What a load of Carp(o) Thursday, May 23 2013 

carpo

Some of you already know I’m a bit of a Graze addict. However, there’s a new kid on the block, and I’ll definitely be checking them out the next time I’m in London (approximately July 27th). Carpo, which is located in Piccadilly, purports to sell the finest snacks from across the world, and as I’m a sucker for dried fruit and nuts in various combinations, I shall be very interested indeed to see what they offer.

In Greek Mythology, Carpo was the goddess tasked with ripening and harvesting fruit in autumn and providing food for the people. It is this that has driven the philosophy and offer at the new store, with myriad choice of healthy treats prepared using products harvested at the peak of their ripeness to ensure amazing taste. Quality and seasonality are all important, with particular care taken that products only arrive in the store when at their absolute prime.According to their website, their most intriguing selections so far appear to be their dried chickpea snacks, along with the mysteriously-named Tiger and Juanita snacks. As for the fruits, I can’t wait to try the Spanish grapes and the Golden Incas. Not to mention the array of dried mushrooms that I can use in my Italian and Asian cooking – shiitake and agariko mushrooms grace their shelves, to name but a few. There’s also a range of chocolate, coffee and honey to explore – in short, enough to keep our household going for months. A number of the products are sourced from Greece, where the company itself also originates (the flagship store opened in Athens in 2011), seeking to revive Greece’s economic fortunes and enrich the British palate simultaneously. What’s not to like?

While the firm doesn’t (yet) offer delivery to our doors, this means it probably can’t quite replace Graze in my affections. However, I look forward to it taking its place alongside – and will be sure to report back once I’ve had a chance to visit in July.

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Nibbling Netherlands-style Sunday, Jan 27 2013 

While on my wanderings around Paris with a visiting friend, we came across a branch of this place:

Upon closer inspection, this appeared to be an Ikea-meets-H&M type place, combining sleek Nordic design with household essentials at low prices. Alongside the freezer boxes, stationery, card-making kits and towels was also an extensive snack section:

hema snacksThe Hema brand, which is Dutch in origin, prides itself on producing most of its snacks in house, and the closer you get to the Netherlands, the more Ikea-like the offerings come, with stores in Holland offering sausages, pies, and pigs in blankets. What’s shown on the website actually only shows a very small proportion of what is offered, to the extent that I would not recommend purchasing from the website at all, as its best products are to be found in store. Unfortunately for my readers from Anglophone countries, Hema is yet to make it to these places: besides the Netherlands, the only countries where its branches can be found are Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and France.

Its main focus food-wise is on sweet snacks, although it also sells bags of nuts and dried fruit, as well as crisps, tea, and coffee. While I can in no way claim to have tried all of their offerings, there is a good selection of meringues (star-shaped at Christmas!), chocolates (think discs studded with mini Smarties) and gingerbread (conveniently apportioned into ready-for-work-snacking bags). Next on my hit list is definitely the toffee waffles (pictured above on the left) that seem to be exact replicas of those sold at Starbucks (at a fraction of the price, naturally).

While I didn’t spot any branches of Hema on my recent trip to Germany (of which more later), I have already visited three branches in France: the huge branches in Levallois and near the Pompidou Centre, and the significantly smaller branch at St-Lazare station. These are already gaining a cult following in Paris, and despite a mere three visits, I have already been stopped on the street once by a Dutch expat whilst carrying a Hema bag (clearly the brand is much beloved by Netherlands residents also). There is sadly not yet a single whisper on the wind of any branches of Hema opening in the UK – but rest assured you’ll know of it as soon as I do.

When the weather outside is frightful… Sunday, Nov 4 2012 

Even before the snow sets in, the weather can be just shocking in autumn, thanks to miserable drizzle and high winds. Despite being armed with Ugg boots (do they look ridonkulous? Yes. Are my feet warm? Yes. CASE CLOSED.), there’s little I love more on a blustery autumn weekend than curling up in front of a log fire with a good book, some folk music, and a homemade autumnal snack. Here are a few of my suggestions for you.

PARKIN. Originating in Yorkshire, this is a wonderful treacly mess fused together with oatmeal, and spices, meaning it’s sweet, warm and filling. Any classic recipe will do – and there are many. But what I like to do is serve it with Lapsang Souchong – a smoky tea that’ll really complete that Bonfire Night feeling.

PUMPKIN PIE. This is an American dessert that hasn’t quite made it across the pond into France yet, so naturally my froggy husband was initially suspicious. However, with the right mix of spices and a puréed consistency of filling, it makes a satisfying dessert that contrasts nicely with the crunch of the pie crust. Serve with orange juice (slightly warmed in a pan first if you like).

ROAST CHESTNUTS. A savoury option this time! If you have them “au naturel”, roast in the oven until the skins are black, and then peel them off and eat straight away as soon as your fingers can take the heat. Another fun way to cook them is to wrap them in foil, and throw them into an open log fire if you have one, extracting them with tongs. Assam or oolong tea would be a good accompaniment here – the chestnuts already have a creamy, smoky flavour that you don’t want to be overridden by a strong tea like Lapsang.

CRUMPETS WITH MARMITE. OR CHEESE. This one’s a bit of a cheat as most people don’t make their own crumpets (although with a flat pan and some metal rings, you can), but it’s a bloomin’ marvellous autumn snack. Just pop a few crumpets in the toaster and, once done, garnish with a few wafer-thin slices of Cheddar, and/or a slick of Marmite. Say no more.

HOT CHOCOLATE, HUNGRY MOUSE STYLE. This takes a little more effort than your standard instant hot chocolate. You need to order the cocoa nibs and then have a means of breaking them down (the best way is to use a coffee grinder), before whisking this powder together with milk, cream, vanilla, and perhaps a few spices. Cardamom is nice. Top with extra cocoa nibs. The Hungry Mouse’s instructions are excellent, and I recommend that you follow them.

Curl up on the sofa, and enjoy! And remember that there’s only 50 more sleeps ‘til Christmas! *squee*