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Chasing Pineapples

an English girl tasting her way around the world

Month

April 2012

Betty’s cheers up a rainy day

After a heat wave in March giving us all false hope of the start of summer, the weather has now taken a turn for the worse. With predictions of the coldest May in 100 years, our plans of picnicking in the park and sipping Pimm’s on patios may well have to make way for hiding away in the warmth of our favourite cafés. One place that always puts a smile on my face, whether rain or shine, is Betty’s Tearooms in Yorkshire.

Betty’s has played a big part in my life, witnessing many a mile stone- from taking afternoon tea with my grandparents as a little girl, to exam results day breakfasts with the girls and mums, all the way through to my 21st Birthday dinner. As well as helping celebrate the good times, Betty’s never fails to cheer me up on a gloomy day. Once a week, after a long busy day at school, my best friend Jessica and I would have two hours to kill before play rehearsals. When the said day had been a bit ‘stressful’ and we were in need of a ‘pick-me-up’, we trotted down the familiar street of Bootham for dinner at the ever-friendly Betty’s. After our favourite of Swiss Alpine Macaroni (their speciality- penne pasta with bacon, potatoes and topped with a generous helping of gruyère cheese- which makes for an incredibly rich and satisfying warmer! Their refreshing homemade lemonade accompanies this perfectly to settle the stomach!) we would leave the art deco building refreshed and ready to play whatever part it was to be that day. However we often got so carried away in our little world of ‘all things nice’ that the walk back would usually consist of a jog and the formulating of an apparently valid excuse for being late…

Right in the heart of York, this almost century-old institution irresistibly combines mouth-watering Swiss food with Yorkshire warmth and hospitality. Adding to its charm, it was also a popular haunt of American and Canadian ‘Bomber Boys’ stationed around York during the war years, and ‘Betty’s Mirror,’ on which many of them engraved their signature with a diamond pen, remains on display to this day.

‘Who is Betty?’ you may ask. Good question… the identity of Betty remains a family mystery to this day. A favourite explanation is the tale of a small girl interrupting the first Board Meeting discussing a possible name for the Tea Rooms. This small bundle of joy was, of course, Betty.

Its huge success manifests itself in the omnipresent queue that wraps around the exterior of the building, rain or shine! Though definitely worth the wait, if you don’t wish to get soaked waiting in the rain, just pop down the street to the just as lovely, if possible even more quaint, Little Betty’s.

Devoted to doing things beautifully, Betty’s is a big part of why I am extremely proud to be a Yorkshire girl!

‘Very enticing’ http://www.bettys.co.uk/bettys_stonegate.aspx
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‘Four Spoons Please!’

When eating out together in an Italian restaurant, it has become a tradition in our family to order one Tiramisu with ‘four spoons please!’ When recently in Mexico I ordered a tiramisu and to our delight our waiter brought us four spoons without even being prompted, meaning our little ritual has travelled across the world with us. When I first left the nest for university I remember receiving a text from my dad reading ‘we’re having Tiramisu and we miss our fourth spoon,’ making me very nostalgic. I think that it is very important to have little quirky ways to make your eating experience in family that bit more special…I am in no way restricting family to the obvious… I am referring to any group of people with a special bond… for example the Sunday dinners between my housemates, or going for Hot Chocolate with my friend Pia, or dunking chocolate digestives in tea with my housemate Sophie… In this way, you create individual rituals that will always make you think of these special people. Wherever in the world I am, at whatever point in my life, and I have Tiramisu or choccie digestives dipped in tea, I will undoubtedly think of those who have added a little bit of pleasure to my everyday life… try and discover your own… after all, it’s the small things that count!

