Hvar, Hvar Away

Last weekend, wet, heavy snowflakes crashed hastily and horizontally against my icy window.  Today, sub-freezing temperatures force me into my heaviest winter coat, wool scarf fastened securely around my pale neck. For the past four months, my pre-war radiator has been heaving and gurgling like a life-long smoker, erratically and angrily spouting streams of hot air, mirroring my own heated frustration over this seemingly endless, brutally chilly winter season.

It is mid-March, right? Call it mismanaged expectations, but I usually associate St. Patrick’s day with outdoor festivities, the kind where beers taste refreshingly cold—and I don’t mean cold in the way that forces you to alternate hands for fear of losing a finger to frost bite.

Six months in New York has proved a wonderful adventure so far, but lately, I feel a pathological desire for warm weather. A guttural yearning for the skin-tingling sensation of sitting in the sun 10 minutes too long. I want to munch on fresh, tender summer greens. I want to greedily wipe sticky sweet juice from my mouth with the back of my sand-encrusted hand after eating a perfectly-ripe peach. I want off-the cuff, casual, indulgent, summer eating.

Last summer, before leaving London and embarking on my thesis, I had the tremendous luxury of traveling to Croatia with four of my dearest friends. The visit encompassed—and far exceeded—all the quintessential summer experiences I currently covet. Right now, that trip is just about all I can think about.

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NEAR and HVAR

The island of Hvar is hugged by the Adriatic Sea, off the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. I would say that it’s a hidden gem, but that would be misleading, because sometime during the last decade, the secret got out, and the small island has adjusted to and welcomed a steady and growing influx of foreign visitors. IMG_1332

The clear blue water, the string of rocky islands, the warm light. Honestly, it was so breathtaking, I felt like I had been transported directly from London to another (and much more pleasant) planet. Yet, Croatia (and Hvar) is still recuperating from a brutal war, and it is clear that it is still getting its sea legs as a hot tourist hub. This gives the city an earnest and authentic feel—it’s not cloyingly commercial, and is still relatively affordable on a student budget. I had arrived.

Gone Swimming

GOOD MARKETING

You can tell a lot about a city by its market, so when I travel, I always make a point to seek out the local food offerings. In Hvar Town, it didn’t take long to find, and when I arrived, I knew I had reached the mothership.

Assortment of dried herbs at the Hvar market

The market was small, like the island, and was nestled next to the pjaca, or town square. In many ways, this market was far more modest than markets I had visited in the US and abroad. apricots

There were no small business owners hocking products or luring tourists. There were no “all organic,” “all local” signs to which I’ve become so accustomed. There didn’t need to be. This was a small town’s market, where local and organic food was the standard. Piles of fresh fruit—cherries, apricots, peaches, and raspberries—were stacked precariously high alongside home-jarred capers, honeys, and olive oils. Lush herbs like oregano and basil—with dirt still clinging to their roots—were intoxicatingly fragrant.

Honey, capers, and plump cherries at the Hvar town market

Home-jarred capers, honey, and olive oil

MEAT and GREET

Father and SonThe periphery of the market was lined with small artisanal bakeries and shops, and I quickly found my home at Delicaie Mediterraneae. Shop 2Now, this was a meat shop, a cheese shop, aaaand a wine shop. Not a single product in the store was grown or produced outside Hvar. It became a morning ritual to pick up fresh fruit from the market, then stop here to stock up on goods for a picnic lunch.

Sliced Cured Pork, Picnic-Ready.

Picnic Lunch

The father-son owners would carefully shave thin slivers of salty and rich cured pork onto their scale, portion hunks of creamy goats cheese, and package olive and sardine antipasti into a tidy and picnic-ready package. As we waited, we sipped complimentary wine and chatted about life on the Island.

Le meilleur de _______

SLASTICE but not LEAST

No picnic is complete without crusty white bread and a little dessert. Pekarna Klas provided that fix. This was not the type of bakery where seedy, whole-grain breads were on the menu. Rather, it was all about chewy, white-flour confections. The bread was a perfect partner for the cured meat and cheese, but what I looked forward to every morning was the slastice—the Croatian version of a cream-filled doughnut.

