Old Street Station Crepes by Les Deux Amies

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Yesterday, I had a lovely lunch visiting with Caroline and Adeline, two French expat friends bringing a taste of their home country to commuters zipping through Old Street Station. Their Les Deux Amies pop-up offers a short and sweet (and savoury) assortment of responsibly sourced, French crêpes, galettes and homemade jams and sauces with a side of social enterprise.

I tried two of their creations: a savoury and a sweet. The savoury number was essentially a hot dog in a (gluten-free) galette (£6). Yum. The sweet one was a crêpe with homemade salted caramel sauce and toasted almonds flakes (£4). It was gorgeous.

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Caroline and Adeline’s great food is coupled with good cause – or “social and solidarity economy, sustainable development and warm environment to be for customers and employees” as explained on the Values page of their website. They aim to use organic, British and responsibly sourced ingredients. They’ve teamed up with homeless charity Emmaus to provide work for people in need. They share warm smiles to passers-by for free.

Les Deux Amies will be at Old Street Station, EC1Y 1BE until 5 June, Monday to Friday from early morning to early evening. Find out more about their Old Street stall and other opportunities to eat their treats at lesdeuxamies.co.uk.

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London Daily Photo: Relax

LDP 2015.05.12 - Relax

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Light, Camera, Cannes! (OneTravel)

Red Carpet

For movie buffs, Francophiles, and paparazzi wannabes, the coming of May means it’s time for the glitz and glamor of the world’s most famous film festival: Cannes! Celebrating its 68th “edition” of showcasing the world’s best cinema, this year’s Festival de Cannes runs from the 13th to the 24th of May.

The highlights of Cannes 2015 promise to be many.

Read my complete post at OneTravel.

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You’re Saving When You Shop Online with VoucherBin, Right?

VoucherBin

I haven’t brought up the many renovations Kemey and I have been doing to our house all that much here on my blog – not recently anyway. But, yeah, we’re having a lot of work done to the place we bought last autumn. It’s a rewarding experience but overwhelming … and far from a budget friendly endeavour. I believe we’re being incredible thrifty – doing much of what we can manage to do on our own, waiting for and actively seeking sales and specials, really hashing out the pros and cons of costly decisions and so forth. However having just come across VoucherBin.co.uk – a new way to help you save money when shopping online – I wonder if we could have spent substantially less money than we’ve ended up doing.

The site offers an easy way to save while shopping online by sharing more than 20,000 coupons from a selection of stores at VoucherBin. A look at the retailers listed on the site impresses. There seems to be something for everyone. Just a skim of the list reveals a number of shops I frequent such as Homebase (my second home it seems as I’m there so often) and Waitrose (definitely my preferred supermarket). And other shops and brands that see me make purchases occasionally or which I might consider buying stuff from if there was enough of a discount incentive: Skype, Banana Republic, Jessops, HomeAway …

Beyond that, there are dating sites, airlines, airport parking, hotels, online gambling, Western Union … just about anything providing a product or service that you can buy online.

If you’re a regular online shopper or planning on making a major purchase soon, at the very least it’s worth stopping by VoucherBin to see if you can get what you want (and were already going to get) at a discount.

I wish I’d known about VoucherBin ages ago – for all the renovations we’ve undertaken but also for all sorts of other more every day sorts of situations. Better late than never I suppose. I’m certainly glad I’m now in the know about the site.

Published in association with VoucherBin. Opinions are my own.

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London Daily Photo: Brushes

LDP 2015.05.11 - Brushes

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Win Dinner for Four + Two Bottles of Wine at Vapiano

Win Dinner for Four + Two Bottles of Wine at Vapiano

COMPETITION IS NOW OVER AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TIKICHRIS. PLEASE STAY TUNED FOR LOTS MORE FUN AND FREEBIES TO COME!

Vapiano is a great value restaurant with pasta starting from just £6.95 and all pasta, sauces, pizzas and salads made completely fresh in-house everyday. It’s quite a feat, especially when you consider that 27,000 customers are served each week across its trio of London outlets alone. Want to add to the impress count of Vapiano’s happy pasta and pizza fans … and have your meal for even better value than usual (as in for free)? Keep reading for a chance to win dinner for four with wine at one of the Italian restaurant group’s London outlets.

I’ve been to Vapiano a couple of times. Here’s my review of the Soho venue. As mentioned in my review, I really like Vapiano’s concept: self-service, with face-to-face interactions with chefs. Guests order food “directly from the chefs at individual stations within the restaurant and all dishes are prepared in front of the customer (taking as little as three minutes from scratch) so that they can be customised and refined to suit individual tastes and specific dietary requirements.”

The pizzas are tasty, and prices are nice. The restaurants are stylish and informal. Service was super friendly and on the ball each time I visited.

So to share a slice of yum with you dear reader, I’ve teamed up with Vapiano to give one of you along with family or a few friends a chance to have a taste of the Vapiano experience for yourself – for free!

To be in with a chance to win a three course dinner for four people with two bottles of house read, white or fizz for your group, simply tweet the following:

RT to win dinner for 4 + 2 bottles of wine at @VapianoUK, compliments of @tikichris: http://ow.ly/MMZsE #VapianoLondon

Please take a moment to read the terms and conditions before tweeting!

T&C

I’ll pick one winner at random on Friday 22 May at 11.30pm BST. The winner will receive dinner and drinks for four people at one Vapiano location in London. Dinner will consist of three courses each and two bottles of house red, white or fizz for the group. The prize must be used within three months of winning. You will need to be of legal drinking age with valid ID to be able to drink alcoholic beverages. Good luck.

A smart spot to keep in mind for family dining, casual catch ups and even solo outings – Vapiano’s London outlets are at Wardour Street in Soho, Great Portland Street in Fitzrovia and Southwark Street at Bankside with more restaurants across Europe, the Middle East and the US. Go to uk.vapiano.com for details.

COMPETITION IS NOW OVER AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TIKICHRIS. PLEASE STAY TUNED FOR LOTS MORE FUN AND FREEBIES TO COME!

Check out more tikichris competitions.

