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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Barcelona: Modernism & Barri Gotic

So it was the last day of our stay in Barcelona (at least for this time).  We thought about going to Casa Batllo, but we felt that we had already overdosed on Gaudi the day before.  We decided to simply gaze at this building from outside, and not go inside.  It is a very interesting building..


We just walked around the Eixample area that morning, admiring the buildings.  I am interested in architecture, but without really knowing much about it.  So we ended up just roaming, looking up, and occasionally taking pictures whenever we came across something amazing.  This happened approx. every 15 minutes.


Almost without realising, we did walk quite a lot.  ..we started feeling hungry, and realised that it was lunch time again. We decided to go back to Taller de Tapas, where we went on the second day.

ほとんど気づかないうちに、かなり歩いていました。お腹も空いてきて、あ、もうお昼だ...と気づいた感じでした。お昼はどこに行こうか迷ったのですが、二日目に行ったTaller de Tapas にまた行くことにしました。

On our fist visit, a few dishes were already finished (i.e. they ran out..).  So, we had a bit of re-match:

These were my first ever razor clams.  It was delicious - it tasted just like clam (not sure what I was expecting).  I loved the juice, which I mopped clean with my bread, of course.



Some lovely octopus, cooked to perfection.  It goes so well with fruity extra virgin olive oil...


We treated ourselves to some dessert this time.  We ordered fresh cheese with honey and pine nuts (apparently a typical Catalan dessert), and an almond cake (Torta de Santiago) that came with sweet wine called muscatel (which had a similar flavour to port wine).  They were both very good - the cheese was a bit like ricotta, very light, and milky rather than creamy.  What I liked about the almond cake was that it was very simple and had no "unnecessary additions"- such as almond flavouring.  I just enjoyed the rich nuttiness of almond and the fragrant sweet wine.   


We continued our stroll through the Gothic quarter and Born area, until the time we had to go back to the hotel to pick up our luggage.  (The hotel we stayed was very good -


... And we said Adios to Barcelona - to the beautiful buildings, to the warm sun, to the streets full of relaxed families enjoying their strolls, to the ever-eating Spaniards/Catalans, to the cheerful cervecerias and wonderful food that we enjoyed so much.
It was a truly lovely, relaxing, and fun-filled holiday.


Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Barcelona: Gaudi Tour & Pintxos

On the third day, we went to where we had to go.  Sagrada Familia.
It opens at 9 a.m. and we probably arrived around 10.30.  We had to queue for about 45 minutes to get inside, and I am sure that the queue got longer as we stood there.


To our disappointment, the staircase to go up the tower is now closed.  When I came with my sister in the late 90's, we could walk all the way up.  Now the only option is to go by elevator, which said "waiting time: 90minutes".  We skipped.

I will let the photos do the explaining of what the building was like..

エレベーターは「待ち時間 90分」とあったので、上に上がるのはやめました(別料金だったし)。

Nativity Facade(キリスト誕生の場面を模した入り口)

Passion Facade (キリストの受難を模した入り口。ここから中に入れる)


Looking up... 天井。

We went for lunch after that- it was a looong walk, but well worth it.  We went to a place called Cerveceria Catalana, which happened to be the big sister of Ciudad, the place we went on the first day.  We were worried that we might not get a seat, but luckily we did.  The tapas there were excellent!!!  I wished that I had 5-6 stomachs so that I could try everything on the menu..

そこからかなり歩いて、やはりおすすめだというレストランに向かいました。Cerveceria Catanala というお店で、偶然にも初日に行ったお店の姉妹店でした。人気店だということで、席があるか心配だったのですが、ちょうどテーブルが空いて、座ることができました。
ここのタパスもおいしかった!!! 胃袋が5、6個欲しくなりました。メニューのどれを見ても、食べたくなってしまって...。

Perhaps these mussels were the plumpest mussels I have ever seen.  Full of flavours, bursting with rich juice, it was gorgeous.


Classic, calamari fritters.  I loved the lightness of the batter, and the sweet, soft flesh that goes wonderfully well with a squeeze of lemon.


