Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Date cookies

13 March 2015


I have three most vivid food memories of Jerusalem, which I visited nearly twenty years ago: yemeni malawach, a thick deliciously greasy flaky pancake served hot with raw crushed tomatoes and za’atar; addictive sachlab, a thick drink so unctuous and sickly sweet that it at once repels and keeps you coming back for more; and the date cookies from Damascus gate.

It was the spring of 1997 and I spent a few weeks in Israel visiting a friend — not ‘a’ friend, my oldest childhood friend, my next door neighbor for years, my daily play companion. She was studying in Jerusalem, so, apart from a few days around Purim during which we traveled together to the Sinai, and a few days when I ventured North alone, I spent most of those three weeks in Jerusalem, wandering. I paced the old city endlessly. Memories fade but snapshots remains. I remember the stones, the steps, the incline, the precarious wiring, the satellite dishes. I took the back way, I met mostly children. I was often halfway lost. Inevitably, the streets washed me toward Damascus gate, the buoyant pulse of Old Jerusalem.

There, a few paces removed from the falafel stands, standing alone, a little closer to the gate, was a cart piled high with date cookies.

I think I bought just one or two at first, to try. I came home with a very large bag. And although Tamara didn’t care for them, a few days later I was back for more. And then again to take some back to Berlin. This was nearly twenty years ago.

Here in London the other day a friend mentioned date bars. Then promptly — as she is wont to do — forwarded the recipe link. These are not the date cookies of Damascus gate, but, in a Proustian twist, they have transported me back to a forgotten moment, a faraway place, a cherished time, a magical trip.

Dan Lepard’s date bars share the Jerusalem cookies’ best qualities. They are subtle and layered, the understated flavors develop slowly and get under your palate. I cannot stop eating them.

Dan Lepard’s date bars (Click on the link for the recipe)

NOTE: I made just two slight adjustments:

I used only 15ml each of rose water and orange-blossom water because the ones I have are quite potent and I did not want the perfume to be overpowering. I would suggest tasting the dough and adjusting the amount accordingly.

Also, I cut the bars into 2cm (1-inch) pieces as I preferred a cookie feel rather than the larger bars.

Travel with children | Four days in Amsterdam

4 December 2014


Ideally, a break should combine some level of discovery, good food that needn’t be a quest, a hotel pleasant for both adults and children, a park, and somewhere to stop for a drink around four o’clock. Not all trips work, especially with mini people. Amsterdam met the magic mark.


On the way we spent one night in Delft, which lends itself well to treading the cobblestones at dusk, along quaint canals lined with glittering merchant houses, in search of dinner.

Then a day in The Hague with a stop at the Peace Palace and lunch in a surfer café on the beach. It was a blustery Sunday and Scheveningen was alive with weekend strollers and kite-surfers.


In Amsterdam, we sped along canals in the morning mist.


We clambered up constricted staircases to an old clandestine church — an intimate museum that conjures one of Amsterdam’s less tolerant chapters.


At the Rijksmuseum we lost track of time amid the lush collections of model boats, intricate arms, gleaming porcelains, and waggish magic lanterns before rushing up to an obligatory feast of Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Vermeer. The museum is gorgeously restored.


And offers a very decent lunch.


We visited the Van Gogh museum, as one must. It doesn’t reveal the artist the way the best museums might (I am thinking in particular of the Museu Picasso in Barcelona). The experience was rather like trudging through a mall during shopping season.


Whizzing around on bikes is the way to see Amsterdam. It is probably safer than risking it on foot — entitled riders are pretty reckless so it’s best to secure similar swerving capabilities. And cycling around with children makes dashing along the canals, from one museum to the next, very fun. No moans, no hint of a complaint.


We rode West to Café Restaurant Amsterdam, the best place to have a drink, read the paper, have a delicious dinner of simple plates (tiny grey shrimp, Dutch herring, mackerel fillets, rillettes, lentil salad with parma ham) with a glass of Sancerre, all in a nineteenth-century Pumping Station. Great food, a casual atmosphere, no pretense. Perfect.


Later we met friends and found the parakeets in Vondelpark.


We spent a morning at the stunning Scheepvartmuseum.


And even managed to steal a visit to Droog. There is a cool sweet shop just across the street to occupy less patient gremlins.


We stopped on a pretty gracht for that four o-clock drink.


And we cycled along the harbor at night.


We had booked the room with the swing.



Pining for an Easter brunch

9 April 2014


Once again we will be away for Easter. It’s the second time and I thought I’d resolved it wouldn’t happen again.

No, I am not so undeserving as to regret last year’s magical vacation in Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. Today we are going to Greece and for months I’ve been skipping-in-the-street excited about our upcoming trip! It’s just the timing. Ages ago in January when we booked the flights it all seemed so far away. But Easter is approaching and I feel a pinch. These trips have come in the way of a much older custom, started I think when Leo was one, and the Easter Egg hunt followed by a massive brunch is my favorite tradition. I blame all of this untimely travel on the school holiday schedule…

Were we coming home a few days sooner, here are some of the things I would likely prepare.