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London Daily Photo: Yellow

LDP 2015.05.10 - Yellow

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Choccywoccydoodah: Enter a Chocolate Wonderland with their New Book

Choccywoccydoodah

Maddie Salters pays a visit to ChoccyWoccydoodah, Carnaby Street’s infamous chocolatier, for a look at its long-awaited cookery book, Chocolate, Cake and Curses.

Enter Wonderland.

On the top floor of ChoccyWoccydoodah, Carnaby Street’s infamous chocolatier, The Secret Room is decorated in enough dessert-inspired opulence to make Willy Wonka jealous. Turkish delight, champagne milkshakes, liquorice straws, and flying saucers line tables with sumptuous spreads. If the child in you has ever wanted to sit in a rose-studdedd swing, sipping bubbly and picking truffles out of martini glasses, I’d suggest looking into their booking policy.

I visited to check out the launch of their long-awaited cookery book, Chocolate, Cake and Curses. It’s no surprise that they’ve had numerous offers in the past to put their recipes to pen and page, but the creative team responsible for Chocolate Potato Cake and Walnut Whirls wanted to wait for the right publisher to come along. When Preface Publishing turned up with a healthy respect for their cheeky wit and outstandingly outlandish ideas, it was a match made in pastry heaven.

The new book contains much more than kitchen tips. Hand-written notes from staff, personal-pick recipes, eclectic illustrations, and more grace the pages between tutorials for whipping up killer cakes and awesome confections. (It even has a colouring book, if you feel so inclined.) Its punk rock feel is original and hip, which matches the company’s ethos of having fun with what you do. Even the formulas aren’t dull: Candied orange slices include the tip that they’re for decoration, or for “really intense flavour on cakes, puddings, and ducks.” The recipe for Choccytoffee Shortbread notes that you should “store [them] in your belly.” The book manages not to take itself too seriously, while simultaneously offering some seriously fantastic recipes, making it a playful read and activity book as much as a useful tool, come dessert time.

One recipe I was especially impressed by was Choccywoccy’s classic “Rocky Road.” Imagine everything you’d love to eat, in one geometrically confused block of chocolate. Nougat, coconut, fudge, honeycomb, marshmallow, and jelly beans lambasted together like a colourful arts project, one that left me licking my fingers and feeling quite full after.

The store itself, the London branch of the Brighton-born chain that flew into popularity after a successful TV series that aired for five seasons, boasts a shop downstairs where patrons can marvel at cake creations and pick up a few treats to go. The second-floor cafe is nearly so lavishly decorated as the top floor (give or take a few flamingos and chocolate fountains,) and offers sit-in tea and treats.

In all, a visit to Choccywoccydoodah would not go amiss with fans of food artistry or anyone with sweet tooth. The team’s daredevil attitude towards trying anything once means that they serve up some of the most unforgettable and truly magical treats in all of London. Their talent shines through in “Chocolate, Cake, and Curses,” which is delightfully personal and welcoming. It’s a must for any quirky cook, or those looking to spice up their dessert regime- maybe literally.

You can pick up a copy of Chocolate, Cake, and Curses online or at their London store at 30-32 Fouberts Place, W1F 7PS. Visit Choccywoccydoodah online at choccywoccydoodah.com.

Posted in Books, Chocolate, Drink, Food, London, Maddie Salters, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Daily Photo: Dude

LDP 2015.05.09 - Dude

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Beany Green at Broadgate Circle

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Based on the throngs (moving through a swiftly served queue, mind you) of folks showing up for lunch at the Beany Green flagship café at Broadgate Circle on the sunshiny weekday when I dropped by last week, this newly opened City worker pit stop for Aussie coffee and clean-minded food hardly needs an endorsement from me to ensure steady patronage. Still, I was impressed with just about every aspect of my visit and could see why everybody else seemed so keen for Beany Green bites.

First off, my coffee (beans from the Roasting Party) was delish. I had mine black (an Americano to begin and a double espresso afterwards for the road) but reckon with Aussie owner Prue Freeman aiming to go big after the success of her couple of years old coffee kiosk just a few steps away that proper milk enhanced espresso-based drinks can be had here.

Food was tasty too. I really liked my rather copious “best selling detox box” (£8.50) of three salads plus a Ginger Pig spicy beef ball (as choice of “protein) and tofu mayo (as choice of dip). I was set for the day and pleased to have had such a perfect mix healthy and indulgent.  Tilting my meal toward the more indulgent side of the equation, I very much enjoyed a slice of rocky road (£2.75) before heading on.

The banana bread comes highly recommended (the café was sold out when I went) and I’ve heard great things about the frozen yoghurt too (I was too stuffed to try – but next time!). You can get a decent beer at Beany Green too. I’d be fine with having another glass of Fourpure pale ale.

With a bespoke pop art from artist Louise Dear, vibrant interiors, big windows, and plenty of outdoor seating, the 30-seat cafe makes a proud statement and eschews old guard frump that says coffee must be served in dark, moody nooks. It’s a pleasant place with yummy food and good vibes.

Beany Green is located at 41 Broadgate Circle, EC2M 2QS. Find out more about the café and the rest of Prue Freeman’s “bold healthy fresh food” empire at daisygreenfood.com.

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The Basics for Having the Best Time in Bath, England (OneTravel)

Bath England

A comfortable gateway to England’s rugged West Country and easy excursion from (or chilled out alternative to) London, lovely and compact Bath is an excellent destination for experiencing the best of contemporary Britain coupled with an accessible and superbly preserved links to centuries of history.

I was there recently and had a splendid time sightseeing and mostly just taking it easy. Here are a few of the many highlights of my trip to help you make the most of your visit to this elegant city situated within a picturesque stretch of the verdant English countryside.

Read my complete post at OneTravel.

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London Daily Photo: Shiny Lines

LDP 2015.05.08 - Shiny Lines

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Win VIP Access to Yelp’s Mad Scientist Soiree at Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch

Win VIP Access to Yelp’s Mad Scientist Soiree at Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch

COMPETITION IS NOW OVER AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TIKICHRIS. PLEASE STAY TUNED FOR LOTS MORE FUN AND FREEBIES TO COME!

