Les Fleurons d’Apt: Provençal candied fruit Monday, Jan 14 2019 

2386_APTUNION_LES_FLEURONS_DAPT-3Having been a fan of these beasties for years, I was genuinely surprised to find I had written no post on candied (also known as crystallised) fruits yet – specifically those from a Provençal retailer, Les Fleurons d’Apt, which I discovered on a school trip (as a teacher!) in the late Noughties or early 2010s. After a subsequent scholastic visit – which led to me using many of the candied fruits in traditional English recipes, such as tea cake and Christmas pudding – I persuaded my husband to detour when we were already on a driving holiday in the south of France so I could stock up further.

SONY DSCThis is not without good reason: the candied fruits chez Les Fleurons d’Apt are made from the finest local fruits and candied with care in their on-site factory – essentially preserving the fruits by suffusing them with sugar syrup. Cutting out the middleman and buying directly from the factory shop also means that this high-quality baking ingredient is extremely good value for money.

It’s not just a staple for any aspiring pâtissier’s cupboard – even if you’re not much of a dessert-maker, candied fruits are lovely gifts that are easy on the eye as well as being tasty.

35996-normal-1200-640126So where is this Aladdin’s cave, I hear you ask?

The clue’s in the name: Apt is a small town in France’s Vaucluse département, in the south-east of the country. Unfortunately, accessibility by public transport is limited – so what’s a wannabe Bake Off contestant to do?

Fear not – Les Fleurons d’Apt has recently started selling online, and for reasonable postage costs (dependent on order weight). We were also surprised at the speed with which our chosen produce turned up at our door – and now that we’re suitably restocked, looking forward to baking again. My must-have staples are candied ginger (for colds!) and their 1kg buckets of assorted candied fruit, for baking purposes. Simnel cake, here we come.


Les Fleurons d’Apt sells its candied fruit direct from https://www.lesfleurons-apt.com


Is veganism the future of food, or a cynical marketing fad? Tuesday, Jan 8 2019 

Happy 2019, one and all!

19924_449634158576027_8916484701969438083_nWith Veganuary on everyone’s horizons, it’s no wonder that this question should be asked, as The Times recently did.

Is veganism the future of food, or a cynical marketing fad?

In my view, it’s neither.

Here’s why.

I speak as one who was vegetarian for a good year at least before meeting my French husband. France, as we all know, is the land where in the ingredients of vegetarian sausage one of the first you will see is chicken.


(Pour les Français, if it’s only got two legs, or perhaps none at all, then it’s all good. They would likely empathise with comedian Bill Bailey, who once quipped, “I’m a vegetarian, but I’m not strict. I eat fish. And duck. Well, they’re pretty much fish, aren’t they really? They’re semi-submerged most of the time, spend a lot of time in the water…And I eat cows, pigs, sheep, anything that lives near water. So, I’m not strict. I’m a postmodern vegetarian. I eat meat ironically.”)

So I gave up vegetarianism knowing that I was joining the fold of a quintessentially southern French family in a place where not eating meat is incredibly far from the norm.  (Even though of course French vegetarian dishes exist, such as vichyssoise, quiche, omelette, and ratatouille, these are often considered side dishes, or starters, as opposed to the main event.) Plus, let’s be honest: I did also miss actual sausages.

blog-featured-veganism1-20180117-1430Now, though, I have converted said French husband to the wonders of vegetarian and even vegan food. A lot of the food we eat *is* vegetarian and vegan, and not a single dodgy meat-replacement product in sight. We do still eat meat and fish, but nowhere near every day, preferring to eat these things less often, and to consume better-quality, more ethically-sourced specimens of them when we do. It also lowers the food bills and keeps us healthier, as well as opening up swathes of vegetarian and vegan dishes from other cuisines, including Italy, India, Mexico, and China.

So it’s understandable that especially among millennials (yes, I hate the term too), vegetarianism and veganism are growing in popularity. People of this age group tend to be internationally-minded and well-travelled. They are environmentally-conscious (it’s a well-established fact that it’s more green to produce grains than meat) and healthier too.