With our stomach full again, we made our trip to Parc Guell, to continue our Gaudi pilgrimage.  We took the wrong route (which we blame the guidebook for), and went up the steep hill, when we could actually take an escalator.
The park felt fun and playful- I liked this place more than I did Sagrada Familia (if it is comparable.. I don't know).


Surprisingly, we were hungry again by 7pm.  We had a bit of hiccup which is not worth writing here (we can only blame the guidebook... again), but finally went to a place called Euskal Etxea (  It is a restaurant attached to a Basque Cultural Centre.  This place was.. so fun and wonderful.

向かったのは、Euskal Etxea ( というお店で、バスク文化センターに併設されています。

You enter the restaurant, and it looks like a bar, but with a long counter filled with plates with small canapes. These canapes - a piece of bread with salmon and chopped onions, stuffed roasted pepper, or ham and cheese, etc..- are called Pintxos, which apparently are a Basque-style snack.  All of them are fastened with a cocktail stick.


Customers take whatever they want - you don't even bother the staff, you just grab what you feel like having.  You only talk to them to have the plate, or a drink.  You don't pay until the end.


One very important thing is, that you HAVE TO keep the cocktail sticks, as that will tell how much you need to pay.  All the pintxos are priced the same, so it is easy to calculate.  What a fabulous idea!  We also love the fact that it is based on people's honesty.


We had a wonderful selection of pintxos.  Just look at these colours..




Again, I wished I had more than one stomach.  I wanted to demolish them all.


What a happy day it was, filled with so much good food..  (we also had gelato and polvorones..)


Monday, 28 December 2009

Barcelona: Churches and seaside

On the 2nd day, we went to the Cathedral, just off La Rambla.  The area, which is called the "Barri Gotic" is very picturesque.  The area is "Gothic", but apparently the building itself was completed in the early 20th century.
Inside the Cathedral was surprisingly busy, with most of the visitors being tourists (you could tell because of their cameras).


We then moved on to the seaside for lunch.  We had made a reservation at a restaurant called Aqua (, which was recommended by a good friend.
We ordered Paella with artichokes, squid and prawns, and fideua.  Fideua is like paella, but uses short cappellini instead of rice.  Both were very good.  They both had the deep, rich flavour of seafood.  The serving was very copious, so we had to skip dessert...


We then took a walk along the seaside, to help digest the big lunch we just had.  The weather stayed dry and warm, but the sun was hidden by the clouds..  We took a metro back to the city centre.


We then headed over to Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar.  It was a surprisingly airy church- perhaps because the chapels did not have any "gate", it made it look so open.  According to our guidebook, it took only 55 years to build, and is built in Catalan Gothic style.  I liked it very much.


Now, fast-forward to dinner.
We decided to go for another Tapas dinner, as you can easily regulate the quantity you are eating.  We went to another restaurant recommended by our friend (she gave us a list of restaurants to go), called Taller de Tapas.  It was nicely lit with festive little lights, and we could tell that it was a popular place for tourists, as well as locals.

食べる量を調整しやすいので(お昼が重かったから…)、またタパスのお店に行くことにしました。Taller de Tapas というお店で、こちらもAqua を紹介してくれたのと同じ友達が教えてくれた場所です(彼女が「バルセロナのレストランリスト」を作ってくれたので、もっぱらそれに頼りました。感謝)。

My favourite that night was chorizo cooked with asturias cider.  I have had chorizo so many times, but this was by far the best.  It almost crumbles in your mouth - so soft and tender, and full of flavours.  We dipped our breads and soaked up the lovely juices too.


At the end of the meal, I ordered tea again- and guess what?  This time, rooibos tea arrived.
It didn't matter, and I liked the tea, but I wonder if they ever drink English tea in Spain.  What is the most common tea??
I know, you might say who cares, when they make such great coffee..!

「お茶」って言った場合、何のお茶が一番一般的なんでしょう ?(←普通、ヨーロッパでは紅茶)ちょっと疑問。


Sunday, 27 December 2009

Barcelona: La Rambla and La Boqueria

It's been a while since I updated.. so, a bit of catch up (as I write this in Jan)..


