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When you fly from one side of the world to another it is always a shock to the system!  It is lovely to arrive for the end of winter, the crisp air is like an echo of our first month in London, like we have come full circle.  The distance from there to here and then to now seems vast.  For the last 8 months I have been able to hold my home at arms length and bring into focus the things that really matter.  I feel so lucky to be able to come back here with this fresh perspective on life, work and what makes me happy.

A divine tea experience

Tea indulgence at Mariage Freres in Paris

On a recent day trip to Paris I treated myself to a tea experience at Mariage Freres. Situated in the heart of the Marais area, this tea salon is a perfect respite for legs aching from a long Parisian promenade.  Once seated in the small colonial style dining room I was handed a tea menu and a little book, titled ‘The French Art of Tea’, to help in my selection. The book was perfect tea table reading covering history, selection, characteristics and food matching for all the main varieties of tea.  It was so informative that I bought one to bring home with me!  The menu was similarly impressive, a vast list of teas that are all available to taste.  Their storage must be huge.

The tea menu at Mariage Freres

I selected the top tea on the right hand column (and it wasn’t just because i was overwhelmed by the choice), called Tibetan White Tea.  Like any good white tea, it was delicate with a hint of fruit and beautiful perfume.  The tea came prepared and strained in a beautiful pot with it’s own felt insulation layer, so my brew stayed warm as I enjoyed my other indulgence.  Nothing marks a perfect Paris afternoon more than a cheeky cocktail so I selected the house named ‘Mariage’s', Marco Polo red tea with champenoise methode sparkling white wine.  The red tea was sweet and syrupy and added a lovely depth to the fresh and fruity wine. Gorgeous!

I will definitely be going back one day, after all there are so many more teas to try!  The menu also includes a whole range of snacks and meals prepared using different teas.  I can picture many more indulgent afternoons to come, I just have to get back to Paris.  It is such a pleasure to enjoy an experience where tea is front and centre, where it belongs.

Tea takes centre stage at Mariage Freres

A herbal workshop in the Cotswolds

As an Australian herbalist I am excited to learn more about the way herbal medicine is practiced in other parts of the world. Now that I am lucky enough to call the United Kingdom home for a while, I have been scouting around for ways to connect with other practitioners and herbal enthusiasts.  Via the excellent hub provided by the Herb Society website (www.herbsociety.org.uk), I came across Sarah Head and the Springfield Sanctuary in the Cotswolds (www.springfieldsanctuary.co.uk).

Sarah is the best type of herb enthusiast – one that loves sharing her knowledge as much as gathering it.  A practical herbalist, Sarah runs two herb gardens, gives tours, talks, and workshops and offers herbwifery apprenticeships.  She invited me along to a herb workshop last weekend, with promises of herb identification and the experience of making a bramble root vinegar.

I caught the train out of London with two of Sarah’s herbal apprentices, wonderful women whom it was a pleasure to meet. We were met by Sarah at the station and our first glimpse of the sanctuary was driving in through a classic Cotswolds dry stone wall, much older than I am I’m sure.  The land is gorgeous and the view…

Cotswolds view

The summer house at the Springfield Sanctuary

 We began with a cup of nettle and cleavers tea, fresh picked from the garden, while we waited for the other apprentices to arrive. Then Sarah gave us a tour of the herb gardens, showing us specific medicinal plants and trees and discussing their use.  We saw Ginkgo and Cramp Bark trees, Sage and Mullein, St John’s wort and Wood Betony, amongst many more.  It was the first week of Spring and many plants were not in flower, but it was still such an important process of recognition and a treat for this herbalist who’s training has been heavy on the theory but lacking in actual contact with the plants themselves.  We smelt, felt, and tasted herbs, until I actually felt a little light headed!

Sarah Head gives a tour of the herb gardens

Me enjoying a cup of tea

Then it was time for the hard work.  All I knew was that we were clearing a bramble patch and making a medicinal vinegar from the roots.  Not entirely sure what I was doing, I set out to help the others.  Brambles are blackberry plants with long running thorny stems which love to cover an area send down new roots.  This can suppress the growth of herbs and other plants.  So we got out the forks and dug them up.  I was aided in pulling up what I thought to be a very impressive root bundle which I lovingly cleaned and washed, along with piles more, ready for the vinegar. Continue reading

New adventure

The waiting and wondering was worth it! For the first time in my life I am living in a new city and experiencing a lightness that I never expected. It helps that my new home is a place that speaks the history of my family, my culture and my profession. London I am yours.. for a while at least.