Slastice--perhaps the world's tastiest donut

The dough was dusted with crunchy sugar, and was so light that it practically melted on your tongue. With each bite, it was impossible to control the outpouring of sweet vanilla cream. Napkins were an absolute necessity, and there was nothing more summery than finishing off a meal with one of these heartmeltingly delicious bad boys.

WINE-NOT END on a GOOD NOTE

Delicious Croatian wine ____

You don’t hear many people talking about Croatian wine, and that’s probably because it can be prohibitively expensive to purchase abroad. It’s a shame, because the terrain and climate in Croatia matches that of its famous wine-producing neighbor, Italy. What made our wine-drinking experience particularly memorable (and simultaneously hard to remember), was that every sip we tasted was produced right on the tiny island of Hvar. It doesn’t get more local than that. Our wine purveyor of choice was called Vina Caric, and not surprisingly, the wine bar in town was owned and operated the vineyard owner’s sons. These guys informally offered us a wine tasting, enthusiastically sharing every bottle alongside us.

Hanging at the Wine Bar

My favorite bottle, the “blue label” bottle IMG_2956is called Plovac Ploski, which derives from the name of the grape variety, Plavac (Mali). The fruit comes from Hvar’s famous Plaze on the island’s south face. This full-bodied and earthy red should be served with “pasticada,” or seafood dishes and stews, which are usually tomato-based and ubiquitous on Hvar menus. This wine is utterly unfussy, yet has tremendous personality and caliber.  Plus, there is something about drinking wine grown from the very ground upon which you stand.  There’s something even more to enjoying that wine alongside a family-style, seaside meal with close friends.  I always drink to that.

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A Little Bit Country

London is a city with seemingly endless corners to explore–store openings, constant festivals and food markets, and of course new restaurants to try. I’ve lived in New York City, so I’m somewhat accustomed to the fast-paced, feel-like-I-can-never-keep up phenomenon that characterizes city life. For the most part, given my more adventurous tendencies, I’m invigorated by this steadfast vitality. Other times, I feel like I’m on an urban treadmill–awkwardly sweaty and just trying not to fall off.

Enter The Cotswolds.

The Burford Butcher

One of the best parts about living in a cosmopolitan epicenter is the rare opportunity to escape it for a weekend. The Cotswolds are what I would consider quintessential English countryside–quaint stone buildings set against a sprawling green backdrop. If you’ve seen the movie, The Holiday (classic film, I know), then you have an idea of what The Cotswolds look like, because that’s where it was shot.

Delightful Herb Garden behind The Queen's Head

Each town that makes up the Cotswolds maintains its own unique quality, yet I was amazed to see how, just hours outside of bustling and modern London, these villages have retained their old world feel. The architecture in many of these towns dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries–the type of history that, as an American, it’s often hard to wrap my noggin around. The depth of history also, of course, extends to the food…so let me get down to it.

LARDY, HAVE MERCY

Our first stop on The Cotswolds tour was Burford. After viewing the 13th century church, we made our way down the one-street town. It was there that we discovered Lardy Cake.

Lardy Cake: up close and personal

What is Lardy Cake you might ask? Lardy Cake, also known as lardy bread, is a sweet, sticky, cinnamon-bun-like creation that originated in Southwest England. Its main ingredients are: rendered lard (naturally), flour, sugar, spices, currants, and raisins. Lardy Cake is both buttery and sweet, with dynamic layers of flavor that mirror the layers of its snail shell form. I’m not such a sweet tooth, but man-oh-man was this delicious.

Indulging outside of Huffkins

The best place to get Lardy Cakes is at Huffkins, the preeminent bakery of The Cotswolds. Huffkins opened its doors in 1890, and by the judge of it, has perfected the art of making scrumptious Lardy Cakes ever since.

THERE’S NO “I” IN CREAM

After eating our fair share of Lardy Cake, we rolled our way through Stow on the Wold and into Broadway (two other Cotswold towns). All the sightseeing made us stone thirsty, and there is nothing more appropriate as a thirst quencher than afternoon tea.

Fruit Scone, Fresh Strawberry Jam, Clotted Cream, Home-brewed Bergamot Tea at Tissanes

Cream Tea is the tradition of taking your afternoon tea with a scone, fresh strawberry jam, and clotted cream. There is evidence to suggest that this teatime tradition dates all the way back to the 11th century. There may be a lot of other things that the British didn’t get right, but this culinary combination is absolutely spot on.

