sweet and macaron-ivore friend, Mardi Michels (of EatLiveTravelWrite) who tweeted her New York foodie friends in the know of ice creams, we had to head for Brooklyn. Our lovely tour guide, Susan, seemed genuinely concerned for us when we leapt off the bus way before the famous ice cream store in Prospect Heights.  Instead, we headed to Ample Hills Creamery‘s new parlour, on day 13 of opening at Gowanus.  The sweltering heat had the queue snaking indoors, Disney-style. It was #worththewait.

Ample Hills Ice Cream Brooklyn New Location

Kept amused in the queue with tastings

Ample Hills Creamery only opened in 2011 and it’s no wonder their ice cream is a huge success: their secret? Good, natural ingredients.  They churn out wonderful flavours such as Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, Pistachio Squared, Peppermint Pattie, Mexican Hot Chocolate (with chili flakes – I LOVED this!), even Stout ‘n’ Pretzels.  Their designer cones (none of the usual dry, tongue-clinging tasteless wafers!) are incredibly tasty and tops it all off beautifully.

Ample Hills Ice Cream Cones and Recipe book Brooklyn

Special ice cream cones at Ample Hills, Brooklyn

Antoine wants me to make the pistachio squared ice cream recipe so will have to check out their Ample Hills Ice Cream Cookbook!

Wrong order, perhaps, but after ice cream we later craved good pizza.  On my last couple of trips, I did Lombardi’s in Little Italy – this time it was John’s Pizzeria, just off Times’ Square.  This place certainly rivals Lombardi’s for the best pizza in NYC.  With four coal-fired brick ovens and two enormous floors, queuing for a seat doesn’t take that long – although it reminds me of watching out for your winning number, waiting in any French public administration!  The pizza business is HOT!

John's Pizzeria, Times Square, NYC

Are you scared of heights?  Since the Empire State Building had me trembling just thinking of going up that lift, instead, I booked tickets to the Top-of-the-Rock at the Rockefeller Centre. Let’s face it, it’s not as high and you have great views OF the Empire State Building!  Lucie thought the lift was fun, with a video playing on the ceiling for a few seconds until you realise the 70th floor observation deck is already awaiting you. Incidentally, this is a popular tourist attraction so the queues are impressive –  I found the best way is to prepay tickets online (I used Smart Destinations).  In the 5 minutes we waited, who should turn up but Lady Gaga in a white limousine.  The girls were riveted to the sidewalk.

Rockefeller top of the rock views and Lady Gaga NBC

Our kids love museums.  I already covered the museums in this post but suggest while at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), have lunch upstairs on 2nd floor Italian café. The girls particularly loved the Egyptian section at the Metropolitain Museum (the MET), the Museum of Natural History (perhaps best for boys who love dinosaurs!) but our all time favourite museum is The Frick Collection.  If you’re an artlover, you HAVE to come here!  I’m still dreaming of two Rembrandt paintings, including his first ever portrait of a fur trader.  You could almost touch the fur.

Dim Sum in NYC Chinatown at Jing Fong Restaurant

Another highlight was meeting up with Ann Mah, author of Mastering the Art of French Eating.  She suggested we meet up in Chinatown at Jing Fong‘s legendary Dim Sum restaurant (20 Elizabeth Street).  The girls and I could not anticipate what awaited us at the top of a giant escalator: the equivalent of a wedding banqueting hall, buzzing with chatter, clattering dishes and efficient staff rolling trolleys back and forth with curious hidden stacks of various steaming dumplings. Thank you, Ann, for our first dim sum experience!

market stalls in Chinatown NYC

The market stalls in Chinatown are particularly intriguing.  If any of you know what these curious Chinese dried mushrooms are, please let me know.  Julie and Lucie were jumping at the live crabs, pincers stretched out and some scattering on to the pavement as we scuttled by.

Sticking to the Far East, we loved the suggestions from Leah at the Royalton Hotel.  A wonderful find included Korean cuisine at Danji (just up from another fabulous ramen noodle bar), where small dishes added up to a fabulous tasting menu banquet – and great value for money, too!

