Month: July 2011

Roadtrips et autres histoires – Cake au maïs, comme à Caravan

[Roadtrips and other stories – A cornbread just like at Caravan]


Sometimes, all I want is to put my warmest boots on, and escape to a place outside of time. I would drive there for hours. To the sound of wind and the smell of rain through the open windows.

I would wake up too early in the morning. And have a coffee; or two. With a side of freshly-churned butter and a piece of toast.

It would be cold. And foggy. Perhaps so much I wouldn’t be able to see the coast.

I would spend my days at a small bakery; in St-Ives. Or on a farm.

At night, I would leave the curtains open to watch the stars.

Yes, sometimes, all it takes to bring you where you belong is a roadtrip. Of the one-way kind. With all your stuff on the backseat, and enough crumbs of cornbread to remember you have, indeed, eaten during this five-hour drive.

Cake au maïs, comme à Caravan
Adapted from caravan Journey.

As soon as I came home from Caravan, I knew that slice of cornbread – which I was tasting for the very first time, ever – must be reproduced in my kitchen.

I was lucky enough to find the recipe. And a simple one too.

In less than 10 minutes, you can have a cornbread in the oven. Which makes it even more perfect for breakfast or brunch.
At Caravan, it was served with a chipotle butter, but I went for the easy way* and just served it with a knob of butter topped with fresh sliced chilli.
Make sure you have a wedge of lime ready. And you should be all good to go.

Cake au maïs, comme à Caravan

serves 8
400g milk
3 eggs
60g butter
, melted
250g corn kernels (from approx. 2 corn cobs)
a bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
170g polenta
60g bread flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp Maldon sea salt

butter, chilli peppers, limes, coriander; extra, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and generously butter a loaf tin.
In a bowl, mix the mix the milk, eggs, and melted butter. In another bowl, combine the polenta, flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Add the wet ingredients and mix until smooth. Add the corn kernels and the sliced spring onions.

Transfer to the prepared loaf tin and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Or until golden brown and the tip of a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Unmould and allow to cool for a few minutes before slicing into fat slices, using a serrated knife.

Serve with butter and sliced chilli. With a side of limes and perhaps a few sprigs of coriander.

* well, really, I have no idea where to find chipotle in London!



11-13 exmouth market, EC1R 4QD

My playground love. With his blue eyes and boyish smile. With his barefoot habit in the winter and his cute front teeth.

Yes, Caravan is just like this. A slice of home outside a home. A slice of time that’s long gone. And perhaps – for the right-nowness – a slice of a cornbread that’s so moist, it reminds me of the French toast we cooked on the embers of the bonfire we’d made the night before to keep us warm under the stars.

Tea made me discover the roastery on a day of early June. And for this, I’m forever thankful.


PS. Une brioche avec un peu plus de beurre

[PS. A brioche with a tad more butter]

London, sometime in April.
I made a brioche. In five minutes; and five days. We woke up early to shape and proof the dough. Well, I did. A couple of hours later, we sat at the table, with our eyes still plein de sommeil [full of sleep].

And we had a slice each. With plenty of strawberry jam. And a cup of coffee.

I then proceeded to braid my hair. And for a walk we went. The trees were snowing and no matter how long I will live in London, my dreams will always float higher with the April snow.
Another coffee was taken, at a café this time; perhaps in Fulham or Clapham. I can’t remember.

But I recall a phone conversation with my mum. About the brioche. And how she should make it.

France, sometime in May.
I flew in wearing UGG boots and a wool scarf. But as we reached the car on the airport parking lot, I switched for those leather sandals I’m so fond of.

We arrived home. And dropped the suitcases somewhere in the living room.

Without judging unpacking necessary, we headed to the kitchen. An apron got wrapped around my waist, flour got weighed out, dough was put away in a bowl.

And before we knew it, we made a brioche. In five minutes; and a five days. Oh and five hundred grams of butter. Perhaps with a couple of hidden chocolate squares. Yes, perhaps…
It tasted just as good. If not better.

And just so my mum doesn’t have an excuse not to make brioche, here is the recipe in French. Oui!
Accents included and all. Mum if you knew how long it takes to add accents when you have an English keyboard, you’d already be making brioche as you read this.

Dans un bol, fouetter le beurre fondu, l’eau, le sel, les oeufs et le miel. Ajouter la farine et la levure. Mélanger à la cuillère en bois jusqu’à obtention d’une pâte souple et homogène.

