Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Travel | The lentils of Castelluccio

13 November 2013

DSC_0624

The best thing I ate in Italy was a bowl of lentil soup. This is not to disparage all the other wonderful, perhaps more refined things we enjoyed there, but this was, quintessentially, a perfect meal.

We went to Umbria this summer to attend the wedding of two very close friends. Many of the guests, like us, took the opportunity to spend a few days or, as we did, a full week in the somewhat remote and very beautiful region.

The festivities were to take place on a Saturday in a small paradise of an agriturismo (farm-hotel) outside Norcia. We’d barely arrived, quite a bit later than planned, on the Friday evening, when we were swept off for an improvised dinner in town with a hodgepodge of guests. We ordered chaotically, dined boisterously, and drove the waiters mad as our posse of children challenged local Italian kids for a football match in the piazza. It was cliché like a recent Woody Allen film, just with many many more children. It was great. I don’t remember what I ate that evening.

DSC_0638DSC_0631

Two days after the wedding the feted couple organized a hike up Monte Vettore, the highest peak of the Sibillini range, the mountains against which Norcia is nestled. The road from Norcia winds up the lush forested mountainside to a crest, which, on the other side, reveals a large, treeless plateau encircled by higher peaks. It’s an unexpected sight. Off in the distance to the North, an earth-toned village perched amid the towering hills presides, alone.

DSC_0629

I didn’t, at first, realize where I was. Not when everyone stopped their cars, awestruck by the symphony of colors, patchworked in neat rectangles all over the valley. Surely they didn’t grow flowers up here? Only when our host explained that the flowers grow wild among the lentils, did it hit me: Castelluccio, of course! I know the lentils of Castelluccio, world famous little pulses often mentioned in the the same breath as French Puy lentils. If I think carefully, I even remember that Simone comes from the region of Castelluccio and some years ago brought us a bag of precious lentils from a home trip. Here we are — amazing!

As I witnessed and have now learned, Castelluccio lentils are grown in this valley without the use of pesticides, using an old tradition of three-year crop rotation alternating lentils, cereals (spelt, barley), and pasture. In 1997 Castellucio received the geographical protection certificate from the European Union. Only lentils marked Lenticchia di Castelluccio di Norcia — IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) are guaranteed to come from this plateau. ‘Norcia’ or ‘Umbrian lentils’ most likely do not.

DSC_0616

But we had a mountain to climb. A veritable caravan set off — adults, children, small children, babies — little groups trickling up the mountain path. Some were faster than others; not everyone made it to the top. For a while I tried to catch up with Leo, who had scampered off with a group of eager mountaineers, but as they receded ever farther up I thought better to wait for those lower down who were carrying Louise. It was a serious hike. A hike where, at some, you stop speaking to your companions for lack of breath. Where your mind starts to wander over the scenery, conjuring up the Mediterranean in the distance. The kind of hike that makes you hungry.

DSC_0655

It feels as though I practically ran down that mountain, even with Louise on my back, as the light deepened, probably because by then I knew what awaited at the ‘merenda’ (afternoon snack) planned in Castelluccio.

We were not the first to arrive, to plonk down wearily on the wooden benches with sprawling views of the valley below, and immediately a large plate of lentil soup arrived. It was very simple, with a half-submerged slice of bread and generous drizzle of olive oil. It tasted, as far as my ravenous palate could tell, mainly and, most deliciously, of lentils. It was probably the best soup I had ever eaten. That first bowl, and a second one, and most of Louise’s as well. The salumi and cheeses that followed are completely forgotten in the shadow of that soup.

Seeing the crops, trudging up Monte Vettore for hours, overlooking the fields and village, before digging into a bowl of soup made of the fruit of this sumptuous valley. That was perfect.

DSC_0633

I asked Simone for his mom’s lentil soup recipe, which she was most kind to share. Here it is, exactly as is. It should resemble very closely the one we had in Castelluccio. Mille grazie!

DSC_0733

“I’m glad to export the recipe for lentils: here is how I do it, but the variations are many.

Ingredients: lentils, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, sausage if you wish. Water: 1 1/4 lt. for 500 gr. of lentils.