Best Korean restaurant uptown NYC Danji

Other best restaurant highlights in NYC included Saxon and Parole (316 Bowery) for great beef burgers,  and our personal Italian favourite: Il Buco Alimentari (53 Great Jones St.) where we even asked for second bowls all around of their homemade gnocchi…

And if you’re wondering what the final highlight of the girls’ trip was, it wasn’t food oriented: for Lucie, it was the Frick Collection; for Julie, it was meeting up with her make-up Youtuber idol, That’s Heart (we’ve just discovered ourselves on her video TV vlog at 3:12 and 3:14!  I needed a prize for being the oldest participant….)  Myself? It was being together with my girls. Girlie quality time and Shopping – but that’s enough for another article!

Queensferry Edinburgh and a Lemon Thyme Tart Recipe

As the Commonwealth Games kick off in Scotland, I’m taking you on a whirlwind trip there, just like I did last week. Back to my roots, family and loaves of raisin bread, toasted with melted butter in the mornings.  Back to oak smoked salmon and mackerel and a great choice of New World wines.  There comes a time when France is great but we all need a change now and again, don’t we?

St Andrew's Square Edinburgh and Changing rooms at White Stuff, George Street

Scottish changes! Hot weather and er, interesting changing rooms…

I always see changes when I return to Edinburgh.  This time the weather was hot and sunny – the opposite to Paris (although we’re now making up for it!).  Even the changing rooms hidden behind wardrobe doors had changed again at White Stuff in George Street – I opted for the Irn Bru rather than the toilette scene, thank you.  The trams were finally running in the City and so that was definitely worth the trip: with free Wi-Fi, I don’t think anyone looked outside the windows, though!

Forth Road Bridge and Building of New Bridge Queensferry Scotland

Huge change was at the River Forth: the pillars were well set in for the building of the new Forth Bridge connecting Queesferry to the Kingdom of Fife.

Postcard of South Queensferry village near Edinburgh

Certain things had not changed that much: like South Queensferry.  I love this little village where the original film of the 59 Steps was filmed.  With stunning views of the Forth Railway Bridge next to the Victorian postbox and quaint crow-step gabled houses, the Seal’s Craig restaurant from my childhood was still there.  No it wasn’t!  The sign remained but it had turned into a pizzeria.  Gosh, all those happy memories of Claude, the waiter, and the chatting Minor bird at the bottom of the stairs.

Forth Railway Bridge view from the Boat House Restaurant

View from the Boat House Restaurant of the Forth Railway Bridge

But new happy memories were made, as Mum steered me towards the Boat House Restaurant, where I’d promised to take her out for her birthday.  I have found a new, wonderful address!  Precious moments, indeed. With stunning views directly opposite the Forth Railway Bridge, the other gastronomic views were on my entrée-starter-appetiser of Cullen Skink (that’s smoked haddock and potato soup – see my recipe here) followed by a main dish of red mullet – exquisite and great value for money, including the wines (with good options by the glass).

My one upset was that I didn’t manage dessert!  On my way out, the lovely waitresses handed me a magazine featuring their Chef, Paul Steward.  And in it is his recipe for this lemon thyme tart.  He adds caramelised pears to the recipe but, as it’s not yet pear season in France, I’m serving it plain with summer berries.

 lemon thyme tart

Lemon Thyme Tart Recipe

Recipe from Chef Paul Steward, The Boat House Restaurant and Bistro, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

For the short crust pastry:

400g plain flour
200g salted butter, cubed
1 vanilla pod
1 egg
25ml milk
75ml cold water

For the curd:

4 unwaxed lemons (zest & juice) – I used the zest of only 2 lemons
200g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped off

 Pastry

Put the flour in a large bowl and add the cold cubes of butter.  Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs with no large lumps of butter remaining.  Combine the vanilla, egg, milk and water.  Add just enough of the mixture to the flour and butter to bind the dough together.  Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it’s just thinner than a pound coin, then place in a buttered tart case and blind bake using grease proof paper and baking beans for 18 minutes at 180°C.  Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes or until the pastry is finished cooking.