We went to Barcelona from the 27th, staying four days.
It was my second visit- I went there backpacking with my sister more than 10 years ago.  I clearly remember how bright the sun was despite the time of the year, which was February.  This time in December it was again very warm and sunny, at least most of the time.


On the first day, we walked down La Rambla, the busiest street in Barcelona.  There were many strange-looking (at least to our eyes) street performers.  Many of them stood still, allowing you to take pictures with them, for a few coins.


On La Rambla, there is a great food market known as La Boqueria, or more correctly, Mercat de Sant Josep.  It is a great market, with lots of colourful and yummy looking food.  It was very busy - perhaps half of the people there were tourists...
Here are some shots to give you a taste of it!


Great meat shop- the butcher guy was slicing some of the cured meat, which was hung from the ceiling.  The hams were surprisingly pricey, but I guess it suggests how much care and effort have been put into them.


Colourful chillies.. though, interestingly we didn't come across any spicy dishes while we were in Barcelona.  Anyway, great colours.


Lovely mushrooms - as they were in season we did see quite a lot of mushroom dishes as "special of the day" at restaurants.  This wacky mushroom had green spots.. and looked slightly scary.


At the end of La Rambla, you get to the harbour, where you see the statue of Christopher Columbus.  It was a very clear day so lots of people were enjoying a stroll.  I think it is really lovely to live in a city that has an easy access to the sea.


Since we had an early start from London, we decided to have an early dinner, so that we could go to bed not too late.  The restaurant we went to was called Ciudad Comtal (or Ciutat Comtal in Catalan) , which was too full at lunch time to even get inside.  We ordered several dishes of Tapas - and the winner of this evening was flauta, kind of a sandwich using a thin "flute" baguette.

向かったレストランは、Ciuditat Comtal というところ。ホテルの人の紹介でしたが、お昼に行ったら中に入ることも出来ないくらい、混んでいたのです。

The filling was roasted red pepper, roasted aubergine and anchovies.  The bread was so crunchy and thin, and the texture worked beautifully.  I feel that I rediscovered my love for anchovies during this trip: with this flauta, the sharp saltiness of anchovy made an excellent combination with the slightly acidic red pepper, and creamy, sweet aubergine.  Aaaah.  I think I will keep on dreaming about this flauta for the rest of my life.


I asked for tea at the end of the meal.  Just said "tea", and green tea was brought..  The teabag was so cute/ funny, that I wanted to share it with you here (the tea itself wasn't bad, by the way)


Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Dinner  Part 2

For dessert,  we started with cheese.  We bought some beautifully stinky melting chevre from the Pyrenees and also a very deep-flavoured Beaufort from this lovely cheese shop, La Cave ( ).  We then had chocolate roulade.

デザートには、まず「芳香」の漂うピレネー産のシェーヴルと深い味わいのボーフォールを楽しみました。ロンドン市内になるLa Cave というチーズ屋さんで購入したものです(。続いて、チョコロールケーキ。

Roulade, or a rolled cake has been in fashion for a while in Japan, apparently.  This time I made it with chocolate sponge, but I am also fond of the very simple, plain sponge roll with just fresh cream (and no jam..).
The key to make successful roulade is to have the right recipe for the right size of tray - well, my "log" was longer than the one on my recipe book, so I nearly ran out of cream for coating...
I used strawberries from Egypt- which did pain my conscience a bit.  So completely out of season!  However, interesting fact that they grow strawberries in Egypt in winter (in greenhouses, I guess).


The traditional dessert for Christmas in my husband's home country is creamed rice, or ris a'lamande, served with cherry sauce.  It is actually very nice, and though it still sounds contradictory and almost a lie when it comes out from a Japanese woman's mouth (rice sweetened and cooked in cream...!) - I like it.
I debated with myself and my husband, whether I should prepare it or not, but since the roulade was on the list for a while, and since we will be travelling soon after Christmas, we decided not to make it this year.
Perhaps next year, as my mother-in-law has kindly sent me the recipe.

So, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!!



Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Dinner  Part 1

So, Christmas...

