British Good Eats, Fact or Fiction?

Bangers and Mash? Give it a try and you won’t be sorry and possibly just possibly, a convert.

British food has a bad reputation. Not a completely undeserved one either (read below for the lasagna story). Seriously it is either fried or brown, sometimes both. In all honesty they have a sauce that they literally refer to as brown sauce. But, well done British food can be quite spectacular in taste and in its place on the world culinary scene. A fact I would not have found out until I visited. @benton8tor is British and is a foodie despite his love for fruit pastels a British ‘candy’. And despite my British heritage which has manifested itself in a hatred of roast beef, @benton8tor insisted that I have an open mind about British food before traveling to England for the first time. ‘OK’ I agreed in theory, certain I would be proved right along with all the internet trolls, turns out British food is more interesting, tastier, complex than I originally thought.

I have visited England 10 times. I have been told to try the obvious: fish and chips (meh), Sunday roast (pass), prawn cocktail crisps (surprisingly tasty chips), bangers and mash ( even more surprisingly delicious if strangely named sausages and potatoes). Here are my recommendations for the top 5 British food must trys… because if like me, you can shed your preconceived judgy notions, you will be very pleasantly surprised and maybe even astounded at the amazingness of British food.

5. The Scotch Egg – Ok not my favourite but wholeheartedly @benton8tor’s all time favorite, the Scotch Egg is Scottish in heritage. You take a soft boiled egg, wrap it in Sausage meat, coat in breadcrumbs and deep fry. Scotch eggs range all the way from on the go snacks you buy at Marks and Spencer on the way to the tube to high end gastro pub fare. Either way, it is worth a try. (So I am told)

4. The Full English. If you see this on the menu, it means a full English breakfast full of eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, bread, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, black pudding (which you will give to @benton8tor) and sometimes potatoes. It isn’t the healthy choice but it is the delicious choice! So don’t miss out. thumbnail_IMG_8514My dad and I love to find a pub, order the full English breakfast and tea and just enjoy. @benton8tor in recent years has stopped ordering the full English. When I asked why, he told me my dad and I rarely finish everything so if he ordered breakfast and finished both of ours, he wouldn’t be able to eat again. It should be worth noting a English breakfast is extremely filling!

3. Bangers and Mash- Ah the aforementioned sausage and mash potatoes. It seems like it would be fairly standard but British sausages are surprisingly diverse and delicious. Cumbrian and Lincolnshire sausages tend to be my favourite. They are diverse in Ingredients nd flavour but always deliver. Vegetarian sausages are readily available and also quite tasty. Sausages who knew?? Also the Bear and Staff just off of Leicester Square offer some very good sausages http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thebearandstaffleicestersquarelondon . The best we have tasted where at the Queens Head in Askham Cumbria http://www.queensheadaskham.com/ and at a variety of pubs on the Ilse Of Wight.

2. Meat Pies- Whether the traditional British Cornish Pasty ( a pastry containing, minced meat, potato, onion and turnips) or a baked meat pie the combination of pastry, meat, and sometimes gravy or potato is intoxicating. No doubt it is  the quality of ingredients that make these pastries sing but they are truly truly tasty. Served in pubs, restaurants or in small town the post office, try a meat pie today. @benton8tor swears the best Cornish pasty he ever had was from the lunch counter in the post office in Kirkbride in Cumbria. http://www.kirkbridecommunity.co.uk/local-amenities/post-office/

  1. Ploughmans Lunch- When I first saw the ploughmans lunch on the menu, I was all WTF? but turn out a Ploughmans (named for serving farmhands during the workday) is cheese, bread, Branston pickle (if you are North American, not a pickle but some sort of uber yummy brown paste?), pickled onions and sometimes ham 040and boiled eggs. British cheese is vastly underrated. The British produce some of the tastiest  cheese there is from Red Leicester to Shropshire blue to sage Derby to Cheshire it is amazing!!! Seriously try it as soon as you can. I guarantee it will knock your socks off!

I have obviously omitted favourites such as fish and chips. I know I know but fish and chips are readily available and offered everywhere. The result is often mediocre fish and chips unless you know where to go. Chicken Tika Masala is also not on the list, . Although a part of British cuisine today, I still think of it as an Indian dish but you can get good chicken tika masala allover England. Steak, sticky toffee pudding, fish pie, pork pie, trifle and crisps should also be on the list. thumbnail_IMG_8512As should lamb with mint sauce. High tea will be its own post and seriously my favourite British tradition and food ever. So So so good. like amazing, out of this world good.

Be wary of ordering Italian food in pubs, stick to restaurants. Up in Norfolk, needing a change of pace, In a pub, I  ordered lasagna. It was made with gravy and served over chips. I am still perplexed as to why this happened.

That said, fresh fish at a pub can be amazing. Look for independent pubs like St Stephens Tavern in London that serves the best cheese sandwich ever. Like so tasty that you can’t believe something as simple as a cheese sandwich can taste that good and you have to stop yourself from going there for every meal because you can’t actually eat a cheese sandwich for every meal good. http://ststephenstavern.co.uk/ Or any food at the Blacksmith Arms in the Isle of Wight.

England loves its Sparking wine, in particular Champagne though Proseco is also easy to find. I in particular love that as why shouldn’t a ploughmans lunch be accompanied by a glass and/or bottle of Champers? But to only drink wine would be to ignore England’s reemerging ale scene. In fact many of the pubs such as the Bree Louise are part of the real ale campaign, which is hankering back to providing local craft brews on tap and not mass market beers owned by conglomerates. The ales are often interesting, diverse, and can please any palate. The are unique and unlike other beers you will taste. http://www.breelouise.pub/

As well English Whisky as in the English Whisky Company in Norfolk is producing some complex and multifaceted whiskys, Well worth a try at a fraction of the cost. Norfolk is @benton8tor’s birthplace. Though he doesn’t make lasagna with gravy. https://www.englishwhisky.co.uk/

So to summarize English/British food often suffers from a bad reputation that is undeserved. An open mind and an empty stomach in England can ensure you have a fabulous culinary experience. Bangers and Mash? Give it a try and you won’t be sorry and possibly just possibly, a convert.

