July 17, 2008

before the beginning of summer ends

...and my memories of my time in Paris and London dry up in the Tokyo heat...

And no, it is yet to be summer here, not officially, until the end of a month-long monsoon season is officially announced. Never mind there hasn't been much rain over the past couple of weeks since I got back in Tokyo, with the temperature hardly dropping below 75F degrees. Then again, I refuse to accept that we are meant to have a full-blown summer ahead of us, when I'm already so worn out from the heat and humidity. About time to pack up again and go to some summer resort? Just how I wish.

For the time being I shall live by my early summertime memories of Paris and London last month; here are some of the countless bright moments pictured as I knocked around in town and elsewhere. This post should be completed with yet more photos and maybe some mutterings, too, over the weekend or early next week. You all have a good weekend!

Updated on August 14: It's been more than a weekend since I said I'd do an update. Apologies for my being such a procrastinator, but I hope this post would entertain at least some of you out there. Thanks for sticking around!

So shall we start with my first breakfast in Paris this time around:

Granola ‘Parfait’ with organic yogurt & fresh fruits at Le Pain Quotidien, my beloved Le Marais establishment. How lovely a bowl of granola with yogurt and fruits could get? Although this is perhaps an all-year item, the glass crowned with fresh berries definitely sang of summer.

Speaking of fruits:

A bowlful of red jewels - cherries, lychee, and strawberries gariguettes, a tiny sour-sweet variety that usually arrives first among the French strawberries. Great to have a chance to enjoy the berries when strawberries were already nowhere in sight back home.

Lunch on one sunny and muggy day (remember, it was back in early June... although the weather apparently was more like that of August!):

A large glass of chilled cucumber and pea soup at a casual natural food restaurant called Tugalik. Shooting her gaspacho at the other side of the table was the lovely Clotilde, the charming parisienne author of the equally charming new Paris guidebook that was literally guiding me through the town. My soup was nice, our quinoa paella as the main was okay if not most exciting, but what impressed us the most there, perhaps, was the ever so refreshing Orezza sparkling water with grapefruit and citron flavor; citron, as I later learned, is the name of a citrus fruit that is called cedrat in French, which calls lemon citron. Confused? I am. Tasted good nevertheless.

On another warm day when I was out and about, hopping chocolate shops (not the best thing to do on a hot day like that, although sure is the best thing to do when you are in Paris, if you ask me):

I left the Jean-Paul Hevin boutique on rue Saint-Honore with a bag full of haute chocolate and a cone of cool sorbets - just what the doctor ordered in such a warm summer evening! I opted for chocolate and mango flavors, and while the chocolate sorbet (not ice cream) was flawless as you'd expect from a good chocolate shop JPH is, the mango was an absolute stunner - deeply rich in flavor and silkily light in texture, it perfectly complemented the chocolate while standing out on its own. Beautiful.

Now speaking of things I missed...

Tomatoes; not just any tomato, but tomates coeur de boef, or "beef heart" tomatoes. These bold-looking beefsteak tomatoes were something I'd always wanted to try when/if I had a chance - and I was lucky enough to be in Paris when the tomatoes were around. I managed to get myself a couple of them at a market (with my very, very basic French) and bring them back to my friend's apartment where I was staying at... and that was as far as I got. I didn't get to eat them before leaving Paris, not because I forgot about them but there were so many other stuff around in the house, I simply missed the chance. I did remind the folks that they should eat the tomatoes before they'd get really forgotten, and I was later told that they'd tasted good. So they must be good. Yet another reason for me to go back to Paris in early summer (as if I needed more reasons/excuses!).

Summery weather went on...

Those weedy pencil-thin asparagus spears wasn't there for us to pick our own, unfortunately. This is a corner of Le Potager du Roi, or the King's Vegetable Garden, located pretty much right by the Palace of Versailles, just off Paris. Mentioned in Coltilde's Paris guide (and was personally recommended by the author herself that I visit), the garden boasts acres of fruit trees and vegetable plants, making an idyllic site to stroll around (I just wished there had been some shade to escape in!). There is a small shop at the gate where they have some farm products and books, as well as fresh produce during a certain period of the year on certain days (Mondays and Thursdays), which I missed. Maybe next time.

More missed opportunities...