Exploding cocktails? A GIF Photo Booth? A mini ice cream festival? 600 Mad Scientists? And all for free? Yeah, I’m teaming up with Yelp again to bring more fun your way. This time, I’m helping spread the word about Dr Xander Alexander’s Mad Scientist Soiree. Presented by Yelp and Digital Shoreditch at Strongroom on Tuesday 12 May, it’s totally free and promises to be an absolute hoot. Read on!

Some details:

Dr Xander Alexander invites you to his underground laboratory for a night of the best London food, drinks and entertainment in the city. And, to top it all off, it’s all free.

Here will be two sessions for this wonderful event:
6 to 8pm: Yelp Elites, VIP, Media and Chosen Digital Shoreditch Attendees
8:30 to 10:30pm: All other invited guests!

RSVP now. There are no +1s for this event, so if you have someone you’d like to join you, make sure they RSVP too! First come, first served!

REMEMBER: You must have your real name, real photo and an active Yelp profile if you’d like to come. So review something fantastic in this city, add a photo, show off your amazing discoveries!

You must attend the party in your finest science attire. And be ready for anything. Things may go a little … mad.

This party is going to be off the hook. Just having a look at the line up of literally dozens of food and drink vendors etc to be on hand at this event is fairly overwhelming! And it’s all going to be free!

The list of RSVP hopefuls over on the Yelp page dedicated to this event is filling up fast. I recommend signing up quick. And to be on the safe side, be sure to give me a tweet as well because I can add two tikichris readers with a guest each to the VIP list.

To be in with a chance to win VIP access for you and a guest at Dr Xander Alexander’s Mad Scientist Soiree, simply tweet the following:

RT to win #VIP access to @yelplondon + @DigiShoreditch #MadScientistSoiree with @tikichris at @StrongroomBar: http://bit.ly/1JS6Tfa

Please take a moment to read the terms and conditions before tweeting!

T&C

I’ll pick two winners at random on Monday 11 May at 11.30pm BST. Each winner will be invited along with a guest to attend the Dr Xander Alexander’s Mad Scientist Soiree with VIP access on 12 May March from 6pm at Strongroom . You will need to be of legal drinking age with valid ID to be able to drink alcoholic beverages. Good luck.

Strongroom Bar & Kitchen is located at 120-124 Curtain Road, EC2A 3SQ.

COMPETITION IS NOW OVER AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TIKICHRIS. PLEASE STAY TUNED FOR LOTS MORE FUN AND FREEBIES TO COME!

Check out more tikichris competitions.

Posted in Competition, Drink, Food, Freebies, Yelping with tikichris | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Daily Photo: Waterloo

LDP 2015.05.07 - Waterloo

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Le Vie della Zagara: Zestful and Juicy Sicily

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this online tour of Sicily’s via Le Vie della Zagara. I certainly had a wonderful time discovering this distinctive destination for myself and sharing the most zestful bits of that journey with you.

To help you browse the posts I’ve published about my succulently Sicilian sojourn, here’s a list with links to all of them:

Le Vie della Zagara

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Sicily got under my skin. I’d love to go back and feel there is so much more to explore. Indeed, there was plenty more I could go on about in this series that I’ve yet even to get to. I’ve failed to mention extraordinary attractions such as Ferdinand I’s mega lavish Palazzo Reale Ficuzza and the ancient Valley of the Temples with its doric ruins and the historic landscape and living archaeology site of the Garden Kolymbetra. Both are without doubt must see sights and should be priorities of just about any Sicilian itinerary.

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Grazie for following my Le Vie della Zagara miniseries. Please feel free to take a look at all my series and special features.

Special thanks to Gusto di Campagna and the Distretto Agrumi di Sicilia for making this trip happen and to Addison Lee on the ground here in London for making my commutes to/from Stansted and Gatwick such a breeze.

gustodicampagna.com
distrettoagrumidisicilia.it
addisonlee.com

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DFDS Best Travel Photo Blogger 2015? Thanks!

The Best Travel Photography Blog in the UK? Your Vote Decides.

So, when I posted (and tweeted) about my blog being nominated by DFDS Seaways as a contender for 2015’s Best Travel Photography Blogger I guess some as you paid attention and agreed with DFDS as I just got the word that I won with 51.63% of the vote in my category. Thank you so much DFDS for including me at all! And mega cheers to everybody out there who cast a vote for me. It’s nice to be recognised for simply doing what I love to do!

Here’s a bit of info from DFDS’s own blog about the overall competition:

We love reading all about our passengers’ travelling experience, both onboard but also taking inspiration on new and exciting places to visit across northern Europe. We’ve spent some time pulling together a shortlist of the best blogs for you to read in 2015 if you love travel as much as we do! Voting has now closed, so it’s time to tally up the votes and find out which of our collection of the web’s best travel bloggers was your favourite … bloggers received over 18,000 votes in total across the five categories we laid out …

2015 Best Travel Photography Blog in the UK

And here’s a list of the four other categories and their winners. Congrats!

Best Travel Blogger: Emily Luxton Travel Blog
Best Travel, Culture & History Blogger: The Quirky Traveller
Best Travel Food & Drink Blogger: Oh So London
Best Newcomer Blogger: Girl vs Globe

For more about the competition and all the 35 that had been shortlisted for it, go to dfds.co/BlogTravelAwards.

Posted in Blogs, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Le Vie della Zagara: Ceramic Dynamic Caltagirone

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It’s a tough call, but if pressed to choose one overall best thing about my trip to Sicily, I would probably say my brief visit to Caltagirone. I think what really did for me about this Unesco World Heritage site brimming with big baroque architecture near the island’s southwestern coast was the unexpected “wow” I experienced upon arrival and the chance to discover somewhere that had been completely off my radar. Luckily, that’s no more the case. If you’re a fan of history, art (especially ceramics), and great food, Caltagirone would sit nicely atop any list of must-see Italian destinations.

