Friday, 30 September 2016

Crete, part three: Exposing the Palate to the Cretan Wine Gamut

Crete, Greece (Κρήτη, Ελλάδα) 
20 July 2016
The morning began cloudy, so we were deprived of our morning swim. As we prepared breakfast we could hear the local watermelon salesman driving slowly through the village in a ute, broadcasting the excellence of his fruital wares via loudspeaker.
Bidding adieu to our lovely poolside house, we made east for Rethymno - a coastal city watched over by a large Venetian fortress. As we parked along the waterfront, we saw yet another loudspeaker-toting salesman, this time advertising a circus with the help of an enormous and colourful billboard erected in the flatbed of his truck.

The fortifications of the Fortezza were grand and impressive, with limestone walls that spanned a length of 1,307 meters. We took a brief peek inside, but determined we need not pay the entrance fee for a deeper look; houses had been extensively built within the fortress over the centuries, but after the Second World War they were razed, and now few historic buildings remain inside.

Taking a stroll through the old town, we cooed over quaint little streets and François purchased a wooden honey dipper from a store selling Greek products.

As we drove onwards towards Spili, we were afforded a magnificent vista over Rethymno, with a typical Greek shrine in the foreground and the fortress in the distance by the sea.

Spili is located nearly five hundred meters above sea level, and the village is a zigzag of houses and churches winding their way up the hill. One of the main attractions is the Lion Fountain, which pours fresh spring water from the mouths of carved lions into a long trough at the foot of a cliff face. Yannick said that Spili reminded him of a mixture of Sapa (because of the terraced style of the village clinging to the hillside) and Edessa (because of the sound of running water).

Wandering up a narrow cobblestoned street, we enjoyed seeing all the different ramshackle houses and crumbling stone facades. I found an adorable white cat in someone’s driveway who was happy to accept many pats and quickly took to me, rubbing up against my ankles until I fell behind the others and lamentably had to walk away. 
From there, the next stop on our whirlwind tour of Crete was Zaros, a town famed for their trout and bottled spring water. We drove to the edge of a small lake where the fish were farmed and found a table at a restaurant. Having no interest in trout, Fabienne and I ordered a range of mezes including fava (a dip made from broad beans), roasted capsicum, fried courgette and grilled mushrooms. Everything was excellent, but the standouts were the fava, which I had been looking forward to trying since arriving in Greece, and the mushrooms, which exhibited a mildly terrifying appearance but tasted delicious. (To mushroom fans, they may have looked fine, but I’m still developing my mushroom affection and am only accustomed to the button and portobello varieties. These Greek specimens resembled the frilly footprints of an eight-toed Tyrannosaurus Rex.) Yannick and François enjoyed their trouts, and at the end of the meal we were plied with yummy fresh summer fruits and raki that punched you in the back of the throat and was frankly undrinkable. 
Consuming a bottle of water and a litre of vino at lunch required us to pull over before long on our way to Cretan wine country and relieve ourselves in an olive grove by the side of the road. I’m sure the olives didn’t mind.

Our vineyard of choice was Lyrarakis, mainly because they are famed both locally and abroad for their mad grape skills. I’ll quote you a sentence from their website: “The family is credited for reviving the two ancient local white varieties, Dafni and Plyto, which are part of the company’s range of wines called “The Treasures of Crete”.” How cool is that! They’re also renowned for combining local grape varietals with foreign ones to create special wines like their Kotsifali and Syrah blend.