Tea in Europe

Finally it feels like Spring!  The warm breeze lifts my spirits and eases the tension out of my winter bones.  It also  reminds me of wonderful summer days in Europe where we drove through alpine valleys, ate delicious local seafood in Italian lake towns and cheered as the Tour de France whizzed past!

I loved having the opportunity to explore European tea culture.  We visited tea houses wherever we found them and I thought I would share two of my favourites.

An inner London oasis, Postcard tea shop

The Postcard tea shop is in the middle of busy London, just around the corner from Soho.  You step into an oasis of calm, a quiet contrast to the bustle outside.  At times it was even a little too quiet, some music would have created more atmosphere, but I wasn’t there for my ears, I was there to taste!

Timothy d’Offay is extremely well traveled and knows pots about tea and the wonderful processes that bring it from tree to cup.  Pick his brain with your tricky tea questions or enjoy learning about his travels to bring the best tea from around the world back to London.

Plenty to taste, Postcard tea shop

The tea menu is extensive, with most of the tea sourced direct from small estates, selected for its quality or unique characteristics.  They also have a Tea Masters range which show off the skill and passion of experienced tea masters from China and Japan.  I was so excited tasting I forgot to write down the names of the tea, however you can’t really go wrong with this selection and the staff are on hand to guide your choice.

Send a postcard, Postcard tea shop

One of the coolest things about the Postcard tea shop is that you can choose a tea, taste it, take it home in an artistically unique canister AND send a packet to a friend as a postcard!  They have you covered, you simply pay a little extra for postage and they send it off for you.  I sent one home so it would welcome us on our return.

http://www.postcardteas.com/

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Prague has a vibrant tea culture.  People go to tea houses at all times of the day to sit and chat over pots of tea, rather than a cup of coffee.  There are tea houses dotted around the city, and we loved this one.

Continue reading

Fish #2 (Europe)

My trip to Europe was a fantastic excuse to explore local cuisines and try foods that I don’t usually come across in Australia. I continued my mission to encourage variety in my fish consumption by taking every opportunity to eat dishes that included new types of fish. Some of these were prepared in restaurants or pubs, like the wonderful battered Haddock and pan-fried Halibut with chunky chips and mushy peas at Steels in the English seaside town of Cleethorpes, and some were cooked for me by friends.  Here is a selection of the highlights for me:

Grilled Sardines with sea salt crust, Matoshinos, Porto

Grilled Sardines with sea salt crust, Matoshinos, Porto

These giant sardines were cooked in front of us on a barbeque out in the street and served with garlic and olive oil potatoes, char-grilled capsicum and grilled squid.  Small fish like this are a great choice especially if, like me, you tend to eat a lot of much bigger fish like salmon.  The smaller the fish, the less time spent in the ocean accumulating waste.  If you can eat the whole fish there are other benefits: skin and organs contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and bones are a great source of calcium.

Codfish with Cornbread, Porto

Codfish with Cornbread, Porto

This dish had a simple name but stacks of flavour.  Based around Bacalhau, dried cod which is a specialty of Portugal (although often imported from Norway or Newfoundland), this was a new take on a fish pie with potato and leeks mixed with shredded cod and topped with a delicious cornbread crust.  I love a good fish pie, an excellent way to include some vegetables in your meal.

Scorpion Fish with zucchini, olives and piquillo peppers, Le Train Bleu, Paris

Scorpion Fish with zucchini, olives and piquillo peppers, Le Train Bleu, Paris

The full title for this dish is much longer and fancier than my description, but that is to be expected from one of the most incredible restaurants in Paris.  High above the hectic bustle of the Gare de Lyon, Le Train Bleu is an oasis.  Scorpion fish is a notoriously venomous species, however I found the flavour was lacking something, until I tried all the elements of the dish together and realised that the fish had been balanced to take the vegetables into account.  What a nice approach  – a meal where the meat and veges work together in perfect harmony!

Fresh Girelles royales

Fresh Girelles royales

Our friends in Provence introduced these beautiful fish as Girelles royales.  They were bought fresh that day and cooked for us on a barbeque hot plate.  We ate them whole with bread, white wine and sunshine. Magnifique.

Grilled Girelles royales

Grilled Girelles royales, Provence