Caltagirone was one of those places where soon into my time there I started wondered about the price of local property. Could I afford to chuck it all in and relocate? How could I make such a transition work – and what kind of work would I even be able to do if I actually did settle there? Such a feeling of immediate attraction to a place often used to overwhelm me when travelling in my 20s and early 30s. It’s a less frequent – but much deeper and more exacting – experience when it hits me these days. No, I don’t think I’ll actually up and move to Caltagirone (and I very much love my life here in London), but that possibility lingers still in my thoughts as I remember it. And I sorely hope I’m don’t have to wait too long to return there for further exploration.

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In the 1693, an earthquake all but destroyed Caltagirone. When rebuilt, it was done up baroque style. One frustration being there as a photographer was encountering so many photogenic architectural marvels too tightly wedged among each other to photograph properly. It’s chock-a-block, resplendent eye candy. The city also seemed to have been rebuilt in defiance against the grumbly and uncertain ground with lots (and lots) of ceramics. Caltagirone has street signs made of ceramics, loads of (what mostly appeared to be quality) ceramic shops and – it’s most well know feature – the Scala Santa Maria del Monte, an ancient 130-metre and vividly tiled staircase.

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Sammartino e Delfino

Caltagirone’s unique history (it derives its name from qal’at-al-jarar, meaning castle of pottery jars in Arabic) and the characteristics of the clay in the area have led it to be a well known centre for pottery. One of the most esteemed studios with a fabulous selection of handcrafted pieces is Sammartino e Delfino. I was impressed with the level of artisanship and commitment to tradition exhibited during my browse of its boutique. Find out more at ceramichecaltagironeds.com.

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Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Caltagirone

Another surprise treat was the city’s museum of contemporary art, also known as the Ospedale delle Donne (the Hospital of the Ladies). Home of an important Art Brut collection with international scope but particular focus on Sicilian talent, it was a lovely venue for viewing intriguing art. This municipal website seems to be the best online research for more details: comune.caltagirone.ct.it/comune.caltagirone.ct.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4171&Itemid=658.

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Ristorante Il Locandiere

Undoubtedly the most interesting meal I enjoyed in Sicily and one of the most memorably delicious I’ve had this year, dinner at Il Locandiere seafood (and only seafood!) restaurant was a dream. Taking traditional Sicilian recipes and giving them a contemporary and slightly upscale twist since opening in 2005, this elegant and cosy little restaurant pleased my palate immensely. Swordfish prosciutto with almonds and orange? Anchovy and walnut fritters? Herring with orange and fennel? Locally produced organic wines made indigenous grapes (from Feudo di Santa Tresa)? Yes please! And when can I get back there for more gorgeous food? Service was gracious and appreciative. The vibe was informal and buzzy. There’s no website for the restaurant that I can find, but here’s Il Locandiere’s Facebook page: facebook.com/pages/Ristorante-Il-Locandiere/232533213957.

Please keep an eye out for more juicy tales in my Le Vie della Zagara series of posts.

Posted in Art, Drink, Food, Italy, Le Vie della Zagara, Museums, restaurants, Shopping, Sicily, Travel, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Daily Photo: Dalston

LDP 2015.05.06 - Dalston

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Le Vie della Zagara: Palazzo Adriano

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Okay. I’ve covered the citrus side of my Sicilian excursion – with bits about Ciaculli mandarins, Ribera oranges, blood oranges, Interdonato lemons and Syracuse lemons – and now I want to talk about some of the other equally fruitful aspects of my trip. So in the next few posts of my Le Vie della Zagara series I’m going to highlight a handful of the more remarkable sights encountered while touring Sicily. First up is the quaint and scenic mountain village of Palazzo Adriano.

Palazzo Adriano was worth a looksee for the scenic-on-the-verge-of-epic mountain drive from Palermo taken to get there alone (sorry no pics – I was crammed in the back of a coach). While there though, more wonders were to be discovered.

Did you ever see Cinema Paradiso? It was filmed in Palazzo Adriano, There’s a sweet little museum dedicated to the movie in the town hall where guided walks visiting shooting locations can be organised. From what I saw, the place seemed not to have changed much at all since the film was released in the late 80s.

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Largely unaltered since well before the 80s (but gorgeously restored) is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in the heart of town. A 16th century Greek Orthodox Cathedral built by Albanian refugees who were the first people to settle in the area now known at Palazzo Adriano, the church is majestic and unless you’re an expert on Sicilian history somewhat incongruously set.

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Albergo Ristorante Pizzeria Del Viale

For my one night in Palazzo Adriano, I stayed at the humble three-star Del Viale albergo. It provided a good night’s rest in a simple but comfortable – and spotlessly clean – accommodation. I was up a few floors, my room was extra quiet, and I slept soundly (word is the rooms on lower floors might not be as buffered from street noise though). I was too stuffed from an excellent meal served just outside town at the rustic L’Azienda Agrituristica Casale Borgia and sorely wished I’d had room for a bite of the perfectly baked pizzas coming out of Del Viale’s wood-fired oven. Run by Nina Barbata and her son and daughter, service during my brief booking was warm and kind. The location is ideal for walking around town. Considerably more basic and downmarket than the rest of the places where I checked in while on the island, Del Viale was nevertheless my favourite. Find out more at the albergo’s Facebook page: facebook.com/pages/Albergo-Ristorante-Pizzeria-Del-Viale/408943315912805.

Please keep an eye out for more juicy tales in my Le Vie della Zagara series of posts.

Posted in Food, Hotels, Italy, Le Vie della Zagara, Movies, Pizza, restaurants, Sicily, Travel, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Vie en Rose Afternoon Tea at the Sofitel London St James

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On now and running throughout May is a new floral-inspired La Vie en Rose afternoon tea at the Rose Lounge at the Sofitel London St James hotel. I got a taste of this limited run luxury a couple of weeks back and very much enjoyed it. Here’s a waft of what made it such a treat for me.

Maybe it was the harpist playing in the corner of the Sofitel’s comfortable yet elegant Rose Lounge? Really, where else are you going to find something like that around town these days?

