The Thanksgiving Pioneer

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I’ve had a good run of successful Thanksgiving meals here in France. My first and second Thanksgivings were celebrated in Rennes with a big group of friends, mostly American. The third was a small affair here in Central Brittany with my boyfriend, an American and French couple and another British couple. This year I was the lone American at Thanksgiving dinner: the Thanksgiving Pioneer spreading the gospel in my small corner of Central Brittany where everyone I know is either French or British. There were 11 of us: 6 Brits, 4 Bretons, and me, l’américaine. For all but 4 of us, it was the first Thanksgiving experience ever. The French contingent didn’t really know what to expect from a Thanksgiving meal, and the Brits’ expectations were probably let down considering what an institution roast dinners are in the UK.

Toby and I made roast pork, roast potatoes, gravy, apple sauce, cranberry sauce and peas. Everyone else who came brought one side dish and one dessert. I must say that Thanksgiving potluck-style is a beautiful thing. As Toby did most of our share of the cooking, my only real task that day was to set the table.

A table for eleven

A table for eleven

Everyone did an amazing job with their contributions. In addition to what Toby and I made, we also had sweet potatoes ‘with jazz’, creamy purée of butternut squash, quiche, mashed carrot and turnip, and sage and onion stuffing. And for dessert, we had apple crumble, apple tart, fruit trifle and pumpkin pie. It was all delicious.

The spread

The spread

We're almost all here

We’re almost all here

Working off the calories with some after dinner kung fu

Working off the calories with some after-dinner kung fu

The night rushed by in a hazy whirl of red wine, but overall I can gladly report that my fourth Thanksgiving in France was a success. Here’s to the fifth…

Posted in Food, Holidays | 3 Comments

Home again…

DSC_048012 flights, 4 timezones, 3 states and 2 countries later, we finally arrived back home in our little village in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Brittany. Home to Autumn and a garden floor littered with apples, mushrooms, walnuts, chestnuts, and leaves of all colors.

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It’s been over a month since we came home, but I think we’ve only just now recovered from our epic American tour… however, there are worse ways to recover than roasting chestnuts on a crackling fire, bundling up for walks with the dogs in the ever-increasing cold, and harvesting, peeling and storing nuts and apples galore.

But my favorite Autumn past time by far, has been foraging for mushrooms. I’ve always wanted to learn how to gather mushrooms (without poisoning myself), but have never gotten around to it. As there are so many local Bretons who grew up in these forests and really know their champignons, I couldn’t let another Fall mushroom season pass by without taking advantage. So I asked my friend to show me his secret mushroom spots, and he kindly agreed.

Following the expert

Following the expert

As we made in into the depths of the forest, he started pointing out the edible mushrooms: giant cèpes, delicate chanterelles, and billowy white pied-de-moutons. 

Un cèpe

Un cèpe

Les chanterelles

Les chanterelles

Les pied-de-mouton (Sheep's foot)

Les pied-de-mouton (Sheep’s foot)

When I wasn’t squinting intently at the forest floor to find the mushrooms hiding amongst the fallen leaves, I was drinking in the colors of Fall.

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We had the best luck with chanterelles; they were everywhere. My bag filled up more quickly than I could’ve imagined, and before I knew it, I had 5 kilos worth. Rain put a bit of a damper on our hunt, driving us back to the car sooner than I would’ve liked. Even so, we had a very bountiful foraging.

Pied-de-mouton, this one still eludes me. My friend found most of these...

Pied-de-mouton, this one still eludes me. My friend found most of these…

My bounty of chanterelles, I took home 5 kilos from 1 hour in the forest

A bit of my bounty of chanterelles

I’m hooked. I can’t wait to get back into the forest in search of more mushrooms (even though our kitchen is already full up of trays of drying chanterelles). As Autumn quickly slips into winter, I am happy to have an abundance of mushrooms to make warming dishes like Mushroom Stroganoff, Omelette aux chanterelles, Mushroom Gravy and Mashed Potatoes. That, in combination with our big new wood burner will hopefully keep us warm through the next few months. We’ll need it: we had our first snow fall yesterday, with cold winds blowing relentlessly from the North.