When we arrived, a group had already begun a wine tasting, so we joined in. At first, the whole experience seemed rather pretentious, as none of us except François had attended a wine tasting before, but we did get into the swing of things eventually. The tasting started with white wines, followed by rosé and red. We loved almost all of them, but then they brought out what Yannick referred to as “the Sweet Bubble Jesus of Holy Waters”: a sparkling wine that was similar to Prosecco, but sweeter and with a hint of peach. It was spectacular! The final wine in the tasting was a thick Muscat-like dessert wine that was also super delicious. As we had arrived late, we hadn’t tried the first white wine, so that was given to us last. Fabienne and I didn’t much care for it, but we reasoned that that was probably because our palettes were accustomed to the sweet wines that we had just tried (as Yannick and his dad greatly enjoyed it). They do plan the order of wines in the tasting for a reason! We proceeded to load up the car with a few boxes of nearly every wine on offer, and were even gifted a couple of bottles from the vineyard fo’ free! We trundled away happy and laden with quality vintage.

Then we drove to the tiny village of Lyttos to check into our next AirBNB, where we would only be staying for one night. The place was beautifully decorated, with old stone walls still visible in places under the plaster. Yannick and I stayed in the loft bedroom, which had access to the roof where you could look out over the village and surrounding countryside. With no eateries in Lyttos itself, we drove a short way to the neighbouring Kastelli. The restaurants along the main road seemed fast-foody, with pictures of their fare on signs in the street, which didn’t appeal to us. Luckily François spotted some lights and umbrellas across a park and we went over to investigate, discovering a cute taverna. 

Our waiter was full of character: cheerful with a big red nose, speaking only a few words of English but enthusiastic nonetheless. As we hadn’t sampled retsina on this trip to Greece, we ordered a bottle of the popular Greek white wine and unanimously agreed that it was not tasty. Yannick and I had tried it before on our Greek trip in 2013, but couldn’t recall how bad it was. Now, we will never forget.

Today's post was almost called: 'I'd Like to Order One Peugeot of Wine Please'

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Crete, part two: Warren of the Nap-Infested Sleep Sleep Badgers (or: Too Sleepy, Didn’t Canyon)

Meskla, Crete, Greece (Mεσκλα, Κρήτη, Ελλάδα) 
18 July 2016
After our whirlwind first day in Greece, we slowed down for our second and spent a considerable chunk of it planning ferries and accommodation for the days to come.
We enjoyed breakfast out on our terrace (with cherries!), and swam and sunbathed for much of the day. We had a pool! What!
After lunch we had intended to go for a walk to the famous gorge nearby, but our plans were dashed when we fell asleep. For dinner we sautéed potatoes, roasted some capsicum and broke bread. We finished off the meal with a mysterious clear liquid that we had found in the fridge, determining it must be raki - a national drink of Greece and Turkey. With an aniseed flavour, it can be compared to ouzo and pastis, and though strong I didn't mind it. The regret of the evening was forgetting our tray of tomatoes roasting in the oven. We discovered after dinner that we had become amateur alchemists and turned food into carbon. Stoically, Fabienne attacked the tray head on and managed (after much elbow-greased scrubbing) to get it looking back to normal again! Legend.

19 July 2016
The nest day we headed west along the coast for Phalasarna, an archaeological site founded by Dorians (one of the four ethnic groups of Ancient Greece) around the 7th-century BC. 
Hellishly windy, my hair turned itself into knots even after I tied it securely into a bun, but nonetheless we had a good wander to see the ancient city. The surrounding area formed the epitome of the word "rugged", and with a clear blue sky it had a very Greek atmosphere.

The townsfolk came into some money around the 4th-century BC and built their home into an enviable city, with impressive buildings and a port. Remains of the old port could be seen, with steps leading down to (what would have been) the water's edge and rocks with holes carved in to moor boats. Phalasarna's downfall came soon after, with earthquakes and other natural disasters leading to the city's infrastructure crumbling. Many citizens took up piracy, which drew the attention of Rome. Unhappy with the rebellious city, Rome sent an army to all but destroy Phalasarna in 67BC. After that minor setback, a few survivors continued to live there and rebuild what they could, but only a few hundred years later an enormous earthquake raised the land 6.5 meters, rendering their precious dock useless (the sea is now 200 meters away from Phalasarna).