Castelluccio lentils do not need preliminary soaking; for other kinds read instructions.

Rinse the lentils thoroughly. Put in a pot with cold water: lentils, onion, celery, carrot and salt. The amount of water must be such as to be absorbed during the cooking and the absorption may be different between the types of lentils; if they are too dry, add more boiling water. Boil over low heat for as long as is recommended by instructions on the package; for those from Castelluccio: 20 to 30 minutes.

After cooking the lentils should not be drained so it is important to measure out the amount of water.

They can be enjoyed with just a dash of olive oil or: put already crumbled sausage in a pan, some clove of peeled garlic, warm up then add the lentils already boiled as described above. Cook for 10 minutes, serve in bowl with lentils over a slice of toasted bread and a drizzle of olive oil. On New Year’s day lentils are served with pig’s feet for good luck. Enjoy your meal!”

DSC_0796

Exciting times. Part III.

17 October 2013

IMG_0761

And here we are!

photo(10)

Much closer to here, actually

photo(5)

Unpacking

IMG_0540

Shopping

IMG_0857

Cooking

IMG_0843

Baking

IMG_0768

Eating at home

IMG_0483

And out

photo(9)

Visiting

photo(7)

Three children in school!

IMG_0686

On sunny afternoons

photo(8)

And rainy mornings

IMG_0970

Sitting in a coffee shop (because we still don’t have internet…), writing. Exciting times.

Exciting times. Part II.

16 October 2013

Roscoff, Brittany

The last time I moved across continents I had a three-week-new husband, a few metal trunks, and a couple of suitcases. This time was different. Moving with a full house and three children takes some of the fun out of moving. It dampens the feeling of freedom and endless possibility somewhat. There are schools to contend with, and lots and lots more stuff.

We gave ourselves two weeks to pack up in New York and two weeks in London to get everything sorted and those were four remarkably stressful weeks, but, I have to say, now that all is pretty much settled, in retrospect, it wasn’t all that bad.

Anyway, moving wasn’t going to encroach on our summer vacation, on the contrary, what a perfect opportunity to embark on a giant road trip through Europe. Because, why not?

IMG_9906

First the Eurostar to Brussels to visit family and friends and pick up the children

IMG_9953

Then a long drive to Munich to visit family and idle away the hours, from Biergarten, to park, to lake, to Biergarten

IMG_0026IMG_9993IMG_0016

And off to Italy and beautiful Umbria!

IMG_0067photo(1) photo(2)

We climbed up a mountain — Phew.
We lolled by the Adriatic.

IMG_0084

All the while spending time with friends. Old friends we hadn’t seen in much too long. New friends.

photo

People should get married much more often.

Then a violent drive to Paris, and Thomas eurostarred to London while the children and I continued on to Brittany for the last three weeks of this transitional summer.

IMG_0130IMG_0143 IMG_0148 IMG_0149IMG_0125 IMG_0230 IMG_0267 IMG_0422IMG_0407 IMG_0440

Before moving to London.

Exciting times. Part I.

15 October 2013

Much has happened since June, the last time I published something here, and it was all good. A whirlwind. Busy, very busy. Fun too, sometimes stressful, exciting, beautiful, a little unnerving at times, but all good.

We packed up our life

IMG_9639

How do you say goodbye to the place where you’ve lived for 14 years? Not really.

IMG_9513

We spent time with friends

IMG_9687

We went out

IMG_9733

We may have revisited a coffee shop bench

IMG_9742

We had lunch!

IMG_9760

Oh, New York, you’re not making this any easier…

IMG_9782

One last glimpse and it’s time to go

IMG_9791

Hello London!

IMG_9830

We found a park

IMG_0716

And decided to build our life around it.

Travel | Two meals in Québec City and a night at the bar

11 January 2013

 DSC_0219

People don’t seem to gush forth with recommendations for restaurants in Québec City. Montréal is different, and off hand even I would know a few places I’d love to go to one day and might even recommend without having been. But we were off to Québec and had to eat, somehow. Every meal doesn’t have to be Joe Beef, but most cities have at least one café that makes a decent salad, or a diner that serves a good burger. I made a couple of timid social media attempts to snag recommendations and got only one response (thank you!) for a place outside Québec, which unfortunately wasn’t open when we were going.