Posted in Food, Happy events | 3 Comments

Home sweet home, my beloved California

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After a blissed-out 12 days in Hawaii, we felt ready for the rush that we knew our time in California would be. Even so, it was with heavy hearts that we bid Kauai adieu…We had less than 6 full days, and in that time I had to show my boyfriend around my hometown, introduce him to all my family, friends, family friends, and neighbors. Phew. Oh, and I had to introduce him to Mexican food as well…

And that I did. We went on the Mexican food tour of North County San Diego…

Our first stop, on the way home from the airport, was Juanita’s in Encinitas. Perfect for a late-night greasy snack. We had chicken tacos and veggie burritos.

The next day, it was off to my favorite Mexican restaurant for a sit-down meal and margaritas, Norte in Carlsbad.

Beef Enchilada with Rice and Beans

Beef Enchilada with Rice and Beans

Chicken Taco with Rice and Beans

Chicken Taco with Rice and Beans

When my friend Kate came down from LA, we hit up Bull Taco and the campgrounds in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Not only is the food creative and amazing, but the view is pas mal...

Taco's Galore:  We tried beef, shrimp, fish and duck.

Taco’s Galore: We tried beef, shrimp, fish and duck.

Content with his Bull Taco meal and endless refills of Coca-Cola (a uniquely American phenomenon that he cannot wrap his head around!)

Content with his Bull Taco meal and endless refills of Coca-Cola (a uniquely American phenomenon that he cannot wrap his head around!)

Twinsicles: Kels and Kate

Roomies from San Francisco reunite: Kels and Kate

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On our second to last day we met best friends Lisa, John and their daughter Layla at Tony’s Jacal in Solana Beach. It’s not my favorite, but it has a good atmosphere.

Sweet little Layla Loo...a true California kid, with Mexican food all over her face...

Sweet little Layla Loo…a true California kid, with Mexican food all over her face…

Mexican food isn’t the only tasty thing in California. On our last day in So Cal, I took Toby to the legendary In-n-Out for burgers. This is the one fast food joint that I support.

That's the face of someone tasting In-n-Out for the first time: wonderment

That’s the face of someone tasting In-n-Out for the first time: wonderment

Fast Food Perfection:  Animal-Style Cheeseburger, Fries and a Strawberry Milkshake

Fast Food Perfection: Animal-Style Cheeseburger, Fries and a Strawberry Milkshake

In between stuffing our mouths with burgers, tacos, tamales, enchiladas and burritos, we also managed to see all of my good friends in San Diego, have a BBQ in Toby’s honor so he could meet all of the family friends and neighborhood friends, go to the beach, laze in the jacuzzi every night, visit an amazing guitar shop, Buffalo Brothers, so Toby could meet his email corespondent owner James Hood, oh, and we went up the the Bay Area for less than 12 hours…

Despite already being crunched for time to do everything we wanted to do in San Diego, and being very sick of airplanes, we hopped on a flight to Oakland so Toby could meet my brother. We met up at Gather in Oakland for brunch. Toby and Jess meeting was always a concept I dreaded, so I was happy that there was plenty of food between them to prevent any potential hyperglycemic meltdowns, which are known to happen from time to time in our family…

Pizza and a hungry brother

Pizza and a hungry brother

Little Gems Salad

Little Gems Salad

Things seem to be friendly...

Things seem to be friendly…

Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup

At brunch, someone threw around the idea of driving to Sonoma to visit one of our favorite winery’s, Iron Horse,  and somehow enough of us thought it was a good idea at the time to go ahead with the crazy plan. Don’t get me wrong, I love Iron Horse. And it was Oyster Sunday. Oysters, champagne and a killer view still weren’t worth it for the long drive there and back when we’d already spent a big chunk of the day driving and flying.

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But the whole excursion was worth it so that Toby and Jess could finally meet.

Also for the views of the famous rolling golden hills of Northern California that I miss so much…

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Oh, and the views from the Richmond Bridge…

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And the epic sunset that saw us off as we drove back to the airport that night…

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A couple of days after our whirlwind trip to Northern California, we were packing our bags and leaving San Diego. My time in Southern California never seems long enough, but this time it seemed particularly rushed. I’m looking forward to my next visit when I can just stay put in one place for a couple of weeks!