Though you can get Cream Tea pretty much anywhere in The Cotswolds (or in England), the teashop, Tissanes, prepared an exceptional spread. The scone, as per tradition, was served warm alongside piping hot, home-brewed, bergamot tea. The strawberry jam, also homemade, was a punchy and fresh partner to the rich, full-bodied clotted cream. A friend described the cream’s texture as something like taffy–perhaps not so sticky, but with a mouthfeel that lingers for hours. Cream Tea is best enjoyed in the company of friends, just don’t forget to order your own personal scone, or you’ll regret it.

Clotted Cream = The Bee's Knees

ONE POT WONDER

One of the savory highlights of my Cotswolds trip was the homemade chicken and mushroom pot pie I ate at The Queen’s Head Pub in Stow on the Wold. I was hungry upon arrival, and was getting rather testy 30 minutes into the wait for my food. Alas, the wait was well worth it.

Home-baked Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pie at The Queen's Head

The pie was unreal: perfectly creamy without being too heavy, hearty chunks of roasted chicken tossed with nutty brown mushrooms. There was no doubt in my mind this was prepared to order with great tenderness and care. Sure, I could have done without the bland green peas and boiled carrots, but the mashed potatoes were to die for when used to sop up any extra pot pie juices!

Inspired by what felt like the most delicious taste of fall, I immediately went home to bake up my very own (healthier) pot pie concoction. I decided to make a vegetarian pot pie, but if you can’t live without the chicken, I recommend buying a rotisserie one, shredding the meat, then tossing it into the pot before baking. Also, feel free to add any additional veggies you may have in your fridge–anything goes (just season accordingly)! This pot pie recipe is perfect for portioning out and freezing, then reheating whenever you’re craving some serious comfort food.

Very Tasty Veggie Pot Pie
adapted from recipe by Aida Mollenkamp

My very own Veggie Pot Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
  • 2 small heads Fennel, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 medium yellow Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium Carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 12 ounces white button Mushrooms, sliced (about 5 cups)
  • 1 small Sweet Potato, peeled and diced small (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 large head of Broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces, including stems
  • 1/4 cup all purpose Flour
  • 1 cup low-sodium Chicken Broth (or mushroom broth, to keep it vegetarian)
  • 1 cup 1% or 2% Milk
  • 1 cup frozen baby Green Peas
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced Fresh Chives
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Parsley
  • 1 tablespoon White Vinegar
  • 1 large Egg Yolk
  • 7 ounces store-bought Puff Pastry, defrosted if frozen
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground White Pepper (if you don’t have this on hand, you can use Black Pepper)

Preparation:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Melt butter over medium heat in a 3- to 4-quart Dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add fennel, onions, and carrots, and cook until just soft and onions are translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add mushrooms and potato, season well with salt and freshly ground white pepper, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring rarely, until mushrooms have let off water and are shrunken, about 6 minutes. Add Broccoli. Season again and stir.

Sprinkle flour over vegetables, stir to coat, and cook until raw flavor is gone, about 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully add broth and milk, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, add peas, herbs, and vinegar, and stir to coat. Season well with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Turn filling into an 8 by 8-inch casserole dish.

Whisk egg together with 2 teaspoons water and a pinch of salt until evenly mixed. Set aside.

With kitchen shears, cut dough to fit over the baking dish. Place dough over filling and tuck into the edges of the dish. Brush dough with egg wash and cut slits in the top to vent. Place on a baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown and mixture is bubbling, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit at least 5 minutes before serving.

London Calling

In just a week, London has proved itself to be one of the more exciting, beautiful, and well-balanced cities I’ve had the fortune to explore. The busy streets are urban and cosmopolitan, yet are magically punctuated with quirky, tree-filled parks. The city is remarkably diverse; on any given street corner, I hear upwards of three languages. Most importantly, it’s a city that is extraordinarily walkable. Daily, I step out my front door and quite literally lose myself among winding tree-lined backstreets–easily crossing from one distinct neighborhood into another of entirely divergent character.

One thread that does run through the city and its assorted neighborhoods, however, is the appreciation for markets. Particularly during lunch hours and weekends, markets are abounty. Blocks throughout the city open their sidewalks to peddlers, independent food vendors, and artisans. The energy is remarkable, the products are quality, and the food is dangerously delicious.