On this basis, I don’t consider vegetarianism and veganism to be mere marketing fads. Of course there’s money to be made – just as in the production of anything, if you know your audience – but there’s solid science and ethical reasoning behind choosing to eat vegetarian and vegan dishes, even if you’re more of a ‘flexitarian’ who still eats meat and fish sometimes. tfjttoe8_flexitarian-diet_625x300_27_November_18

But here’s why I also don’t think it’s the future of food (at least, not to the extent of eliminating meat consumption completely).

It’s true that things may change over time. However, meat-eating is undeniably a large part of Western culture and most countries are going to be reluctant to give up their national classic dishes that contain it, whether it’s toad-in-the-hole in the UK, hot dogs in America, blanquette de veau in France, spaghetti bolognese in Italy, stamppot in Holland…you name it. While deliciousness is clearly subjective, it’s obvious that enough people relish the flavour to keep these dishes on menus everywhere. Human tastes are not going to go away. And, sorry – we evolved to eat meat. So even if you, as a vegan or vegetarian, have managed to suppress these natural urges (if you will), chances are that most of the population will not. If nothing else, most people also lack the willpower to stay away from foods they like – even if they are warned that red meat might give them cancer.

People will also always argue that this is a calculated risk – that perhaps they don’t eat sufficient amounts of red meat to do them harm, that red meat also contains valuable nutrients (it’s true as well!), and that you run a greater risk of cancer from other behaviours. Relative risk is certainly an important consideration.

As usual, then, it doesn’t do to try to pigeonhole everything into overly simplistic and binary categories (but then again, that’s what seems to pass for journalism these days). As usual, everything in moderation probably does you good – pointing towards a more flexitarian future, especially as vegetarianism and veganism (even on a part-time basis) become more acceptable. My lunch today was egg-fried rice with lots of vegetables, coming in at a mere 304 calories. My dinner today, however, will be churrasco chicken: a cool 540 calories and likely followed by chocolate and coffee. BRING IT. Oh, and happy Veganuary.

Twist Teas: Review Wednesday, Aug 15 2018 


A family friend has just started working for Twist Teas, a small company that started in January 2017 and is based on a Hertfordshire farm. They focus on the use of high-quality ingredients, retaining classic blends while putting a cheeky spin on certain teas. As such, there is a sense of originality about the brand, further encapsulated by such funky names as Sweet Chai of Mine. Furthermore, the variety of flavours (from traditional blacks and greens through to fruit and flavoured infusions) means there is something for everyone; you can even shop online by your mood to find the best tea(s) for you. This goes right down to the budget: you can purchase microcaddies of 3 teabags for as little as £2.50 (although the indecisive can try 3 teabags of their choice of flavour for a total cost of £1.75!). The £7.50 dishwasher-safe insulated travel mug would also make a great gift or everyday essential.

The Twist Teas website showcases the full range of options, which you can also enjoy in selected cafes and restaurants. You can buy in a variety of currencies, as well as perhaps joining their online tea club, which sends you different teas every month. For those looking to branch out further, there are recipes on their website that use their teas too, and a number of different serving suggestions are offered too: hot, iced, or even served to flavour sparkling water.

This spirit of ‘waste not, want not’ is also extended by the fact that their tea bags are made of completely biodegradable cornsilk bags, which can be disposed of in your compost/food recycling bin and as such are plastic-free.