Chicken liver terrine

Cheat’s potted crab

Mackerel rillettes

Mimosa deviled eggs

Lentil and fennel salad with lemon and parsley

Dandelion, fennel, and pumpkin seed salad

Poppy seed and almond cake

Quick lemon and lime tart

Emboldened by Holly‘s success, I might finally attempt a panettone. I’ve been dying to try.

And crucially we would, as every year but last, dye the eggs with leaf and flower motifs.

Happy Easter, happy spring!


Cheat’s potted crab

7 April 2014


I’ve been dreaming of potted crab since last October, when we left London for a few days during the fall vacation and drove South, on a pilgrimage of sorts, to places I’d often been as a child. We drove toward the sea through the meandering countryside, over detours of Ashdown Forest to my old school, our old house. In Brighton I couldn’t recall the fish and chips shop we always stopped at, though I remember the soggy chips, the flaky fish, the newspaper package sticky with vinegar and sea air, the grinding stones underfoot. The shop probably doesn’t exist anymore anyway.


Later we walked across the Seven Sisters, but in between we stayed in what must indeed be one of the prettiest villages in Sussex. In that village there was a pub. And in that pub there was potted crab. I ordered it only once, but each subsequent night I bit my lips at not having asked for it again. It was the best thing they served, or rather, it was just plain great, without qualifiers.

Potted crab is characteristic of the kind of British food that I love. It is simple, traditional, and, at its best, stellar. It’s ideal pub fare, picnic food, and perfect for an apéro.

‘Potting’ is a preservation technique, that derives from medieval pies. Meats and fish were initially baked in crusts as a means of conservation (apparently a fairly coarse crust, not intended as part of the delicacy). Once cooked, the pocket of air left between the filling and crust was filled with a sealing layer of fat poured through a hole in the crust. Later, crusts were dispensed of completely by using reusable pots.

IMG_1436 IMG_1437

Since that crab in the pub in the village in Sussex I’ve wanted to make it. It has taken me all these months and a split-second, spur-of-the-moment decision to make it. I cheated because I bought the crab meat. I have a very good fishmonger close by and as I mentioned, it was a last minute decision. Still, it was very good.

Cheat’s potted crab

250g butter

1 bay leaf

300g cooked crab meat (about 2/3 white meat, 1/3 dark meat)

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Pinch sea salt

Pinch cayenne pepper


Melt the the butter slowly in a small saucepan with the bay leaf.

Place the crab meat in a medium sized bowl, add the lemon zest and juice, salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour most of the melted butter into the crab meat, reserving about one quarter. Mix well.

Transfer the crab mixture to a bowl or glass terrine without packing it too much, smooth over the top. Coarsely cut a small handfull of chives over the crab and pour the remaining melted butter to seal (without the bay leaf). Keep in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 2 days.

Remove from the refrigerator about half an hour before using and serve with delicious bread.

It’s that easy!

A bite of London | Saturday in Stoke Newington

11 January 2014


My sister told me about the Stoke Newington farmer’s market even before we moved to London, so I’m not sure how to explain that, though we’ve lived here for over four months and despite the fact that Stoke Newington is very close to where we live, I’d not yet been. Well, maybe I can explain. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say we’ve had other things to do.

But as January sauntered in, magnificently nonchalant as it is wont to be, with no other plans last weekend we decided to finally visit the market. Oh but first, breakfast.


There are many tempting cafés and restaurants in Stoke Newington. The Haberdashery had caught my internet perusing eye, so we strolled up Stoke Newington High Street in its direction, peering into other possible options on the way. None beckoned.

I admit I have an incorrigible penchant for the time worn, run down, and artfully decaying, and immediately loved the place, its battered tile walls and seventies crockery. Service was kind and the coffee was good, unfortunately the food wasn’t great.


The English and vegetarian breakfasts were uneven. Free range eggs, nicely confit-ed tomatoes, amazing sausages. But the baked halloumi was hard and very salty, the bacon salty too and rubbery (I realize bacon preferences are highly personal. I like it crispy, but not burnt). French Toast was the most disappointing — weirdly drab, the bread too lightly battered and, somehow, dry.

But I would go back for something simpler. Maybe just a fried egg with those amazing sausages, and perhaps, like Balthasar, a side of perfectly sauteed spinach. Or just coffee.


And so to the market.

The Stoke Newington farmer’s market is my type. It’s not very big but has just the right selection: meat, fish, vegetables, mushrooms; someone sells buffalo milk products — amazing yogurt!; another raw milk — oh, to be back in Europe… There are a couple of very good bread stalls. In the fall there are fruits stands. All of it organic and local.



After this long overdue reconnaissance trip, the ice has been broken, and it’s sure to become a regular Saturday excursion.


A walk up High Street and along lively Stoke Newington Church Street away lies Clissold Park, which is lovely as London parks know to be. For children there’s a brilliant playground, skateboard fun park, deer enclosures, and a butterfly house in the warmer months. For a more leisurely time or a ball game there are huge lawns and shady trees. Worth spending a few lazy afternoon hours.



Stoke Newington farmer’s market
St Paul’s Church on Stoke Newington High Street
Saturdays from 10am to 2.30pm

The Haberdashery
170 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 7JL
Tel: 020 3643 7123
Open Mon-Wed 9am-6pm; Thu-Sun 9am-9pm


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