The Walled Cities, Carcassonne and Villefranche De Conflent

Carcassonne seemed to be the perfect place to stay. Close to both Limoux (famous for its wines, including being the birthplace of sparking wine), and Minervios, home of delicious reds, Carcassonne allowed us easy access

Carcassonne is one of France’s most famous walled cities. Its image is used frequently so when visiting the Languedoc region of France, Carcassonne seemed to be the perfect place to stay. Close to both Limoux (famous for its wines, including being the birthplace of sparking wine), and Minervios, home of delicious reds, Carcassonne allowed us easy access. Villefranche de Conflent on the other hand was a small (244 people to be exact) walled ‘city’ that @benton8tor was determined to see because of its historic and beautiful pink stone. We only spent an afternoon in VilleFranche however but that is enough time.

Carcassonne  is very beautiful and very touristy.

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Carcassonne

In fact 1 day is definitely enough time. Carcassonne is much larger than the old walled city but if you are going to Carcassonne you are going to see the walled city. It is full of shops, restaurants, and hotels. Many of them are very touristy bordering on cheesy but there are some amazing places to eat, interesting items to but, and local specialties to try… if you keep looking. My parents happened to be with us when we traveled to Carcassonne and my mother is an excellent shopping scout, bordering n full blown shopaholic. She managed to find local specialties including soaps to buy. In fact we noticed her staggering towards us under the weight of many bags. She had bought a bunch of things including soap, she has a weakness for French soap.

‘How many did you buy?’ my dad asks. ‘Seven” she says. I am skeptical and ask her how many she really bought.thumbnail_IMG_8430 13 she answers. I ask again. 21 she replies. Satisfied but thinking it is a bit much we start walking down to find a restaurant and I don’t believe her so I ask again. 27 she sighs. I still have no idea if she bought more.

However as good as she is at shopping, she is terrible at picking restaurants. That is @Benton8tors strength and Carcassonne’s wall boast surprisingly many good choices. We lucked out each of our 3 nights in Carcassonne with remarkably good restaurants. If you are in Carcassonne though you are probably going to try the cassoulet, one of the most famous regional dishes. We had great cassoulet at Les Terraces de cite http://www.lesterrassesdelacite.com/fr/carte-et-menus and at Le Trouvere (which had a super old coaching inn vibe that I loved) https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g187151-d1207632-Reviews-Le_Trouvere-Carcassonne_Aude_Occitanie.html.  But you will need a break from cassoulet so head over to Brasserie Donjon for a break with some lighter choices http://www.cite-hotels.com/nos-restaurants/restaurant-brasserie-donjon/

Food was all well and good but I was there for wine. Not having a clue where I was going but knowing I could set the GPS for Minervios and we’d be sure to find some wineries. Well that worked but I would suggest doing research before as I made Ben drive around aimlessly for a couple of hours before finding a tiny little winery. But the winery was well well worth the  trip! Small and the tasting in a kitchen, these Minervios reds were amazing. Minervios was definitely worth exploring.

That said we were off to Limoux for its famous sparking wines. After the quaint tastings in Minervios that were so successful we arrived in Limoux at the Maison Antech. It is the complete opposite of the Minervois tasting. Modern and beautiful, @benton8tor decided the wine couldn’t be any good. Luckily we all ignored him and after the tastings, he too was a convert.

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Limoux Cremant

The cremants were particularly tasting with subtle toasty notes but still clean and refreshing. http://www.antech-limoux.fr/contents.php?la=en&site=oui&sp=l

Villefranche de Conflent is tiny. A small walled city in South West France near the Mediterranean, Pyrenees, and Spain, Villefranche is easy to miss. A walled city smaller than a North American Shopping mall. It is beautiful. famous for its pink stone lining the streets and building, Villefranche de Conflent is a sight to behold. It also boasts famous pottery (sorry suitcase) and some great restaurants including le patio with a fabulous gazpacho, and great local wines https://www.lepatio-66.com/ and the more famous and tasty Auberge Saint Paul. We didn’t spend a lot of time here and you don’t need to but it is worth the trip.

Overall the walled cities are interesting, fun but don’t plan a ton of time there. Go to the countryside, try the local restaurants an scout out some of the very underrated Languedoc wines. You won’t be disappointed.

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Pink Stone in Villefranche De Conflent

Market to Market to buy a ….

Sure in my case that is mostly wine stores an vineyards but I also do buy other items, for instance one time I bought scotch and another time whiskey.

One of my favourite things about travel is shopping. Not for touristy items and certainly not at malls but at places you can get unique items that capture the the spirit of he town/city/village/country you are visiting. Sure in my case that is mostly wine stores an vineyards but I also do buy other items, for instance one time I bought scotch and another time whiskey. All joking aside, I do love buying regional items whether it be food, clothing, soap, jewelry ect… My visa card loves it too! My bank account? Maybe not. But if you are like me and do like to shop for specialty or regional goods, why not check out the local markets? It is fun, food is amazing and you will find something unique! Here are my top picks for my favourite markets ( though it isn’t in my top 10 a shout out to the markets in Cameroon!)

10. Esperaza France- Just south of Limoux in the Langedoc wine region is Esperaza. Esperaza is known for being a site for pilgrims on their way to Spain through the mountains, hat making, and dinosaur fossils. I however went for the market and I wasn’t disappointed. Esperaza has a sizable market for the own of roughly 2000. The market is busy but not crowed, making it easy to navigate. Full of fresh fruit (delicious!!!! and super refreshing on a hot day) and cheeses, the market did indeed offer hats (you bet I bought one). clothing and soaps. It is definitely worth checking out and he drive to Esperaza is beautiful.

9. Leadenhall Market in London. https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/leadenhall-market/Pages/default.aspx Though more familiar to Harry Potter fans as the setting for Diagon Alley, Leadenhall is indeed a functioning market and has been since the 14th century where it was predominantly a meat market. Today you will find additional shops and pubs.Cheese at Leadenhall provides cheese and wine tasting with cheeses and wines from around he world.  They know their cheese and the wines and is simply one of my favourite tastings to date. The cheese selection is amazing. After you are done with all that cheese and wine stop at one of the beautiful pubs for a quick pint! and then walk it off. http://cheeseatleadenhall.co.uk/this-is-cheese/tours/

8. Saskatoon Farmers Market. Saskatoon like many Canadian prairie cities is often underrated. It has a vibrant culinary scene, great hat shopping (sensing a theme?) and one of the best farmers markets. Saskatoon’s market is full of regional goods, prairie specialties (perogies, I know a Polish/Ukrainian specialty but hey the prairie culture loves perogies) and amazing fruits and vegetables including the Saskatoon berry. https://www.saskatoonfarmersmarket.com/

7. Cadanet France. tucked away in the Luberon in Provence. Cadanet is a small village with a charming market. the market and parking are easily accessible.thumbnail_IMG_6383 Olives a plenty, lavender products galore, shoes, and produce. Pretty much everything including Laguiole knives and wine openers. Bonus, it boasts a beautiful village church.