Or perhaps it was the chance to sip from a selection of the exquisite assortment of blends from old school French teahouse, Dammon Freres. I tried two: the especially well suited and fragrant Rose Bud and a more robust and rather pungent Lapsang Souchoung smoked black tea. I loved both.

Or was it the limited edition desserts created by Head Chef Vincent Menager to celebrate the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show? Poppy mousseline cream with vanilla sponge, strawberry compote and pink chocolate spray; hibiscus parfait with raspberry jelly, mascarpone cream, rose jelly, hibiscus jelly, and crystalised rose petals … I could go on.

Whatever the case (and it was probably those desserts), I’m happy to recommend visiting the Rose Lounge for a quality afternoon tea. And do so this month while La Vie en Rose menu is on is double guarantee of delight. The limited run tea is a celebration of the 2015 Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show and is offered daily from noon to 6pm with prices starting at £30.

Finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones (served with lemon curd alongside more traditional clotted cream and strawberry preserves) were all delish. Service was swift and cordial.

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For more about the Rose Lounge and its La Vie en Rose afternoon tea, go to sofitelstjames.com. Sofitel London St James is located at 6 Waterloo Place, SW1Y 4AN.

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Le Vie della Zagara: Limone di Siracusa

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A fertile coastal plain stretching between the mountains and the sea with plenty of sea air and consistent year-round sunlight make conditions right for growing Limone di Siracusa, aka Syracuse lemons – some of the juiciest and zestiest on the market. Such conditions add up to a gorgeous place to visit too. The last of the low hanging PGI fruits picked along my journey across Sicily, here’s why I’m a sucker for the aroma and flavour of this mighty if diminutive squirt!

So I’ve been making a fuss in this series about how great it is to eat Sicilian citrus. But the use of these fruits – most particularly Syracuse lemons – in high-end perfumes and a range of other scented products is a big deal too. Just think about how many luxury and everyday items you encounter daily that have the scent of a lemon. In addition to the actual lemons you buy (especially if you shop at Tesco or Waitrose), there’s a good chance you come across Syracuse lemons on a very regular basis across a wide variety of items.

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90% of all lemons from Sicily are from Syracuse and – as I witnessed firsthand during a tour of facilities of organic producers, Campisi Italia, guided by Dr Fabio Moschella, President of the Consorzio dell’IGP Limone di Siracusa – a whole lot of lemons consumed throughout Europe come from Sicily.

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Still, you can’t beat how a lemon can up the flavour of so many foods, and such is definitely the case when enjoying the traditional cuisine of Syracuse. A lunch hosted by the Consorzio dell’IGP Limone di Siracusa at Agriturismo Pozzo di Mazza was as fine a feast as I could have imagined and one of the best meals I had during my trip. From salads to main courses and through to dessert – there’s hardly a dish lemons can’t enhance. I only had lunch at Pozzo di Mazza, but a snoop about the grounds of this 19th century working farm suggested it’s a lovely place to stay. Everybody there was really friendly too. Find out more at pozzodimazza.com.

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For a wealth of information about Syracuse lemons, including a number of recipes, go to limonedisiracusa.org.

Please keep an eye out for more juicy tales in my Le Vie della Zagara series of posts.

Posted in Drink, Food, Hotels, Italy, Le Vie della Zagara, Shopping, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

London Daily Photo: 11 Day Dean Street

LDP 2015.05.05 - 11 Day Dean Street

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Le Vie della Zagara: When Life Hands You Lemons Make Granita!

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One of the zestier episodes during my zip across Sicily’s Le Vie della Zagara was a visit to the seaside town of Alì Terme in the province of Messina. Here and along the Valle del Nisi, aside perhaps from the tourist trade, the locally grown Limone Interdonato is the main draw – whether on its own with a skin so sweet you can eat it raw or transformed into one of many refreshing delicacies at the local bar/pasticceria/gelateria/bomboniere.

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The “Interdonato” lemon is named after Colonel Giovanni Interdonato, who fought alongside Garibaldi in the Campaign of 1860 and then upon retirement grafted the first plants to yield his eponymous lemon. The result of his efforts is an organically grown PGI hybrid of the local adriddaro lemon and the citron: an early ripening, large, elongated, cylindrical, and thin skinned lemon with a lower level of citric acid than most lemons. So, it’s a bigger sweeter more versatile lemon. The bulk of production for the Interdonato is between September and April with smaller quantities available up to July. Today, the Consorzio IGP Limone Interdonato is presided by Dr Attilio Interdonato, a direct descendent of the colonel. Find out more at interdonatorelimone.it.

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Down the road (and on the beach) from the Interdonato family farm is Pasticceria Bar Todaro Carmelo, where locally sourced lemons play a starring role in a number of handcrafted sweets. At Todaro I had a fantastic granita and an assortment of gorgeous – lemony but not terribly tart – cakes and biscuits. The humble family run business doesn’t seem to have any online presence, but generally glowing reviews on TripAdvisor suggest I’m hardly the only foodie who enjoyed a nibble there.

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Please keep an eye out for more juicy tales in my Le Vie della Zagara series of posts.

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Are you Sitting Comfortably? Street Food Heroes Crabbieshack Pop-up at The Hat & Tun

Crabbieshack burger

Leila Dukes discovers the best of both worlds (amazing street food and a clean and comfortable place to sit and eat it) in her preview of the Crabbieshack pop-up coming to The Hat & Tun later this month.

Sure, street food is great, but let’s be honest – eating on the street is a bit of a drag. There’s nowhere to sit and you never have enough hands. I hate to think of the amount of precious booze I’ve spilled trying to juggle drinks, plates, cash. I know that the street food movement was all about rebelling against fusty, fancy “fine dining”, but frankly – I like to have a table when eating.

I’m not alone: park benches, low walls, street signs, steps and doorways near street food markets always get taken over by crowds of people crouching down and unwrapping their lunch, creating an impromptu (yet still uncomfortable) dining table with their knees. Near the fantastic Whitecross St Market, dozens of fully grown adults steal a march on a nearby children’s playground, repurposing the swings and climbing frames as a lunch venue – the poor kids wanting to play not getting a look in!