Always Coca Cola…

There’s always Coca Cola…

Mexico… Mayan ruins, culture, cuisine… and Coca Cola! This is not exactly the tag line you would expect for this Latin-American country… yet it is very fitting. When in Mexico we ventured inland to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. On route we passed villages (or rather roadside settlements) that our driver informed us were predominately Mayan, preserving indigenous traditions of ancient Mexico. However, alongside shops selling artisanal goods, there was the inevitable Coca Cola stand. ‘Old school’ the puestos (stalls) may have been, but their presence was significant. I did not pass one settlement lacking the iconic logo plastered across a building, truck or any available surface. It is fascinating that one product can be so unique and dominant throughout the whole world. It crosses language barriers and cultural boundaries, finding its way to the most remote of places. It was bizarre to see the fusion of this Western brand into communities otherwise struggling to survive daily life. I once watched a documentary (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, please enlighten me if anyone has seen it!) that focused on the transportation of Coca Cola to a North African country, told through the eyes of a young local boy. The image that sticks in my mind is that of a Coca Cola truck arriving and all of the children from the village running up behind it to catch a glimpse of the delivery from the West. The children had nothing- tatty clothes, no shoes, probably not even clean water… yet there’s always Coca Cola…

Hanging out with Coca Cola

Mexico auténtico (some traditional Mexico recipes)

On holiday in Mexico (see previous post) and venturing a bit further inland to Valledolid, we stopped at an authentic Mexican restaurant with traditional Yucatán (a south-eastern area of Mexico) dishes. We had been looking for these hearty recommendations all holiday so we were very pleased to find sopa de lima (lime soup) and poc chuc (charcoal grilled pork). What was even better was that it was whipped up before our eyes by our amigo (our waiter but in Mexico everyone calls themselves your ‘friend’!) This was a nice surprise as, in addition to knowing how fresh the food was, it provided perfect opportunity for me to jot down the recipes in my notebook. Y aquí están (here you are):

Sopa de Lima– boned chicken chopped in strips, slow cooked with coriander, onions, herbs, spices, sweet local limes and served with strips of dry tortillas for extra crunch! This soup is tangy and refreshing but also very hearty; I will definitely be brewing this up back at home!

Poc Chuc– pork marinated in juice of naranja agria (small, bitter oranges) cooked with onions, herbs and garlic. The contrasting sweet and savoury flavours made for an interesting take on a simple meat.

Pechuga del Marques– flattened chicken breast marinated with lemon and ‘Mayan and English sauce’ (he didn’t elaborate- must be the secret ingredient!) added to chopped onions and fried. Add brandy to flambé then place on a bed of chaya (local equivalent of spinach), onions and crispy bacon pieces adding an extra crunch!

All were wonderful and hearty leaving us happy and satisfied with having tried authentic Mexican food rather than just fajitas and tacos. Again, a new idea of what Mexican food really is… it seems my vision has been altered considerably over the past month, most definitely for the better!

Tequila Sunrise… the Mexican dream!

Only having tried Mexican food a few times in greasy commercial American places, I was reluctant when my friend recommended a Mexican restaurant in Soho. However when we walked in to ‘Wahaca’ I knew that the half hour queue would be worth it. After chilling in the Tequila bar, our wait was compensated by the rapid ‘Mexican street food’ idea of the upstairs service. I chose from the variety of smaller dishes listed before me on my table mat, and before I knew it I had tacos, tostadas and quesadillas before me, accompanied with sweet potatoes- fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside- divine! I enjoyed nibbling at the assortment in the laid back environment… just as Mexican should be. The experience was great- no greasy nachos, nobody shouting ‘Tequila!’, just good (and reasonably priced) food! http://www.wahaca.co.uk/

So, having a completely altered view on Mexican food, news that we were going to this Central American escape on a family holiday couldn’t have come at a better time and I couldn’t wait to see what delights this exotic country had in store for me…

Leaving the commercial and Americanised Cancun, we chose to venture a bit further afield to the more laid back ‘Caribbeanesque’ Tulum. On arriving, passing cabaña after cabaña (wooden beach huts) with occasional glances of the most beautiful beach I had ever seen, I knew we had struck gold!

Our car pulled up by the side of the road and we were pointed down a narrow passageway in the direction of the sea. Dragging our suitcase with difficulty through the sand we came to a lovely boutique hotel Coqui Coqui, reminiscent of a Mayan ruin itself completely made of stone with tiny stone stairs leading us to wooden doors welcoming us to our casa (home) for the week.

Considering we had been travelling for the best part of 48 hours and that it was midnight English time, all we wanted was good food rápido (fast)! We were directed three doors down to a beach hut for authentic Mexican fajitas with guacamole and frijoles (refried black beans). With risk of pointing out the obvious, it was so much better than any Mexican place in England- the fajitas are so much lighter and the limey guacamole is very tasty. The backdrop of a beautiful white beach and turquoise sea wasn’t bad either!