Last year, my husband got a stomach flu just before Christmas, and I didn't know what to cook.  I waited until the 24th afternoon to make the decision (congee, chicken soup or Christmas dinner?), and ran to the supermarket, looking for something nice to cook (..Christmas dinner after all!)
Sadly, all I found was chicken breast and pheasant.  I went for the pheasant, without really knowing what to do with it.
The result was.. mostly edible (apart from the shots - it was a wild pheasant, killed with a gun, apparently).



In order to avoid last year's tragedy (?), I decided to cook something that wouldn't result in last-minute panic, no matter what the situation is.  Confit de Canard!!
Confit means "preserved", and duck confit is a typical way of cooking duck leg in France.  Preparing this at home was not complicated or difficult, but took time to prepare.  This is what I did for two leg portions (one site in particular that was very helpful was this one - special thanks to this Japanese restaurant website, SOU :


First, weigh salt (1.5% of the weight of leg) and sugar (0.3% of the weight), and rub them into the meat with herbs (I used fresh thyme and dried laurel).  Leave them overnight.  Next day, wash off the salt and pat them dry, while you melt the duck fat (we purchased it separately- for two duck leg portions, you will need 500~600g) over low heat.  Set the oven temperature to 110c, and prepare an oven-proof dish deep enough that you can fit the duck legs, and can cover them with melted duck fat.  Cook for 2hrs, making sure that the meat is coated in the fat.
When cooked, put the legs in a clean container, and pour the fat through a sieve.  Make sure that the meat is completely covered.  Keep it in the fridge - they say it keeps for a month (or more..).  Mine were left for two weeks to mature..


So, this is what it looked like, when I took it out to re-heat.  I had to dig the legs out from the solid white fat...


I then pan-fried the legs (I tried to heat in the oven, but the fat explosion was a bit too much- it made my oven very oily and smoky), and served it with red cabbage and roasted veg.  By mistake, I made a huge portion of braised red cabbage (12 portions, according to Delia Smith, but luckily it freezes well..


So this is what our main course looked like..


To be continued..

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Good bye, St Alban..

We went to St Alban, which was one of our favourite restaurants in London.  Sadly, they are closing on the 24th Dec, so this was our last visit.. sniff..
We always enjoyed their paella, which within my limited experience, is one of the best I have tasted.  I do not know how authentic it is, but chorizo works fantastically with the beautiful flavours of seafood- which is cooked to perfection.  We had beautiful prawns, nice baby squids and plump mussels suffused with the lovely aroma of saffron and garlic, lying in the bed of creamy rice.
The portion was more than generous; when you order two portions (both my husband and I ordered the Paella) they bring a huge bowl and serve it in front of you.  What we loved about this restaurant was not only the food, which was great, but the friendly service and their consistent attention to detail.

この日はSt Alban というお気に入りのレストランに行きました。24日で閉店してしまうということだったので、とっても残念なことに、これが最後の晩餐です..(涙)

I was soooo stuffed, but decided to have dessert- and ordered my favourte: Tarte Tatin.  I think this was one of the best I have ever had- I had so many in Paris, but I liked their version very much.  Crispy and crunchy crust with sufficient saltiness, deep flavour of caramel and nice acidity of apple all in one.  Melting vanilla ice cream on the side.  Heaven.


We had a decaf - and look, this is what we liked about them.  Petit fours and coffee served in Georg Jensen's "duck" flask.  And, their pricing was reasonable.  From table cloth to candle stand to their ultra-chic toilets, I really liked this restaurant..  


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

KARINTO - 愛しのかりんとう

This was my teatime treat today..  I know it looks slightly scary, but they are a typical Japanese teatime snack called "Karinto".  I am not sure what it means or what the origin is.. I looked it up on Wikipedia, but even that had several theories, none of which seemed definitive.  The English description is pretty unsexy- it basically is deep-fried dough coated in brown sugar glaze (there are ones with honey and refined sugar too).


What I love about this humble sweet is the sensational texture- the crunch that is not too hard, and not too light, and the feeling of dark brown sugar breaking in small pieces under the pressure of your teeth.  Then comes the aroma of sesame, while you savour the rich, almost caramelly sweetness of the dark brown sugar.  Aaahh.  Whoever invented this was a genius.