Trouble is, most cafes and bars frown upon bringing food in from outside. Kudos to the ETM group, who have had the brilliant idea of inviting Crabbieshack to host a pop-up at the The Hat & Tun pub in Clerkenwell – meaning punters can enjoy street food while sitting comfortably.

For three nights only from Wednesday 13th – Friday 15th May, 5.30pm to 9pm, Crabbieshack will be serving Old Bay Batter Soft-Shell Crab Burgers (£9.50). There are enough options on The Hat And Tun’s Crabbieshack menu to keep you coming back throughout the three days of crustacean craziness:

  • Fennel, almond, avocado and harissa
  • Pickled cucumber, chilli, coriander and wasabi mayo
  • Leafy sea aster and tartare sauce
  • Sweetcorn salsa and lobster mayo
  • Nori seaweed, apple, cabbage, spring onion and Sriracha mayo

You can also go for a simple “crab and bun” without sauce and filling, for £7, or crab with salad (£7.50).

Shell out for some of London’s best burgers at The Hat & Tun this May.

The Hat & Tun is located at 3 Hatton Wall, EC1N 8HX. Find out more at thehatandtun.com. For more about Crabbieshack, go to crabbieshack.co.uk.

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Le Vie della Zagara: Sicily’s Beautiful Blood Oranges

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Sicily’s rosso oranges have 50% more vitamin C than other less rosily hued oranges. These PGI fruits are super delicious too – probably my favourite kind of citrus. Before this recent visit to Sicily, I just always assumed there was only one type of blood orange (as we refer to it in the English speaking world), the Sanguinello. However, it’s just one of three arancie rosse to be found in the teeming fruit bowl of Sicily.

The three varietals of Sicilian blood oranges include the deeply crimson Moro, the Tarocco (a great all rounder and Italy’s most popular orange), and the sweet and succulent Sanguinello.

During my time travelling Le Vie della Zagara, I got a taste of all three blood oranges (and more – keep reading!) while visiting two places involved in the production of aranchia rossa: the lavish San Giorgio Estate with its upscale luxury Aranjaya villa and the more pragmatic but nonetheless impressive processing facilities of Pannitteri & C. Both are located in the eastern area of Sicily within the province of Catania and bestowed with jaw-dropper views of smoking and snow-capped Mount Etna.

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Aranjaya

An ideal setting for, well, pretty much anything you can imagine doing beneath the gracious glow of the generous (if unrelenting) Sicilian sun, Aranjaya luxury villa is set among the vast acreage of the San Giorgio Estate, awarded in 2003 as a Natural and Cultural Heritage site by the European Organization for Landowners. Assured natural beauty, panoramas of Etna, private pool as well as “polished–terracotta floors, soaring ceilings and gallery-quality (midcentury) antique furnishings, set within its own private parkland, verdant with a precious palm tree collection from all over the subtropical world” ensure a charmed stay for guests.

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They pour a gorgeous glass of OJ in the morning too! While there, I sampled a range of blood orange juices (all three grown on the estate) in addition to a few especially refreshing glassfuls the estate’s own Rudolfina hybrid of blood and navel orange, one of the tastiest treats I enjoyed on my trip.

Aranjaya is a 20-minute drive from the airport in Catania, but a world away from its bustle. Find out more at aranjaya.com.

Pannitteri & C

Ever bought a blood orange from Waitrose, Asda or M&S? Odds are you’ve had a fruit grown by Pannitteri & C? Located on the lower slopes of Etna in the Belpasso area of Catania, Pannitteri & C brings 20,000 tons of oranges to the market (mostly by way of its Rosaria brand, the “blood orange with its name on the sticker”). The majority of oranges are picked from December to April with blood oranges picked from December to April and “blonde” ones picked from April to June and October to December. Read lots more at en.aranciarosaria.eu and pannitteri.it.

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Please keep an eye out for more juicy tales in my Le Vie della Zagara series of posts.

Posted in Drink, Food, Hotels, Italy, Le Vie della Zagara, Luxury, Shopping, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

4 Awesome Travel Ideas for National Bike Month (OneTravel)

National Bike Month

Did you know May is National Bike Month? Sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and “celebrated in communities from coast to coast” since 1956, National Bike Month is a chance to showcase the benefits of bicycling and encourage more people to get on their rides more often. So, why not make the most of it with a scenic ride on your favorite two-wheeler?

Here’s a list of destinations and tips for the cycle savvy (and those of us wishing we were) to get peddling in the right direction …

Read my complete post at OneTravel.

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Le Vie della Zagara: Balanced and Scenic Ribera

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The world’s only orange with PDO certification (protected designation of origin, DOP in Italian) grows in Ribera, Sicily. Belonging to the family of yellow navel oranges, it’s not all that different in appearance to any run of the mill orange you’re apt to come across at any supermarket anywhere in the world. But bite into a Ribera or drink some of its juice and what sets it apart becomes clear. It’s a juicy fruit with a balanced ratio of sugars and acids – not too sweet or tart – with a firm and smooth flesh and no seeds.

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Distinctively delicious oranges or not, Ribera is a special place. Situated just a few miles from the sea and set snug within the rippled landscape of Sicily’s southeastern coast, the area benefits from a suntrap microclimate. Above this compact and pretty hilltop city and its vast spread of groves sits the ruins of Poggio di Diana, a 12th century Norman castle. The path leading up to the castle is scattered with wild orange and almond trees with the air wafting through as agreeably aromatic as the views from its base are sweeping and dramatic.

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Please keep an eye out for more juicy tales in my Le Vie della Zagara series of posts.

Posted in Drink, Food, Italy, Le Vie della Zagara, Shopping, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

London Daily Photo: A View from Radio Rooftop Bar

LDP 2015.05.04 - A View from Radio Rooftop Bar

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Le Vie della Zagara: Ciaculli and its Anti-Mafia Mandarins

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First stop on Le Vie della Zagara was the Palermo suburb of Ciaculli, home of the juicy Mandarino Tardivo di Ciacualli, where land once owned by the Mafia has been confiscated and converted into citrus groves by the locally run Consorzio il Tardivo di Ciaculli.

