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Tag Archives: Travel

Chestnuts

The Chestnut sellers weren’t at the markets last week, I doubt they’ll be there today. And while there is still frost in the mornings, while flowers might be few and far between, I can’t help thinking this marks the end of winter.

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The Roast Chestnut sellers are without doubt one of my favourite parts of winter. It’s my post-run ritual. There’s something about holding that hot brown bag, cradling it to protect it from the cold, peeling shell from nut flesh, and then  devouring 150gm of nutty goodness in the carpark that just makes running 6km in the bitter cold seem so worth it.

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Chestnuts are full of associations for me. I didn’t grow up eating chestnuts. They were the stuff of Christmas Carols and Dickens, not actually a real foodstuff like cashews and macadamias – the nuts of choice for an Australian Christmas. So the first chestnuts I ate were brought by someone else happy who was happy to share the secret. A hot cone of waxed brown paper on a golden Autumn day – in Nimes, France.

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I had trouble deciding what to make of them. They were not what I was excpecting and took me quite by surprise. Chestnuts are quite different in texture to other nuts (in part becuase they are actually a fruit), fleshy, soft, fibrous. I have a terrible time imagining what they would be like raw. But the day was so perfect, the experience so special, the lovely French grand-peres playing Bocce so sweet when they caught me spying on them – that chestnuts became wrapped up, inextricably, with one of my favourite travel days.

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Obviously one perfect day isn’t enough to make you fall in love with a food, but it it enough to inspire a second try. And I’ll be the first to admit that chestnuts, piping hot from the roaster, needing to be gobbled right away, are as much experiential as flavour. But at its heart, so very much of what draws us to food, is experiential. Comfort foods, winter foods, Christmas foods, exotic foods, fine dining – its all wrapped up in values, enjoyment and associations beyond the flavour (though I would never go so far as to suggest flavour is not a central component of the equation.

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I know you can cook with chestnuts. I had a lovely mushroom and chestnut risotto on the Mornington Peninsular at Easter,  and Maggie Beer devotes several pages to their versatility in her fabulous tome on seasonal local cooking Maggie’s Harvest. But for me, the pleasure of the Chestnut seller and the simple flavoursome flesh means I can not imagine cooking with them myself, they would never last long enough for me to do that. I eat them too quick.

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Spanish Reflections

We had Spanish movie night the other week, and as this coincided with Facebook reminding me it’s been two years since I was actually there, drinking Sangria and trying to get the hang of Tapas, I figure that’s as good excuse as any to write about Spain.

I loved Spain, in a way that completely took me by surprise.  When deciding on my itinerary it was a very close call between Spain and Switzerland. I’d never really given Spain much thought. I have always been more Monet than Picasso, Don Quixote had been sitting on my shelf unread for years, and while I loved Pan’s Labyrinth it was not a film that inspired a love of place, or a fascination with history.

Gaudi's fantastic Cathederal

Shortly before takeoff I watched Woody Allen’s amazing Vicky Christina Barcelona, and got genuinely excited, but that was the first time I had heard of, let alone seen Gaudi. And in a way, I suspect that was part of the joy. Spain lacked the pressure of expectation that so burdened my time in Paris. And I was actually in the country when I discovered all the marvellous cultural outputs I loved it for. In particular for me Spain is architecture, just fantastic architecture. Whether in the Moorish influences pre-Crusades in Granada; the grand palaces of Madrid; or the still exciting work Gaudi was doing in Barcelona at the turn of the last century –I loved with the buildings almost everywhere I went. Spain was also modern Art, the Reina Sofia is far and away my favourite modern art museum, I adored it; I particularly loved post cubist landscapes.  And Dali. While I had been so so about Dali in isolation, the Salvador Dali museum provided a saturation of concepts that just amazed me. The museum is worth the trip out to his home town Figueres. Especially if you’re into deconstructions and self-referential-ity the way I am.

The Moorish stronghold and stunning palace - Alhambra

And Spain was food. Kinda. I have a confession. I don’t remember much of the food in Spain. Worse! I didn’t eat much in Spain. Sadly I was still a vegetarian at this point, still converting currency in my head – and completely intimidated by my lack of language.  Despite all these self imposed roadblocks I still ate some amazing food  and drank fantastic drinks. Oh Sangria, how I loved you, how I’ve missed you. And Mojitos. Somehow neither of these drinks are the same in Australia, though I’m willing to admit that maybe it’s just not the same when not drinking in 40 degree heat next to the Mediterranean.

Sadly I don't have a picture of the jug of Sangria we were drinking. But it was good!

It may have been that it was August and we were sweltering, but Spain fundamentally shifted my relationship with ice-cream. I liked it previously, but could easily live without it. In Spain ice-cream became a food group.

I have a vivid memory, one of the moments of my trip I return to time and again, of having just walked down the hill from the Alhambra in Granada to pause for sustenance at this amazing ice-cream shop. The range of flavours on offer were overwhelming, more so given they were all in Spanish. But the elderly man behind the counter looked at us, and then presented each with a taster of the flavour he thought best for them. Everyone loved what he gave to them, though I still have no clue what the flavour he gave to me was. Almond, I think, but with something else.

So back tour film night. It ended up being a small turn out, but the selection of frittata, paella, cured meats and olives was fantastic. Though, I don’t think kangaroo prosciutto is authentic, it sure is yummy.

We watched Volver, staring Penelope Cruz. Very very good. I won’t ruin the plot, but I’m sure all chefs can share her frustrations with a lack of freezer space. It wasn’t a film that made me want to return to Spain, but it did remind me of Spain.

I made chickpeas with chorizo –everyone was very impressed with. I’ve already repeated the recipe. Though the second time I was careful not to get distracted and boil the pan dry!

Luckily I caught the kitchen disaster it as it was happening. So instead of completely ruining my chickpeas – I immediately removed them from heat and drained the pan, just taking those chickpeas that fell off of their own accord, leaving the others stuck to the pan. I lost half the chickpeas but according to all, the completed dish with salvaged chickpeas still tasted fantastic.

As long as you don’t get too relaxed while the chickpeas are cooking, this recipe is very easy, though it requires planning so you can soak the chickpeas.

Those in attendance requested the recipe – So I’ll share it with you too.

Chickpeas with Chorizo

165g dried chickpeas

1 bay leaf

4 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

750ml chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

Pinch of dried thyme

370g chorizo, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Put chickpeas in a large bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. Drain well. Place in a large saucepan with bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon stick and stock. Cover completely with water, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until tender. There should be just a little water left in the saucepan – do not boil dry. Drain and remove the bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon stick.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium high, add the chorizo and cook for 3 minutes.

Add the chickpeas to the frying pan, mix well, then stirring over medium heat for about 4 minutes or until they are heated through. Remove from the heat and mix in the parsley. Taste before seasoning with freshly ground black pepper.

Can be served hot or at room temperature.