I am now half way through my holiday and have stuffed myself with fajitas, burritos, tacos galore… and guacamole… lots of guacamole… I could write pages on the food I have tasted here but instead I would like to point out a few highlights- those meal times which have stood out because of their ambiente un poquito especial (special ambiance)

‘What a View’

Zebra: our favourite beach bar serving the best fish tacos of the holiday- beautifully cooked light fish with a large helping of the ever present guacamole! Wooden painted tables amongst the palm trees, swing chairs and an abandoned wooden bar made for a perfect beach eating experience.

supper’s up

Casa Jaguar: On our way to find a recommended restaurant we stumbled upon this little haven. The decor was literally out of this world like an outdoor hippy den amongst the trees from which all sorts of knick knacks were hanging. They cooked our whole white fish in the stone oven make it extremely soft, light and full of aromas of the oven. Served on a concoction of mango, avocado and tomato this was one of the tastiest dishes of the holiday!

Nosying in to la cocina

 

 

Hemingway’s: On strolling along the beach one day, we found this beautiful, brightly coloured beach hut and we decided to book in for that evening. What made this restaurant so special was its feel of a rustic family home (they were actually Italian, so no Mexican food, however it was a nice break from all the guacamole!). There were only half a dozen tables, all brightly painted wood, with a tiny bar and sitting area and a kitchen that we could spy into- again, just like a kitchen in a family home! Chefs wandered backwards and forwards into la cocina (kitchen) with a lobster in tow one time, nests of freshly made tagliatelle the next. With no menu but a blackboard, adding to the low key vibe, we were given the choice of fish or pasta. My mum and I chose tagliatelle mariscos (seafood) which came in a huge bubbling paella dish. We fished around in the tagliatelle with a light and sweet tomato sauce to find lobster, calamari, crab and the biggest prawns I have ever eaten! All four of us were scraping out the last bits until there was nothing more! Washed down with the sound of the sea in the background and a real Mexican Tequila Sunrise, it couldn’t have been better- our favourite so far!

Only half way through the holiday so plenty more to try and plenty of recipes to jot down- I am on a mission to find some authentic local dishes! But that’s all for now… buenas noches (goodnight)!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s… or Fortnum’s!

‘Well, when I get it (the blues, or as she describes it ‘the mean reds’) the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.’

In this iconic film, Tiffany’s luxury jewellers provides Audrey Hepburn’s character with an escape from her busy lifestyle and a shelter from all the bad in the cut throat world of New York. I have the same special connection with a quintessentially English store, Picadilly’s ‘Fortnum and Mason’s’. Although I have never lived in London, I have always maintained that when I do (as I hope that I will move there to commence my career) and I am in the midst of one of those days when all goes wrong, my immediate pick-me-up will be to jump on the tube and go to Fortnum’s. The sheer splendour of the lavish decorations and the attention to detail in the displays is a wonder. In a modern world of mass marketing, a traditional experience and innovative displays can be hard to find. However the pride and effort that goes into the displays of this luxurious store is evident and never fails to put a smile on my face. Take this alternative take on a preserve cupboard for instance- so quaint, so beautiful, so English. (Plus the honey is made by the store’s own rooftop bees!) The other photograph shows the beautiful window display perfectly reflecting the grandeur and pride of the outside buildings of London.

House of Jam
A true reflection of all that is English

For three centuries Fortnum’s has been committed to bringing the world’s best food to Piccadilly. The food hall is a marvel of gourmet delights and is overwhelming to the senses. From the plush red carpet of the upper confectionary hall, down the sparkling spiral stairs to be faced with a feast for the senses, this experience is unique. Add helpful smiles of employees, the bustle of shoppers happily tasting their favourite goods, the aromas of freshly made products, the delicate turquoise packaging reminiscent of that of Tiffany’s, the store screams out luxury and ‘Englishness’!  How could you not be content in this magical world of temptation?!

Post note, a visit must also involve a stop at the café for afternoon tea or hot chocolate served in Fortnum and Mason’s stunning crockery, topped off with a teeny tiny ice cream cone on the side!

Take a closer look at what Fortnum and Mason has to offer… http://www.fortnumandmason.com/c-347-fortnums-heritage-fortnum-and-mason.aspx

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