But most importantly: are the teas themselves any good? Let’s see…

Twenty-Four Seven: This is a classic blend of Kenyan and Assam black teas that has a fragrant yet not overpowering aroma. It does well if you like a strong brew and is just the thing for a Monday afternoon (or indeed day of the week of your choosing!).

chamomile-yawnChamomile Yawn: Monday night now, and time for something to help me sleep well despite the light early mornings and pregnancy pins and needles, cramps, and numbness that at times plague my hands and feet (yep, I wouldn’t have thought this was a thing either, but here we are…). Containing lemon balm, rose and lavender as well as chamomile, it promises to be soothing. With a slightly sweeter, more honeyed taste than expected, it went rather well with a square of dark chocolate. Sadly I didn’t sleep through the night thanks to my unborn baby practising his very best backflipping – but I had slept well until that point!

mint-humbugPropermint: After spending *all* day on Tuesday at the theatre with my students, it’s fair to say I was feeling a little more fragile come Wednesday morning. Propermint tea proved the perfect revival tonic. It promises to be delicious, soothing and refreshing, and was all three, thanks to nothing but pure peppermint. A great start to the day! The Mint Humbug blend (sampled Thursday morning) is equally pleasing and loyal to its concept thanks to a cheeky twist of toffee flavouring. (I don’t usually buy flavoured teas but this was an enjoyable drink.) It also contains rooibos and liquorice alongside the spearmint and peppermint leaves.

Another flavoured blend is Mint Choc Chip, where the chocolate flavouring lingers in the background without being overpowering. The same could be said of Choffee Mint, which picks up where the Mint Humbug blend left off without being too sweet (although sadly not all of its flavours were terribly detectable – including the coffee!). Some of the other flavoured teas in the range are more obvious in what flavour has been added.

ginger-snapOne of my favourites was perhaps unsurprisingly the Ginger Snap, which deliciously combines ginger and cinnamon with liquorice to create a subtle yet varied drink. Happily, the liquorice also seemed to calm my pregnancy-related heartburn. The baby also seemed to enjoy the blend as he kicked in what I hope was appreciation.

I’ve already been lucky enough to try a good range of Twist Teas and am so happy to discover another boutique, high-quality tea brand that I’m not just proud to serve to guests but to bring a little everyday luxury home. I was given my sample bags for free, but would definitely be up for spending my own dosh on a few new blends to try: especially the Breakfast Boost, Sweet Chai of Mine, and the Orange Chai, to see me through my upcoming first few months with my new baby boy.

Lipton Green Tea Calippo Friday, May 11 2018 

You may want to look out for this while on vacation in Europe this summer:


So what’s it like? The green tea flavour is detectable, and while it’s sufficiently sweet to satisfy sugar cravings, it’s not overly saccharine (perhaps tempered by the tea’s tannic flavours). Its original taste also amps up the refreshment factor on a warm day. Hit the spot for me, anyway!

A quick sweep of Google shows it’s available at least in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Romania, although the presence of Greek on the packaging also indicates that it might be available in Greece. So keep your eyes peeled!

Treat yourself! Thursday, Feb 8 2018 

We’re all aware of the box craze that’s been sweeping the internet these past couple of years, tempting time-poor millennials in particular: the beauty box. The veg box. The snack box. And so on.

Now there’s the treat box. With Valentine’s Day coming, and January over, what other excuses do you need to send (or, OK, receive) a box of treats in the post? Treatbox is among the newest entrants to the subscription box market to fulfil the dreams of everyone with a sweet tooth. And I have a sweet tooth.

Don’t worry about getting locked into a monthly subscription either: while of course you can go down this route, you can also buy one-off gifts for loved ones who are far away, or just to try out for yourself. While sadly for the moment it’s only available within the UK – so hardly appropriate for those of us with a more international base of friends and family – it should still serve a useful purpose in terms of last-minute gifts for those we love (and impulsive gifts for ourselves!).e202a96bc9c14c1e8f3ff7cbee0811d6

I’m all about the vintage sweeties that hark back to my childhood, so the Candy Lovers or Retro Sweets box would do it for me. But if you’re more of a chocolate fan, there’s selections for you too. And if you love liquorice, Treatbox’s selection of Pontefract cakes, liquorice logs, Dolly Mixtures and more will have you salivating.

The code TREATME10 will snag you 10% off your first order. In the meantime, you can follow them on Instagram (@treatboxcom), Facebook or Twitter while you decide. Sweeeeeet.