Legend has it that Mafiosi messing with the local water supply around the groves of Ciacualli back in the 1940s inadvertently created the right conditions to produce the Mandarino Tardivo di Ciacualli (“late” mandarin grown in the area around Ciaculli) when mandarins far superior to those grown earlier in the year started fruiting later in the season than was believed to be possible.

Mandarino Tardivo trees flower between March and June. Fruiting is from January to March. So I got a good whiff of the blossoms during this press trip but wasn’t there for fruit picking. I was able to have a taste of some of the last of the latest harvest though and found the fruits to be just as described and a lot better than most mandarins I’ve tasted. I also had the pleasure of enjoying a sip or two of the local mandarinello (like limoncello but made with mandarins) – it’s a super refreshing drink!

Tardivo mandarins are known for their thin skins, making them difficult to handle and to ship. So if you come across them in a shop, they’ll probably be priced a little higher than other mandarins. Juicier, sweeter and with fewer seeds than typical mandarins, I reckon it would be worth paying a bit more money to give them a try.

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Much of my day in Ciaculli was spent at production facilities for the Consorzio il Tardivo di Ciaculli, where the consortium’s president Giovanni D’Agati showed me and the rest of the media gang around. He was proud (and rightly so) to explain that Ciaculli’s late season mandarins are certified PGI (IGP in Italian) and have protected geographical status similar to other area specific products like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Champagne. G’Agati also pointed out that his consortium is part of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity and that its products are “pizzo free” meaning the consortium does not make extortion payments to organised crime.

When mandarins are not in harvest, the consortium shifts its focus to other citrus fruits such as lemons and medlars.

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A lavish and largely vegetarian lunch (one of the yummiest during my time in Sicily) was hosted by the consortium at MandarInArte, a cooperative tasked with converting ex-Mafia land into sites for sustainable tourism projects. Whoever does the cooking for this cooperative is a genius! Our lunch featured foraged wild herbs, homemade cheese (ricotta!) and breads and a wealth of traditional dishes made with fresh veggies and plenty of sweets.

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Please keep an eye out for more juicy tales in my Le Vie della Zagara series of posts. Grazie. And when shopping in Sicily, look for the “PizzoFree” or “Addiopizzo” symbol.

PizzoFree Addiopizzo

Posted in Drink, Food, Italy, Le Vie della Zagara, Shopping, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

London Daily Photo: Way

LDP 2015.05.03 - Way

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Le Vie della Zagara: Experiencing Sicily with Gusto!

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Invited to attend a mid April press trip hosted by Sicilian not-for-profit cultural association Gusto di Campagna and the Distretto Agrumi di Sicilia (Citrus District of Sicily), I was one of roughly two dozen members of the international media to travel Sicily’s Le Vie della Zagara, a new initiative encouraging visitors to spend at least a little time of their beach bound holiday in delicious and eyeopening exploration of the island’s surprisingly diverse landscape and enjoy its equally varied bounty of citrus fruits and many more treats along the way.

Gusto di Campagna – a term which could be interpreted to mean country flavour or country style, and I suspect the idea is for the phrase to have dual meaning – was established in 2007 by “farmers willing to collaborate together to promote and enhance their quality productions and their multifunctional agricultural activities.” Sound like a load of hot dry air? Well, there was an awful lot of huffing and puffing about grand plans that I had to endure during the trip and considerably less demonstration of action than I would have loved to see. But (and it’s a big juicy gorgeous but) for all the ostentatious bluster of earnest intent, a cool sea breeze of down to earth charm soon smoothed things out and cleared the air for the captivating wonders of sun-kissed Sicily to be wholly admired.

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Zagara is Italian for orange blossom. And La Vie della Zagarathe ways of the orange blossom – certainly proved an apt description of the itinerary we kept as the first full month of spring indeed was a glorious time to visit. Most everywhere on our tour, the heady and intoxicating scent of the zagara was present enhancing the mood when situations were already pleasing, softening annoyances or inconveniences when not.

The trip was my first to Sicily. Despite knowing Italy pretty well and having had the good fortune to see a sizeable chunk of it, many of the most quintessentiallyItalian elements I’ve come to expect weren’t nearly as apparent or discernible as everywhere else I’ve been in the country.

At its closest point to the Italian mainland, Sicily is only a couple of miles across the Strait of Messina from Calabria on the mainland. But the distance between, say, Palermo and Milan is considerably greater. Indeed, Sicily is a lot closer geographically – and to a considerable extent culturally – to North Africa than Northern Italy (and Palermo is about as far from Milan as it is London).

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With its Moorish past, the tone of the island comes across as more like that of the Alentejo, deepest Andalusia or Marrakech than that of Venice or even Rome. But it wasn’t only the Moors who made an impact. The Greeks, Romans and Normans – and of course, the Bourbon Kings whose mark is perhaps the most indelible of those left upon this uniquely Sicilian mélange set amidst a backdrop of rugged and imposing terrain. Add to this ancient and beguiling hodgepodge, Sicily’s famously sunshiny climate along with generous amounts of one of the world’s yummiest cuisines to yield as richly idiosyncratic a destination as any.

Very much a diamond in the rough but an undeniably marvellous gem to behold, local folks seem to realise they live somewhere special but aren’t quite sure what it is that makes them and their island home so distinctively different. Every customer service quirk or wrinkle in my visitor experience (and I must say such nuanced encounters occurred more frequently than I am accustomed) was countered usually with a warm generosity of time or a sincere desire to please – often during the same situation and from the same persons involved.

In the coming days, I’ll delve deeper into the tastiest bits discovered along Le Vie della Zagara in a series of dedicated posts. Until then here are a few key points on getting to Sicily from London.

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Addison Lee

I used the handy dandy Addison Lee app for my transfers to/from London airports. I’ve relied on the app a number of times before and definitely plan to for upcoming trips as I’ve yet to have any issues with the service.