As we left the site, we photographed the so-called "throne". Though vaguely armchair-shaped, I have strong suspicions that this hunk of stone never acted as a means of seating, even two thousand years ago. You can do better, Dorians.

The nearby beach was a little more sheltered, but still dreadfully windy and I wasn't keen on going swimming as I knew as soon as I left the water I'd be chilled by the gusts.

The water was beautifully clear (though Yannick says it was cold) and there were a decent number of beach-goers laid out on the sand and lounge chairs, but it wasn't unpleasantly crowded.

Having heard of another nice beach, we drove to Elafonisi Beach, but could see from the approach that it was crazy busy! Too much crowds! Too many tourism! I don't doubt that it is a lovely place with white sand and turquoise water, and a small island that you can walk to from the beach as it's connected by a thin strip of land, but just no! I mean, look at how many cars and people!

Further along the coast, we visited Palaiochora, which had a sandy beach on one side and a rocky beach on the other side of the peninsula. At the end was a port, and up on top of the hill was an old Venetian fortress dubbed Selino Kasteli built in the 13th-century with wonderful views over the town.

Throughout the centuries, it had been conquered and then rebuilt several times. In 1539 it had even been sacked by the illustrious Ottoman admiral Barbarossa, making Palaiochora positively famous.

Now all that remains of Selino Kasteli are the most basic of ruins, but you could drive directly up from a dirt road near the port and park under some shady trees!
As the day was hot hot hot, we took a short break from Palaiochora to visit a nearby pebbly beach for swims and sunbathing. 

Heading back into the town to explore, we initially got lost in a maze of driveways, but found our way to pretty little streets leading to the seaside.

We briefly walked up to the church to snap a photo of the bell tower, which looked a lot like a Buddhist pagoda to me.

Though there were a few souvenir stalls and tourists with tramping shoes on, they didn't dampen the Greek charm that infused the town and instead, you got the feel of the place from the three-wheeled scooters and tavernas with tables spilling out onto the cobblestoned streets. 
Ready to call it a day, we drove back to our AirBNB and went for another swim. The sun had sunk behind the hill, casting our pool in shadow, but the water was still very warm. As we frolicked in our own tiny square man-made lake, we heard the front door slam and rushed over to see that we had been locked out by the wind. That fiendish wind at it again with his pranks! Luckily, Fabienne and François had opened the doors of the balcony on the first floor, so Yannick went all Assassins Creed and scaled the wooden trellis up to the balcony. It was super impressive and we all gave him high fives once we were inside and fully clothed again. 
After an aperitif of pink muscat wine, we descended the steep driveway to see if the local taverna was serving dinner. As we walked down the road, all heads turned toward us, the only foreigners in the village and therefore a spectacle. The taverna turned out to be closed for the day, so we whipped up a meal with whatever we had lying around: pasta with a lemon, garlic and raki sauce. I added balsamic vinegar and olives to mine, while Yannick threw on copious amounts of feta. It was delicious! We paired the meal with a white wine that Fabienne and François had acquired earlier in their travels on the island of Kefalonia. They’re legit island hoppers. 

Today's post was almost called: 'Mishaps in Utopia: Char-matos and a Ninja on the Roof'

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Crete, part one: I Purloin Your Bananas! A Cretinous Odyssey Begins

Hania, Crete, Greece (Χανιά, Κρήτη, Ελλάδα)
17 July 2016
We planned a two-week jaunt to Greece for a little holiday with Yannick's sister Fabienne and their dad François. After a restless night on the plane (thankfully no Hot Chocolate Boy on this flight), we arrived at Hania airport a little after 6am and were greeted by François who ferried us back to their accommodation so we could have much needed showers.
Upon pulling up outside to unload our bags, I noticed that across the street was an abandoned house with a caved-in roof. Attached to it was a still functioning house with an elderly woman standing in the doorway, staring at me. I met her gaze and smiled, but she continued to stare at us shiny foreigners. (It was probably already 30 degrees by this time.)
The shower was great. There's nothing quite like brushing your teeth and washing after a flight, even a short one. It must be something about the recycled air that makes you feel dirty. We discovered that the AirBNB hosts had left us a melon in the fridge, so we chopped that into wedges and ate it for breakfast. There was also a bunch of bananas, which I confiscated for use in future breakfasts. After a brief excursion to acquire more food supplies, we returned to the house so that the others could continue their morning meal with honey and Greek yoghurt.