World’s most expensive Marmite jar unveiled Monday, Feb 5 2018 

I’m a huge Marmite lover. My mother tells tales of me smearing it all round my face when I was a baby – and even now I’m 31 I’m still a fan of the stuff.

So this news is big for me and for aficionados of the sticky black spreadable everywhere.

Photo by: James North (@jamesnorthphoto /www.jnorth.co.uk)If you are a member of gaming site Snatch, you can win an 18-carat gold-plated Marmite jar valued at £1500. Snatch is free to download and play: augmented reality and your smartphone location turn your surroundings into a game, in this case encouraging you to collect parcels and claim real prizes. From today (February 5th 2018), for one week only, you can compete to win the coveted jar, which weighs nearly 500g. Even if you’re not the winner of this most special prize, you can still be in with a chance of winning a personalised Marmite jar for yourself.

A special limited-edition jar will also be on sale until February 18th 2018, featuring an 18-carat gold-plated lid, developed with the Engravers’ Guild of London. You can purchase it from http://social.marmite.co.uk – albeit for £145.

Good luck to all and happy munching! What’s your favourite way to eat Marmite? I like mine on warm crumpets (no butter!), but would love to hear how you eat yours.

My ‘treize desserts’ Saturday, Nov 11 2017 

A French tradition around Christmas time is that of the 13 desserts, or treize desserts. It originated in Provence and is popular across the south of France, with each dessert representing Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles. They are eaten typically between Christmas Eve and December 27th. As one with a massive sweet tooth I had pictured trays laden with cakes – but this isn’t the reality.

While the exact composition of the thirteen desserts varies between locales, they most festively and usually consist of the following (the majority of the below being named by my French husband as essential):

  • The quatre mendiants, or ‘four beggars’, representing four monastic orders (Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and Carmelites): namely raisins, walnuts/hazelnuts, dried figs, and almonds.
  • Dates, representing the foods of the region where Christ lived and died
  • Two kinds of nougat, symbolising good and evil (one black, one white)
  • Oranges/tangerines, and other fresh fruit (apples, pears, winter melon and grapes included)
  • Câlissons d’Aix – small diamond-shaped cakes made from almonds and marzipan
  • Biscuits made with cumin and fennel seeds
  • Pâte de coing, or quince paste (basically like posh Fruit Pastilles)
  • Candied Provençal fruits
  • Pain d’épices, or gingerbread
  • Pompes à l’huile, a sweet brioche made with orange flower water and olive oil

Other more obscure references include the bugnes and oreillettes (fried pastries in the shape of bow ties) as well as biscotti-type cookies – but as mentioned, these are highly regional and some estimates have the number of variants on the 13 desserts at around 55 varieties. Some Anglophone sources also include the Yule log on this list, but this would not be a very French inclusion in the 13 desserts – although you do see it in pâtisseries in the runup to Christmas.

At any rate, as a general cake-lover it can be a bit of a let-down to have the treize desserts realised as a plateful of dried nuts and fruits. For breakfast? Sure. As a snack? No problem. But for dessert? Not so much.

So my French husband challenged me to name what my 13 desserts would be. As someone holding dual French-British nationality now (yay!), I wouldn’t ditch everything from the French list, but would also include a few seasonal English innovations.

My French list would therefore consist of the following items:

  1. biscotti, known in some French regions as biscotins
  2. câlissons
  3. pâte de fruits
  4. pain d’épices
  5. nougat (both kinds, of course!)
  6. fruits confits
  7. orange or tangerine (for symbolic value and as a refreshing palate cleanser)
  8. dates
  9. raisins
  10. almonds
  11. walnuts/hazelnuts
  12. dried figs (all for their symbolic value – although I am loath to include the figs as I don’t much like them!)
  13. cumin and fennel seed biscuits

My ‘alternative’ list, however, would consist of the following:

  1. orange (also traditional in the UK)
  2. sugar mouse (what you often get in your stocking in England)
  3. chocolate orange or chocolate coin (ditto!)
  4. mini Christmas cake
  5. mini mince pie
  6. Turkish delight (perfectly reminiscent of Narnia’s snowy landscapes, as evoked by CS Lewis)
  7. alcoholic truffle of some kind
  8. mini panettone (for my love of Italy)
  9. mini candy cane (seen often on Anglo Christmas trees)
  10. borstplaat (a close relative of Scottish tablet), to celebrate my recent move to the Netherlands (it’s often eaten at the time of Sinterklaas)
  11. kruidnoten (another Dutch Sinterklaas confection, rather like hard amaretti. They also come covered with chocolate, optionally)
  12. Lebkuchen – spiced German Christmas biscuits. No cultural or sentimental reasons attached to these ones – I just love them!

Have already made and eaten Christmas cake here, and will soon make Christmas pudding once the delivery of suet arrives. How are your Christmas culinary preparations going? Feel free to leave a comment!

Restaurant review: Convivial, Washington DC Sunday, Nov 5 2017 

This blog’s 2013 visit to Mintwood Place, in Washington DC, is so seared on the memory in multisensory terms that it barely seems possible for it to have been four years ago.  Now head chef Cédric Maupillier has widened the scope of his offerings even further with Convivial, an American café with French flair located in an up-and-coming area, within easy reach of the centre, about 10-15 mins from Gallery Place.

In true American style it is quite large, with three rooms serving diners. Nevertheless, there is sufficient space between tables, so that nobody feels hemmed in.


Maryland blue crab roll

Ferret Food and Wines dined twice at Convivial recently, so has sampled a variety of menu options. The first visit commenced with a fresh-tasting pulled turkey leg, served with spiced pecan and cranberry to pull off that Thanksgiving flavour. This was followed by the Maryland blue crab roll sandwich, which incorporated authentic flavours, locally-sourced ingredients, and generous portions, as well as a variety of textures (thanks, crispy fries).

The second visit was compliments of the chef, so included some items that were possibly off-menu. The evening kicked off with an amuse-bouche: one containing smoked fish, potato and cream, which gave a balanced result in terms of both flavour and texture, and the other containing lamb with celeriac remoulade, which proved a creative combination. Both were served on a blini-style toast.

The pickled rockfish added a herby, zesty, slightly vinegary flavour to proceedings, before heading back to a more distinctly French tradition: beef tartare with a melt-in-the-mouth texture, contrasted by the crispy potato with which it was served. Carb lovers definitely aren’t short of options here: the second course menu has plenty of them, and there is fresh fougasse aplenty to accompany all savoury courses, served in paper sleeves à la française.

This is definitely needed to mop up every last drop of the wonderful (and equally French) bouillabaisse, which contains as a minimum daurade, prawn, mussel, catfish and octopus, resulting in a fresh soup which is rich in flavour without being heavy. It’s also brilliantly seasoned, which is true of all of Convivial’s dishes.

Next up was the delightfully tender pork and beans, with all elements of the dish being cooked to perfection, the beans retaining their shape without falling to mush. Finally on the savoury front came the ravioli with niçoise beef and chard, which turned out to be an excellent combination, and arguably the most successful dish overall (jointly with the bouillabaisse) for how the ingredients worked together.

On both occasions, the meal was completed by the Bartlett Pear Shortcake, which perhaps contrary to expectation, is not too heavy a way to finish a meal, and is complemented delightfully by crunchy roasted praline-style almonds. The dessert menu in general offers a good mix of French and American options and touches, although the American dishes are arguably more attractive to someone more used to French cuisine. It’s also a very creative menu that puts twists on the classics, with sticky toffee pudding with maple ice cream, Key Lime and speculoos pie, and vanilla crème brûlée with black meringue all sounding tempting.

The wine list consists entirely of French and American wines, in keeping with Convivial’s theme. There are many decent options available by the glass, even if the bottles are more interesting or adventurous. Nevertheless, FFW was pleased by the glasses of Californian Pinot and Sauvignon. The meal can also be rounded off by Convivial’s good coffee.

Overall, Convivial is a triumphant addition to DC’s food scene. FFW will definitely be back. A la prochaine!