After our short week in San Diego, we had a night and a half day in New York to squeeze in some more cuddles with my nephew Rowan, and then it was back to Paris to Rennes to our quiet little corner in the Breton countryside.

Posted in Food, Recipes, Travel | Leave a comment

Around the World in 25 days, Part 2: A moment in San Diego and a blissful eternity in Hawaii

2. From New York to San Diego…

They say that the West Coast is the Best Coast. As a native Californian born and bred in San Diego, I have to agree. California has a special place in my heart that no other place in the world could hope to compete for. I’m always so excited to visit where I grew up, to see my friends and family, soak up the landscapes, and eat enough Mexican food to get me through until my next visit. So, although I was sad to leave my sister and my nephew behind, I was bouncing with excitement as we boarded the plane to San Diego.

One 6 hour cramped and hellish flight later, we touched down. We had a mere 23 hours to quickly give my boyfriend a tour of my hometown and introduce him to 2 of my best friends before we were off once again to the airport, headed to Paradise.

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Just after the plane, happy to be on solid ground

Just after the plane, happy to be on solid ground

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3. From San Diego to Hawaii…

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We left San Diego in a daze; the jet lag had finally caught up with us after the whirlwind 2 days in New York. Despite our fatigue, we were brimming with excitement to visit Hawaii. It would be Toby’s first ever visit, and my first visit in 6 years.

As a young girl I spent a fair amount of time on the island Kauai; it’s my family’s second home. But as I’ve gotten older, the opportunity to tag along with my parents has diminished. Toby had dreamt of going to Hawaii ever since he was a little boy, a fantasy born of watching reruns of Hawaii 5-0. So this trip had a whole new element of excitement for me: I could rediscover my beloved Kauai as well as show it off to Toby.

When I had imagined our trip to Hawaii, my mind didn’t go much further than the two of us stretched out on the beach, working on our tans. However, the reality was quite the opposite: it was a mad rush to do every activity on the island (impossible), and eat at all of our favorite restaurants.

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Our first 6 days were spent on the South Shore in Poipu, in my parent’s magical property, The Amazing Views Hale.

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We used Poipu as a base to do everything we wanted to do on the South Shore and West Side.

We snorkeled at Poipu Beach, where we saw 3 sea turtles, and hoards of the beautiful state fish of Hawaii, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

We had a spa day at the Hyatt Anara Spa, a rare and magical indulgence to celebrate Toby’s birthday.

We visited Allerton Botanic Gardens, a beautiful nature reserve where the last Queen of Hawaii lived.

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After the botanical gardens we hiked into the nearby secret beach Lawai Kai. It’s a picture perfect beach with fine white sand and epic bodysurfing waves, and because it has no public access, there is hardly ever anyone else there.

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We visited the caves at Makauwahi, an archaeological hot spot for fossils, and then the nearby Gillham’s Beach.

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Lil' tortoise not too happy to be woken up from his nap

Lil’ tortoise not too happy to be woken up from his nap

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We drove to the far west side of the island to see the famous Waimea Canyon. On the way, we stopped off at Hanapepe, a cute little town that is reminiscent of Plantation-era Hawaii.

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Typical Hanapepe plantation-style building

Typical Hanapepe plantation-style building

From Hanapape, we continued on to the town of Waimea, and then up the mountain to the Canyon, stopping off at several viewpoints on the way.

First stop was the Waimea Canyon viewpoint where you can see the “Grand Canyon” of Hawaii.

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On top of the world

On top of the world

The very top of the mountain, the overlook of the Kalalau Valley. When we arrived, the view  of the valley below was impeded by swirling mist. As we stood there saying what a shame it was that Toby couldn’t see the most beautiful view on the island, the mist suddenly started evaporating until suddenly, what an instant before had been a grey wall of cloud, had disintegrated into the breathtaking view down the mountainous valley that leads down, ending in the wild ocean of the Napali coast.

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Before doing a nice long hike at the Canyon, we stopped off for some energy in the form of lunch at The Lodge at Kokee. This place serves simple, local food without flare.