Fresh white asparagus, barely pictured in the background here. It's another early summer delicacy that I wouldn't possibly have missed to eat ten years ago, when there was virtually no white asparagus available in Tokyo, except for the awful canned stuff. Now it's become fairly common in well-stocked supermarkets back home, but there still is something special about eating them in Europe... maybe I'm just being sentimental. Oh yes.

Now this was at the Raspail market which I paid a visit to on one autumn Sunday 2006. As much as loved it there full of autumn produce in a lively Sunday atmosphere, it was pure bliss to find myself back in the vibrant passage lined with fresh summer bounties under the sun.

Ranking among top of my must-get list for my early summer Paris stay was fresh raspberries. Not that you can't buy raspberries in Japan, but they cost a small fortune, with a small punnet of them (ALWAYS imported) typically running you almost $10. Now considering how strong Euro is at the moment (ugh), at 3.5 euros per punnet these berries didn't appear particularly 'cheap', yet I found it really hard to resist the shiningly fresh and magically sweet rubies, after a taste of one offered by a shop clerk. So I got myself not one but two punnets (they made it 6 euros for two) along with a handful each of some other fruits, and left the market pondering over my berryful breakfast next morning. Which, as it is, never happened; the shop clerk gently placed my berries at the very bottom of a bag, then topped them with other inevitably heavier purchases, allowing the berries to cook nice and squashy over the course of few hours before I made it home. By then, all I had was sadly fresh raspberry puree - of course I ate it anyways. Lesson learnt: eat up your berries as soon as you get them at the market.

So, the other fruits sitting atop my ill-fated raspberries:

Small and extra small apricots (can't remember the name, but I'm sure they were a different variety than the regular apricots), cherries, donut peaches, white nectarines, and figs (though almost unrecognizable in this photo). Donut peaches, also called Saturn or Jupiter peaches sometimes, are by fat my most favorite kind of peach other than the ones we have in Japan. Even daintier than the donut peaches are white nectarines - heavenly sweet and tender than the more common yellow nectarines, these were one of my tastiest discoveries while in Australia a few years back. Now I wish we had them in Japan, too!

And some first-time experience:

These small, smoky green knobs with a velvet-like texture are fresh almonds. Also called green almonds, these are young and immature fruits of what we all know as almond. I'd seen them piled up at the green grocers, and even noted in some cases a sign saying 'amandes fraiches' (literally, fresh almonds), but wasn't totally sure what to do with them. So when I lunched with Clotilde, I managed to remember to ask her, who of course knew, how to eat them; basically, you crack open the bulky, hard shell with a small knife along the slit on the side, then remove the skin. Now revealing itself is a cream-white, smooth-skinned tablet with the (relatively) tender and lightly crunchy flesh (if you wonder how it can look like, here is a photo of one, although I must add that it wasn't very fresh when I shot the photo; sorry about the sorry state of the subject). I quite liked them as is for snacking, but as Clotilde suggested, they would make a nice little salad topping with their unique crunch.

Now my week in Paris was gone in a flash...

... and there I found myself in London...

... for an unexpectedly good weather for the most part of my three-week stay (there were rainy and hazy days, true, but when you are in London it's kind of a given).

One gorgeous weekend morning

An ice-cold jug of sangria at the Borough Market. Could there be a better way to kick-start your sunny Saturday than to get yourself down to a bustling market full of good fresh food and good like-minded people (and some tourists, yes). Both of my last two visits were in the middle of the winter (like this), and while it warmed me up just strolling around the busy market back then, I was so thrilled to see how things could be in the summertime. Sangria, by the way, replaced the spot for mulled wine in the winter, and as much as it was ever so appealing, I decided to go for a large glass of organic fruit smoothie, as I was after something for breakfast (well, I've known to have a few for breakfast, admittedly, but at this very moment I was quite hungry and didn't feel like drinking with an empty stomach - and I did drink some bubbles afterwards!). But isn't is looking oh so inviting?

Having appeased our hunger, we poked around the place to (mostly) feast our eyes...

No, these aren't avocados, but figs. Enormous ones. I couldn't help but get one for a try, which in fact disappointed me as my specimen turned out to be rather dry, fibrous and spongy. Ah well not all 1.8 quids may be spent very well.

Now unfortunately as this was right before I left London, I had to hold back and avoid buying much fresh produce. When you can't buy them, the already appealing fruits and vegetables appear even more attractive... wonder why.