Spiller and Tait wins Great Taste Award 2017 Tuesday, Oct 17 2017 

Every year, the prestigious Great Taste Awards are given out by the Guild of Fine Food. Limited in number, it’s always heartening to see small independent businesses being rewarded for their hard work and high-quality produce.

81jj26ctrgl-_sy445_Among these this year is Spiller and Tait, a tiny coffee roastery located in Devon. After one year in this extremely competitive environment, they have already proved themselves by becoming one of Amazon UK’s top-selling coffees.

This has been further endorsed by their reception of the Great Taste Award for their Signature Blend Coffee, which received one star. Furthermore, alongside only 164 other products in the country, they have received the prestigious three-star rating for their matcha tea, which was only launched after months of extensive tea tastings from numerous areas of Japan. Judges praised the depth of its “pure flavour” and balance between sweetness and bitterness

The awards are decided upon by over 500 top palates, which this year included Gill Meller (author of and Martha Collison (of Bake Off fame), as well as food buyers from Fortnum and Mason and Selfridges. Other recipients of three-star awards included products from Gail’s Artisan Bakery, Flora Tea Group, and Masons Yorkshire Gin.

As an Exeter University graduate I’m naturally biased in favour of Spiller and Tait’s Devonian heritage – but I’m a big fan of the Great Taste Awards in general, as they’re a terrific boost to artisanal brands. Well done to all!

For more information:



National Tea Day 2017 Friday, Apr 21 2017 

green-tea-alamy-largeYou’d think making tea was a simple business – millions of us (especially the Brits) do it daily.

However, we’ve all had that moment where we’ve overbrewed it, put in too much milk, or ended up with that disgusting film on the top.

So in commemoration of National Tea Day on April 21st, here’s a few tips from Sebastian Pole, medical herbalist and author of ‘Cleanse Nature and Restore With Herbal Tea’. The guidelines don’t just apply to herbal teas if you’re not into that – you should also heed the advice for other commonly-consumed teas, including the good old standard English Breakfast.

  • Filter your water – to avoid that aforementioned disgusting filmy layer!
  • Don’t overboil your water – this also contributes to that filmy effect, upsets the balance between the tannins, oils and amino acids in the tea, and can even burn the tea leaves. To prevent this, only boil the amount of water you actually need, and ideally use a kettle that can tell you the exact temperature the water has boiled to (the ideal temperature will vary for different teas, with guiding temperatures below).

Green teas: 80-85°Ccup-of-green-tea-with-leaves

Oolongs: 85-90°C

Black teas: 95°C

  • Use freshly drawn water – this will prevent buildup of salts and nitrates.
  • Infuse the tea for the correct length of time – check the package or consult your retailer.
  • Use a sturdy teapot to keep your tea warm. You can even buy teacup lids to stop valuable volatile oils from evaporating while you drink aromatic herb teas.

My top 5 teas

Redbush/rooibos – it’s like a classic black tea, but has an even smoother, rounder flavour, and best of all, it’s caffeine-free for those trying not to overdo it.

Lapsang Souchong – a beautiful, intense, smoky tea that wows anyone who smells it for the first time. (They usually then subsequently try it, and love it!)

6040_1_1_Marie Antoinette tea by Ladurée – the famous Parisian macaron company also has its own blend of tea named after Marie Antoinette. The rose petals and honey add a natural, delicate sweetness to the black teas used for the base.

Lemon, ginger and echinacea – Whittard used to do a brilliant combination of all three of these, but sadly have stopped doing so. Brilliant stuff for when you are feeling a bit peaky or just a bit sleepy. You could probably make your own lemon, ginger and echinacea blend using the raw materials, and lemon/ginger blends are still widely available.

English Breakfast – It may be common, but it’s also a classic. I’ve tried having my breakfast with Earl Grey or with green tea (both teas I enjoy also), but it just doesn’t work for me. Strong, reliable, and an excellent foil to whatever hangover cure or cookies you happen to be consuming at the time.

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