The Alcazar, Toledo, Spain

“The beauty of Jerusalem in its landscape can be compared with that of Toledo.”
– Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana

Perched above its bend in the Tagus, with sheer drops on three sides to eddying currents, and tightly-enclosed within its craggy walls Toledo has an impenetrable, monumental aspect. But, through the early morning rays, as the mists rise off the river and mingle with the low sun, her peach-colored sandstone ripens and softens, refreshing and renewing this ancient city in its parched plain.

Upon our arrival the previous evening in the wondrous gloaming, and stumbling down its steep and winding alleys — so narrow as to render the pair of us laden with luggage an obstacle for even the slimmest oncoming pedestrian — the crepuscular light and looming shadows created an entirely opposite effect, one of brooding mystery and dark secrets. I can only liken it to a labyrinth, which when viewed from the outside might appear perfect and logical, but inside proves bewildering. Continue Reading »

Brazilian-style chicken hearts

Towards the end of an otherwise very enjoyable dish of Cantonese-style spicy duck tongues at Congee Village on New York’s Lower East Side a few years ago, I found myself asking the inevitable question: how many ducks does it take to make a plate of this? Counting the tongues I could pick up with my chopsticks and then working backwards to calculate how many mouthfuls I had already eaten, I estimated that every portion contained the quacking gear of between 25 and 35 ducks. Continue Reading »

La Granja

Authentic Castilian Soup at La Taberna del Pelon, La Granja
It must go down among the biggest porkies a man ever told a woman – right after Christopher Columbus telling his mother he wouldn’t be long; he and a few friends were just taking their boats out for a spin. And, never has the term “farm”* been used more euphemistically than when Felipe V of Spain told his wife that he was going to buy a small farm at the foot of a hill for their summer retreat.

In fairness, when he bought it from the monks of Santa Maria del Parral in nearby Segovia, it was little more than farm with a small almshouse for the poor. Felipe just conveniently forgot to mention that little bit about his intention being to turn it into a second Versailles. Such minor details have never been known to be the cause of strife between husband and wife, after all. Continue Reading »


“The pen is the tongue of the mind.”
– Don Quixote de La Mancha

I have been told that the Inuit have more than 30 words for snow and a similar number of descriptors for the myriad tones of white, blue and grey that color their environment. If desert-dwelling Arabs had a similarly nuanced vocabulary for gradations of sand, then it might follow that their moniker for the vast expanses of central Spain, al-mansha, would speak of the manifold and subtle variations between fawn, leather and olive that are that province’s signature. Continue Reading »

Melton Mowbray Pork Pie

In 1994, and after six playfully-humorous seasons of barbershop-based banter, fans of British-Caribbean sitcom “Desmond’s” were disappointed when the show was discontinued. This blow may have been softened when they learned that it was to be succeeded by spin-off show “Porkpie”, but, after two fairly insipid seasons, this too was consigned to the bin of history, in part, because it relied on the exact same jokes as its predecessor. Never a regular watcher of Desmond’s, I was still sufficiently aware of it to be familiar with at least one of the leading characters. Continue Reading »

Roasted suckling pig at Meson Don Jimeno, Segovia, Spain.

Five years in the making, and after at least six months’ meticulous planning, this was not an auspicious start. Within twenty minutes of claiming our luggage off the futuristically-plastic baggage carousel at Madrid-Barajas, and after spending the few coins we brought with us on a pair of sorely-needed cortados, we stood, incredulous and cash-less, in front of an ATM that had just swallowed our card. A few long moments passed in which I stared open-mouthed at the machine and Amy struggled to obtain an English-speaker via the helpline. I was just about to weep when the girl standing at the adjacent phone accessory booth momentarily stopped admiring her glossy talons and casually mentioned that the ATM-owning bank had an office on the floor above. Continue Reading »

Pollo al ajillo
An old joke tells of a Philadelphia area man who, panicking when his doctor diagnosed him with incurable cancer and predicted he had six months to live, begged the medic for help. “Isn’t there any way I can live for longer?”, he asked. “Go marry an Italian girl from South Philly and those six months will feel like a lifetime.” the doctor replied.