6. Chelsea Market New York City. You won’ be at a loss for shopping in New York but Chelsea market, a former cookie factory host some unique designers and products. I bought a fair bit of clothing in the Chelsea market but sadly not a dress that had the sleeves attached the dress itself with holes cut out of the arms and random zippers. I loved it but it didn’t fit. @benton8tor? 4.jpgNot so much, later on in Times Square, someone in a Batman costume passed us, @benton8tor quipped ‘look they are wearing your dress. side note, don’t shop or ea in Times Square but definitely check out Chelsea market. http://chelseamarket.com/

5. Camden Market London. I have already done a whole post about Camden but suffice it to say, it should not be missed. Full of interesting dresses, shoes, jewelry, food cartIMG_0697s you name it. And of course hats. Despite is recent fire, Camden Market is still open for business and despite the crowds, it is well worth the visit. https://www.camdenmarket.com/

4. Marche du Vieux-Port Quebec City. One of my favourite markets ever. Located in lower town, this covered market boasts everything from the Ubiquitous maple syrup to foie gras.  Local produce is widely available. There are specialty items such as jewelry, purses ec.. but my favorite is the wine products from Quebec’s under appreciated wine industry. It is also a great spot to but local liqueurs and beer. https://www.quebecregion.com/en/businesses/shopping/retail-and-department-stores/public-markets/quebec-public-market/

3. Viktualienmart- Munich- Located in Munich’s central square, his food market is legendary. Be sure to try a pretzel and sop to buy some local specialties, it is a great showcase for Bavarian food. Also Munich’s side streets offer one of a kind clothing shops with a distinct identity. I bought many clothes here and loved it. Sadly a did not buy a pai of silver lame sandals/knee high socks that @benton8tor claimed made me look like a reject from an Abba video and were distinctly hideous. @benton8tor has no fashion sense obviously bu 35 euros was too much to pay for socks, even if they claimed to be sandals. http://www.muenchen.de/int/en/shopping/markets/viktualienmarkt.html

2. Beaune France. The heart of Burgundy’s amazing food and wine culture, Beaune is host to one of the best markets ever. If you like usual products or have an inner gourmet, his is the market for you.Europe June 2010 362 Complete with spices, meats, sauces, and wine, don’t miss this market. They also have locally produced items like clothing ect.. Also after the market you can enjoy wine at the marche au vins or food at any one of the amazing Burgundian restaurants. http://www.marcheauxvins.com/?lang=en

  1. L’Isle Sur La Sorgue- France. My favourite market and it is a busy one so go early. tons of local produce , goods and wines you can easily spend hours here. I bought a beautiful silk dress, goats cheese, tomatoes, wine, soap and tea towels so it offers a varied selection. Afterwards have a drink at one of the many cafes lining said river or check out the antiques market full of luxurious French treasures that I cant afford but are beautiful to see. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g608811-d486621-Reviews-L_Isle_sur_la_Sorgue_Market-L_Isle_sur_la_Sorgue_Vaucluse_Provence_Alpes_Cote_d_Az.html

Honorable mentions to Bandol market in France, beautiful, beachside and delicious. Halifax’s market is equally amazing so check them out.Markets are one of my favourite things to see when traveling, so if you are ready to spend or really just want to absorb it all, check out a market!

 

Rooftops, Cava, and Game of Thrones. Welcome to Seville

Seville if you go once, you be back again and again and again.

Seville, the Southern Spanish city and capital of the Andalusia region is a city unlike any other. I have to admit despite my love of travel, Spain wasn’t really high on my list. I had heard endless stories from friends who traveled to Spain in their late teens, early twenties and most stories revolved around bars, clubs and beaches. Likewise the British families we knew seemed to view Spain as a sun and resort destination. So it fell off our radar also because we were too lazy to just understand how much more and I mean much much more Spain had to offer and how diverse it really is.

So back in 2015, @benton8tor started talking about wanting to visit Spain, I started ignoring him and preparing my argument for why we should visit Rome. (back in 2014, @benon8or paid a hefty like transatlantic airfare hefty price for a parking and speeding ticket in Italy, he was pretty bitter ). However, being someone reasonable adults which include absolutely no sulking fits, we compromised and greed to do both Spain and Rome. I had read a little about Seville and Granada bu we ended up picking Seville. I thought it was because of its proximity to Sherry production, I later learned it was because of it Game of Thrones connections. and the food… oh my the food is simply delicious.

I mentioned Seville is in Andalusia in Southern Spain. This is more important than I realized, Spain s exceptionally regional. For instance, paella should come from Valencia etc.. Seville takes pride in its Moorish culture an architecture and it is truly on of the mos visually stunning cities I have ever seen. Courtyards with plants, inlaid stone and tile work, clean beautiful streets, Seville was a site to behold. From he Golden Tower to the Cathedral, to the Place de’Espagne, http://www.andalucia.org/es/turismo-cultural/visitas/sevilla/otras-visitas/plaza-de-espana-2/ Seville was a site to behold. But the Alcazar, oh my gosh. IMG_4232The Alcazar is now a museum but was a former Royal palace. It is beautiful  and beyond beautiful. The tile work and stone work is almost incomprehensible in its beauty. the gardens and water features are equally gorgeous. Full of history, you can easily spend a day there. And if you are a fan of Game of Thrones, you will definitely want to see it as many of the scenes of the Water Gardens of Dorne. Both the Alcazar and Place de’Espagne are well well worth it. http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/

 