Having a strong urge to become reacquainted with Greece and see an island that we had never visited before, we drove into Hania for a morning stroll. When we arrived it was fairly deserted, with just a few people drinking coffee at cafés along the old streets. On our way to the waterfront, we saw a minaret poking up above the rooftops and passed by several fenced off archaeological sites. You could look down from the street to an excavated layer below and see remnants of ancient walls. Most of them didn't have plaques stating what they used to be - they were just another fixture that made Hania. François, who had been to Greece many times in his youth, said that Hania looked very similar to when he was there in the 70's.

A remnant from the Venetian rule, the dockyards stood out against the waterfront and in the streets around. Like big stone garages for ships, they now hold a range of different businesses, and we visited the Maritime Museum of Crete in one such boat-garage. Inside were collections of old photographs of Crete, information regarding the history behind the Venetian rule, and one great centrepiece: a life-size reconstruction of a Minoan trading ship, which they built as faithfully to the original model as possible, even using the same materials that would have been used at the time.

Back in the 70's, locals would sit out by the water with octopuses drying on the backs of their chairs, but today local vendors showcase an array of sponges and wind chimes for tourists. Some of the outfitted boats were quite spectacular in their displays!
The waterfront had a very Mediterranean feel overall, and I thought that there must have been something left over from the Venetian rule, as the brightly plastered buildings lining the promenade reminded me a little of seaside Italian towns like Portofino. On our way back to the car, we found that Hania was waking up slowly and more people were emerging into the sun with board shorts and Ray Bans on.

As it was about time to check into our new AirBNB for the next few days, we drove to a tiny mountainous village called Meskla and met our host at a café. There were tables and chairs outside under a concrete awning (to shield patrons from the heat of the day), and we chatted with our host over Cretan bevvies: Gerani lemonade, which tasted a bit like artificial banana; and Gerani orangeade, which was pretty good. Soon after sitting down, our host informed us that he had a job for François - a friend of his had received mail from Quebec, in French, which he needed translating. François was happy to help, and read out details of a Canadian pension. An odd job to be sure, but an important one!
Soft drinks drank, we followed him in our car up to the house. (We went "the good way", which was a slightly lengthier route, and very steep, but apparently less steep than the alternative.)

The house was amazing, with a pool overlooking the hills, an outdoor terrace where we ate all our meals, and beautiful rooms in which to rest our weary heads. There was even a backgammon and chess set in the lounge, which we played on some afternoons when it was too hot to be out of doors.

After a short rest, we set off again. A windy road delivered us to Sougia beach, where I took some deep breaths to ease the nausea that had crept over me during the car ride. François remarked that it had changed quite a bit since 1973, when there had been only one café on the beachfront. Now, there were several cafés, as well as tavernas, and a couple of small supermarkets. Full of hunger, we settled on one of the tavernas for lunch and enjoyed a range of mezes: stuffed peppers and tomatoes, baked feta, and meatballs. At one stage the wind decided to be extra naughty (after blowing napkins off the table became dull), and knocked the breadbasket into my glass of wine, spilling it all over the table and my plate of stuffed vegetables. I mopped it up without too much trouble (hopefully the tablecloth didn't permanently stain), but then as I was raising a bite of food to my mouth, my elbow clashed with Yannick's and the forkful went flying into the middle of the table where it sat in a wine stain. To an observer I must have looked like a most calamitous diner.
The others then took a swim at the beach, but I was too siestaful and stayed ashore, enjoying the sun. The wind picked up even more, and it became unpleasant to stay on the beach as coarse sand was blowing into our faces. Curse you, wind! Stopping by one of the supermarkets, we loaded up on fruit and other supplies. The proprietor was from the Netherlands, and had moved to Sougia thirty years previously. Apparently archaeological finds had halted further development in the seaside village, keeping it less built-up than what such an attractive location might have become. (Nuh-uh, resorts, we got ruins here. Run along.)
On the drive back to our accommodation, we collected some wild thyme growing from tiny scratchy bushes on the hillside - we had no spare bags so we commandeered François' hat to store the sprigs.