Loco Moco: Hamburger Patty, Fried Egg and Gravy Served Over Rice

Loco Moco: Hamburger Patty, Fried Egg and Gravy Served Over Rice

Kalua Pork (cooked in an imu, an underground pit) with Rice and Veggies

Kalua Pork (cooked in an imu, an underground pit) with Rice and Veggies

Coconut Pie and Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Pie

Coconut Pie and Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Pie

Then it was off to the Canyon Trail for a 3 hour hike with some seriously breathtaking views.

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On the way down the mountain we stopped off at another viewpoint to appreciate the view of Niihau, the small private island off the west coast of Kauai where 200 native Hawaiians live.

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Niihau off in the distance

Niihau off in the distance

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Barren red earth, the result of a long ago fire

After our beautiful hike at Waimea Canyon, we stopped off in the town of Waimea at the base of the mountain for shave ice at Jo Jo’s Anuenue. This can be a bit confusing as in Waimea there are actually 2 shave ice shops called Jo-Jo’s. The first one, Jo-Jo’s Clubhouse was sold by the original owner Jo-Jo, who then, years later, opened up a second shop down the road called Jo-Jo’s Anuenue. We have recently switched from being fans of the Clubhouse to Anuenue because we find that the Clubhouse often has grumpy customer service and isn’t very clean!

My shave ice: Guava, Coconut and Lilikoi (passionfruit) with Haupia (Cocount Custard) Cream Topping

My shave ice: Guava, Coconut and Lilikoi (Passionfruit) with Haupia (Coconut Custard) Cream Topping

Toby's first ever taste of shave ice

Toby’s first ever taste of shave ice

We caught up with some old friends over drinks and dinner.

Mom and Patricia

Mom and Patricia

Toby's first pina colada, and my last mai tai (forgot I don't like them)

Toby’s first pina colada, and my last mai tai (forgot I don’t like them)

We watched sunset on the lanai (terrace) everyday, usually accompanied by a glass of wine or some variety of rum cocktail.

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And of course, while on the South Shore, we ate at some pretty great restaurants.

Joe’s on the Green:

This is a great spot for breakfast. Their Banana Macadamia Nut Pancakes with Coconut Syrup are as good as anywhere else, but what makes it really nice is the view.

Corned Beef Hash, Hawaiian Style

Corned Beef Hash, Hawaiian Style

The crew

The crew

The best combo ever: Banana Macadamia Nut

The best combo ever: Banana Macadamia Nut

Hawaii in a nutshell: A hybrid of many cultures

Hawaii in a nutshell: A hybrid of many cultures

At the terrace of Joe's on the Green

At the terrace of Joe’s on the Green

Casa di Amici:

This is my all-time, hands-down favorite restaurant on Kauai. The restaurant itself is adorable, tucked into a residential neighborhood, with terrace seating aplenty. Service is great (an absurdly attractive) and everything I’ve ever tried here has been delicious (with the exception of the paella, which was bland and gummy).

Ahi Sashimi Starter

Ahi Sashimi Starter

Fish of the Day

Fish of the Day

The House Specialty: Porcini Crusted Chicken: prepared in a sun-dried cherry-port wine mushroom sauce with   grana padana parmesan and fresh basil polenta

The House Specialty: Porcini Crusted Chicken: prepared in a sun-dried cherry-port wine mushroom sauce with
grana padana parmesan and fresh basil polenta

The underwhelming Paella: it looks better than it tastes

The underwhelming Paella: it looks better than it tastes

Birthday boy blowing out the candle on his Baked Hawaii

Birthday boy blowing out the candle on his Baked Hawaii

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Baked Hawaii: Meringue with a Chocolate Cherry Cookie Base, Guava Sorbet and Lilikoi Sauce

The Restaurant at the Golf Club of the Grand Hyatt Hotel:

At night, this restaurant is Yum Cha, an upscale Asian restaurant. But during the day, it is Yum Cha’s less formal cousin, the unnamed restaurant at the Golf Clubhouse. The food is great, and so is the view.

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Fish Tacos with Pickled Vegetables

Fish Tacos with Pickled Vegetables

Softshell Crab BLT

Softshell Crab BLT

Lobster Spring Rolls

Lobster Spring Rolls

All too soon, half of our stay in Hawaii had flown by and we were packing up to move to the East Side of the island, where we stayed in my parent’s other magical vacation rental in Kapa’a, The Niulani Beachfront Home.