As is the rooftop patios. Seville is literally full of them and hey afford stunning city views, usually a pool and poolside drinks. Our hotel the Fontecruz Sevilla Seises http://www.fontecruzhoteles.com/hotel-fontecruz-sevilla-seises/ had a beautiful rooftop with views of the cathedral and poolside drinks. Seville is very hot in the summer, often 40 degrees so a poolside dip can make all the difference. that and the mists they spray you with both on the patio and street level. But part of he fun of the rooftops is the drinks, Spain is famous for its reds and Sherries. Both are exceptional but its cavas on a a hot day with their crisp flavours, light bubbles and overall deliciousness really captured my heart. that said, Spain’s wines should be tasted as much as possible, far more diverse than we often see, the reds can be both light, fruit forward and full bodies, with deep flavours from several regions. The wine pairs exceptionally well with the food here but hat is a whole other post. Suffice it to say, try the gazpacho and oxtail lasagna for sure!  In fact if I would have to go back to Seville just so Ben can eat that lasagna again and hen talk about it for the next 364 days. and shop. Seville’s artisans produce beautiful tile work ,jewelry, and clothing. Seville has fabulous streets for wondering and exploring shops, spices, stopping for wine and hen continuing on your day with more exploring.

Seville is also and easy spot for day trips to the beautiful villages surrounding. Seville if you go once, you’ll be back again and again and again.

5 Must Try Under the Radar Wine Regions

) Georgia is one of the oldest if not the oldest wine producer in the world. Again like Jura it uses more traditional methods such as making the wine in clay pots in the ground.

If you have read my blog before it might be a tiny bit obvious that I have a thing for French wine. You know, just a tiny thing. In fact out for drinks this past Friday night with friends, i was splitting a bottle of wine with some at the table. ” what are we drinking?’ she asked. Before I could answer, my other friend piped up ‘You know its French.’ she was right it was and it was delicious. We all have our wines we love, our go to wines or wine regions, but I also find it is incredibly rewarding to go out of our comfort zone and try new wines, wines we aren’t sure if we’d like, from a country that makes us say ‘really they make wine?’ or simply something you haven’t tried before. Sure there is a chance you won’t like it but what if you love it? There are so many under the radar, under valued, undiscovered wines out there. Here are my top 5 picks for the must trys

  1. Vin de cuit- Provence. i know I know, we are still in France. But this sweet wine produced in Provence has grape must cooked over an open fire for 10 hours. It is traditionally served at Christmas with the 13 desserts. Here is the thing, sweet wine, especially in North America has had a bad reputation. Due in large part to the culture of the late 80s and early 90s that had heavy emphasis on wine coolers, bad and I do mean bad sweet sparking wines, sweet red wines that tasted like cough syrup mixed with sugar (double shudder) and the worst offender….white Zinfandel , a wine so ridiculously sweet and disgusting it almost ruined Zinfandel grapes and rose for me. Luckily for me I like roses (thanks to Provence and 2benton8tor) and Zinfandel now but i almost didn’t try them. Sweet wines are the same. Whether it is port, sherry, or the sweet sauternes of Bordeaux, sweet wines have an undeserved bad rap. Good sweet wines are meant to be drunk after a meal with dessert or cheese. Yes they are sweet often with flavours of honey, prunes, plums ect but they are nuanced, they can have high acid to offset the sweet and are flavourful complex wines to be enjoyed. Vin de Cuit is no different. Try it as soon as you can.
  2. Sparking Wines from England. What you are probably asking? and yes yes yes I say. England does a have a small wine industry. In fact in Kent, the chalky soils and cliffs share the same soil as the famed Champagne region.Albeit a distinctly different climate. England is starting to produce some very interesting sparking wines. Not overly expensive but they can be hard to find. But definitely worth it.
  3. Green Wine from Portugal. Before leaving this year to go to Portugal, I was hearing a lot about Green wine. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t do to much (read any ) research into what it actually is. I am even more embarrassed to admit I thought it was wine with a greenish tinge. Well it is not. Green Wine is in fact more commonly known as Vinho Verde is a DOC wine region f Northern Portugal. it is usually slightly sparking due to malolactic fermentation that happened accidentally in the bottle in early years of production, consumers liked it so it stayed although the effervescence is produced differently today. 157Not all Vinho Verde is slightly sparking, it can be still, white, red, or rose. I have tasted both still and sparking. Both were good but I prefer the sparking, paired with a bifana YUM!! It is an easy to drink wine, light in the glass and on the palate with slightly fruity notes, an excellent summer wine. Next time I will try the red Vinho Verde rumored to be dark and peppery.
  4. The Jura wine region. Yes another French wine region but with excellent reason. Jura borders both Burgundy and Switzerland. A fairy small wine producing region but one of the most interesting. Jura is at the forefront of ‘natural wine production. really meaning they have kept the tradtional methods. All Jura still wines should be decanted for at least 4 hours before consuming. These wines are complex. The red and and whites age for a considerable time in oak with controlled oxidation, giving the wine interesting and unexpected flavours as in the case of whites, strong almond flavour. But Jura has 3 wine stars:                                                                                                                               -Vin Jaune literally translating to yellow win. This wine ages in oak barrels under yeast with controlled oxidation for 6 years. It has interesting nutty flavours.           -Macvin du Jura a sweet fortified spicy wine ages 14 months in the barrel.               -Vin de paille or straw wine. grapes are dried on straw allowing the grapes to almost dry, once pressed the flavours are concentrated producing a unique sweet wine. Jura also happens to be incredibly beautiful so….

5. Georgia, the republic not the state. Though there are arguments over where grape vines and viticulture began (was it Croatia? Was it Georgia?) Georgia is one of the oldest if not the oldest wine producer in the world. Again like Jura it uses more traditional methods such as making the wine in clay pots in the ground. Georgian wine can be hard but worth it. The wines have a different mouth feel and flavor on the palate most likely due to the clay pots and grape varieties but they are easy to drink and even easier to enjoy. Georgia like Jura is stunningly beautiful so maybe a wine vacation is in order.

Honorable mentions should go to : Croatia also a wine originator and produces some very good wines, Bulgaria and Uruguay both producers of some very interesting wines. Also Romania Lebanon, China, and India are worth a try. Where do you get these wines? Well if in London, try Gordon’s wine bar, one of the best stocked wine bars , I have ever visited.  https://gordonswinebar.com/ Wine Quay in Porto Portugal is another option with excellent wine selection and knowledgeable servers. .http://www.winequaybar.com/ But do your  research on wine bars, wine stores and tastings. Most importantly don’t be afraid to ask.