Lemon and thyme curd

Place the juice and zest (my lemons were strong so I only used the zest of 2 lemons which was more than enough) of the lemons in a large bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Add the butter and sugar.  When the butter has melted, add the eggs and gently stir until the curd is thick and coats the back of a spoon (this took me over 10 minutes).  Add the fresh thyme and pour into the pastry case.

 

Fireworks in Paris for Bastille Night Celebrations

Enjoy the Commonwealth Games in Scotland!

THE BOAT HOUSE RESTAURANT
22 High Street
South Queensferry
Edinburgh EH30 9PP
Tel: 0131-331 5429

Chocolate Drizzle in the Black Forest

The hills were alive with the sound of cattle bells and gradual butterflies in my stomach as we ascended to the top of the Belchen mountain by cable car. Somehow I can’t get over my fear of heights but the views from the top made the ride worthwhile. The Belchen is the third highest mountain in the Black Forest (1414m) just south of Freiburg, its Capital.

Belchen mountains Black Forest Germany

The hills are alive with the sound of cattle bells and butterflies

Couldn’t you just imagine Julie Andrews running towards you in her pinafore, beckoning you to join in song? Are you ready? If you’re a fan of The Sound of Music like myself, you’ll love this page of trivia about the film.

Black Forest Mountains Germany

Climb Ev’ry Mountain…

Back down to ground level, the girls were dying to go boating on the Titisee lake, which is about 850m above sea level.  Thank Goodness they’re not quite Sixteen Going on Seventeen yet. A pedalo for four did us quite nicely, thank you, as the rain drizzled on us. Pity it wasn’t chocolate drizzle.

Boating on Lake Titisee Black Forest Germany - great for family holidays

A trip to Furtwangen was a must on this short trip, as it’s famous for its cuckoo clocks. At the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum), I’ve never seen so many of them in one place, from the traditional to more contemporary designs. Schönwald, a tiny town next door, is said to be the birthplace of the cuckoo clock, where Franz Anton Ketterer thought of combining a clock with bellows at the beginning of the 18th Century.

German cuckoo clocks museum Black Forest

Time to say, Oh, cuckoo!

Our girls thought the highlight of the trip was the nature walk at Triberg, up to the Gutach waterfall – the highest waterfall in Germany – which cascades over 160m through the forest. Many royal and celebrity guests have visited the falls, including Ernest Hemingway in August 1922. Our favourite celebrities were the swooping nutcracker birds and the cheeky squirrels, as they fought over the allocated bags of monkey nuts.

Triberg waterfalls Black Forest Germany

Triberg Waterfalls, Black Forest

On our return home, my petite Lucie turned 11 years old and another couple of shoe sizes bigger in the last month. You think I’m joking? At this rate, she’s going to tower above me in no time.  The request for her birthday cake was simple: chocolate cake!  I’d already made a wickedly rich chocolate cake by Patrick Roger this Easter but Lucielocks quite rightly asked to try something different.

It didn’t take long to find a perfect chocolate bundt cake recipe from Jamie Schler’s blog, Life’s A Feast.  I loved the shape of this Bundt cake and simply drizzled it with plenty of chocolate ganache (recipe below) and melted white chocolate, one of Lucie’s favourite sweet things.  With chocolate macarons on the side, bien sûr.  Which reminds me of another of Maria’s songs, “I Have Confidence” – which is basically the main ingredient needed for macaron-making, n’est-ce pas?

As this cake was made for a children’s party, I omitted the cinnamon but if you’re including it, I would also suggest adding a good pinch of cinnamon to the chocolate drizzle, as well as a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Lucie doesn’t like cherries (I know, I know – scream!) so there’s not a cherry in sight, but to make a Black Forest version, I suggest adding 100g of dried cherries (even better, soaked in Kirsch) to the dough before baking and serve with plenty of cherries and whipped cream on the side.