I had my Karinto with a cup of Japanese green tea - a marriage made in heaven!



Monday, 21 December 2009

Hot Chocolate

Unlike yesterday, today was grey and wet.  Nothing beats winter blues like hot chocolate, so I made some (actually, the truth is, that I had some single cream left-over that I had to use..).
I have two favourite hot chocolate recipes: one is quick, easy and light.  The other is a bit complicated but rich and thick.  The one I made today was the latter.


There is a lovely hot chocolate recipe in a book called "The Chocolate Connoisseur".  It is a wonderful book written by a lady called Chloé Doutre-Roussel, who used to be the chocolate buyer at Fortnum & Mason.  I think her recipe is very nice, but.. I changed it a bit, and here is my own version:

Chloé Doutre-Roussel という女性が書いた、"The Chocolate Connoisseur"という本があります。彼女は、もともとフォートナム&メイソンのチョコレートのバイヤーをしていた女性で、チョコレートのことを知るにはうってつけの本です。この本においしいココアのレシピが載っているのですが、それにちょっと私のアレンジを加えたのが、以下のレシピです。

50g Good quality chocolate (70% cacao)
200ml milk
50ml single cream
2 Tablespoon good quality cocoa powder
Tiny tiny bit of salt
one sprinkle of cinnamon

1. Grate or chop chocolate finely.
2. Put cocoa in a small sauce pan, and add small amount of milk.  Make a smooth paste over a low heat.  Add the rest of milk and cream, and mix well.
3. Add salt and cinnamon.
4. Heat the milk until just before boiling, and add the chocolate.  Melt completely.
5. Now it's ready to serve!

ダークチョコレート (カカオ70%、人工香料無添加のもの) 50g
牛乳 200ml
生クリーム (植物性油脂でないもの) 50ml  
ココア 大匙2
塩 ほんのひとつまみ
シナモン ひとふり

1. チョコレートを細かく刻むか、おろし金でおろす
5. 出来上がり!いただきまーす

Since this hot chocolate is so thick, I like to serve it in a demitasse cup, and just have a small quantity.  It is rather bitter, as I don't add any sugar during the preparation.  This way, whoever is drinking can adjust the sweetness themselves.  Personally I quite like adding a little teaspoonful of demerara sugar.
The original recipe uses full-fat milk, and less cream, but since I only stock semi-skimmed milk at home, I increase the proportion of single cream.  I like the hint of cinnamon, but keep it to a level that you almost cannot recognise.  Sometimes I also add a little rind of orange..
Chloé also says (among other things..) you should leave it for at least an hour before serving at room temperature, and leaving for about six hours would be the best, as the flavour matures.  I do agree, but normally I am not so well-organised, that I just drink it straight away.  It is still good!



Sunday, 20 December 2009

Caramel Apple Muffin & playing with birds

This is my first post...
So, welcome to all who have opened this page!!  I'll try to update this as often as possible.


This morning I baked some muffins for breakfast.  Since I had some left-over caramel toffee sauce, I made caramel apple muffins with crumble topping.  I am sure I can make it better next time, but it wasn't bad.
I baked in a silicone heart-shaped mould which is from bodum, gift from my very good friend Manu.  It bakes 6 muffins, which is a perfect quantity for us.


Later we went to Kensington Gardens to burn off the calories..  It was very clear and dry and crisp, just like a winter day should be (not necessarily in London, I know).  However it was VERY cold too.. freezing cold, but I still prefer cold and clear, to warm and wet.
I never go to the park without.. peanuts.  I DON'T feed the pigeons, but feed the little birds- great tits and robins, they are so cute.  Today, I fed many of these little birds, and even managed to take a picture of a little robin on my hand, when (s)he was looking like it was thinking, "which nut should I have?  Is she really a trustworthy person??"..


After entertaining the birdies, we walked over to the pond, where there were many swans and seagulls.  I don't think I have ever seen the water looking so blue!
It was very cold, but definitely a walk worth venturing...