Though we struggled to stay awake that afternoon after our less than ideal sleep the night before, we eventually made it to dinner! From the terrace we looked out over the village and Yannick snapped a couple of shots of the quiet Meskla nightlife. A light meal was just the ticket after our feast of mezes at Sougia - we doused fresh bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with cucumber on the side and feta for the others. We added a bottle of rosé to make it the perfect first night in Crete.

Today's post was almost called: Battling Sleep Demons in Paradise

Monday, 26 September 2016

Markets Around Bethnal Green: Gimmie Olive Your Tapenades!

While staying in Bethnal Green, we were within walking distance of some excellent markets, our favourites being Broadway Market and Brick Lane Market. 

Broadway Market
It took us about fifteen minutes to reach the market, walking north from Bethnal Green to the suburb of Hackney. A little history on the Broadway Market: produce vendors have been selling at the market since 1890, but the trade dwindled dismally in the recession of the 1980's.

There had been a few attempts by the council to revive it, but they were unsuccessful until the food market held on Saturdays was introduced in 2004. It continues to grow and currently has over 130 stalls.

When Fabienne visited us, we took her to see the market and have a smoothie.

Being the olive fiends that we are, Fabienne and I also took a decent amount of free samples of the tapenades that were on offer at the olive guy's stall. Why not! It brought back excellent memories of visiting markets in the Netherlands.

While having a plethora of food stalls selling everything from falafel to curry to pulled pork to bahn mi, there are also some fresh produce stalls, vintage clothing stalls and stalls displaying artwork.

As we were passing by the cheese stall, this cheeky Drowzee jumped onto it! I captured him, though. Serves him right for standing on people's food. 

Brick Lane Market
A ten-minute walk east from our Bethnal Green lodgings took us to the start of Brick Lane, where a well-established market was held every Sunday. Broadway on Saturday, Brick Lane on Sunday, so much weekend opportunity! The market began in the 1600's by the local Jewish community, and was then called the Truman Markets. Then in the 1900's, with a large increase in the Bangladeshi population, the market grew and expanded along with Brick Lane itself. Now, a popular activity for tourists and locals alike is to order a curry from one of the many curry houses along the street.

We were late to the party in trying a beigel from Beigel Bake, but we made up for lost time! Beigels are like bagels, but made in the traditional Jewish way, and are so delicious. Soft and slightly doughy on the inside, still warm from the oven, with that distinctive crust - but not too crusty! Man, they are good. And only 25 pence each! So cheap! Though it's a permanent shop and not a market stall, I just had to include Beigel Bake because it's a Brick Lane institution. (And if you didn't notice from the sign, the bakery is open 24/7. That's dedication to the beigel.) Whenever we visit on a Sunday for the market, there's an ever-moving line out the door because it's so popular.

Thronging with crowds, Brick Lane is notorious for sporting some weird stalls, so it attracts art students who document their strange findings as well as bargain hunters and antique collectors. For a time, there was a stall that sold only rusty cogwheels. But I'm more interested in the food. Gimme!

Always interested in street art, some interesting specimens can be found along the side streets off Brick Lane. This X-Ray skeleton hand painted in a gradient was so impressive. How did they do it?!
Skeleton hands aside, the East End of London is brilliant for markets. If you want more, then check out the Columbia Road Flower Market for flowers, or Old Spitalfields Market for food and fashion. 