Recouvrir le bol avec un torchon et laisser pousser à température ambiante pour un peu plus de 2h.

Une fois la pâte ayant doublé de volume, mettre le bol – toujours recouvert d’un torchon – au frigo pendant au moins 24h.

Le lendemain – ou n’importe quand dans les cinq jours qui suivent – beurrer un moule à cake génereusement. Prélever 450g de pâte du pâton. Puis la diviser en quatre. Fleurer (fariner) le plan de travail et bouler (former des boules) chacun des morceaux.

Placer les boules dans le moule préalablement beurré et faire pousser pendant 1h30.

Pendant ce temps, préchauffer le four a 190°C. Battre un oeuf pour la dorure. Dorer la brioche au pinceau. Et cuire pour 40 à 50 minutes. Démouler et laisser refroidir sur une grille.


Ensemble, c’est tout – Pancakes tous simples

[Together, that’s all – Very simple pancakes]

It was a morning like no other.

That day, we woke up to clouds around us. Some call it fog, but living in the clouds somehow feels more right.

I went down to the kitchen. And started putting pieces back together. One at a time: bottles by the door, plates in the sink, soap on the sponge.
Because that’s how we do. We enter a house. Broken. And slowly make a home. Together. And it all suddenly makes sense, it all suddenly matters.

C., who possibly heard the cliquetis of the glasses against the stainless-steel of the sink, came around. Sat on the seat against the sofa, which still had P.’s massive pillow and the blanket Anna-Sarah got me more than years ago.

She lifted her feet as I mopped the floor. With bleach. Just so. And it smelled like days at the swimming pool.

P. walked downstairs, still wearing her signature pompom hairdo. Already too late to run.

I said pancakes. I heard yes. And just as I had removed the linen fabric off the table, it got dressed again. With four plates. And maple syrup. And strawberry jam.

nigella lawson's pancakes

C. made us coffee. With lots of milk. Of course for her and H., it was not hot enough. But, really, barely warm coffee is one of those things I live for.

A couple of eggs were fried. The upside-down way. And breakfast started.
By then, it was already two pm. But that didn’t matter.

Pancakes tous simples
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a domestic goddess.

Pancakes is one of those things that bring people closer. And that’s the very essence of a home-made breakfast. In fact, I can’t recall making pancakes just for me. It always seems to be for a crowd.

That’s possibly why I think it’s necessary to have a recipe you could make with your eyes closed. For me, it’s this one. Straight from the book I used to take everywhere and that witnessed my very first experiments in the kitchen.

So very easy. Dry ingredients on one side. Mix in the eggs and a little milk, just enough to form a paste and prevent lumps. But even if those happen, simply beat the hell out of the batter before adding the remaining milk. Perhaps not the most recommended manoeuvre if you judge by the many recipes I’ve once read, but then the experience says that I’ve never had a problem. Or maybe I was just a tad too sleepy to notice.

If I remember right, Nigella makes hers in a blender. I’ve never tried, but – for the record – my dad makes his – more than just lovely – crêpes this way. Probably worth trying. And the jug would actually make a pretty convient way to pour the batter into the pan instead of using a good old laddle.

Pancakes tous simples

makes 10-12, serves four

225g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of Maldon seasalt
15g caster sugar
2 large eggs
300g milk
30g butter, melted and cooled
butter, extra for frying

Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine using a whisk. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and a little milk – just enough to form a smooth and lump-free batter. Add the rest of the milk whisking as you go. Then fold in the melted butter.

Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add a teaspoon of butter to melt. When it starts bubbling, wipe it with kitchen paper to coat the whole pan. Cook the pancakes one or two at a time until bubbly, then flip over and cook for a further minute.


Du pain sur la planche

[Bread on the board]*

Other than grazing at the London sky for hours, being stuck in bed for the past six days has also given me the chance to learn that Oxford University is sort of breaking-up with the Oxford comma – now, we have a problem here; my life depends on serial commas (and this is no understatement).

Oh, and I also had some time for a little re-design.

I say little, but really, it took me a day. Sure it was a high-on-codeine kind of day, but still pretty long for just…

1. The main category now shows up before the title. In bold. That’s in case you want to know what’s happening in France, in London, in my dreams, or in the kitchen*.
I had to code in php for this. And apart from winter in July, there are few things that give me goosebumps like php does. So please tell me it’s – at least somewhat – useful.

2. The tags appear just under the title.

3. The comment link is shaped like a heart. And when you leave a comment you can now automatically add a link to your latest blog post.