 

 

 

 

Port or Sherry? Porto or Jerez ? Both Please

But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.

Most people if not everyone know, i love wine, in particular reds from France (especially the Rhone) so it should come as no surprise that I love port and sherry, fortified wines and in the case of port sweet. Or maybe it does. Certainly the majority of wine drinkers I know detest both port and sherry. But that is not the fault or either port or sherry. Rather I lay the blame on Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry or a ruby port, cheap, smelling and tasting like cough syrup. I can’t blame them. However this is prevalent in Canada, In Europe it is much more common to understand the diversity of both port and sherry.

It took me a long time to drink either. My first foray was Christmas 1998. @benton8tors parents served me sherry, Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry. I brought champagne every Christmas since then. However, I knew in the back of my mind, there had to be more o sherry but I was to preoccupied with discovering red wines and champagnes to find out.

Fast forward to 2015 and a wine store in England hosting a port tasting. My introduction into good ports! Fast forward 1 more year and @benon8tor and i are in Seville, about an hours drive from Jerez de la Frontera,  the sherry capital and home of its production. IMG_4214Now @benton8tor really likes sherry so he wanted to do tastings, try the different styles, and really discover sherry. I wanted to eat tapas and sit rooftop and poolside at our hotel overlooking the cathedral but unfortunately it isn’t all about me so I wen with good grace to Jerez. Our first stop was Tio Pepe http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/. Tio Pepe is omnipresent in Spain when it comes to sherry.. Bonus points they offered a tapas and sherry tour! But it didn’t start for another hour and a half. The staff at Tio Pepe were very helpful and suggested waiting in a cafe on the square. Which turned out to be a great idea. Southern Spain in August is very very hot and Jerez is fairly arid so a cafe with some petty views an a tortilla (Spanish omelet) was a perfect was to kill some time. Once again, the service was awesome.

The Tio Pepe tour was good, informative but a little corporate. However the sherry is awesome.We had 4 tastings, a ranging from dry to sweet and all made differently as you’d expect. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t understand the diversity of sherry and the nuances. How could a dry sherry still have a taste of hazelnut and 20160828_195228sweetness without being sweet. Why did the sweet sherry remind me of Christmas cake and not just pure sugar? It definitely awoke a taste for sherry. Unfortunately we didn’t have more time n Jerez but I want to go back and visit and taste at the smaller sherry bodegas. However that night back in Seville (one of the most stunningly beautiful cities) we did sit poolside and enjoy a rebujito, a refreshing sherry cocktail made with dry sherry, sprite or tonic water and mint.

With a love of sherry now certain, it was time to conquer Port and to do that you best go to Porto. Which is what we did. Porto is the epicenter of Port production. In fact the entire side of the river bank is depicted to port houses. We were lucky enough in Porto to visit Port houses (Kopke and Sandeman) do part tastings at the Wine Box http://www.thewineboxporto.com/ ( a must do) and tour the Douro Valley, home of port production and fabulous views.

Port is diverse as Sherry, if not more so. The menu at the Kopke Port house https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g580268-d6965338-Reviews-Casa_Kopke-Vila_Nova_de_Gaia_Porto_District_Northern_Portugal.html showcases just how diverse port is, you can have white port, rose, ruby and tawny, all aged differently , made with different levels of sweetness. Despite all the tastings, I still found myself drawn to the tawny ports, aged ones in particular. the nutty, Christmas cake, dried fruit taste of an aged tawny port with a blue cheese? out of this world!

Sandeman is as omnipresent in Porto as Tio Pepe is in Jerez. http://www.sandeman.com/ That said, they have amazing port offerings and some of the best views of the Douro Valley. In fact to truly appreciate port, tour the Douro Valley with its terraced vineyards, beautiful river and some of the most relaxed and petty settings to sip your port, smell the wisteria and watch the world go by.

Both Porto and Southern Spain are often overlooked as tourist destinations in favour of there more famous regions. Spain has Barcelona and Malaga, Portugal has Lisbon and Madeira. But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.220

Happy Canada Day

a French band plays while you eat, drink wine, and watch the fireworks. Happy Canada Day indeed.

In honour of Canada Day and our 150th birthday as Canada, I thought I would dedicate this blog post to my home country. I don’t want to discount the fact that the First Nations communities lived and made their home here on this land long before we recognized Canada. I am happy to call Canada home and am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me in this country. Canada has a lot to offer and  I have certainly been a tourist in my country many times over and have a wealth of stories, tips and events to chose from. I could write about Toronto, Quebec City, the Maritimes, Victoria, Kelowna, even Saskatoon. But not Vancouver ever. Seriously go to Northern BC, it is stunning. But I chose my hometown, Winnipeg. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are shaking their heads and asking ‘Seriously Winnipeg?’ Yes Winnipeg.

Winnipegers often make terrible PR people for their hometown. We often tell others about our extreme cold and snow but neglect to mention the warm/hot summers. And if we do we will focus on mosquitoes. Mainstream media often portrays us as a violent crime ridden city . Despite the fact we are often behind other cities in crime rates with a gentler reputation (I am looking at you Saskatoon). Winnipeg isn’t perfect but it has more to offer than you think. Our RWB ballet is world renowned. Our symphony has an impeccable reputation, Our Fringe Festival actually has the reputation of being one of the best in the country. Folk Fest has legendary performers and crowds. Scott Bagshaw, a local chef has an acclaimed reputation nationally and deserves it, his food is blow your mind amazing.http://www.enotecarestaurant.ca  . or http://maque.ca/#!/Home  And if you are really brave you can eat an expensive dinner on a tent in the river in Februarythumbnail_IMG_8258, with guest chefs from Winnipeg and the country cooking. Even Vikhram Vig. I should mention it is 7 gourmet courses and after your done you can wander across said River to St Boniface ( a large French Canadian community that is part of Winnipeg) and continue to freeze while attending Festival du Voyaguer, a festival celebrating French Canadian and Metis culture. You can even drink caribou’ a fortified wine’ out of an ice glass. But don’t do that, that stuff is disgusting and caused the most legendary hangovers my group of friends ever experienced.