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The East Side has a lot less tourists, and a lot more locals, so it has a very different vibe from Poipu. While on the East side, we mostly hung out near the house at the beach just in front, sunbathing, swimming and collecting beach glass.

The highlight of our stay in Kapa’a was when my best friend Arden and her boyfriend Eric came to visit us. While they were with us, we went to the North Shore for a day. The North Shore is probably the prettiest part of the island, though it’s difficult to say as it’s all so beautiful! We started off by exploring the quaint town of Hanalei, and then headed to Lumahai beach, where a huge stretch of white sand is bordered by a fresh water river that flows into the ocean

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We did some rock diving into the cold fresh water of the river

We did some rock diving into the cold fresh water of the river

Me and Ardie hangin' out

Me and Ardie hangin’ out

The boyz

The boyz

After a few hours at Lumahai, during which Eric saved a young local boy from drowning when he was sucked out into a very strong rip current, we drove down the end of the road to the start of the famous Napali hiking trail and Ke’e Beach.

The whole crew above Ke'e beach

The whole crew above Ke’e beach

My adorable parents on the Napali trail

My adorable parents on the Napali trail

On the way home to the East Side, we stopped at a viewpoint to enjoy the view of the valley below us.

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The last commercial taro fields

The last commercial taro fields

It was sad to say goodbye to Eric and Arden, but after a long weekend with us, it was back to their busy working lives in Honolulu.

The rest of our stay flew by:

We had an adventure in the form of an intertube sugar cane canal tour.

We watched sunset almost everyday, and sometimes sunrise also.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Sunset

Sunset

We went to the farmer’s markets at Lihue and Kilauea. I definitely filled up on as much fresh mango, papaya, coconut, guava, lilikoi and starfruit as I possible could while I was there. Some of the fruit looks too crazy and exotic to be real.

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Hawaiian Green Beans

Hawaiian Green Beans

Ginger galore

Ginger galore

Besides cooking at home with the amazing fresh produce and seafood that the island has to offer, we also ate at some amazing restaurants while staying on the East Side:

Kalapaki Beach Hut:

This is my favorite place to get burgers on Kauai. Located right next to beautiful Kalapaki Bay, this little hut of a restaurant serves up some mighty fine fries and taro chips with their burgers.

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2 veggie burgers for the vegetarians, and 2 bacon cheddar cheesebugers for the carnivores

Hamura’s Saimin:

This place is an absolute institution. In the days when airfare was cheap, Hawaiians used to fly in from the other islands just to get a bowl of saimin. Saimin is a plantation era inspired noodle soup unique to Hawaii,  a sort of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian and Portuguese cultural fusion, with spam of course. To say it’s a hole-in-the-wall is a bit gracious. If you’re a carnivore, get the special saimin. It’s a magical combination of pork belly, boiled egg, imitation crab, spam, cabbage and onions. Cheap and cheerful.

The business

The business

Before

Lilikoi Pie: Before

After

After

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Duane’s Ono Char Burger:

This place is a blatant rip off of California’s In-n-Out Burgers, but still pretty good. In my opinion, not as good as Kalapaki Beach Hut. But if you’re craving “animal style”, this is a lesser substitute.

But then, after we’d eaten at practically every restaurant in Hawaii, enjoyed 12 glorious sunsets, hiked all over the island and swam at our fair share of beautiful beaches, it was time to pack our bags and fly back to California…

A bientôt Hawaii, j’espère…

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Posted in Food, Restaurants, Travel | 8 Comments

Around the world in 25 days, Part 1: New York City

Okay, so we aren’t really going all the way round the world, but it feels that way.

1. From Paris to New York…

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Our arrival in New York got off to a bumpy start when my boyfriend got held up at customs because we had failed to fill out a form called ESTA prior to our arrival in the States. As it was his first visit to the US, and I come in and out of the country on an American passport, we had no idea that this formality existed. After threatening to put him on an airplane and send him right back to France, the grumpy border control agent grudgingly completed the form for us and sent us on our way. But we quickly forgot our rocky start as the frenetic glories of The Big Apple more than made up for the trouble.  We had a whirlwind 2 days in which we packed in 1 week’s worth of sightseeing, grâce à my sister’s mad driving skills and gracious and patient tour giving…

We saw three museums:

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the Met

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and the MoMA.

