• sisters on a mission.

  • Three sisters. One in Virginia. One in London. One in New York. None of whom wear shorts. Ever.

  • the mission?

    Taking delight.
    Learning Italian.
    Getting to Italy.
    Wearing shorts.
    In Italy.
    June 2011.

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food, glorious food: London-style

Warning…if you have any interest in good food mixed with travel, the images you are about to see could cause you to dig out your credit card and buy an expensive plane ticket to London posthaste.

Seriously.  As I was going through the photos from my trip I noticed a preponderance of food-related snapshots.   Which, to be honest, is not that unusual.  I started documenting meals on a trip to Rome a couple of years ago and looking back at those photos takes me back to the scene as nothing  else can.   And despite what you might have heard, London grub is equally noteworthy.

I heart macaroons

Let’s start on Saturday at Notting Hill.  After wandering through the crowded market we took a detour to Books for Cooks, where we were waylaid by a table loaded with macaroons set up just outside the store.   Bite-sized yummy confections.   Macaroons are the new cupcake, or will be soon.  If I had any interest in baking or initiative whatsoever I would open up a macaroon shop in Richmond to compete with the multitude of cupcake offerers.    I wish I could give the baker a shout out but her business card is back in London on Cathlin’s refrigerator.

waga mama

Next up, wagamama at Spitalfields on Sunday.  Great location up above the market craziness.  I had the yasai katsu curry: sweet potato deep fried in panko breadcrumbs with curry, sticky rice, mixed greens and red pickles.  It was delicious and even though it was fried I didn’t feel like an unhealthy slug afterward.

Cathlin had some sort of noodle, vegetable dish that she loves (the dish in the foreground) and orders frequently.  Can’t remember the name of it.  I was too absorbed with anticipating and then inhaling my own meal.

Monday was a gorgeous sunny day so we popped into the OXO tower restaurant to take advantage of the views.  We sat on the outside patio overlooking the Thames, feeling ever so cosmopolitan as we munched on grilled asparagus, goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, some sort of tomato deliciousness, pea gazpacho and chips.  A bit expensive, thus the appetizers only.  But totally worth it for the atmosphere.

appetizers at OXO Tower

chocolate heaven

Tuesday was a big day for indulgence.   After fighting the crowds at the Grace Kelly exhibit at the V&A (highly recommended btw – the exhibit, not the crowds), I needed an escape.  Thankfully, Cathlin had already mapped out the way to Kensington Creperie which I found without too much difficulty once I got pointed in the right direction outside of the museum.

There were almost too many options.  I was tempted by a strawberry / cream number but finally decided on Hazelnut Chocolate Cream: Hazelnuts, butter, cream, with dark Belgian Chocolate.  And Orangina.  Because orange and chocolate belong together.  I have to admit that I couldn’t finish my crepe.  Do you see the size of that monster?  I hit my sugar threshold.


Later, Neapolitan style pizza for dinner at Franco Manca in Chiswick.  Ricotta, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes,  spinach and perfectly prepared crust.

A little backstory: I lived in Naples Italy for several years back in the 1990s and am always on the lookout for la vera pizza.  This was pretty authentic.  I would definitely go again if someone would please buy me another ticket to London.  Coach class is fine.

And yes we each had our own pizza.  Did I mention that I was on vacation?

Wow, this post is getting long and I’m not even half way through the week yet.  In the interest of space I will just say that Wednesday I had a yummy egg salad and watercress sandwich from Marks and Spencer.  I could not take a picture of it because I was balanced on a 5″ wide “bench” at a bus shelter on a busy shopping street and trying to eat my sandwich and not drop my chips.

On Thursday I took time out to sit down for lunch at the World Food Cafe in Covent Garden.  I love this place in Neal’s Yard (check out this  cool 360 video).   Another vegetarian dish with potatoes, beets, bananas, rice and greens.  Very interesting combo of flavors.

the west african

I was going to leave it at that but then I spied the chocolate cake cooling on the counter.  Couldn’t pass it up.  Best thing I ate on the entire trip.  No lie.  Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Divine.

french chocolate cake

Almost to the end of the week and I still hadn’t had a full english breakfast.  Can you believe it?  We remedied that on Friday at Cote Brasserie in Chiswick.  I know, I know, I should have done so at a pub rather than at a French cafe but I have to say they did it right.  Left out the beans though – maybe not French enough?  That also explains the egg in crepe dish that my nephew ordered.

full English

I took a side trip to the Cotswolds to visit friends on Saturday and tried my first soft-boiled duck egg for breakfast – fresh from one of their ducks.  Tasty but definitely richer and bigger than the chicken eggs I’m used to.  Worth a try if you ever have the opportunity.

Finally on Sunday, my last day in London, we made it to The Brook, the local pub,  for lunch.  We had just run a 5k so we rewarded ourselves with steak, fries and dessert.  Just looking at these photos puts me in a bit of a food coma.

eton mess

berry pudding

brownie extravaganza

I did not eat all of these by myself, mind you.  Although I did have a taste of each.  The brownie was the clear winner.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m an American.