Winnipeg has a lot to offer and because I like to travel so much, I forget to be a tourist in my own city. It is easy to get caught up in your daily routine and friend circles and forget or have the energy for other new things. Recently and completely by accident, I am rediscovering Winnipeg (while still planning my next vacation New York or Provence) It started a few weeks ago. I was looking for Bordeaux wine for tastings to augment my French Wine Scholar course and I wandered in to a Government run liquor store known for its wine selection. After picking out a couple Bordeaux the staff told us to check out the free wine and food tasting at the back of the store. The cynic in me assumed it was 2 wines and a pack of warmed up ready made appies they had bought at the grocery store but hey it was free and it was wine so of course I would check it out. @benton8tor and I wandered into a room celebrating Canadian wines in honour of Canada’s 150 birthday.thumbnail_IMG_8259 There were a total of 10 different wines you could try though we limited it to about 6. Most the wines featured were from BC’s Okanagan region. I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed them. We had a Gewurztraminer from Inniskillin Wineries http://www.inniskillin.com/ that was deceptively complex and not overtly sweet, A Cabernet from Jackson Triggs http://www.jacksontriggswinery.com/ that was plummy but not overly fruit forward. We had some other interesting wines but those 2 stand out. Far from the Safeway appies, they had chefs preparing honey and ginger glazed arctic char and ribeye with horseradish cream on a baguette. Winnipeg Who Knew?

Well apparently the wine store guys know. A couple of weeks later I found myself in Kenaston Fine Wines (one of my favorite wine stores) https://kenastonwine.com/ and they told me about a natural wine tasting hosted by Elevage Selections https://www.elevage-selections.com/ at Forth a local restaurant. So off we went to that as well. Only to discover that Forth has a spectacular rooftop patio (who knew?) and an amazing cocktail bar in the basement. The wine tasting was amazing natural wines including a sparking and rose from the Okanagan, a red from Spain and a white Jura wine from France that tasted unlike anything I have ever tried before. In a good way. Apparently these tasting happen once a month.

Now here on June 30th, I am making plans for Canada Day Celebrations. Last year we went with friends to a local French restaurant across the river from the Forks and Human Rights museum (you must go) with a perfect patio view of these landmarks. Ben enjoyed Steak Bearnaise while I enjoyed BC salmon with a blueberry glaze and Manitoba wild rice, paired with French wine while we watched the fireworks. Plan for tomorrow? Same thing but I will probably order something different, because Promenade Bistro’s menu is amazing. http://www.cafeandwine.com/And to top it off they cordon of the parking lot so a French band plays while you eat, drink wine, and watch the fireworks. Happy Canada Day indeed.thumbnail_IMG_8254

 

 

A Francophile French Favourites

So grab a patio, order your wine, find your favourite specialty to order and enjoy! After all you are in France!

By now, you will all know just how much I love France and part of that love is the French food. The French pride themselves on food, how they prepare it, the quality of ingredients and of course la technique! And if you have ever read a Julia Child or Peter Mayle book, you know just that enjoying french food is a national pastime. That isn’t to say you can’t have a bad meal in France, you can (ahem I am looking at you Cafe Le Dome near the Eiffel Tower) but they can be easy to avoid given the prevalence of quality ingredients, talented chefs and pride in the enjoyment of food. While you can have a great meal anywhere in France, it is important to understand that French food has dominant regional roots and to best enjoy and  try the regional specialties in the actual region  Here is my handy top 10 list/ guide to enjoying French Food.

1. Tapenade in Provence. This Provencal olive paste is best spread on bread but is also enjoyed in Provencal dishes. In a word it is my favouite French dish. Made from either green or black olives, it is savoury and surprisingly mild. Which is not to say it isn’t full of flavour because it is is. Best enjoyed overlooking lavender fields, the Luberon, or the Mediterranean, you can’t go wrong. It goes best with a Provencal rose (if you are @benton8tor in which case you will never ever ever eat the green again) or Bandol red if you are me, in which case you will happily eat both. * I have had great tapenades in both Bourgogne and Bordeaux but nothing compares to Provence.

2. Choucroute Garnie- a Alsatian dish with sauerkraut, ham hock/pork knuckle/salt pork and, 3 types of  sausages (usually Strasbourg, Montbeliard and Morteau) flavored with Alsatian Riesling, 555975_10151083480535140_2025428517_nit is usually a winter dish. And despite my love of tomatoes, vegetables and usually eschewing meat, I love this dish. A definite must try and a dish both Benton8tor ( a dedicated carnivore) and I agree wholeheartedly on. Pairs with you guessed it an Alsatian Riesling.

3. Cassoulet a Langedoc speciality complete with debate on which city is home to the original Cassoulet10517584_10152536479930140_4790389457117546671_n A high  and I do mean high protein dish with white beans, pork sausage, duck or goose or partridge comfit and lamb or pork. slow cooked, it is a truly truly delicious dish but plan to eat light the next day! Drink with a Langedoc red, preferably from Cahors or Minervios.

4. Gazpacho-though traditionally Spanish, French tomatoes are among the most succulent, flavorful and amazing tomatoes you will ever try so it stands to reason with their warm/ hot summers gazpacho in France is amazing. I have tried green tomato gazpacho in Provence and Red gazpacho in Beaune. Both times I have been clamoring for more. In fact after trying gazpacho in Spain and please don’t hate me but the French gazpacho is the very clear winner for its more defined and flavorful versions. A MUST MUST try. Also pairs extremely well with the light but flavorful Provencal reds or  the complex pinots from Bourgogne.

5. Bouef Bourginon- A Burgundian specialty, this beef stew simmered in the famous Burgundian wine, you really can’t go wrong. La Grilladine in Beaune does a superb Bouef Bourginon. http://lagrilladine.fr/ You absolutely must drink this with a wine from Bourgogne. This might be @benton8tor’s all time favourite french dish. So much so he would eat it on a 30 degree summer day. Bourgogne/Burgundy is infamous for its plethora of amazing food so to stand out in this region, the food has to be amazing!