Chocolate Ganache Drizzle

100g dark chocolate (at least 64% cacao), especially for pâtisserie
100g good quality milk chocolate
300g single cream
1 sachet (7g) vanilla sugar

Break the chocolate into pieces. Gently heat the cream in a saucepan, adding the vanilla sugar and chocolate pieces.  Heat over low heat until the chocolate has melted, then stir with a wooden spoon to make a beautifully glossy, even sauce to drizzle over your cakes and ice cream.

So Long, Farewell, auf wiedersehen to you, the holidays. The French schools return next week for la rentrée so, before we’re back to routine, I’ll try to upload the latest photos. I forgot to post this before leaving for Italy last week.  If anyone follows me on TwitterInstagram or Facebook, you may know that I can’t sit down for long before my back seizes up, so my computer and travel visits are kind of short these days. So, here’s the second part of our Black Forest jaunt before I turned into a chair!

Holidays: one of My Favourite Things – along with chocolate, macarons, strawberries, bubbly and brown paper packages tied up with string. What’s yours?

Prost! Cheers!

Black Forest Chocolate Cream Desserts – and a Trip to Germany

Do you really think a sweet tooth determines our family holiday destinations? Well, perhaps it does, as it inspired these Black Forest Chocolate Cream Desserts! It has been 30 years since I last visited Germany and the same, ridiculous amount of time since I practised my rusty high school German. Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut!  It was high time to visit.

We headed to the medieval town of Staufen, south of the Black Forest, a jewel nestled in between lush mountaineous forests, vines, cafés and bakeries.

What amazed us most about the region, is how clean and tidy the towns are. Everything is immaculate, even down to the neat stacks of wood piled outside geranium window-boxed freshly painted houses. It’s also the first time I’ve seen kids paddling about in the gutters! (Well, one of them was mine – was ist das?) The Germans seem particularly eco-friendly: bikes are the norm, an impressive amount of houses have flashy solar panels and their signposting is nothing short of perfection.

We stayed at the Gasthaus Krone (meaning ‘crown’), which is an excellent address in Staufen – including their Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ restaurant. Luckily the friendly owner spoke some French, since my painful phrases embarrassingly resembled a mix of German vocabulary, French grammar and stuttering English fillers-in. I am determined to return after doing some homework next time, but at least communication through food is easier!

Meandering down the main cobbled street, serenaded by a solo oboist trying to compete with the local brass quintet oompa-ing around the fountain, the castle ruins and vineyards majestically tower over the local wineries. The city crest is a shield with 3 wine glasses so when in Staufen, it would be rude not to taste; their welcoming barrels proudly strut their tasting offerings.

This is what holidays are made of: sitting back, people-watching, contemplating family postcards, nibbling on a salted bretzel and sipping at the local traditional grape varieties – including the oldest, Gutedel. Personally, I preferred the dry Muscat for white wines but their red wines shone high above the rest with some stunning Pinot Noirs, bursting with jam-like cherry fruits.

Staufen Castle, although now a ruin (built in 850), can be visited to admire the breathtaking vista of the Black Forest and Rhine Valley. Looking out the arched window, we’re reminded by such an enormous tree that we’re in black cherry country.

After such a climb during the heatwave, it was time to follow the tempting signs dotted around the town to the nearest cake shop. It didn’t take us long to discover the Café Decker, undoubtedly the best cake shop and tea salon in Staufen. It was so decadently, deliciously decked in cakes that we admittedly returned three times.

Black Forest Cakes, küchen, more chocolate cakes, redcurrant meringue pies and macarons were just some of the treats that would make anyone go off their sweet trolley. I think I put on three kilos during the week!  So, switching to ice cream seemed a lighter idea: wouah! Teasingly steeped in Kirsch liqueur, it made an ideal excuse for an afternoon nap by the snoring river.

Back home, the Schwartzwald German trip provided inspiration for these gluten free Black Forest No Bake Cream Desserts back home: ideal for using up egg yolks and for serving with your chocolate macarons.  What’s more, it’s holiday style: quick, easy, tasty and no bake!