So there you have it.  One week in London (plus an extra weekend), loads of good food.  I am now officially starting my healthy diet again.


The Kitchen of the Castle

I didn’t go running today, but I did have a long wander through some old photos and stumbled across some from one of my trips to Italy.

Years ago, a couple of friends of mine and I decided to go to Italy and do a cooking course – totally out of left field idea after a few cocktails.  Off we went to Tuscany.  To a medieval, walled village called Tocchi in the middle of nowhere.  And there I had one of my best adventures ever.

The school was La Cucina del Castello.  It focuses on regional cuisine and is run by a guy named Vittorio Cambria, also an anthropologist, who told us so many fascinating stories about the area (I also believe he told me he went to Berkeley). Our classes were taught by local chef Giancarlo Giannelli whose translator, Leonardo from Siena, also sang to us (Opera. No, I’m not kidding).  Giancarlo was also a great story-teller..and poet.  We spent many hours at the dinner table content to finish the last of the wine and hear his stories.  I loved the lingering.

And so, the food.  Everything was beyond delicious – fresh, simple, made with passion for the local produce.  Even the rabbit, which one morning when we came down after breakfast, was sitting on the counter.   Freshly skinned and waiting for us to turn it into something wonderful.  Every day started with the making of the bread…. a very important event.   We cooked everything on an ancient word burning brick oven outside the kitchen.  There is no taste comparison to a conventional oven.

I turned 35 on the last night of our stay.  To my surprise, the chef had made a special dinner, a beautiful cake, and the table was strewn with rose petals.  And Prosecco.  Plenty of it.  The night ended with the awarding of aprons, much music, and lots of dancing with my fellow foodies.  Proudly still in our aprons, of course.

Did I come away a brilliant chef, all-knowing in the art of Tuscan cuisine?  Maybe not.  In fact, I really did more eating than cooking (we secretly called it “eating camp”).  However, every now and then I take out my handwritten recipe to make Giancarlo’s prize-winning pesto and his zucchini with mint bruschetta.  Open a bottle wine.  Turn on the radio.  Start cooking.  And I am transported.  I heart Italy.

If you are interested, they are still in business.  And it’s a great place to go for a run.

La Cucina del Castello Cooking School

the penalty of procrastination

Procrastinated all day on running. Cold. Windy. And very grey out today.

Finally at 3:00, I head out. My worst time of day. And it immediately starts raining. But I persevered. Kelin was at track practice, running. Jonas was inside making sounds and flopping on the couch (sunny work, he calls it). I had to do it. If my less-than-motivated 14 year old daughter could run in the cold, windy, rain. So would. I. I felt heavy. But, I like week 2 of C25K. 6x 1.5 minute runs alternating with 2 minute walks! I was so proud. But then I calculated how much running that actually was. 9 minutes.

My earbuds continued to fall out. But…while I was running, the UPS man came. And delivered my new sport-friendly earphones. Wrap around the back of head. I’ll test them out next run. I also ordered a sports bra. Woah. I’m getting fancy.

Procrastination penalties deserve rewards.

(pic is from the book, Molto Gusto)

Tonight I’m making — not as fancy as your dinner, Cathlin — Pasta Arrabiata from Mario Batali’s new cookbook, Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking. He suggests Pomi tomatoes from Italy.

I’m also going to crack open, on this oddly cold England’ish day in April — one of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon’s from the Napa Valley. Avalon. “Cabernet for the Soul”. http://www.avalonwinery.com/

Avalon – AKA Paradise
According to Arthurian legend, the town of Glastonbury in the U.K. was once known as Avalon. Avalon has long been associated with paradise. It is a land of souls. Many believe that King Arthur’s soul rests there and will some day rise again to defend England.

gear me up baby

Today I got crazy and switched things up for my second day of training (C25K W1D2).  Instead of running with Daisy in the morning when it was 45 degrees, I took her to doggie daycare and ran in the afternoon when it was 75 degrees.   No need for my fleece today that’s for sure.   I figure I’d better get used to running in warmer weather or I’m going to be screwed come summer.

When I was in high school,  my mom laid down the law after I came home beet red and shaky after a run one especially wretched Virginia morning (95% humidity 85 degrees at 8:00 am).  After that I had to get up at 6:00 am or I wasn’t going.   But I digress.

The other reason I put off the run until this afternoon was so I could procure a new watch with a chronometer and some sportier earbuds for my ipod so I could listen to something other than the counting inside my head.   Much better.   Blue Incantation with Jerry Garcia and Sanjay Mishra kept me moving along at a pretty good pace.

Now I’m off to make something hopefully gourmet(ish) out of the salmon, asparagus, mushrooms and quinoa I picked up at Ellwood Thompson’s on the way home.  Wish me luck.  I’ll let you know if I come up with anything spectacular.