Today's post was almost called: The Brick-Lined Cradle of the Very Best Beigel (Black Belts In Baking: 24/7 Jew-Dough)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Many Layers of Bethnal Green: From Murderous Slum to the Up-and-Come

Bethnal Green, London, United Kingdom
When you live in a place for almost four months, you get to know it.
Bethnal Green, in East London, has had a tumultuous history but is on the up-and-up. A decline in the weaving trade led to riots and two weavers being hanged outside the Salmon and Ball pub for ripping off their customers in 1769. This pub is still in business, and I would see it every day I went to the Tube station. Fun fact: 1769 is the year that Captain Cook sighted New Zealand. Funny, how history works.

By the end of 1800's, Bethnal Green was one of London's poorest slums, and Jack the Ripper infamously did his killings here and in the neighboring suburb of Whitechapel. World War II had a huge impact: it's estimated that 80 bombs fell on Bethnal Green, leading to nearly one thousand deaths and injuries, plus terrible damage to homes and businesses.

A memorial has been erected to honour "the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War": the Bethnal Green Tube Shelter Disaster. It's a horrific story of how, on 3 March 1943, an air raid warning sounded and hundreds of civilians rushed into the unfinished Tube station to take cover. There were far too many people crammed in already, and one woman tripped on the stairs, causing the crowds thronging in behind from the stairs to fall as well. This led to a suffocating pile-up in which 173 people were killed.

This was the Tube entrance where the disaster occurred. The memorial has several plaques that share survivor's stories. I'm going to transcribe Margaret Mckay's here as I found it particularly saddening:
"My mother, Ellen Ridgway, was trapped in the crush and her last act was to ensure my safety. She held me aloft above the crush so that a policeman could reach out and grab me. I was the youngest survivor but the emptiness of not having a mother's love and guidance will never leave me."

In the 1950's and 60's, the gangster Kray twins were prominent figures in the London underworld. They were nightclub owners who soiréed with such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, but it all started when they purchased a snooker club in Bethnal Green. (I don't know where the club was, but here's a picture of the main road through the suburb - Bethnal Green Road. While not exactly attractive, it was charming in its own way.) You can even visit the site of their childhood home at 178 Vallance Road, which is just across the park Weavers Fields from where we were living.
In recent years, the suburb has seen an upswing away from slum status, gangster takeover and wartime desolation. Since the early 2000's, Bethnal Green had been in the process of gentrification, attracting more wealthy residents due to its close proximity to the centre of the city. Though you can still see the odd abandoned building as you walk down the street, it doesn't feel like an unsafe place, and actually reminded me of Newtown in Wellington where I lived during my uni years. This feeling is definitely influenced by the rich cultural diversity, which is bolstered by the large Bangladeshi population. Every day, the footpath would be lined with market stalls, vendors selling everything from clothing to vapes to fruit. And there were so many permanent fruit and veggie shops as well! Any time you'd walk down the street there would be a paradise of watermelons, cherries and nectarines that would be calling out to you with their bright colours "I'm ripe! I'm in season! Don't you want to take a bite?"

The street art in the area was next level!

There were also loads of parks in easy walking distance, which were starting to be covered in fallen autumn leaves. The one pictured above is the Museum Gardens, so named as it's right next to the V&A Museum of Childhood, which we forgot to visit. Yannick and I would sometimes shoot hoops at the Bethnal Green Gardens, as they had a few basketball hoops (and I would watch squirrels there too as they squirreled around being adorable). A twenty-minute walk will take you to Victoria Park, which is enormous and popular with dog walkers. It's a good place for a picnic or a go in a paddleboat.
Maybe it's just because I spent so much time there letting Bethnal Green grow on me, but I really think it's one of my favourite suburbs. No, it doesn't have a great food scene, and no, there aren't a lot of events going on there. I can't pinpoint exactly why I like it - there's some inexplicable atmosphere. You'll just have to go and see for yourself.