During our short family vacation to Vermont earlier this summer, this sort black humor came to mind more than once. Continue Reading »

When the coughing and farting of the antique truck had rumbled away, between the rustlings of birds pecking grubs among the dry plane leaves, you could just make out the pop and thwack of rubber on concrete. Ascending a double flight of unusually steep stairs, past a stained glass window featuring farming folk, the squeak of gym shoes and the grunts of the players become audible. At the top, a cry of “Buen remate, cabrón!/Good shot, motherf—er!” greeted us as we emerged into a small, tiered seating area perched some twenty feet above an enclosed court. On wooden benches, polished to a veneer by generations of spectator buttocks, a handful of thickset older men, sipping beakers of black wine, like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, were joyfully goading the four sweaty men haring after a small rubber ball below them. Continue Reading »

Pollo al Andaluz - Andalusian-style chicken

As an icebreaker at the beginning of the birthing classes we took in preparation for the arrival of our first-born, participants were divided into male and female groups and invited to sit together and discuss their greatest hopes and apprehensions for impending parenthood. The biggest concern of our fellow soon-to-be-parents turned out to be making sure their birth plan was followed to the letter and that on no account should their spouse be somehow duped into accepting analgesics against her wishes by velvet-tongued medical professionals offering relief from the agony. We were surprised to be the only ones looking beyond the birth and confessing their concerns about actually raising said child. Continue Reading »

Peruvian-style Pulpo al Olivo
For much of what we are accustomed to seeing around Christmas, the candles, trees, the mistletoe, the decorations, and many of the songs, we need to thank the Germans. Not specifically those residents of the modern nation state of Germany, but the historic Germanic-speaking peoples of central Europe, for whom the birth of our Lord and Savior was a thinly-veiled opportunity to get out there into the frosty air, bedeck conifers with a variety of junk, quaff heavily-spiced glühwein, and bellow carols in to the night in return for sweetmeats. I would wager that among the English-speaking peoples, certainly the British, the willingness to credit to our Franconian-speaking brethren for these festive trappings is reluctant at best, primarily for, you know, historical reasons. Continue Reading »

Duck Liver in Brandy Cream Sauce with Pomegranate Seeds

Since we defected to the suburbs, started going to bed at 9.30 and became generally boring and matronly, one aspect of the luxury of space afforded by our new location that we have enjoyed particularly is having two fridge-freezers. The second appliance has not only allowed us to give free-reign to our kleptomaniacal tendencies — with leftovers and other scraps of barely edible, semi-discarded flotsam now littering our principal fridge like turds on a cat hoarder’s parlor floor — it has also meant that our collection of frozen comestibles keeps growing and growing. Continue Reading »

Vietnamese Market Cookbook: Spicy Sour Sweet by Tran and Vu

If the path from high finance executive to cookbook author isn’t a well-beaten one, then the path from stock-broker to market stall-holder is even more poorly trod. But, for Oxford-educated former bankers turned Banh Mi vendors-cum-restaurateurs, Van Tran and Anh Vu, that was their peregrination. They certainly don’t say so in the book, but it’s the kind of riches to rags to riches (kind of) story that I’m sure fills the day-dreams of many of us who feel trapped in the limits of our corporate lives, straining at the virtual leash as we break rocks for the man. Continue Reading »

Classic Peruvian Potato dish - Papas a la Huancaina

Of all the miracles of modern science that we have witnessed over recent years, few have received as little attention as the 2009 announcement by the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, that it had successfully sequenced the potato genome. It is a sad reflection on the state of our priorities as a species that this seminal discovery was overshadowed by other, flashier technological breakthroughs that year – including Apple’s launch of Siri, the utterly humorless, and mostly useless, personal assistant on the iPhone 3GS – because after rice, potatoes are the most important foodstuff on planet Earth. Continue Reading »