6. Charcuterie- a charcuterie is widely available across France. Usually smoked meats, sausages and pates complete with mustards, breads, cornichons and other picked vegetables, you will no doubt be overjoyed.IMG_5010 I have had an amazing charcuterie at Cafe Absinthe in Paris, https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d4341374-Reviews-L_absinthe_Cafe-Paris_Ile_de_France.html but for a truly amazing charcuterie go to Lyon, a city famous for its sausages and the more famous Bouchons (small bistro style restaurant) would be the place to try it. That said Restaurant L’Instant in Le Lavandou on the Cote d’Azur serves the often underrated Corsican meats on their charcuterie which still stand as the best I have ever had. http://www.restaurantlinstant.sitew.com/#ACCUEIL.
Pairs best with a regional wine.

7. Gougeres- Burgundy/Bourgogne lays claim to these tasty, mouthwatering choux pastry delights. That said they are widely available throughout France. Made with choux pastry and cheese (often gruyere or comte) they are a great start to your meal or a fabulous snack. The best ones I ever ate where at Olivier Leflaive https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/ in Puligny Montrachet in Bourgogne. They were light, fluffy. and full of amazing flavour. Pairs exceptionally well with the whites of Puligny Montrachet. Coincidentally, Olivier LeFlaive is also where I had the best souffle ever.

8. Croque monsieur- the french version of a grilled cheese is usually made with bechemel sauce and gruyere or comte cheese and is a true delight. try the croque madame with an egg on top. pairs well with wines from Bourgogne, Jura, Savoie and Loire as well as Northern Rhone

9. Pastry- French pasties can not be understated. Go to a patisserie with an empty stomach and try!!! From croissants and pain au chocolat to the more ornate pastries you can’t help but have your mind blown. and possible gain a few pounds but oh my will it be worth it!

10. The French are famous for their markets so go for a picnic. Go the the market in the morning, get a baguette, some cheese ( I recommend the goats cheese from Provence) and some ham and veggies of your choice. I obviously pick the most delicious cherry tomatoes. Get some wine and find a beautiful spot (not hard you are in France) and enjoy!!Don’t forget your wine opener as using your shoe and banging the bottle on the sidewalk is more challenging, just ask Benton8tor.  The bread in France is beyond amazing. In fact so much so that my dad buys flour, butter and yeast in Provence when he travels to make bread at home. Apparently this isn’t an unusual thing.

@benton8tor says I need to add these honorable mentions (i.e. his favorites)

  1. Foie gras- widely available, controversial and native to Gascony this delicacy of goose  liver tastes like the best butter you will ever eat.
  2. Charolais Beef- Burgundian of course, Benton8tor swears it is the most flavorful beef.
  3. Coq au vin- Another Burgundian specialty,  it is chicken/rooster slow cooked in Burgundian wine. Drink with a Red Bourgogne.
  4. Jambon au Buerre- A ham sandwich, simple but amazing due to the quality of ingredients. Even better with a hard boiled egg and a Loire rose.
  5. Flamkuche- an onion tart which is a delicious Alsatian specialty. A must must have.
  6. Salads in France- never to be underestimated and always filling.

So grab a patio, order your wine, find your favourite specialty to order and enjoy! After all you are  in France!

One Night in Banyo

One of the other passengers echoed my sentiments when taking a look at the plane said ‘I like 2 pilots and 2 engines.’ Me too buddy, me too.

In 2012, My friend Lisa spent 4 months in Cameroon teaching violence prevention to girls so they could be leaders in their own right It was an amazing thing to do but it meant we missed her like crazy. Lisa’s mom is a Lutheran Pastor and had been supporting women in Cameroon to become pastors, which was no easy task. So in May 2012, with Lisa in Cameroon, and the Cameroon Lutheran Church ready to ordain women pastors, Lisa’s mom Carol was able to go to Cameroon. I of course decided I would go to, obviously.

This was my first experience flying Air France. I flew Air France from Montreal to Paris, and then from Paris to Yaounde. I t was going to be a lonnggg flight. Luckily for me Air France serves champagne, wine and cognac with every meal, even if you are in economy. and very fresh bread. Ahhh. Carol wasn’t really in a cognac mood so she asked for a tonic water. The flight attendant was amazing but he brought her back a bottle of gin with a straw and set it on her tray table and left. She eventually got her tonic as well, which it as it turned out we would need as we diverted to Douala for a few hours waiting or a thunderstorm to pass. Welcome to Cameroon in the rainy season.

We finally arrived in Yaounde after a very long flight and quite honestly I wish I could remember it more  but the only thing I truly remember is our trip coordinator telling us we would be flying to N’Gaoundéré tomorrow. To say I was relieved was an understatement. I had heard Lisa and Carol’s stories about the train. Technically it took 12 hours but often could be closer to 24. Lisa had never flown to N’Gaoundéré, only the train which she believes is an essential part of the Cameroon experience. She is right and she has lots of amazing stories (and video!) of the train but I was glad to miss. At first

The next morning we made our was to the private airfield to take our 6 seater plan to N’Gaoundéré. despite my hesitations about the train, I was privately hoping for the train at this point. thumbnail_IMG_6107Taking a tiny plane in a country I knew nothing about? huh, not so sure. One of the other passengers echoed my sentiments when taking a look at the plane said ‘I like 2 pilots and 2 engines.’ Me too buddy, me too.

However we sucked it up and got on the plane. The journey was smooth and countryside beautiful. I soon fell asleep and when I woke up I could see a very very angry loothumbnail_IMG_6104king rainstorm to the north, where we were headed. then lightning. I hoped my shaking wasn’t visible. I needn’t have worried, my 2 pilot friend was shaking Carols seat so badly she felt ill. Our pilot announced we would be landing at the Banyo airport tonight and we would make it to N’Gaoundéré tomorrow. So I guess the flights were 24 hours too albeit much more comfortable.

the airport turned out to be a strip of red dirt that the local kids chased the cows off of so we could land. the hangar turned out to be a patch of trees and 2 men were going to have to sleep in the plane in the thunderstorm as security.  This made me feel incredibly guilty as it should. I was headed for a warm dry bed.