Flights

Ryanair via Stansted got me to Palermo on a Monday night while Easyjet from Catania brought me back to London via Gatwick the following Friday. I can’t say I’m a fan of flying Ryanair, but I’ve got to give the airline credit for serving so many routes to otherwise overlooked or hard to reach places. My outbound flight was my first experience flying Ryanair Business Plus, which for yielded a much more comfortable and tolerable journey than usual for not that much more cost. The Easyjet leg was hassle free.

Agromobile

Agromobile is a website and a free to download app sharing food and wine related itineraries in Sicily. The project is the brainchild of Gaia Barcellona and Valentina Guerrera, “two young professional Sicilian women who love their land and have decided to start an activity that would enhance and promote the image of Sicily both in Italy and in the whole world.” A number of the sites I visited along Le Vie della Zagara are highlighted by Agromobile with practical suggestions grounded with a local perspective.

For more details about Gusto di Campagna go to gustodicampagna.com.

Information about the Distretto Agrumi di Sicilia can be found at distrettoagrumidisicilia.it.

More to come! Grazie.

Posted in Apps, Food, Italy, Le Vie della Zagara, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

London Daily Photo: In the Urban Countryside

LDP 2015.05.02 - In the Urban Countryside

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The Clothes Club Fundraiser at Dalston Roof Park

The Clothes Club fundraiser at Dalston Roofpark

Need some new summer clothes? Emily de Groot asks, “Why not put some conscience into your closet at the same time?”

The Clothes Club is hosting a fundraising event at the recently reopened Dalston Roof Park, on Thursday 21 May. For just £8, you’ll get some new clothes, make a donation to the causes they’re supporting at the same time and there’s some great prizes in the raffle too. Early bird tickets are available here.

The Clothes Club is supporting two great projects:

A youth project run by Arts Against Knives. Through their creative workshops and projects they have been successful in supporting young individuals with a past in crime who need experience and opportunity to access education employment and training.

Also supported is Childhope via TRAID, who provide birth certificates for children of garment workers. In Bangladesh many garment workers are extremely poor women who are single mothers. They have usually migrated from rural areas looking for work and opportunities for themselves and their children. With high demand for cheap labour in the garment industry, many of these women work sewing clothes in factories. Birth certificates are crucial so their children can get access to education and medical care.

The Clothes Club fundraiser at Dalston Roofpark

Dalston Roof Park is located at The Print House, 18-22 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL. To find out more details or to join The Clothes Club community, visit facebook.com/TheClothesClub. And why not follow them on Twitter @clothes_club_uk? For more about Dalston Roof Park, go to bootstrapcompany.co.uk.

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London Daily Photo: Welcome to Haringey

LDP 2015.05.01 - Welcome to Haringey

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Finding Inspiration in Bonne Maman Desserts

Bonne Maman

Maddie Salters visits the Bonne Maman team and celebrity chef Eric Lanlard for sweet inspiration.

Little angular jars of Bonne Maman jams, jellies, and compotes have sat on breakfast tables across the UK for decades, so imagine my surprise and delight to find that its brother branch, the brand’s lineup of fine cakes, biscuits, and tartlets, work as a great accompaniment to old favourites or as a tasty stand-alone treat.

If you don’t know about Bonne Maman’s dessert line yet, my prediction is that you’ll be a fan. The literal sibling to the lauded jam brand, two real brothers own the branches of the company, and oversee the excellence its name implies: old-school recipes, natural ingredients, indulgent freshness.

I joined the Bonne Maman team in the kitchen for their cooking demonstration with celebrity chef Eric Lanlard to learn how their dessert line, helmed by the famous Madeline cake, can be enjoyed on its own or used as inspiration to enliven new recipes.

In the kitchen, Eric is equally a natural: he slices through fresh fruit with daring precision, jokes with an ease that loosens up the crowd, and carefully straddles the UK-French rivalry by denying to answer which country was responsible for the founding of the Charlotte cake he is whipping up for us. The bold interpretation of the Charlotte uses Bonne Maman Madeleine cakes to line the sides and base, creating layers for the decadent strawberry mousse, fruits, mint, and syrup to sit on, soaking in all the flavour while holding shape. It’s fun to see how the cakes, which are light enough not to overtake a delicate balance of fruit notes while adding form and substance, can be incorporated into other recipes.

Eric also gives some excellent cooking tips. Only add vanilla extract to recipes once they’re cooled, as heat kills the flavour. Whisk sugar and eggs quickly, so that the sugar doesn’t begin to cooking the eggs. If you’re making a Bonne Maman mousse cake in the summer, add a bit of sparkling rosé to the blend, or mulled wine in the winter for a holiday treat– provided your young guests will not be digging in! Cheekily, he adds that you should try your fruit in the market before you buy it. While I’m not sure that would fly at my local grocer, he passes this off with a wave of the hand and the assurance, “I’m French.” Better to be bold than end up with watery fruits, is the implication.

The folks at Bonne Maman feel the same way.

Once the Charlotte cake is done, it was time to test their lineup of desserts individually – a pleasant task.

The newcomers to the line, the tartlets and the coconut chocolate cakes, hold up to their elders. The lemon tartlet is especially tangy, while the chocolate caramel version has a nostalgic taste to it, all the elements of childhood wrapped up into a confectionary no bigger than three bites.

My personal pick, however, is the chocolate Madeline. I took to the cookie bar to decorate it in icing and fondant roses, delighted by the result. Both because of its decadent taste, and by thought of whipping up these tiny decorated cakes as dinner party finger-food. Served alongside a nice muscat, it’s a quick, no-fuss ending to a meal, in perfect portions– a host’s dream.

Since the demonstration, I have been munching on Bonne Maman salted caramel cookies and the chocolate Madeleines, sometimes in parcel to a sweet brunch, and sometimes as an after-dinner treat. The best feature of the desserts is that they come individually wrapped for freshness and longevity, which meant they don’t go stale once the box it open. The fact that the Bonne Maman team also posts frequent recipes for which their desserts can be incorporated means that the lineup isn’t a one-hit wonder. I look forward to enjoying Granny’s recipes at meals to come! Bon appétit.

To learn more, check out Bonne Maman’s webpage at bonnemaman.co.uk/our-products.

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