Argentine-style Faína with Chorizo

“There are more pizzerias in Buenos Aires than in Naples and Rome combined.”
Ernesto Sabato, Heroés y Tumbas

In his book “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” travel-writer Bill Bryson, in an attempt to defeat insomnia, describes making a lonely evening among the anodyne IKEA fittings of a Stockholm hotel even more excruciating by tallying the variety of surnames in the local telephone directory. In an exercise that was clearly not soporific enough, he counted more than 2,000 each of Eriksson, Svensson, Nilsson and Larsson — Swedish inventiveness evidently lying in self-assembly homewares rather than last names. I was reminded of this episode when in conversation with our hotelier in Buenos Aires a few years ago. Continue Reading »

Yellow gazpacho with head-on shrimp al ajillo

The longer we live, the more we understand that our lives, especially now that we have two children, are about compromises. These are often in the form of compromising what we want to do, more or less completely, because our children are either unwilling or unable to do it. Recently though, a new kind of compromise hoved into view after 10 days of excessive eating and drinking while we hosted family from the west coast: namely, that we needed to compromise our caloric intake in order to fit into our clothes. Continue Reading »

Duck Foie Gras with Bacon and Juniper Cabbage and Blackberry-Mustard Seed gastrique
The cuisines, if you call them that, of Northern Europe have been maligned, and fairly, in many cases, for years. The food having been considered by some commentators to be so bad that it was posited as a contributing factor to the higher rates of suicide in those areas. Indeed, anyone who grew up on the same sad, grey school lunches as I might be forgiven for contemplating throwing in the towel rather than facing another plate of limp, farty cabbage and gristly stewed mutton. That we were also forced to wear shorts year-round except when there was snow on the ground, a memory that brings a shiver out of me even now, helped make life feel grimmer than it might otherwise have. This dress-code paired with the inevitable childhood tumbles from kicking a ball around the crumbling asphalt schoolyard and the scarcely-believable application of witch hazel to open wounds and grazes left me, literally, scarred for life. Continue Reading »

Oaxacan-style enfrijoladas

“Waiter! What is this?”
“Um, it’s bean soup, sir.”
“I don’t care what it’s been. What is it now?”

– bad English joke

Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, has the highest proportion of native peoples in the country, and traditional culture is alive to such an extent that an estimated 50% of indigenous people are unable to speak Spanish. The state’s unique geography and multiple climatic zones have allowed pre-Columbian practices to persist largely undisturbed into the modern day making it a veritable living ark both for biodiversity and for those wanting to understand Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Continue Reading »

Aneletti alla Palermitana

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all,
for Sicily is the clue to everything.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sicily sits apart from mainland Italy, like a rock ready to receive a swift kick from the instep of the Italian boot. Indeed, many Italians would tell you that this is precisely what the unruly, volcanic island needs. Throughout its diverse and textured history, Sicily has always been set apart somehow, having been in turn either at the very center of things or at their very periphery. Perhaps this wild oscillation of stature has had as much of an influence on the outlook and behavior of the Sicilians, their dialects and cuisine, as the people and cultures that have passed through the island over the past two and half millennia. Continue Reading »

Grilled Lamb Sweetbreads with warm dandelion, parsley and mint salad
Talk to someone about thymus glands and they will either tell you about their brutal exercise regimen designed to tackle the effects of an under-active one*, or if you’re mentioning them in a culinary context, they’ll usually make an appalled face, purse their lips, fan their hands and look away, indicating you’ve just gone one step too far towards the frightful foods classed under “I couldn’t possibly eat that, it’s gross!” Even the marketing man’s brave attempt to rebrand the humble thymus as sweetbreads hasn’t exactly seen them leaping off supermarket shelves. In part, this is because it is a recherché supermarket indeed that stocks them, but it’s also because of the incipient confusion between sweetbreads and sweetmeats that makes consumers fearful they may be about to munch on a lamb’s or calf’s balls. If you witnessed pained faces previously, you’re likely to elicit both inadvertent wincing and cupping of hands over groins at this point. Continue Reading »