BOROUGH MARKET

Welcome to Borough Market

Absolutely gorgeous bread with Roasted Tomatoes and Whole Green Olives

Borough Market is the premier food market in London. Packed with local meat vendors, artisan cheese makers, boutique olive oil specialists (to name a few), the market sprawls over a near square mile space in London Bridge (which as far as I can tell, is not falling down).

Extensive Olive Oil Selections at Borough Market

In addition to the extensive selection of take-home goods and produce, there are myriad food vendors serving up ready-to-eat local delicacies and exotic specialties, which patrons can carry to the adjacent park that surrounds a nearly 300-year-old church.

 

 

 

PIE COMPLETELY ADORE YOU

Cowboy Pie -- Cubed Beef and Veggies stewed in Ale

After seeing Sweeney Todd, I was pretty sure I would live a life fulfilled, even if that life never included eating a meat pie. Oh, the capacity of the human soul to embrace new things.

Pieministers in an award-winning meat pie shop based in Bristol, but they cater weekly to the ravenous customers swarming their stand at Borough Market. Upon recommendation, I chose the Cowboy Pie, filled with rich and tender cubed beef that had been stewed with veggies in a hearty, beer-based broth.

Cross-Sectional view of Pieminister's Cowboy Meat Pie

The flavors were powerfully evocative of autumn and made me want to curl up next to a roaring fire.

Next time, I may be more adventurous and sample the Thai Chook Pie or Matador Pie.

FISH: MY FAVORITE DISH

I couldn’t go my first week in London without trying Fish and Chips. I had a feeling that the fish served up at Borough Market might prove itself fresher, lighter and more memorable than the “Fried Fish and Chicken Galore” dive on my street corner (not to knock dives–more on that in future posts).

Crispy, Crusty and absolutely Scrumptious Fried Cod

Amidst the organized chaos of the vibrant market, I stumbled upon Fish!Kitchen. The prices were steep, but the whole-fried haddock and cod, which, even lightly fried, still retained their fish-shaped integrity, inspired me to stop. The gregarious man behind the counter enthusiastically recommended the fried cod.

He grabbed the largest piece, proceeded to expertly dunk it into a golden batter, then re-fry it. Yes, twice-fried milky cod is everything it’s made out to be. Despite the fry treatment, the meaty cod was packed with flavor and tasted even better when partnered with malt vinegar and a dab of ketchup.

FEAST FOR YOUR EYES

Dried Red Chilies

The food at the market was overwhelmingly beautiful–as diverse in flavor as in color, shape, and texture. Here are a few more pictures that attempt to capture how special Borough Market is.

Hunk o' Parm

Diverse Selection of Dried Fruits and Nuts at Borough Market

The plump, the shriveled, the briny...Olives Galore!

Array of Homemade Sausages

EXMOUTH MARKET

While Borough Market may be the Big Man on Campus in London, I don’t want to underplay how fabulous some of the smaller street markets truly are. On one of my meandering walks, about my third day in, I came across a very special market right near my apartment.

Exmouth Market

Exmouth Market lives on a narrow cobble-stoned street. On weekdays, that street is nearly overrun by food stalls representing independent restaurants around London. Herds of young professionals line up to grab food from the veritable grab bag of ethnic cuisine: Thai, Mexican, Indian, Korean, Ghanaian… Then, they take their food to the nearby park, which on a sunny day is absolutely jam-packed with diners and sun-bathers alike, enjoying the delectable fruits of the market.

GOING, GOING, GHANA

Spinach and Agushi--Ghanaian food stand in Exmouth Market

Of all the options, the only cuisine I had never tried was Ghanaian food. I have to admit that I’m still not quite sure what makes Ghanaian food what it is, but I can tell you that it’s delicious. Mostly rich, meaty stews, every option had me salivating.

Spinach and Agushi, Rice, and Lamb Meatballs

Ultimately, I selected spinach and agushi (also the name of the food stand), accompanied by red rice and a lamb meatball stew. Like so many young professionals before me, I grabbed my piping hot food and made my way to the park, where I plopped myself on a bench. Ravenous just from the smell of the sultry Ghanaian spices, I dove in and never looked back.

If Borough and Exmouth represent the brand of markets that await me in London, then I look forward to my next misstep down a unforeseen side street where a new great discovery awaits!