Today's post was almost called: Never Mind Squirtle, this Park has Squirrels!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bethnal Green house sit: Basil Distress Leads to Culinary Success

Bethnal Green, London, United Kingdom
We initially accepted a house sit in Bethnal Green for two months, but were asked if we'd be happy to extend the sit. We ended up staying there with the ever grumpy yet begrudgingly affectionate cat Wanda for nearly four months. 
As a very timid cat, she was initially skittish around us and would hide from loud noises. After a few days, however, she would allow us to approach her slowly and scratch her ears, and by the end of the four months she was even fine with us picking her up and rubbing her belly. 

Every cat has their quirks, and Wanda was no different. She was slightly asthmatic, so she would wheeze sometimes and snore. She liked to spend some time out in the garden, but also enjoyed sitting on the window sill and looking out from indoors. As an older cat, she was less playful than she used to be, but occasionally the mood struck her and she would bat at the ribbon on a chair or chase a ball. She was very particular about where she would sleep, changing her preferred location often: for a fortnight she would always sleep on the chair by the kitchen, the next she would only sleep on the sofa, and the next would be curled up on my side of the bed.

Her main quirk was that she was very greedy. Whenever she wanted food (which was often) she would become very affectionate towards you, rubbing up against your legs and purring as loud and incessantly as a chainsaw. When you got up from what you were doing, she would dash away and meow in the kitchen. Then, when it was feeding time, she would put her front paws up on the cabinet as you poured out her food and bat at the bowl as you lowered it to the ground. She could never get that food quick enough for her liking! This may partly be due to the fact that Wanda was on a diet, as she was a "bit chubby", as described by her vet.

At one stage Wanda had changed her sleeping location to a patch of dirt out in the garden. It had been a particularly dry week, so perhaps the sun had warmed the dirt nicely, but it didn't seem like a great place to sleep to me, and she would come inside afterwards scattering dirt on the floor. We would be frequently visited by Tim, a three-legged ginger tom with a piercing meow. They were good friends. (Note: I have no idea if the ginger cat had a name at all, but he looked like a Tim to me, so that was his name to us.)

Summer was in full swing, so I made use of the Tesco down the road and the many fruit vendors nearby for lovely fresh fruit salads.

I also got into cooking in a big way while in Bethnal Green, and cooked up a nice dinner most nights with leftovers that Yannick could take to work for lunch. Mexican was a staple for us! We would make fresh salsa to top off our burritos or quesadillas, and have a chilled bottle of sparkling water with a wedge of lime on the side.

Occasionally I felt like trying something more adventurous. Twice I made gnocchi, an Italian potato pasta. With homemade lemon basil sauce and roasted cherry tomatoes, the gnocchi were almost restaurant quality in my humble opinion.

After making a fair number of Italian dishes, though, my basil plant certainly looked worse for wear!

The best nights were of course when Fabienne was staying in London! One night we whipped out the disposable barbie and grilled burgers. We did this again weeks later and though we had some trouble getting the black bean burgers to stick together, it was all delicious! (And that time we put corn cobs on the barbeque - so good!)

Perhaps our most extravagant meal was what we referred to as "Greek Night". We wanted to recreate some of our favourite dishes from our July Greek trip (posts to follow), so we fried up some courgette, roasted capsicum and cherry tomatoes, blitzed up a hummus, baked a block of feta and made pita bread! I can take no credit for the pita bread, as that was all the genius idea of Fabienne and Yannick, who mixed the dough, kneaded it for ages, waited for it to rise, shaped it and cooked it in the pan. They need a round of applause! Accompanied by a dash of lemon juice and a glass of rosé, it was a night to remember. 

Today's post was almost called: There’s Gnocchi Place Like (Someone Else’s) Home