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The Guitar and The Guitarist

The Guitar and The Guitarist

We went on a musical tour of New York to see the old haunts of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

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Cafe Wha, Jimi's old hangout

Cafe Wha, Jimi’s old hangout

The Dakota Building, where John Lennon lived and died.

The Dakota Building, where John Lennon lived and died.

We ate at oh so many delicious restaurants, including my favorite: Ippudo NY for Ramen

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We walked the high line (my favorite thing to do in New York) at sunset. If you didn’t know, then you’re about to…New York has some seriously righteous sunsets.

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We saw the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

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We walked through Central Park.

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We perused the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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We drove all over Manhattan, including Times Square (hell).

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The new World Trade Center

The new World Trade Center

Oh, and  just to push us over the edge into extreme exhaustion…on our last night we went to a Deer Hunter Concert (epic).

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But more important than all the monuments and museums of NYC combined…I saw my family and 2 of my best friends.

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But all too soon, it was off to JFK for the next leg of our big American adventure…

Posted in Food, Restaurants, Travel | 6 Comments

A quick jaunt to England

For the 3 and a 1/2 years that my boyfriend and I have been together, I’ve heard a lot about where he came. I’ve heard him wax nostalgic over the beauty of his native Southwest England, clotted cream, Woolworth’s, custard, pasties and all manner of British things, but I’ve not heard him say many positive things about his hometown of Plymouth. Mostly he’s talked about the rampant crime, disrespectful and rebellious youth, overly fast-paced lifestyle, terrible traffic, etc. So, imagine my surprise when, upon visiting said infernal city, I found instead a breathtakingly beautiful one.

We have been planning a Fall trip to the U.S. (his first) for almost a year now. We had a really busy summer so the last thing I imagined is that we would try to squeeze in a trip to England in the one free week we had before our big American tour. But, that’s exactly what we did. Monday morning saw us driving away from the grey fog of Central Brittany towards the coast.

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We had just enough time for a quick tour of Roscoff before getting on the ferry…

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I learned that he had not been exaggerating about the vertigo and nausea that this perilous crossing can induce. But, five hours later, we were relatively unscathed as Plymouth loomed into sight on the horizon. As we crawled closer and the shapes began to emerge, I was blown away by what I saw:  a big city tucked into the shelter of a beautiful bay, with the expanse of the shimmering Atlantic ocean at its front, the sprawl of the moors at its back, Mount Edgcumbe and the Cornwall coast to it’s left and the Devon coast to its right.

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By the time we reached the ferry port and drove our car past customs, a beautiful sunset had lit up the sky.

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We passed quickly through the city center and headed out to the coastal countryside to his mom’s house for a reunion with his family (my first time meeting them!) and a much-needed good night’s sleep.

The next day we woke up early and set out for a tour of the city . There’s nothing like being shown around a city by a native. I loved all of the anecdotes, and randomly bumping into people he knew.

We ran into his niece on the water taxi

We ran into his niece on the water taxi

Our first stop once we got off the water taxi was the Mayflower steps, where the Pilgrims set off from to land in America.

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From there we meandered our way through the Barbican, a port-side neighborhood with lots of rustic charm.

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One of Robert Lankovitch's famous paintings

One of Robert Lenkiewcz’s famous murals in the Barbican

A shout out to my siblings

A shout out to my siblings

For lunch we stopped off for a famous Ivor Dewdney pasty. A pasty is a Cornish meat pie that is wildly popular in the Southwest, and according to my boyfriend, Ivor Dewdney is the best.

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After lunch, we headed over to the Hoe, a vast and sprawling verdant neighborhood right on the water’s edge.