zaatar-spiced horse meat kebabs
Last year there was unprecedented outrage when the news broke that the meatballs being sold by more than one European grocery chain were “contaminated” with horse meat. This was big news this side of the Atlantic for two main reasons: a) the horses in question are likely to have been American horses, and b) because eating horses is disgusting and unfathomably cruel. Animal loving organizations, like the one I used to work for, were up in arms, seething at the abject slaughter of our mighty chargers by those filthy, snaggle-toothed Europeans. After all, what truly civilized country would consider carving up their noble steeds when there are so many dumber, slower and less attractive creatures on the farm who don’t let you ride on their backs to stick a knife into? Continue Reading »

Butifarra Negra / Black or Blood Sausage with Garbanzos
Barcelona’s La Boqueria is perhaps the most famous food market in the world, and the most famous of its bar/restaurants is undoubtedly Pinotxo (pee-not-cho), run by the equally famous Juanito Bayen. His immaculate sense of dress and reputation for treating his guests like family have made him and his 14-stool establishment legendary. Indeed, such is his generous spirit that many are the tales of him spontaneously breaking open magnums of pink cava at 11am and passing glasses around. Everyone in the know food-wise, it seems, has made a bee-line for his place when passing through Barcelona on their way to other notable establishments like El Celler de Can Roca and Albert Adria’s Bodega 1900. Everyone, that is, except us. In fact, during our visit to Barcelona, we didn’t even make it to La Boqueria, in spite of staying about three hundred yards away down Las Ramblas, and we must have walked past it more than a few times as we explored the city. Continue Reading »

U-Pick Citrus, Collier County, south Florida

I have never known an aroma quite like it before: an intense, aromatic perfume. We could smell it from miles away – even before we had passed the last of the strip centers and construction sites. On one side, the low khaki scrub of the sandmine, on the other the hot, itchy pine forests, then suddenly, line after line of dark green citrus trees, all jolly with bright orbs, flicked past as we advanced into what locals refer to as “old Florida”. Continue Reading »

Dried Chorizo and Morcilla

Photo: © Nathan Rawlinson

With some cookbooks, you just open them, find something that looks good and go straight into your kitchen and start cooking. Charcutería – The Soul of Spain, the new book from Jeffrey Weiss, is not that kind of book. This is partly intentional in that the book is structured in such a way as to first provide the history and context around Spanish meat curing and pork butchery techniques, and partly because few among us have all the requisite curing salts, natural sausage casing and pounds of pork fat on hand. Continue Reading »

Duck with confit oranges, brown sugar and thyme
On our first afternoon in Buenos Aires, as we lazily wandered the Palermo district, stupefied by an overnight flight and a filling lunch featuring our first Argentine steak and an immoderate milanesa napolitana, we paused to admire the way the beautiful lilac-blue flowers of a blooming jacaranda overhung a stucco wall that years of sub-tropical sun had softened to a color somewhere between beige and blond. As we pointed and took photos, a horse-drawn cart trundled past laden with cut logs. Suddenly, a large hardwood gate creaked open just down from us and the lean, tanned face of a gentleman in his seventies poked out and broke into a smile. “De donde estan ustedes? / Where are you from?” he asked us. “From the United States,” we replied. “This is our first day in Buenos Aires.” “Ah, bienvenidos a Argentina! / Welcome to Argentina!” he responded. “Would you like to come in and see the rest of the garden?”.

Continue Reading »

chickpea puree with octopus, mexican chorizo and cilantro salsa verde

I know that I am the best cook(er) in the world because my three year-old son tells me so when I make him fridge surprise for dinner. (The surprise being that there is anything remotely edible in our fridge.) Naturally, this makes me exceedingly happy, especially so since he tends to eat such meals with gusto. However, it is not just gastronome children who appreciate our particular brand of cookery. No, indeed. Last year, one of our pictures (from this post) was liked on Instagram by top Philadelphia restaurant Alla Spina, no less.