thumbnail_IMG_6105
the Banyo airport

Banyo doesn’t have hotel so we were staying with the local doctor and his wife. Despite being happy to avoid he the thunderstorm, I was feeling incredibly sad about not getting to N’Gaoundéré and seeing Lisa. But that’s the thing about unexpected detours, you don’t know what you are missing and I would have never seen Banyo otherwise. And Banyo is incredibly beautiful. the mango tree lined streets, the beautiful flowers, the banana trees, it was all stunning but nothing compared to the warm welcome we received. In fact this incredibly warm welcome was repeated in N’Gaoundéré as well.thumbnail_IMG_6102 Especially in the current political climate where there is much rhetoric about restricting people from entering nations of great wealth, I am even more amazed that we were welcomed so warmly and everyone was so willing to share whatever they had. This visit and its welcome stands out today more than ever. We toured the town, visited the local radio station that the residents had recently built. One of the DJs was pretty young ( 17 or 18) but was so happy because his parents in Nigeria could now here him on the radio (Banyo is very close to the Nigerian border). We toured the hospital, met more residents and came back for a dinner of pasta and salad. fairly non Cameroonian but with Cameroon mango so delicious that even 5 years later I am still disappointed by North American mangoes and bananas too. Cameroon bananas are amazing.

Unexpected detours make for strange bedfellows as well. Literally. One of the other women on the plane (KIm)  was on her way for the women’s ordination as well and had lived in various African countries.  she became my roomie for the night as Carol bunked with Bishop Elaine ( the female bishop! from Winnipeg). I would have never gotten to know Kim otherwise and she had a fascinating stories from her time in Africa and her current work and so on. After the very best shower of my life in thumbnail_IMG_6103a beautifully tiled bathroom we boarded the plan once again. This time we made it to N’Gaoundéré in time to see Lisa jumping up and down on the tarmac. I was thrilled to see her but now I wouldn’t have traded my night in Banyo for anything.

N’Gaoundéré is another blog in itself and I will reference wine but suffice it to say, the best wine was on the Air France flight.

In Camden Town

For those in the Real Ale Movement, the Bree Louise pub is where it is at. This pub is old school London but clean, very friendly and the food is out of this world

By now I have been to London roughly a dozen times and it never disappoints. London is full of things to do for the tourist and/or traveler, history buff, theatre buff, shopping aficionado, well you get. London is also big. It is very easy to stay in Westminster and think you’ve seen London. Mainly because you will have done so much!! Over the years I have stayed in Westminster, Bermondsey/Southwark, Kensington, tower Hamlets, and Bayswater. We have explored more. But I had never been to Camden and if I am honest had no real desire to go. I loved Westminster and its theatre scene and Southwark. I got comfortable.

This past spring, work brought me back to London so we decided to tack on a few vacation days at the end. However where I was presenting was by St Pancras Station. It wasn’t convenient to stay in Westminster so Camden it was. A couple of hours after I arrived, all I could think was why did I wait so long?IMG_0699 Camden has to be seen to be believed. At any given time of the day Camden High street ( and one you are over the bridge Chalk Farm Road is bustling. But not with the frenzied, focused energy you find in Westminster or the City. You get the feeling that people would actually stop to chat and a lot of them do. After the conference, we could really explore and we did.

For those in the Real Ale Movement, the Bree Louise pub is where it is at. This pub is old school London but clean, very friendly and the food is out of this world. @benton8tor nearly lost his mind at the beer selection which unlike other London pubs had a huge variety. Some from local brewers. Fun Fact Camden is home to local breweries, Camden Brewing. IPA, Bitters, the like. It is mainly cask ales. Side note: they also serve the best ploughmans with local cheeses.http://www.breelouise.pub/

If you are in the mood for pubs, Camden has lots to offer Some are a little rougher, (i.e. the Good Mixer, home to Amy Winehouse and Noel Gallagher) and it doesn’t accept cards but a fabulous spot for any music lover, full of history (and probably other things). It was in the Good Mixer 061, watching pool and listening to Camden’s own group Madness that we knew we were really here! http://www.thegoodmixer.com/  But the Lock Tavern was one of my favourites. It on Chalk Farm Road and Harmood. Harmood is the street where @benton8tor’s grandfather lived so it had special significance for him. It was still March and London was 21 and sunny ( I was both horrified global warming! and ecstatic sunshine!!! In March ! In London!!) so we could sit on their roof top terrace overlooking the famous Camden Market. They had a good beer selection too. http://www.lock-tavern.com/080

Camden Market, located in the old horse stables has to be seen to be believed. Not high fashion but trendy fashion forward shops alongside steam metal punk shops, shoe stores, food vendors of every persuasion, milliners, antiques, and tourist shops. A definite must do. I bought one of my favourite dresses ever in Camden street. @benton8tor bought a watch. Ben’s approaches to watches are not to tell time but rather do they look interesting or cool. So when he was looking at a rather interesting watch in a Camden store, I knew he wasn’t serious about buying it. Also it was 50 pounds. He ended up getting it for 20. 069Considering he didn’t really want it to begin with, I am not sure who won that barter. That said it is an awesome watch. https://www.camdenmarket.com/

Though Camden was fascinating, it was new to me and new can be overwhelming. So when we met Ben’s cousins for dinner, I was relieved it was in Westminster. Alighting at the Leicester Square tube station, I took a deep breath, touristy, busy and full of energy I felt like I was home. I knew where I was going, where to find my favourite shops, pubs ect.. I relaxed. And dinner was a Joe Allens famous for its position in the theatre district and a good place to watch for celebrities. The food is good and wine list even better.  http://www.joeallen.co.uk/

But back to Camden we went. We had little time left and new we couldn’t possibly do everything we wanted to. Gin tasting, a visit to the breweries, that would have to wait until next time. However we managed to squeeze in dinner at Chutneys a very delicious vegetation Indian restaurant. And my piece resistance, snack and champers at Searcy’s champagne bar in St Pancras station. Searcy’s manages to mix a 1930s art deco vibe with very modern decor, right in the middle of a train station. Literally right beside a train. We had some lovely champagne and we said our farewells to Camden. http://searcys.co.uk/

We were in Camden 1 week after the Westminster Bridge terror attacks. Since then, England has suffered 2 more horrifying attacks. But the British culture of resilience and support is stronger. If you are thinking about visiting England, don’t be deterred. You would be far more disappointed not to go and despite media reports, there is a far greater chance you will be completely safe and have the time of your life.