Black Forest chocolate cream desserts

Black Forest Chocolate Cream Desserts

Serves 8 (mini pots) or 4 (in wine glasses)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours

1 gelatine sheet (@2 g)
200ml whole milk
300ml single cream
3 egg yolks
50g sugar
150g dark cooking chocolate, broken into small chunks
1 tbsp Kirsch liqueur (optional)
16 fresh cherries (or Griottine cherries, soaked in Kirsch)

1. Soak the gelatine in cold water. Meanwhile break up the chocolate into pieces in a large bowl. In a saucepan, boil the milk and cream.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until light and creamy. Pour over the hot milky cream, mix and transfer back to the saucepan.

3. Whisk vigorously over a medium heat until the cream thickens. Take off the heat then pour over half of this hot cream on to the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts, add Kirsch (if using), the gelatine (squeezed of any excess water) and then whisk in the rest of the hot cream.

4. Transfer to 8 mini serving dishes (or 4 if you’re greedy like us), cool and chill for at least an hour. Decorate with fresh dark cherries and/or Griottine cherries soaked in Kirsch and a scoosh of Chantilly cream*. (Or why not roast cherries with a splash of Kirsch as Jamie Schler does at Life’s a Feast?)

If you have a siphon, fill it up half way with chilled cream (no less than 30% fat) and splash in a couple of tablespoons of Kirsch or cherry syrup, fit with the gas canister, shake and chill for a few minutes. Instant, homemade lighter-than-light cream!

Black Forest chocolate cream desserts

Guten Appetit!

 

A Bite of New York: A Stirring Manhattan Cocktail

I’m finally over that red-eye jet-lag following a bite of the Big Apple. It was the second bite I’ve had in the last 14 years and what a bite. The last few days back home in my bubble outside Paris, I’ve been on a more nocturnal rhythm with a head still buzzing with the noises of NYC. Manhattan certainly is a cocktail with a punch.

The Wanted in NYC

The Wanted in NYC

Manhattan has such energy. There’s no standing around; the determined pace of walkers is speedier than in Paris; coffee bars are filled with guys in suits making deals over an espresso as opposed to Parisian cafés where we watch the world go by. This captivating street drummer set the pedestrian pace using plastic tubs – I wonder what he would sound like with a real drum kit? I could have watched him all day if I hadn’t been bustled around to keep up with the flow of pedestrian traffic. The only dilly-dallying appears at the Rockefeller Plaza, where NBC shoot live every morning. My girls looked at me with sheer disbelief when I showed the photo above of this group, ‘You mean, you saw The Wanted and you didn’t know it, Mum?’

Broadway NYC

No Standing, No Stopping, No Way – it’s Broadway!

Broadway’s place to eat has to be at the NoMad Restaurant at 1170 Broadway. I love the service in NYC! Elizabeth Merner, our smiling server extraordinaire confirmed my choices on the menu were her favourites: I’m still dreaming of that appetiser of strawberry gaspacho, basil and smoked duck. Although we resist tasting French wines in the USA since America has so much to offer, Liz served us an incredible Macon Vieilles Vignes 2008 for an apéritif the next time we popped in (we couldn’t resist returning.) Like Daniel Beedle, the Sommelier, they understood our tastes so we were thrilled with their choices, even if a couple were from France!

Inspired and wanting a taste of more US blockbuster wines to bring home, we headed to Morrell, NYC’s institution. Perhaps it was just an off day, but they weren’t friendly. I’m perhaps cynical as I become older but why give business to people who don’t want to serve you? The moral of the story?  Listen to Daniel. When in NYC and looking for wines, head to Astor Wines in Soho. With our amazing wine consultant, Duncan McRoberts, we have our favourite gutsy, buttery, toasty – even wooded (if not fashionable but we love it) – Californian Chardonnays.