Continue Reading »

chorizo, watermelon, papaya, red onion and feta salad
While awake in the middle of the night, hoping like hell one’s infant will go back to sleep soon, one experiences a range of emotions, including, but not limited to, joy, frustration, fatigue, anger, sadness, despair and, with any luck, relief. And, as one sits rocking away or pacing incessantly in the inky blackness of the wee hours, one’s mind has a tendency to wander. If sleep deprivation didn’t rob one’s short-term memory, I’m sure some of those wandering thoughts would be quite fascinating to recall. Equally, I’m sure, most would be best left unremembered.

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Poutine with Brussel sprouts

“Je me souviens”
I shall not forget / I remember

– Quebecois motto

You never forget your first poutine the saying doesn’t go. But it should. After all, what gastronomic experience could be more profound than the comforts of crispy fries, luscious gravy, and melty cheese curds, followed immediately by sleepiness, the fat sweats, and self-loathing? I can tell you when and where it was I plowed into my first poutine. And, if it wasn’t life-altering exactly – in truth it was very prosaic and transactional – it was certainly an experience that I have not and shall not soon forget. Continue Reading »

calves liver a l'estragon, L'Express, Montreal
As Montreal braces for its annual mid-winter festival, a lot of which takes place au plein air as they might say, much of the US East Coast braces itself for the kind of frigid, snowy conditions that Montrealers witness 6 months of the year, illustrating just one of the ways they and their city distinguish themselves from the rest of us.

In October 2008, we visited Montreal for the first time over Columbus weekend (US) aka Canadian Thanksgiving and came home fatter and much closer to our first stroke, but enchanted. Even though we hardly had time to scratch the surface on that brief sojourn, it didn’t stop us describing our chastening experience at the cruel hands of Martin Picard in excruciating detail nor blabbering on garrulously in a podcast about how fabulous it all was. Since then, we’ve barely touched foie gras, but we’ve been jonesing to return. The small matter of having two children making that rather more challenging. Continue Reading »

Uzbeki Lamb Pilaf (Plov)

It’s not unusual to get a little cabin-fever during Yuletide as weather, darkness and social engagements restrict one to indoor activities, but that norm has been compounded for us this Christmas by the arrival of our second child just two weeks ago. As anyone who has had infant children knows, social occasions quickly become hassles, and it’s almost impossible to leave the house with a newborn without first making sure to have milk, diapers, changes of clothing, blankets, pacifiers and assorted other junk on hand, at which point, it will almost certainly start to rain or snow, forcing you to re-wrap the baby in extra layers or throw hands in air and abort plans altogether.

We’ve had the immensely good fortune of assorted friends and relations having visited or stayed during Emiliana’s first weeks which has been a huge help but being so housebound has forced us to be rather more imaginative than usual in the preparation of our meals. It’s hardly been a hardship, however: those of you that follow us on Instagram know that the extraordinarily good garlic, rosemary and sage-marinated leg of lamb we roasted over potatoes and turnips on Christmas Day provided most succulent leftovers that we progressively turned into fillings for souvlaki and tacos. What you don’t know is that this inventiveness reached an extraordinary pinnacle on the third day of Christmas with a spectacular Uzbek-style plov, or pilaf.

Continue Reading »

Bunny Chow
“There once was a tall bloke from Durban
A Sikh, oft’ seen sporting a turban.
A white country loaf
in curry afloat,
was the lunch he’d chase down with a bourbon.”

The future is a frustratingly unpredictable thing. Perhaps most frustratingly, when there are predictable events in that future but the circumstances in which you expected them to take place do not turn out as anticipated. For example, our second child is on the way imminently, but I was recently made unemployed and totally didn’t see it coming. Now we are scrambling to figure out how to extend health insurance coverage in order to avoid having to ruin ourselves financially in paying for the hospital stay. You know, that kind of nuisance. Continue Reading »

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