It took one or two edible but unremarkable meals before I turned to Yelp and Chowhound, which pointed me in the direction of l’Echaudé, a simple and tasteful French bistro in the old city. It is by no means a ‘family restaurant’; our children were the only ones there, there are no designated kids’ options, but Louise was welcome with a jar of crayons to doodle directly onto the white paper tablecloth covers, and everyone found something very good to eat.

DSC_0265

The blood sausage (shaped like a slice of terrine) was possibly the silkiest I have ever eaten, there was an above average steak tartare. Salmon tartare was fine too. The desserts, especially the tarte au sucre (which I must learn to make!) and a grapefruit tarte, were outstanding. It is not a restaurant to warrant the trip; I am a rigid seasonal snob and I do cringe at the sight of fresh tomatoes and zucchini in December, but it was a fine meal, and a lovely place. So, absent any proper research, without having perused all the options, I am not implying it is the best place in Québec but nonetheless here it is: unequivocally a recommendation.

DSC_0225

For New Year’s we decided to have a hotel-room picnic, what with our brilliant view of the city fireworks. Thomas, who clearly has superior googling skills, discovered the Marché du Vieux-Port, promising feasts of Canadian products. Exactly what we were looking for. And so for a second recommendation.

At the Marché du Vieux-Port we found the mildest, flakiest, most delicious old-fashioned smoked salmon. The gentleman in line in front of me at Les Delices de la Mer urged me to also get the maple smoked salmon bites. Great advice. Les Canardises offered very good foie gras at remarquably decent prices. (I admit I was a bit envious of their flawlessly de-veined foie. Still have a bit to learn there.) There were amazing saucissons and excellent cheeses. As Mary had forewarned, finding Canadian, let alone Quebec wine was not easy. Mission Hill seemed the ubiquitous, reliable, readily available label. We drank champagne, too, from France. It was a feast, a fun and very delicious evening.

DSC_0287

DSC_0322

After a couple of days in Québec City we went skiing. And so for a third, most unlikely recommendation. When in Mont Tremblant, the best bet for a decent, relatively affordable meal may very well be the bar of the comfortable Fairmont Hotel nestled just at the bottom of the slopes. Again, no serious research resulted in this realization, just one outrageously expensive, horrific burger at Bullseye Grill. The place advertizes itself as a sandwiches and burgers kind of place, but once inside most options were well north of $30. We learned later that it is virtually impossible to find a medium-rare burger in Québec, where they are always cooked medium-well, which should warn anyone to stay away. But at $18, one would expect that the burger, even cooked to oblivion, would at least be 100% beef. If only.

And so back to the cozy hotel bar, armchairs and low light, a few manhattans, a bottle of wine, chicken wings, steak tartare, duck confit salad, the children outside tubing into the evening and barely disturbing the air as they rush in for plate of crudités and a burger (medium well, real meat – still there is some irony in serving raw meat but not pink hash). One last martini… The best bet.

Happy New Year!

*

L’Echaudé

73, rue Sault-au-Matelot
Vieux-Port
Québec, QC G1K 3Y9

1 418-692-1299

Lunch Mon-Fri 11.30 am-2 pm
Dinner from 5.30 pm
Brunch Sat-Sun from 10 am

www.echaude.com

*

Marché du Vieux-Port

160 Saint-André Quai
Québec, QC G1K 3Y2

1 418-692-2517

Mon-Fri 9 am-6 pm
Sat-Sun 9 am-5 pm

www.marchevieuxport.com

*

Nansen Lounge, Fairmont Tremblant

3045 Chemin de la Chapelle
Mont-Tremblant, QC J8E 1E1
1 866-540-4415
Daily 11 am-11 pm

www.fairmont.com/tremblant/dining/nansen-lounge/

*

Related posts

Breakfast in Montreal | Le Cartet and Olive + Gourmando

Eating out | Shack at the end of the road, Las Galeras, Samana, Dominican Republic


%d bloggers like this: