Chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce

Several people have recently told me they’re interested in eating more plant-based dishes as a way to lower their carbon footprint, but that they don’t know where to start, don’t have much cooking experience, or can’t easily find some of the less common ingredients such as seitan. It can seem daunting at first. And because some of the fancier vegan foods are often found at organic stores, there’s an unfortunate misconception that a plant-based diet is more expensive than a conventional animal-based one.

So today, I decided to show you a super simple, super yummy dish I’ve been making lately and really love. It’s based on a few very common ingredients – onion, canned cooked chickpeas, prepared tomato sauce plus optional soy yogurt and scallions – that can be found at even the most basic grocery store. I found all of these things at my local Monoprix, the French equivalent of Safeway in the US or Tesco in the UK. If you stock up on canned chickpeas and tomato sauce ahead of time, whipping up a dish like this is a breeze.

Legumes in particular are very easy on the planet, requiring far less fossil fuel and water to produce than meat and other animal-derived foods. This makes them an ideal food for a future marked by increasingly common droughts due to climate change.

Chickpeas (and other legumes) are also extremely good for you, packed with protein and offering long-lasting energy.

Furthermore, this is a super low-cost dish. To make the two servings in this recipe, I spent just €4.49, or €2.25 per serving ($2.55 or £1.91). That’s about half the price of a cappuccino.

The cost breaks down as follows: 2 cans chickpeas (€1.30), 1 jar arrabbiata sauce (€1.69), 1 small red onion (€0.32), 2 small 100 g containers of soy yogurt (together, €0.56), 2 scallions (together, €0.28) and 1 lime (€0.34). I also used tiny amounts of olive oil and ground coriander which would come to a few cents’ worth each.

This dish is fairly foolproof and can easily be adapted to incorporate other ingredients. You can use any other legume (navy beans, kidney beans, lentils) in place of the chickpeas, for example. I recommend not using red lentils, however, as they tend to turn into mush when cooked and you would end up with a kind of tomato-lentil mash (although it would probably still be delicious). But you can easily add other vegetables to this dish, perhaps adding extra tomato sauce to cover everything. You can also opt to serve it over rice or couscous if you happen to have some on hand, but it’s already very filling on its own.

Did I mention how yummy it is? The idea of chickpeas may not spontaneously inspire you, but when they’re prepared ahead of time (ie, coming out of a can), they’re wonderfully moist. I love their texture combined with the heat of the rich, spicy tomato-y sauce and the cooling yogurt and tangy lime juice. The flavors are somewhat reminiscent of Mexican cuisine.

A dish such as this is perfect as a make-ahead packed lunch too. Why not give it a try?

Chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce

Makes 2 servings

  • 4 cups (530 g) drained chickpeas or navy (white) beans (two 14 oz/400 g cans, before draining)
  • One 14 oz (400 g) jar arrabbiata or other tomato sauce
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) onion, any color, or shallots, chopped
  • ground spices/herbs such as coriander, curry, cumin, herbes de provence (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (200 g) plain unsweetened soy yogurt (optional)
  • 1 or 2 scallions (green spring onions) or bunch of chives, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Note: I was using a small frying pan, so the amounts shown in the photos below are for one serving. To make two servings at once, use a larger pan and the total quantities listed above.

The first thing you’ll want to do is roughly chop your onion (or shallot). You can either slice it, as shown, or dice it  do it however you want, cause this is an easy recipe, remember!

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Drizzle some olive oil into a frying pan, heat on medium-high, and sautée the onion for a few minutes. If you like, add a dash of herbs or spices (I often add ground coriander and thyme), but since the arrabbiata sauce is already seasoned, this isn’t strictly necessary.

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When the onions have become a bit translucent, add the chickpeas. Save the liquid from the can if you’d like to make meringues or something with (do a search for “aquafaba” on this blog to find recipes). Sautée, stirring often, for a few minutes to heat the chickpeas and allow the flavors to begin mingling.

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Now add your arrabbiata or other tomato sauce.

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Continue to heat until the sauce begins to simmer. Take off the heat soon after so the sauce doesn’t become dry.

Transfer to a serving bowl and top with a dollop of plain soy yogurt plus chopped scallions or chives. The yogurt has a nice cooling effect, counteracting the heat of the spicy sauce, and reminded me a lot of sour cream in this dish. I used the most basic grocery store soy yogurt, but you might want to try the thicker Greek-style soy yogurt that’s now becoming available (in France, look for the Sojade one at organic shops).

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Another nice touch to this flavor combination is some fresh lime or lemon. The vitamin C in the citrus juice also helps your body absorb the iron in the legumes.

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Enjoy!

Variations: serve on top of rice or couscous, add vegetables (spinach, bell peppers, potatoes, mushrooms etc.), experiment with spices.

Mini pavlovas

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner once again… This year, how about serving your sweetheart (or yourself) some light, crunchy vanilla clouds topped with rich coconut cream and colorful, juicy fruit? Meet the pavlova, a meringue-based cake named for Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (rumored to have been created in 1926 in New Zealand), but in a mini version. It’s vegan too!

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Anna Pavlova in 1909

The actual origins of this fancy dessert are debated, but the Russian and potential New Zealand connections are reason enough to consider this an “Around the world” recipe.

It’s based on an airy meringue shell made from the brine from a can of chickpeas (or other legume – brine from navy, kidney or other beans works too). In yet another international connection, this culinary innovation, which opened up a world of new possibilities for vegan and egg-free cuisine, was discovered by French tenor and occasional food blogger Joël Roessel back in 2014. Aquafaba, as the brine came to be known, also makes it possible to create other items such as French macarons, chocolate mousse, the topping for lemon meringue pie, royal icing and even cheese and butter.

This is a fairly simple recipe, but it does require some time because the meringue-baking process is long and each batch of meringues must cool fully inside the oven once the baking time is up. For this reason, I recommend making the meringue shells the day before you plan to serve this dessert. Be sure to transfer them immediately to an airtight container once they’re finished cooling in the oven to ensure that they don’t absorb humidity and become sticky, losing their crunch. And when you’re ready to serve them, remove them from the airtight container and add the toppings only at the very last minute.

A side benefit to making this recipe is that you’ll have a freshly opened can of chickpeas on hand. And that means you can make hummus, chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce or my famous chickpea of the sea salad! But for now, roll up your sleeves so we can make these pavlovas!

Mini pavlovas

Makes around 10 pavlovas

For the meringue shells

  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) aquafaba (chickpea brine from the can or jar)
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated white sugar (table sugar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid vanilla extract (do not use any flavoring containing oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)

For the whipped coconut cream

  • 3/4 cup (200 ml) coconut cream, chilled
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons powdered sugar or maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid vanilla extract

For the topping

  • Seasonal or canned fruit. I used canned peaches and fresh pomegranate seeds, but consider kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, passionfruit or a combination of these.

Equipment needed: hand or stand mixer with “egg” beater attachments, metal or glass bowl (not plastic), baking sheet with baking paper, airtight container for storing the finished meringues (can be plastic).

If this is the first time you’ve whipped aquafaba, get ready to see a fun transformation. Turn your mixer to the highest setting and in a matter of about three minutes, the clear brine will magically turn into something fluffy and white that looks just like whipped egg whites.

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The aquafaba is ready for the next step once stiff peaks have formed and it stays in the bowl when you turn it upside down, as shown. Add the vanilla extract and cream of tartar, if using, and beat until incorporated.

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Now you’ll add the sugar. Continue beating, pouring the sugar in bit by bit. The mixture is done once it looks glossy. At this point, it will look and taste just like marshmallow fluff. In fact, you can even use some of it as marshmallow fluff if you like (but it will deflate after a while, so would need to be used right away).

At this point, you can begin preheating your oven to 210°F (100°C). Be careful not to get these two numbers mixed up, as I did the first time around…

On a clean sheet of baking paper, deposit some blobs of meringue mixture of a similar size. With the back of a spoon, spread each blob out into a flatter round shape and make a depression in the center. This is where you’ll place the coconut whipped cream and fruit once the shells have baked.

Place the sheet in your preheated oven and bake for 70 to 75 minutes. Any shorter, and you risk having a crunchy outside but a gooey, gummy inside. When the time is up, leave the meringues where they are for a further 45 minutes to fully cool without opening the oven door.

When they’re done baking, as shown in the third photo above, the meringues are no longer shiny and may also have spread out a bit.

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Up to an hour before serving the pavlovas, whip your coconut cream together with the powdered sugar or maple syrup and the vanilla extract until it holds a shape. Store the whipped cream, covered, in your refrigerator.

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Immediately before serving the pavlovas, top each meringue shell with a dollop of the coconut whipped cream, then add the fruit. Note that the meringue will begin to gradually break down as soon it comes into contact with the whipped cream, so prepare only the number of pavlovas that will be eaten right away.

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Crunch, crunch. Yum!

If you have enough pavlovas and there’s still some meringue mixture left, you can make meringue “kisses” such as the ones above by making blob shapes with a teaspoon or, if you want to get fancy, with a pastry bag. If you want to add jimmies, sprinkle them on top before putting the meringues in the oven. Bake as directed above.

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Brew yourself a pot of tea and enjoy your mini pavlovas this Valentine’s Day!

In search of other Valentine’s Day recipes? Check out my recipes for heart-shaped sugar cookies with rosewater-raspberry icing and French-inspired white chocolate mendiants.

Matcha galette des reines

If you’ve been following my blog for a while or know me in real life, you may have noticed that I love borrowing bits of different cultures and bringing them together in unexpected ways. And the culinary world is a great vehicle for this type of expression (click here to see some of my past fusion cuisine creations).

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Adoration of the Magi (c. 1660) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Today I bring you my interpretation of a classic French dessert. The galette des rois (kings’ cake) is an institution of French culture, traditionally prepared for the feast day Epiphany, celebrated each January 6th to commemorate the visit of the Magi (also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings) to the Christ Child. In practice however, this dessert pops up in bakery windows all over France right at the beginning of January and stay until the end of the month.

The galette des rois is a flat flaky pastry traditionally filled with an almond paste. And like the crêpes eaten in February for Candlemas, it has its own customs. Somewhere inside the galette is a fève – in the olden days this was actually a literal fève (dry bean), but these days, little ceramic figurines are used. Whoever finds the fève is their piece becomes a king or queen, gets to wear the paper crown that comes with the galette, and is supposed to pick someone else in the party to be their queen or king. According to a 2014 survey, 68% of French families find sneaky ways to make sure the fève ends up in their child’s slice. Sparkling wine, hard cider or apple juice traditionally accompany a galette des rois.

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A galette des rois such as you might find at a bakery in France, supplied with paper crown.

In my version of this dessert, I’ve incorporated matcha powder for a Japanese twist. And I’m calling it galette des reines (queens’ cake) because sure, maybe the magi were kings, but queens should get their chance too. The fève I used also happens to be a little lady… in keeping with the theme, I’m imagining her as a Japanese empress from the northernmost island, bundled up in sakura-colored wraps against the cold.

If you live in France, you can usually find fèves at any vide-grenier (garage sale) for cheap, or from baking supplies stores. Otherwise, have a look on eBay or Etsy. There are some really cool ones out there that could double as doll-house accessories the rest of the year.

Note that matcha powder (and green tea in general) doesn’t stay fresh for long, rapidly losing its color and flavor, so it’s best to buy it just before you plan to use it and then to use up the rest fairly quickly. You can use matcha powder in a cake or cupcake recipe, add it to a smoothie, make a matcha latte from it or just prepare it with water in its most traditional form. Store any unused matcha powder, tightly sealed, in your refrigerator.

See my tips for flavor variations (basic almond, pistachio, chocolate etc.) at the end of this post.

Matcha galette des reines

Makes one 12-inch (30-cm) diameter galette

2 pre-made round flaky pastry crusts (not filo dough)
3 cups + 1/4 cup (325 g) ground almonds
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (125 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (50 g) cornstarch
4 teaspoons fresh unsweetened matcha powder
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (200 ml) almond or soy cream
2 tablespoons soymilk or other milk
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 to 2 tablespoons apricot jam, apple jelly or other light-colored jam/jelly (for the glaze)
1 fève (ceramic object or large dry bean)

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Begin by combining the dry ingredients (ground almonds, granulated sugar, cornstarch and matcha powder) in a mixing bowl. Stir thoroughly with a mixing spoon until the matcha is evenly distributed.

IMG_7190In a separate small bowl, combine the cream, milk, oil and almond extract, whisking with a fork. Add this liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir thoroughly until you have a thick uniform paste. Taste it to check the sweetness – as matcha is fairly bitter, you may find you need a bit more sugar.

IMG_7193Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C) and unroll your first pastry crust on a large surface.

IMG_7196Transfer your matcha almond paste to the center of the pastry and gently spread it out with a spatula to a uniform thickness.

IMG_7198Leave a margin around the edge, as you’ll be folding it upwards to seal the galette.

IMG_7204.JPGGently press your fève into the matcha almond paste. Choose a spot closer to the edge than the center.

IMG_7213.JPGCarefully place the top pastry on the bottom one so that they align as closely as possible. Push the top pastry down gently around the edge of the almond paste underneath. If you want to make sure that a certain person ends up with the fève, find a way to remember where you’ve put it. 😉

IMG_7216.jpgFold the edges of the bottom and top pastries upward together and seal with the tines of a fork.

IMG_7221With a sharp knife, trace a design into the top pastry. Try to occasionally cut through the top pastry to allow steam to escape while the galette bakes, but take care not to cut through it too continuously or pieces of the top crust could break off when you slice the baked galette. You can get creative at this point and make a fancy design of your choosing (swirls, flowers, geometrical lines). Do a Google image search to see the different galette des rois designs that are out there.

IMG_7224IMG_7231IMG_7235IMG_7249Place your galette into the preheated oven (on a baking sheet, if you like, but I put mine directly on the rack as my baking sheet is too small). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown but not too dark. Begin checking it at around 20 minutes to make sure it doesn’t get too dark.

IMG_E7255While the galette bakes, you can prepare the (optional) apricot glaze.

IMG_E7258Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the jam into a small saucepan over medium heat with a couple tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down low and simmer for a minute or two, stirring constantly to break up the lumps. Try to remove any unbreakable lumps or bits of apricot skin.

IMG_7265When the galette is done baking, remove it from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Brush a thin layer of the apricot glaze across the top, including the top of the edges. At first it may seem that the jam is too sticky and shiny, but once it’s dry it will be fairly dry to the touch and more matte. Remove any jam clumps that collect in the crevices of the pastry design.

IMG_7267Allow the glaze to dry (5-10 minutes) before serving. If not serving immediately, you can pop the galette in the oven again to warm it just prior to serving.

IMG_7273A design like this one, with the first line traced right down the center, makes it easy to slice up.

IMG_7405IMG_7467Hey, you found the fève! Congratulations, you’re the queen! Or king!

feature2.jpgSince you’re making your own galette, you may want to make a crown to go with it (or look for one at a costume shop). I decided to make things simple and design a kitty-sized one (toilet paper tube + aluminum foil).

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I hope this post inspires you to try making a galette des reines of your own! Let us know in the comments how it turned out, and tag @rd.violet if you post a photo on Instagram. 🙂

Variations: Omit the matcha powder and add an optional tablespoon or two of rum for a traditional basic almond galette. Use ground hazelnuts, walnuts or pistachios for a different flavor profile and/or include a layer of chocolate-hazelnut spread or chestnut cream underneath the nut paste. To cut costs, use ground cashews instead of almonds, or a combination of the two.

A very vintage Christmas

Like me, you may enjoy coming together with family or friends after Christmas dinner to watch a beloved holiday classic. A Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Child’s Christmas in Wales… there are so many good ones. But what if Christmas seems to be coming around oftener and oftener, and you’ve seen all of these too many times?

In recent years, I’ve discovered a few “new” (to me) vintage Christmas gems. Nobody seems to ever talk about these, but they’re just as good as the more popular classics. At the very least, they offer something a bit different and prolong the black & white charm. I now present them to you, personally tested and approved, in order of release date.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The_Shop_Around_the_Corner_-_1940-_PosterThose of you who love It’s a Wonderful Life won’t want to miss Ernst Lubitsch’s very cute romantic comedy starring a younger Jimmy Stewart.

An aspiring salesman in a Budapest leathergoods shop, Alfred Kralik (Stewart) must contend with the arrival of a maddeningly headstrong new shop assistant, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). But at the same time, his love life is looking rosy as he begins exchanging anonymous letters with an intriguing woman encountered through a personal ad in the newspaper. As the story progresses, we learn that Miss Novak, who has taken a strong dislike to Mr. Kralik, is also writing to a secret anonymous correspondent of her own… Can you guess where this is going? Also, if this sounds a bit familiar, you may be thinking of Nora Ephron’s 1998 You’ve Got Mail, an adaptation of the same story with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the lead roles writing to each other anonymously via some primitive form of email.

Although I liked You’ve Got Mail well enough when it first came out (unaware at the time of this earlier version), perhaps impressed by their use of that newfangled technology, “electronic mail” (!), I now much prefer The Shop Around the Corner. The tight focus on the shop interactions allows us to closely follow the character development and evolving relationships among the staff. Stewart’s endearingly awkward character and the fiery arguments he has with his nemesis/love interest Klara are endlessly fun. I also love that the screenwriters kept the story’s original Budapest setting, including the characters’ Hungarian names, references to the local currency and Hungarian-language text in the shop’s signage. Why must everything always be transposed to an American setting? The world is full of other countries.

Much like in It’s a Wonderful Life, the Christmas season doesn’t make an appearance until a later part of the story. But any inclusion of Christmas during a film is enough to make it officially a Christmas one, I say. 😉

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmasinconnecticut.jpgDecades before smartphones were even imagined, Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) has created an Instagram-perfect fake image of her life in the housekeeping column she wrote for a women’s magazine.

Unmarried, childless, living in a city apartment and unable to cook, she writes about the sprawling Connecticut farm she shares with her husband and their baby and the lavish meals she cooks there. Readers of the magazine eat it up and demand more and more. Things are going pretty well for Elizabeth, who is even making enough money to buy a mink coat (which EVERY woman from the 1940s to the 60s seems unfailingly to want).

Until the day when an imbroglio involving her boss, an unrefusable Christmas request, her longtime suitor and a dashing war veteran forces her to confront the falseness of the story she has woven and she must find a way to make the fiction become real…

Christmas in Connecticut is much more of a madcap, implausible story than The Shop Around the Corner, but still delivers on nostalgia and a certain kind of old-fashioned humor.

The Apartment (1960)

7de6e62fe936603612691a5a77f7d3e3The most modern of the black and white films I’m presenting here, both in its year of production and the content it presents, The Apartment is a cute and rather sweet story that happens to take place around Christmastime.

C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) plays a put-upon insurance company employee who has begun lending his apartment to his bosses for their dalliances with mistresses and doesn’t know how to get out of the situation. Dangling the prospect of a promotion in front of his eyes, they occupy his home every evening, leaving him to stand outside in the cold or work extra (unpaid) hours after everyone else has left. Meanwhile, his neighbors grow increasingly impatient with the constant parties and nonstop parade of different young women through the building. Baxter can only sigh and promise them to be more quiet as he frets over how to extricate himself from the mess, which could also spell the end of his job if the big boss ever finds out.

At work, Baxter has grown fond of a sarcastic but cute elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who also has a melancholy side. One married executive after another tries to pick her up without success, and Baxter wonders what his chances with her might be. Perhaps when he finally gets that promotion he’ll be in a position to try. Meanwhile, Miss Kubelik has a secret of her own…

I loved this film’s aesthetic, with the worker-bee office setting (and company Christmas party that must have served as inspiration for Mad Men) and the very cozy looking apartment that made me want to move right in – if the executives would stop coming around with their girlfriends, that is. And I was especially fond of Baxter’s frustrated neighbors, one of whom calls him a “beatnik” upon discovering he has no napkins in the house.

A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

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And finally, one that isn’t black and white but will charm you all the same! This shortish (47 min.) and often overlooked television special manages to bring together characters from ALL of the shows starring the world’s favorite felt puppets: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Muppet Babies and even Fraggle Rock. It’s a heart-warming celebration of togetherness, family, friends and sharing.

You may already be familiar with The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), another favorite of mine but not covered here because this post is about the lesser known things. A Muppet Family Christmas precedes it by five years, but because it was designed for television only, it could not be widely released elsewhere due to copyright on the songs. It can therefore be hard to find, but if you take a look here you may just luck out.

The special begins with Fozzie Bear driving his friends from The Muppet Show to his mother’s house in the country for a surprise Christmas visit. Little does he realize that she’s about to leave for a Malibu vacation and has rented the house to the man from Fraggle Rock and his dog Sprocket, who have already arrived and are relishing the prospect of a quiet Christmas surrounded by nature. But when the gang arrives, they decide to stay with the uninvited guests, whose numbers seem never to stop growing as the program continues. The main Sesame Street cast is soon knocking at her door, followed by random groups of other Muppets, some known (Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and some that may have been new (the snowman and turkey).

The Muppets meet, sing, negotiate space in the house and worry about Miss Piggy’s perilous journey through a snowstorm to join them. Meanwhile, the Swedish chef, who has arrived with a very large stockpot, sets his sights first on the turkey and then on Big Bird (!!!). The choice he makes next, disarmed by Big Bird’s naive benevolence, is rare both on the screen and in real life.

My favorite moments in this special are when we see a decidedly 1980s Miss Piggy chatting to Kermit over the phone from her photo shoot and shopping session, and when Kermit and Robin discover a spooky portal in the basement.

Be sure to watch to the end for the cameo by a VERY special someone!

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Perhaps some of these will become favorites for you, too! What holiday films do you like to watch again and again? Do you have any other obscure ones to add to this list?

And here’s my recipe for the perfect Christmastime evening:

  1. Make this Scandinavian juleboller dish for dinner
  2. Brew a pot of your favorite tea
  3. Settle yourself cozily on the couch with your favorite person or furry companion
  4. Watch one of the above Christmas movies while sipping your tea and enjoying some scrumptious dark chocolate mendiants (or the white chocolate version)

Merry Christmas to you! See you again in the new year.

Chocolate-dipped orange segments

As the holiday season gears into full swing, you may find yourself invited to multiple parties and potlucks. What dish will you bring? This question is a source of stress for many, and understandably so – it’s no easy task to choose something that stands out from the rest and isn’t a duplicate of someone else’s contribution. If it’s a dessert you’re after, look no further than this very easy and unique idea.

What’s nice about it is that it’s light and provides a burst of freshness, an ideal contrast after typically substantial holiday dishes like mashed potatoes and cornbread. And at the same time, it’s fancy and looks pretty on a tray. But best of all, for you, it’s super simple to make!

You really need just three things: oranges, a bar of dark chocolate and some dried coconut. I make mine using mandarin oranges because of their tangier flavor, but any orange (or even Meyer lemon or grapefruit, if you’re adventurous!) will do. You could also opt to sprinkle the chocolate with chopped nuts (pistachio for a nice green color) or jimmies in holiday or birthday colors, depending on the season.

Chocolate-dipped orange segments

For about 50 segments (serves about 6 people)

  • 4-5 mandarin oranges
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup dried grated coconut

Equipment needed: a double boiler or saucepan plus round-bottomed metal bowl to put on top for a bain marie set-up, heat-resistant spatula, trays for placing the chocolate-dipped segments on (small enough to put in the refrigerator), waxed or parchment paper.

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Begin by gathering your ingredients. As you can probably guess, I had more oranges on hand than I really needed. That’s one of the nice things about this recipe, though – if you decide halfway through to make a larger quantity, it’s easy to just peel some more oranges and melt more chocolate.

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Peel your oranges and separate the segments before anything else. Try to pick as much of the stringy white stuff off as you can. Make sure the segments are dry as the chocolate won’t stick to them otherwise (pat dry with a paper towel if any of them are covered in juice).

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Roughly chop the chocolate.

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Place it in the top part of your double-boiler or in the metal bowl. Heat the water on high until it boils, then reduce to low, ensuring that the water continues to simmer. During this time, you can prepare the trays that will be placed in the refrigerator. Line them with pieces of waxed or parchment paper.

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Melt the chocolate, stirring with your heat-resistant spatula to ensure even melting.

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Once the chocolate is completely melted, you’re ready to dip the orange segments!

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I prefer to dip the segments and sprinkle the coconut on just the top so the segments remain flat on one side and sit on the presentation plate better. But if you’re so inclined you can dip the segment into the bowl of coconut so it’s coated on both sides.

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I usually sprinkle all the segments with coconut at the same time as soon as the tray is full. Next, put the tray in the fridge so the chocolate can set. It will be ready in about an hour. Keep refrigerated until the time you serve them so the orange segments don’t go bad.

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I brought this most recent batch to a party and they went over quite well! To transport it, I laid the segments in layers separated by waxed paper in a flat-bottomed bowl with a Tupperware-type cover. They stayed in good shape despite a fair amount of bumping and jostling from strangers during a 45-minute trip on the metro.

Bonus recipe: if a bit of chocolate remains in the bowl after you’ve finished dipping your orange segments, just add some milk, heat the bottom pan again and whisk to make yourself a mug of artisanal hot chocolate!

If you make these chocolate-dipped orange segments, please let us know in the comments how they turned out and if you tried any variations. Enjoy!

 

29 hours in Clermont-Ferrand

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Vercingetorix (82-46 BC)

Three and a half hours south of Paris by train, almost in the center of the country, is one of France’s oldest cities. Before the Romans arrived around 50 BC, it was Nemossos, the home of the Gaulish Arverni tribe led by the famous chieftain Vercingetorix. The invaders renamed it Augusta Nemetum, and then in the 9th century it became known as Clairmont after the castle Clarus Mons. Over the centuries, it was attacked by Vikings, Normans and Visigoths and also served as the starting point for the First Crusade (1095-1099). In the 18th century, it merged with the neighboring city of Montferrand and took on the name we know it by today.

How about now? What draws visitors not interested in invading or waging a religious war? Clermont-Ferrand is famous today for being the home of multinational tire manufacturer Michelin and hosting the world’s biggest international film festival dedicated to short films. It’s also surrounded by a chain of dormant volcanoes whose highest point is the lava cone Puy de Dôme, which can be seen from many parts of the city. And of course, street art—the main reason for my quick trip to Clermont-Ferrand the other weekend.

I arrived just after noon on a beautiful sunny day and left the next day around 5, so was there for only about 29 hours. But that was long enough to form an idea of the city, supplemented by vague memories of an even briefer trip there back in 2006. I can therefore share only a few things about Clermont-Ferrand, and this article will be more of an introduction to the city than anything else.

Day 1: vegan lunch, space invaders and dinner from a grocery store next to the freeway

As always when arriving somewhere, anywhere, directly from Paris, I immediately noticed how much cleaner the air and streets were. I then became enamored with the city’s splendid colorful houses and the deliciously ancient feeling that reigns in the area around the spooky Gothic cathedral made entirely of black lava stone. After navigating a few narrow medieval streets, I arrived at Myrtille, a beautiful little eatery where almost everything is vegan.

I had the beet and orange soup garnished with soy cream, chives and toasted hazelnuts for a starter and then a quinoa and azuki bean salad with arugula, potato and sweet potato, green beans, carrot and squash seeds. Both very nice, especially as I was famished after the longish train ride.

Clermont-Ferrand has a total of three vegetarian restaurants (no fully vegan places), which is not bad for a French city of 142,000 souls, and only Myrtille and another one called La BerGamoThée were open this particular day. As I wanted to try both, I headed to the second one for coffee. Although the owner of La BerGamoThée was washing dishes after the lunch service when I arrived and was starting to think about closing, she gave me a very warm welcome. I ordered coffee and a scoop of sorbet, and as the caffeine revived me from my sleep-deprived state (it had been a very early morning), I began to feel more like my usual self. The owner was curious to hear my story (what was a foreigner doing in those parts?) and we chatted a bit about our lives. She wasn’t a native of Clermont-Ferrand but had been there for some years after trying various other cities including Paris. One of the nice things about Clermont-Ferrand, she said, is that it’s almost always sunny, even in the winter. As someone who starts having an existential crisis every November, when the gray season in Paris begins, I made a mental note of this key detail.

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Invader’s CLR_09 from the 2016 wave greeted me at the station as I exited my train from Paris.

Back to our history lesson. Some 2,050 years after the Romans, Clermont-Ferrand was invaded yet again… but this time the intruders were a whole lot cuter. French street artist Invader placed his first mosaic on a city wall in 2001, then returned a few times to add more, culminating in 2016 with an impressive wave of 31 more creative and ambitious pieces paying homage to the things the city is famous for. As you stroll around town you may notice 8-bit aliens wearing 3D glasses, holding popcorn, featuring in film frames or fleeing volcanoes. A few pixelated bats, most likely escaped from the belfries of the ominous Gothic cathedral, can also be seen lurking about.

Those of you who follow my Instagram already know about Flashinvaders, the GPS game the artist created so his fans could “collect” his works around the world and score points for their finds. For every new city, you get 100 bonus points. Clermont-Ferrand is a particularly good city for this game as a lot of the works have high values and most of them are pretty close to each other.

After a long afternoon of exploring the city and finding mosaics, I headed to my hotel, which turned out to be a farther hike from the downtown than I’d thought when planning my trip. Moreover, it was right next to a busy freeway interchange surrounded by desolation. Once there, I scrapped the idea I’d had of returning to the city center for dinner and began looking for something nearby.

It turned out there was nothing much, and definitely nothing likely to have vegan options other than fries and iceberg lettuce, so it was time for Plan B: the large Intermarché grocery store on the other side of the freeway. Rain clouds were beginning to gather in a suitably dramatic sky, but I just thanked my lucky stars there was a store in that area at all and set out, umbrella in hand.

IMG_3374At the store, I had some trouble finding the hummus (every vegan’s lifesaver) and began to worry there wouldn’t be any, but in the end emerged with enough provisions for an evening meal and breakfast the next morning.

I spent a cozy evening at the remote but otherwise nice hotel eating hummus, resting my feet (12.5 km covered that day), editing photos and watching vintage episodes of The Simpsons in French. The French version is pretty good, although some jokes are untranslatable and the voices always seem a little wrong. Fun fact: they blur the Duff Beer brand name when it appears on-screen because it has become a real beer in Europe and France has strict laws on alcohol product placement on television.

Day 2: a museum of tires, a ghost town and more street art

The next morning, after breakfasting on the remaining hummus plus some hotel coffee, it was time to learn about tires at L’Aventure Michelin! Back in 1889, brothers Édouard and André Michelin were running a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand when they developed a removable pneumatic bicycle tire. Two years later, these tires, which they patented that same year, were used by the man who won the world’s first long-distance cycle race, the Paris-Brest-Paris (an ancestor of today’s Tour de France). The Michelins then shifted their focus to rubber tires for those newfangled horseless carriages, and the rest is history.

This museum is quite interesting, especially if you’re like me and have never thought much about tires and what went into developing them. For example, at a certain point different types of coverings to protect the tires from puncture were tested—the materials included leather, fabric, cork and steel rivets, each of them presenting some kind of major disadvantage. Michelin eventually developed innovations making these additions unnecessary. Later, in a bid to promote their brand, they added an “M” tread to the tires to leave distinctive tracks everywhere the cars went, and accidentally discovered that it improved safety too.

It so happened that this year marks the 120th anniversary (birthday?) of the Michelin Man, who over the years has become a familiar character around the world and was even named “best logo of all time” by an international panel of experts in 2000. To mark this anniversary, L’Aventure Michelin had put together a special exhibition about the man made of tires. Like many cartoon characters, his appearance has changed over time, going from a Teddy Roosevelt lookalike to his current incarnation. Presumably, his designers wanted to make him seem more friendly and approachable, and less likely to encourage smoking (!), but I will always prefer the original look.

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Of course, there’s also a Michelin Man invader! (CLR_37 from 2016)

After the museum, I set about hunting down the last few invaders on my list. Incidentally, it was lucky I’d bought so much bread the night before, as it turned out that Clermont-Ferrand is almost a complete ghost town on Sundays. Even if I were a meat-eater, it would have been difficult or impossible to find anything to eat. To get a much-needed coffee in the afternoon, I had to duck into a hotel and bother the front-desk guy. The streets around the cathedral, bustling and packed with people on Saturday, were eerily empty on Sunday. The cathedral itself even seemed to be closed (!), so I sadly can’t report on the inside of it this time.

The most challenging invader to add to my score on this trip was CLR_35, located on the wall of a freeway right where it forms a bridge (making the mosaic invisible from the street level below). With coaching from an expert invader-hunter friend, I discovered there were nevertheless two ways to “flash” it with the app: 1. entering the freeway on foot from the nearest entrance ramp or 2. scaling a small but steep slope next to the bridge. Preferring to avoid activities that could lead to arrest and deportation, I chose the more discreet option 2.

Clinging precariously to the fence, the thorns in the poisonberry bush next to it digging into my skin as rain clouds menaced overhead, I still couldn’t see more than the tips of the invader’s ears. But I held my phone up above my head and hoped for the best. This, by the way, was one of the “What am I doing?” moments that everyone with an obsessive hobby reaches at some point. Happily, it worked after just a few tries—the left-hand flash capture above shows how little of a piece needs to be visible sometimes. And best of all, I didn’t get arrested. On the right is the official photo of the invader in all his glory as he races down the road.

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Another fun one was this large 100-point piece of a certain French singer on Rue Serge Gainsbourg…

But Clermont-Ferrand also features creative works by other street artists, such as Lyon-based Lasco, who—true to his name—paints animals inspired by the prehistoric paintings in Lascaux Cave in southwestern France. Made around 17,000 years ago, the paintings were discovered by chance in 1940 by a group of teenage boys and are now among the first things mentioned in timelines of the country’s history. I, in turn, discovered the street art paying homage to them completely by chance and was delighted!

Several trees and posts in Clermont-Ferrand had been yarn-bombed when I visited. In French, this is known as tricot urbain or “urban knitting”—love that term! These pieces are by a group calling themselves Les Peloteuses du Kfé Tricot.

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A collaboration in Rue Savaron by Apogé (left) and Repy One (right).

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If you love art too and are planning a trip to Clermont-Ferrand, you’ll want to pick up the free Such’art map of art galleries and street art from the tourist center in Place de la Victoire for a self-guided tour of works by Invader, Lasco and others. On Instagram, you can follow the latest street art developments in Clermont-Ferrand at @such_art_63.

At 5 pm it was time to board my train, and a good thing too because after 22.2 km of walking that day (!) and 34.7 km for the weekend as a whole, I was ready for a bit of a rest! The skies continued to offer dramatic clouds as the train sped northwards and the sun began to set.

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The places mentioned in this post:

  • Myrtille restaurant: 4 Petite Rue Saint-Pierre, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand
  • La BerGamoThée restaurant: 1 Place du Mazet, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand
  • L’Aventure Michelin: 32 Rue du Clos Four, 63100 Clermont-Ferrand
  • Maison du Tourisme (tourist office with street art map): Place de la Victoire, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand

Cookbook challenge

Those of you who know me from my Facebook days may remember my cookbook challenge.

I started it a few years ago, inspired by a friend who did the first one I’d ever heard of. At her New Year’s Eve party one year, chatting with some guests who were admiring her cookbook collection, she realized she wasn’t using them as often as she would like. To remedy the situation, she set herself a resolution to be completed over the next 365 days, and that was to make one recipe from each of her 100 cookbooks. The challenge included posting a photo and description of each dish on Facebook. In spite of obstacles including limited daylight hours (important for a good photo) at the beginning and end of her challenge, she made it, posting the last few recipes in mid-December.

And what began as a simple can-I-do-it personal dare turned out to be a great way to be an ambassador for veganism. A frequent question vegans get from meat-eating folk is “But what do you eat?” and with this challenge, all her Facebook friends got to see real-life examples of what she actually eats. It turned out my friend had a talent for food photo styling too, so the dishes in her photos looked especially beautiful and scrumptious.

As her challenge got into full swing I realized there were several cookbooks in my own growing collection that I still hadn’t tried, and decided to do a challenge of my own. Since I had fewer books (around 40 at the time) I resolved to make five recipes from each one, but over a longer period of time, with no end date. I was ambitious as I started, even making a bold promise not to buy any new cookbooks until the challenge was done—I failed at this part, seduced embarrassingly soon afterwards by a new superfoods book.

My collection was made up mostly of vegan cookbooks—no surprise there since going vegan is what made me get into cooking in the first place—but I also had some vegetarian ones and even an omni one that came with a set of pastry circles I’d ordered online. But they were all to be included in the challenge, with vegan adaptations as necessary. Most of my books were in English but several were in French, one in Catalan and one in Icelandic (!), which of course adds a fun extra dimension (remember, I’m a translator!).

I focused on one book at a time, posting the cover image first and then adding the photos of the recipes as I made them. In some cases I skipped ahead and made a recipe from another book, but then would save that photo until later when covering the book in question.

In the process of this challenge, which is still technically underway, I’ve discovered recipes that have since become some of my very favorites and have gained a firm place in my day-to-day repertoire (the cheese sauce from Vegan Yum Yum, for example, and the Scandinavian tofu balls from Boulettes et galettes végétales, which I later translated and posted here). The challenge has also obliged me to try recipes that I might not have made otherwise, for example if there was no photo for them in the book, and some of these turned out to be excellent.

For one of the books, Vegana i catalana, I found myself translating from Catalan, which I loved. I wouldn’t do that professionally, but for a handful of recipes for personal use, it was a fun challenge and not too hard since I know French and some Spanish. I posted one of them here on the blog too.

Here are some highlights from the books I’ve done so far…

Lentil crêpes with a garlic-parsley yogurt sauce from Curcuma en cuisine and date bars from Délices déshydratés.

Black rice with soybeans from Kansha and Thai seitan curry from Coco.

Crêpes with dulce de leche and sweet plantains from Viva Vegan! and cashew-stuffed capsicums in a coconut-curry leaf sauce from World Food Café 2.

Fideuada from Vegana i catalana (see my version of the recipe here) and crispy millet and peanut butter buckeyes from Thug Kitchen.

Chocolate-banana crêpes with coconut cream and berries from Rawsome Vegan Baking and potato latkes from Mayim’s Vegan Table.

Fiery fruit and quinoa salad from Salad Samurai and chocolate-orange curd tarts from Pies and Tarts with Heart.

Plum knödels from Mes festins végétaliens and spiced carrot and almond soup from The French Market Cookbook.

Millet balls with orange-arugula sauce from Boulettes et galettes végétales and raw apple turnover from Le Bon cru.

And as I mentioned, this challenge is still not finished! When I began this blog in October 2016 and started working on recipes for it, I had less time and energy for other recipes and sort of put this on hold. But I plan to continue it, especially since I got only about half-way through it (24 out of 40-some books). I will post the results on my Instagram and maybe also on the Red Violet Facebook page if people there are interested. In the interest of completeness, I’ll be posting all the photos from the cookbooks previously covered too. To see them on Instagram, just do a search for #redvioletcookbookchallenge which I’ll include among the hashtags for each of them.

When I’m finally done with the books I already have (there are maybe around 50 now), I’ll have made 250 recipes! So one of the benefits is learning a thing or two: techniques, new flavor combinations, shortcuts and so on.

Another of the eventual outcomes of this challenge will be a binder of my favorite recipes from the challenge (and other favorites from before it) that I’ll create to keep in my kitchen for easy access.

The biggest challenge in this challenge, translating and making ICELANDIC recipes, still lies ahead! Will I be able to pull it off? Stay tuned!

In the meantime, why not try a cookbook challenge of your own? You never know what gems you may unearth from your dusty collection!

Chunky Monkey un-granola

As a freelance translator with most of my clients based in France, I normally have very quiet Augusts due to the fact that every French person leaves on vacation for the entire month, reducing Paris to a ghost town of sorts populated largely by tourists and a skeleton crew of hoteliers and restaurateurs. But this year, just before leaving, a few of my clients decided to send me huge files to translate by the end of the month. That suited me as I’d already done a bit of traveling in July (to the Netherlands and England) and wanted to make some money.

When accepting these large files, I assumed that I wouldn’t be getting much of the usual work (smaller files with shorter deadlines), but it turned out that several of my regular clients had not completely closed up shop for August and still needed some things translated, and specifically by me. So I ended up having a very busy August indeed. At times such as these, my energy and patience for making elaborate recipes just isn’t there, and I find myself eating bowl after bowl of the same basic pasta with random vegetables thrown in.

One morning, fairly short on groceries and wondering what to have for breakfast, I noticed a box of rolled oats I’d bought to make muffins with and decided to put some of that in a bowl with some soy milk. Rooting around my kitchen a bit more, I found some walnuts and added them too. It turned out I also had a banana. After then, wanting to have an interesting photo for Instagram, I put some of the chocolate sprinkles I’d bought in Rotterdam on top.

I realized that what I’d made was basically un-granola.

Although it may sound strange, dry uncooked rolled oats with soy milk is actually not bad. If you give it a minute or two, the soy milk absorbs into the oats a bit, softening them, so there isn’t strictly any need to cook them. Oats in this form are also healthier than granola—if you’ve ever tried making your own granola at home, you know how much sugar and oil goes into getting the oats and things to stick together and be crunchy. And of course, plain rolled oats are much less expensive than granola of any kind, store-bought or homemade.

This particular un-granola also reminded me of something. Walnuts, banana, chocolate… where had I seen that combination before? Of course, in Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream! Which to my great delight had recently come to Paris in the new dairy-free version. It’s a great combination of flavors, and what could be better than eating Chunky Monkey (of sorts) for breakfast?

I also put some chia seeds into this un-granola, not for their gelling property—although you could easily make this into overnight oats if you, unlike me, have the presence of mind to get started the night before—but for their amazing health benefits. Walnuts too are bursting with good things. Even the chocolate provides magnesium and protein, so this is a breakfast nobody can argue with.

Of all the recipes I’ve posted on this blog, this is by far the easiest. It’s not really even a recipe at all but a suggestion for things to put into a bowl and eat. I’ve provided approximate amounts below, but you can really just combine these things without measuring. Just use whatever amount of each thing that seems good to you.

Chunky Monkey un-granola

Feeds one hungry translator (or other type of person).

  • 3/4 cup (75 g) dry uncooked rolled oats (small oats if possible)
  • 1 tablespoon dry chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 cup (236 ml) soy milk (or other milk of choice)
  • handful (approx. 1/3 cup) walnuts
  • half of a banana
  • 1-2 teaspoons dark chocolate sprinkles/mini-chips

 

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Let’s get started!

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Combine the oats and chia seeds in your cereal bowl.

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Add the milk and give everything a good stir. You’ll see that the milk gets absorbed into the oats after a few minutes, so you may want to add a bit more milk later.

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Break the walnut halves with your hands (or roughly chop them with a knife if you want to be fancy) and slice some banana over the top.

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Finally, add your chocolate sprinkles. If you don’t have or can’t find sprinkles, mini-chocolate chips will do, or you can even roughly chop up some squares from a bar of dark chocolate.

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You’re all set! After enjoying this hearty, healthful and delicious un-granola, you’ll be ready to seize the day.

Variations: If you’re not as exhausted or busy as I was when I came up with this recipe, you may want to take the time to actually cook the oats and make this into a warm oatmeal. Alternatively, as suggested above, you can stir the oats, chia seeds (not optional in this case) and soy milk together and put them in the fridge overnight to make overnight oats. And you can always experiment with different nuts, different fruit, or different milks (vanilla-flavored rice milk for example, which is naturally sweet) for different results.

Aquae Sulis and Mr. Darcy

My most recent travels saw me arriving in a beautiful little English town once known as Aquae Sulis. Doesn’t ring a bell? Today, it’s called Bath and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its rich past. If you’re into history, either of the Roman era or the Georgian period (or both!), this is a destination for you. It’s an easy trip from London, just 97 miles (1.5 hour by train) west of London. You’ll love it even more if you happen to also be a fan of Jane Austen, who lived here at several points in her life.

As you may have guessed, all these things fascinate me. Well, it was much more the Georgian era that drew me to Bath, but I was pleasantly surprised, upon visiting the Roman Baths center, by how the site managed to captivate me. In the interest of sticking to chronological order, let’s talk about that first.

When the Romans arrived in Britain around AD 43, they found a settlement of Celtic Britons around a site with a large natural hot spring and a shrine dedicated to a goddess named Sulis. The invaders duly named the town Aquae Sulis – Latin for “the waters of Sulis” – and built a major bath complex and temple around it (as shown above; click to enlarge photos). They encouraged the natives to continue worshipping Sulis, with whom they identified their goddess Minerva, a factor that helped the Britons to accept the invasion.

In the Roman days, the large bath shown above was covered with a vault roof. After the baths were rediscovered and restored in the 18th century, they were left without a roof and the sunlight stimulated the growth of algae, which is what’s responsible for this green color. There were other baths (hotter and colder ones), as well as various other rooms (saunas, massage rooms) similar to what you find in modern spas today. This center is really well done – in addition to seeing the baths themselves, visitors are taken through the site’s history with interactive museum exhibits and a high-quality audio guide available in some 15 languages.

In 1979, some archaeologists poking around in the Sacred Spring, the innermost pool of the bath complex (shown in the cover image of this post), found a number of “curse tablets” that had been thrown into it during the Roman days. Unhappy individuals would carve requests for vengeance upon those who had wronged them onto bits of flattened lead, roll them up and toss them into the waters for direct delivery to the goddess Sulis/Minerva who, they hoped, would proceed to take action.

The most common complaint was of theft, and the punishments sought tended to be rather harsh, along lines such as “may whoever nabbed my cloak while I was bathing lose his eyesight and his mind and never recover either until such day as he has returned my belongings to me”. Sometimes the accuser would make things easier for the goddess by listing the names of suspects. Did the curses work? We’ll never know, but a simple locker room could have prevented a lot of trouble!

(Don’t miss this great tutorial for making your very own curse tablet! And see if you can figure out what the author’s curse was.)

Also discovered in the baths were beautiful engraved semi-precious stones and colored glass that probably fell out of bathers’ jewelry, loosened from their settings by the heat.

The site does an excellent job of helping you travel back in time to the Roman days. Alongside some of the ruins, reproduction walls have been set up, but with a space between them and the floor to remind you which parts are real. In the various dark spaces of the labyrinthine baths, hologram-like projections of Roman bathers, complete with the sounds of their murmurs and dripping water, spookily recreate the mood of the distant past. These translucent beings were rather like ghosts… I wondered with a kind of delicious frisson whether one of them might turn and look at me.

Today, it isn’t possible to actually bathe in these baths, which are still lined with lead, but you can head to the Thermae Bath Spa for a steamy rooftop swim. Imagine how nice that would be in winter!

Fast-forward about 1,800 years and you’ll have arrived in Georgian Bath, the age of an author so loved by the people of England that they put her on the 10-pound note. I agree with this honor as she’s one of my favorites too. In Bath, you can visit the Jane Austen Centre, located on one of the same streets she lived on. Although it isn’t her former house, the center offers information about her life as well as artifacts from Georgian households and a short film hosted by the guy who played evil Mr. Wickham in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. At this point I should confess that Mr. Darcy himself doesn’t really have any connection with Bath; I’ve just shamelessly used him as shorthand for all things Jane Austen, and also because I liked the idea of contrasting him (in the Colin Firth incarnation) with Emperor Claudius above. The city features prominently in some of her other books though, in particular Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

If you’re already very well versed on Jane Austen’s life, touring the Jane Austen Centre probably won’t teach you anything new, but there are nicely done wax statues of her and Mr. Darcy, and you can dress up in Georgian clothing and have your photo taken. You may also like to browse in the gift shop (Darcy and Lizzie Christmas tree ornaments!) or (unlike me) have tea and fancy cakes in their upstairs Regency Tea Room. A brochure for the tea room even mentions vegan options, though I suspect you would want to call well ahead and check on that.

Every year in September, the city also hosts a Jane Austen festival.

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The Jane Austen points of interest continue at the Pump Room, located right next to the Roman Baths, where people used to go to drink medicinal waters in the hope of curing their various ailments. It was also just a fashionable place to be, to see and be seen. It is here that Catherine, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, first meets a special someone. The Pump Room is now a restaurant but still serves water from the spring that supplies the Roman Baths. The illustration above, by Thomas Rowlandson, shows how the Pump Room appeared in 1798. At left in the foreground, we see someone in a Bath chair, an early wheelchair invented in the city for the many invalids who flocked there.

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Another highlight of my visit was a tour through the beautiful Georgian home at No. 1 Royal Crescent, decorated as it might have looked between 1776 and 1796. Those of you who enjoyed my last post can imagine it as George Warleggan’s house (keep that in mind in a moment when you see what’s kept right next to his bed!).

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A cheerful table laid for breakfast. While you ate your toast and sipped your morning beverage (hot chocolate? coffee?), you could catch up on the latest gossip in the local newspaper. Who has lately arrived to take the waters in Bath? Who has just promised their innocent daughter to that gouty old man living on Cheap Street?

A gentleman doing well enough to live in this home would also have had the latest scientific gadgets, including an updated globe (this one appears to be Italian), and a device you can use to cure your own ailments at home using electric sparks (I didn’t get a photo of that).

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All ready for tea in the sitting room. Notice the cups have no handles, in the style of the cups used in China. For this reason, this type of cup is often called “tea bowl”.

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The elegant dining room set for dessert. The curators of this house did an excellent job of recreating the intricate molded blancmanges and other fancy desserts of the day out of silicone. The plates used here each illustrate a different scene from Aesop’s Fables. There’s more I could say about this room, but I should leave some things for you to discover on your own when you visit (don’t forget to ask about the pineapple and what used to happen behind that folding screen in the corner!).

Below stairs, in the kitchen, chunks of sugar were cut off of loafs and then ground up in a mortar. For any food historians reading this: the cookbook on the table is Food and Cooking in 18th-Century Britain by Jennifer Stead. Meat was sometimes cooked on a turning spit powered by a dog in a sort of dismal hamster wheel. The breed normally used for this purpose has since become extinct. Thankfully, this practice was already on its way out by the advent of the Georgian era.

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The gentleman’s bedroom, across the hall from his wife’s. Its furnishings include a washstand chest with a… chamber pot (?!) in its bottom drawer. Or perhaps it’s designed for footbaths. But if it IS a chamber pot, it’s hard to imagine how they could have kept that from smelling terrible even when closed. But then perhaps no one would have noticed, as personal hygiene was shockingly basic in this period. Ironically, given the name of the city and what should have been easy access to healthful spring waters, people bathed and washed their hair just once a year. Women wore their wigs day and night and kept their faces spackled with various substances including lead, followed by an egg-white wash and beauty patches to cover their smallpox scars. They also made liberal use of lavender, orange-blossom and rose essences, but really, how much difference can that have made? The Romans, who not only washed but also exfoliated on a regular basis, would rightly have been appalled if they could have glimpsed into the future.

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Apart from its museums (and there were many more I didn’t have time to visit), Bath is also just a very pretty town. Here, the Avon River is spanned by Pulteney Bridge, famous for being one of the world’s last bridges to still have shops along its full length on both sides. It was used in the 2012 film Les Misérables to recreate the look of Revolutionary-era Paris – Russell Crowe as Javert jumps off it to his (Javert’s!) death.

You can always stroll through Bath on your own, but a nice way to get a broader view of the city is to go on a walking tour. I went on this one with the charismatic and knowledgeable Mr. Elliott and definitely recommend it.

“What about food?” you may be wondering. “Are vegan options hard to find?” you may or may not be about to ask. The answer is no, they’re blissfully easy to find, as they generally are in the UK.

As much as Bath is steeped in ancient and less-ancient history, it also has one foot resolutely in the 21st century, so plant-based food is a thing there. I went to and recommend Chapel Arts Café (all vegan), where I had garlicky mushroom flatbreads with cashew crème fraîche, followed by carrot cake, The Green Rocket (mostly vegan), which offers a seitan and leek dish with puff pastry, a salad platter with hummus and tatziki sauce and onion rings, and Zizzi (a UK-wide omni chain with lots of vegan options – ask for their separate vegan menu), where I had “beetballs” and pizza with housemade vegan mozzarella. All really good! There were more veg restaurants than this, but sadly not enough time to try them all.

So there you have the lovely city of Bath, in a very brief and non-exhaustive nutshell. Definitely worth the detour for a weekend if you’re going to be in London. In the meantime, for a closer look at the city, check out the many mini-documentaries on YouTube (like this one about the Roman Baths, or this one about houses in Jane Austen’s day).

Cornish seitan pie

R&D.jpgIf you’ve been watching the hit BBC television series Poldark, a new adaptation of the book series by Winston Graham set in breathtakingly beautiful Cornwall, you may have noticed many meals consisting of savory pies. You’ll have seen them at Ross Poldark’s home Nampara at least, where the fare is simpler and more homespun than at Trenwith House and other wealthier residences. Demelza and Prudie can often be seen pounding dough on the countertop for this very purpose.

Cornish savory pies are traditionally filled with potato, turnip and beef (we’ll use seitan), and are basically a larger version of the well known Cornish pasty, which is a single-serving savory turnover filled with the same ingredients. Miners found them handy to take down into the mine with them for their lunch break. Some say that the edge served as a handle of sorts, so people could eat it with dirty mining hands and throw the edge away at the end.

A savory pie even played a role in the budding romance between Demelza and Ross in season 1 episode 3, as her newly acquired baking skills impress him and she begins to find her way to his heart through his stomach. Or at least in part – he likes other things about her too.

Now you can make a similar pie yourself and impress the dashing redcoat in your own life. But wait, this is the 21st century! So maybe he can make his own pie, but if he needs help getting started, you can share this recipe. 😀

Cornish seitan pie

Makes one 9 in. (23 cm) pie.

2 cups (250 g) seitan, finely sliced
1½ cup (150 g) yellow onion, diced
1½ cup (175 g) firm-fleshed potato, diced
1¼ cup (125 g) turnip, diced
1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or Italian herb blend
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup (40 g) flour
2 cups (500 ml) vegetable broth
2/3 cup (160 ml) unsweetened non-dairy milk (not rice milk)
2 pie crusts (non-flaky)

Begin by assembling your ingredients. Peel and dice the potato and onion, and dice the turnip (no peeling needed). Set aside.

Slice the seitan into thin, bite-sized pieces, about 2 in. (5 cm) long and 1/4 in. (0.5 cm) thick.

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Heat a bit of olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the seitan a few minutes until the sides are a bit browned. Add the soy sauce, taking care to distribute it evenly, and stir well to coat all the pieces. Set aside to cool.

In a large stockpot, heat a bit of olive oil over medium. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is slightly browned and translucent. Add the potato and turnip and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Now add the flour and stir to distribute evenly. Allow the flour to “toast” several minutes, again stirring often, and then add soy sauce, herbs and other seasonings as well as the vegetable broth and non-dairy milk. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and turnips are tender (about 15 minutes). Watch over the progress and add a bit more water or milk if the mixture seems to become too dry.

Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. If it needs more salt, add more soy sauce in small amounts, tasting as you go along. Keep in mind that the seitan will be salty due to the soy sauce it was sautéed in, so you won’t want the vegetable mixture to be overly salty. Remove from heat and allow to cool a few minutes before going on to the next step.

Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Line your pie plate with one of the pie crusts, making sure to press the dough into the bottom edge. Place the seitan into the crust, distributing it evenly across the bottom. Cover with the vegetable mixture. If the bottom crust hangs over the edges of your pie plate, as mine does (see above), measure the diameter and cut a circle of dough to form a top crust that will just cover the filling and then fold the overhanging dough of the bottom crust over the top and crimp the edges with your thumbs. With the remaining dough, you can cut leaf shapes (or whatever other shape that strikes your fancy). To make sure my leaves were all the same size, I cut a template from a piece of scrap paper.

Arrange the leaves symmetrically on the top crust and poke a hole in the center of the crust for hot air to escape. To give the crust a bit of shine, brush unsweetened soy milk over it evenly. Bake the pie on a center rack for about 35 minutes until it’s golden brown and smells scrumptious. 🙂

Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 30 minutes before cutting into it. If it’s still too hot, the filling will spill out from the sides onto the plate and you won’t have a nice solid slice. For this reason, it can be useful to make this dish ahead of time and then just heat it up briefly in the oven before serving.

Ideally, or perhaps depending how much of a Poldark fan you are, you’ll present this pie on a table spread with an old-timey delicate tablecloth like this one that I happened to find at a rummage sale just the other day, and you’ll use vintagey plates and cut it with a rustic-looking knife. A flagon of ale or glass of red wine will be the perfect accompaniment.

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At the end of dinner, bring out a dish filled with fruit native to Europe (I often notice grapes on the characters’ tables on the show). By the way, check out the monogram on my rummage-sale tablecloth! There’s an R for Ross, and an A for…? Hmm, that part doesn’t fit as well.

poldark clifftop

After your meal, take a stroll to the nearest clifftop and gaze out at the sea dreamily as the wind blows through your hair.

Variations: Use the same filling to make individual pasties, cutting each pie dough in half and folding each half over once to make a turnover shape. Use other firm vegetables such as carrot or broccoli instead of potato and turnip. Just make sure they’re fairly tender before they go into the pie.