La Maison du Macaron NYC

La Maison du Macaron, NYC

‘You mean you’ve not tried any macarons yet? But it’s your duty, girl!’ exclaimed Carol Gillott, of Paris Breakfast fame. The last time we met, I dragged her to the Paris suburbs for a macaron workshop chez moi. This time she wanted to meet up so she could show me some macaron spots in NYC. By the time I surfaced that morning and switched on my phone after 9am, she’d sent me 3 emails from 5.30 am to check I was up. I wonder when Carol sleeps?

First stop was La Maison du Macaron (132 W.23rd Street) with basil-lime-ginger and Graham-Cracker-Key-Lime-Pie macarons (using French meringue, same as the macarons in my book). Perhaps it was too early after breakfast, since I didn’t get much flavour but we didn’t wait the dutiful 15 minutes until they were fully at room temperature. So, where were the Big Apple macs?

NYC

Tasting French macarons with Carol Gillott – this was my NY breakfast!

More bright green macarons were at Financier, reputed for the best macarons in NYC and where their financiers are perfection. You know how I feel about pistachio macarons and colouring. Next stop? I had to check out Trader Joe’s – Carol showed me the free coffee as we waited in line, now that is service!  My basket was filled with dried cherries, something you can’t find in Paris.

Carol realised how goofy I was when she took me to N.Y. Cake on 56 West 22nd Street. With macaron gift boxes and everything you can imagine to make macarons and more, I just couldn’t contain myself. I think she started to pretend we weren’t together when she asked me to speak French.

Everything you need for making macarons easily at home

After the sweet meet-up, Carol put me in an arty mood so there was nothing better than to have a taste of the Frick Collection and the Museum of Modern Art. Gigantic MoMA has such an impressive wealth of art treasures. In awe of more of Monet’s Water Lily paintings following our trip to Giverny this summer, Catherine and Paul in the restaurant (where else would you find us?) told us about the new Giverny – in NYC Botanical Gardens!

I couldn’t get enough of this Manhattan Cocktail of art and checked out just a part of the Metropolitan Museum. Just an insy-winsy taste left us completely punch drunk! It’s mind-blowing to see works that were painted only up the road from where we live on the Seine.

Punch drunk at the Met.

The last part of the Manhattan cocktail left me rather shaken. Thursday night, Antoine and I were strolling (no, walking fast) past the Empire State Building and I decided not to visit it next day since I’m no longer good with heights. On Friday morning, I was only 2 blocks away from the shooting at the ESB and as 4 helicopters hovered above later, I couldn’t stop thinking that we should never take life for granted. This statue was a statement outside the Caen War Memorial Museum this summer.

Back to the more stirring cocktail in Manhattan. More eateries we adored centred on Italian: from a crowded Eataly (where you shop, eat sitting down/standing up or eat standing hiding in a corner); to Lombardi’s first NY pizza; to Peasant in Nolita where the food is cooked on a homemade wooden oven built by the chef, Frank de Carlo. His white pizza and wooded quail are begging for me to return to NYC.

I loved seeing macarons in many cafés and bakeries, such as Screme (best espresso next to Grand Central Station), Bouchon and of course, Maison du Chocolat. There are no doubt many more but as the French say so well, everything in modération!

I’ve rambled on enough since I didn’t have time to do a short post – it’s a mad week returning to school, organising my students, chocolate walks in Paris etc. We love routine, don’t we?

Let me just leave you with one question: am I imagining this? Have you noticed that plates in NYC are small for big portions and in Paris, the plates are huge for smaller portions? Just saying.

Finding the Romans, Macaroons and Macarons in England

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.

British flags English Bakery

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.

Beatrix Potter Cake Stands

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…

Macaroons in England

Macaroons but where are the macarons?

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.

Roman Ruins England

The Romans’ central heating system (left) and clever foundations of the granary (right)

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.

Thermal Springs Bath England

The Thermal Springs at Bath

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.

Pub Stratford England

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!

Macarons at Betty's Tea Room York

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.

York

Filming under the rain in the Shambles, York and a reigning macaron.

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