White currants; I'd seen them in a picture in a Nigella Lawson book quite some time ago, but never seen ones real life. Are they also mouth-puckeringly tart like regular red currants?

Another tart berry...

Gooseberries. Oh I just love them. They're another hard-to-find berries in Japan, or at least in Tokyo; I was fortunate enough to have a friend who ever so kindly sent me a package full of locally-grown fresh gooseberries last summer, and I would frantically turning the precious berries into desserts - I haven't been able to run a post about them in here, but in case any of you are interested, I have a post on my Japanese blog featuring my gooseberry creation: here (it is unfortunately all in Japanese, but the photographed desserts are gooseberry compote with caramel cream; gooseberry and rhubarb crumble; gooseberry and ginger cheesecake; and gooseberry, elder flower and mint granita.

Back to the Borough...

Tomatoes in every color, size, and shape! Didn't see coeur de boef though.

Although at the market I didn't buy any tomato, coeur de boef or otherwise, I had a chance to taste a most impressive tomato salad later on the day.

It was at The National Dining Rooms, a renowned eatery located inside the world-famous National Gallery. The salad, simply called Heritage Tomato Salad, came as a starter one of us had, and it turned out to be the best dish we had at the restaurant. It was a tomato salad in its simplest but most refined form, using nothing but ripest, sweetest quality fresh tomatoes. I thought they were like heirloom tomatoes, as at that time I didn't realize the term "heritage tomato" actually refers to heirloom tomato. An aha moment.

That same weekend was packed with more English summer staples:

Pimm's O'clock! While our jug of Pimm's wasn't filled with all those classic ingredients like cucumber slices, mint sprigs, etc., as a proper Pimm's should be, the view from the sundeck of the TS Queen Mary on the River Thames certainly compensated for such a shortcoming. Overall, not much to complain of!

Another summertime classic:

Jug(s) of shandy over a cricket match, in a lazy Sunday afternoon (not that I fully understood what was going on, but well I tried.)

And more drinks...

A cheeky glass of apricot procecco and a large jug of mint-packed lemonade, at my favorite Richmond eatery at a beautiful garden center Petersham Nurseries. This was my third time eating at the cafe (I've been to the garden center more, but I wouldn't always eat there), and again, as with the case with the Borough Market, first time to be at this picture-perfect little haven in the summer. So I was hugely excited just to be there under the summer sun, let alone the dishes that were bound to be spectacular. We started out lunch with their signature aperitif, prosecco with the puree of a fruit in season, in this case apricot (last two times it was quince and blood orange). Alongside was homemade Amalfi lemonade, better photographed here; now their lemonade, by the way, is the lemonade that I've always known, meaning the juice of lemon sweetened with sugar and diluted with still water (and sprigs of fresh mint at Petersham), as opposed to a plain soda that you'd normally get in the UK when you order 'lemonade'. Personally, I like my lemonade to be a mixture of fresh lemon juice lightly sweetened and topped with sparkling water, but I'm not going to start an argument here...

Now I am hoping to go through out lunch on another post, but for now I wanted to make at least a quick mention of our desserts:
Poached white peaches (rose-scented, I guess) and strawberry sorbet. Simple and gorgeous delicacies to close the fare, they were a summer on a plate (or in a glass), so to speak.

So these are only a few of the great tastes of summer I was fortunate to have while in sunny Paris and London in June. There were, of course, far more great dishes and sweets beyond these, which I wish I had time to share with you here. I'm hoping to give them a mention sometime in the future either here on this blog or elsewhere on my flickr site. Until then, let us all long for a great European summer tastes - yes, I miss them, too.


evinrude said...

the set of photos from your trip is beautiful! are they all b/w because you processed them that way or were you shooting in b/w?

Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful photograph!

Anonymous said...

hi there thanks for your comments.

evinrude - I photoshopped them into b/w. still a lot to learn and play arond with.

Jennywenny said...

Wow, how beautiful. I hope I can take my lovely grandma to petersham nursery in October when I visit, she's only down the road!

Shalum said...

Impressive photography!

Parisbreakfasts said...

Just exquisite!
Merci :)

Vix said...

I like your description of the fig - I bought some the other day from Waitrose in order to recreate a salad that my aunt made with figs straight off the tree in France. The ones I bought were just as you described - dry and fibrous. It is such a pity, but they really don't travel well.