4. Related posts still seem to be super random, but hopefully as the time goes, they will sort of match.

5. I’ve added some hand-written links to the facebook page and my twitter in the sidebar. So don’t hold your horses and be friendly.

6. Speaking of friendliness, your emails couldn’t make me happier. You’ll find my email here. Or just click on the envelop in the sidebar. Just bear in mind that with a 70-hour week, it sometimes takes a – little – while for me to answer.

7. Can someone tell summer to come back. Joke is over now. Please.

* a more accurate translation would be to have a lot on one’s plate.

** serial comma alert! You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

PS. featuring my very-busy-in-the-kitchen grand-mère here, who I’m dreaming of visiting. September, may you come fast.


On secrets and playing pretend – Hot chocolate tartine

I’ve been grazing at the sky lately. Sure it was from my bed, possibly half-asleep and not-just-half-deaf, but it was during day time.

Or so I think.

The clock said quarter to three (pm) but the rain made it all so dark it seemed like an hour past my bedtime. Or quarter to three indeed, but not in July. More sometimes around October, or one of those months in herrr*.

So for all of you who dream about ice-cones, pimms and lemonade, and late afternoons at the terrace of your favourite pub, I will give you my secret.

A toasted baguette. More salted butter than you think you could take. And not-just a sprinkle of drinking chocolate.

This will make you forget about the watermelon that has been sitting in your fridge, waiting for the cool-cravings. This will make you forget that instead of chatting the day away on your balcony, your friend was telling you how much he’d love to have a fireplace**. This will make you forget about this season of the year that you once cherished.

Slice a piece of baguette in two. And toast until golden brown. Spread with a thick layer of very good salted butter. And top with a mountain of drinking chocolate, of the cheap kind; Nesquick makes for a perfect tartine.

Listen to the rain. And if it stops and the sun starts shining, just close the curtains and play pretend.

* which also happen to rhyme with grrr, but even thought it’s not an altogether different story, I won’t go there, for the sake of my sanity.

** to which you didn’t answer – or perhaps, more realistically, screamed – HERESY (and yes, it does deserve all caps), but ‘oh yeah, that would be amazing with a thick wool carpet and one too many pillow’.

Now, please make me dream. And tell me your summer is postcard-perfect…


China town

gerrard street, W1D 6JN

I’ve been living in a world made of pillows, blankets and duvet covers. It could be the most cosy place in the world – and usually feels like it – but right now, I dream of a trip to China town.

Have a bubble tea*. With extra tapioca, of course. And walk down Gerrard St – yes, it’s called China town, but China street would, perhaps, be more accurate. Explore the – often cheap – menus, knowing I will end up a couple of blocks down to my favourite eatery** anyway. Spend too much money at the supermarkets***. Possibly on nata de coco, basil seeds, glutinous rice flour, and tapioca pearls.

I treasure those moments. Part of a routine I will never get bored of. Just like the route I used to take over and over again, on my bike, when I was living in Paris.

* HK diner on Wardour street.
** Tokyo diner on Newport place.
*** there are three supermarkets on Gerrard street, and much to my surprise, I don’t have a favourite; or perhaps, it is New Loon Moon for the cheapest tapioca pearls of all.


Mon écureuil

[My squirrel]

I might have a new friend. Same face. Same place. Just a couple of months later.

And yes, just as I did before, I’m writing this from a bed*. Wrapped in a blanket. With an army of medicines on my bedtable.

*It seems like whenever I’m ill I have squirrels** on my mind.

** Please don’t judge. Those painkillers I have been given really shouldn’t be made available for public consumption.


Bonjour juillet

[Hello July]

The first night of July smelled like freshly-cut grass. We could hear planes over our heads and, at that exact moment, it reminded me the evening we spent sat on the sidewalk by the motorway. Watching cars go by in silence.

A few days later, I woke up to the sound of rain – of the storm kind – and Chinese pop songs. Rewinding time to last December, when all we did was to snuggle under a wool blanket, reading tales from other countries.

And this morning – or rather accurately, this (late) afternoon – we felt small as we were walking through the City to the loud bangs of St Paul’s Cathedral.

And this is what summer is about, really. No plans.

Except for biting into a cold watermelon wedge. And taking walks in the park, at the dusk. And making chocolate chip cookies by the dozen.

Oh yes, no plans at all. Just memories that will last forever. On a wall, in my mind.

What will the days ahead look like in your part of the world?