The wheel at the Hoe

The wheel at the Hoe

The famous lighthouse at the Hoe

The lighthouse at the Hoe, maybe you recognize if from this famous image, though it’s had a fancy paint job since thenPSTR_BEAT_HOE

Drake Island

Drake’s Island, where Sir Francis Drake set off from to circumnavigate the world

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But, it’s not all rainbows and roses in Plymouth. Despite the beautiful geographical location and quaint neighborhoods like the Hoe and the Barbican, it was a city heavily bombed during World War II, and thus some of its beauty has suffered. Much like Brest and Lorient, many of those voids were rebuilt in that terrible 50’s, 60’s style mock Bauhaus architecture which just hasn’t aged well. And like all big cities, it has its safe neighborhoods and its sketchy neighborhoods. But all in all, it’s gorgeous.

On our second day, we fulfilled a long-awaited childhood dream of mine inspired by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters when we visited the English moors.

Dartmoor is just a short 30 minute drive from the Plymouth city center, but it feels like a world away.

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Doing my happy moors dance

Doing my happy “I’m in the moors” dance

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The moors were better than I could have ever imagined. The grass is springy and soft like a dream and so so green, the rivers have the clearest, sweetest water and the cows and sheep and horses run wild. Beautiful, ancient stone formations dot the hills that roll as far into the distance as you can see.

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The animals on the moors are even happier than the Breton ones, if that’s possible.

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Typical

Typical

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After all that running around on the moors, we had a big appetite. Toby decided that I must try a traditional English Roast dinner,  known as a carvery when you get it at a pub.

We chose an aptly named Pub for our carvery

We chose an aptly named Pub for our carvery

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While Toby has made me many an English roast dinner before, it has never been on this scale. This was like Thanksgiving on steroids. So many things to choose from! 4 meats: Gammon, Ham, Turkey and Beef. 3 types of gravy, mint sauce, parsley cream sauce, cranberry sauce, assorted mustards, and the sides…apple sauce, stuffing, carrots, peas, cauliflower, mashed potato, roast potato, leeks, onions, and yorkshire puddings bigger than your head. I loaded up my plate, putting the smallest amount of everything, because of course I had to try it all. I finished it all off with a smattering of beef gravy, but somehow, according to Toby, I did it wrong. The gravy is supposed to be “the background” whatever that means. Oh well, I’ll never be English and I’ll never be French, but I’m getting used that that.

Even with the most minuscule amount of each thing, I really had to battle to finish it all. And yes, I did have to finish my plate, even though it have me a stomach ache for the rest of the day, because I’m stubborn and I abhor wasting food. As I sat there in the pub booth, moaning in pain, it suddenly made complete sense to me why Toby had never been enthralled by the idea of Thanksgiving. They have it every Sunday in England! And you can have it everyday for 6 pounds in a pub…

We headed back to Toby’s mom’s house for a long walk on the beach to help me digest.

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All too soon our short trip was at an end and we were boarding the night ferry back to Brittany. Back to responsibilities and packing, before we’re off again to the USA.

A bientôt Plymouth, je t’adore…

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A not-so-lazy summer

If my first winter living in the Breton country side was long, slow and cold, my first summer has been just the opposite.

It started off with a whirlwind trip back to the United States for my brother’s wedding in New York.

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I hit the ground running; I arrived 4 days before the wedding and in that time had to locate the rare tailor in New York who wasn’t so booked that they could squeeze me in to hem my bridesmaid’s dress last-minute. Once that was done, I scrambled to find shoes for the wedding and a dress for the rehearsal dinner, help my sister do the flowers for said rehearsal dinner and generally cope with the madness that ensues leading up to any big family event. And this was no ordinary family event, but a big New York wedding with over 250 guests. Despite the size and the formal attire, the wedding was so fun and laid-back. We danced the night away in between multiple courses of a delicious dinner. Oh, and there was an ice cream truck…

Girls gettin' ready

Girls gettin’ ready

Boys all ready to go, and the cutest nephew in the world

Boys all ready to go, and the cutest nephew in the world

Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids

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The newly married couple

The newly married couple

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Family boogey down

Family boogey down

After all the excitement leading up to the big night, and a late bedtime, we were all pretty exhausted the next day. So naturally we recovered with even more copious amounts of food and alcohol at a brunch.

We were all tuckered out the next day...

We were all tuckered out the next day…

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Father and son (the happy groom)

Father and son (the happy groom)

We didn’t have much time to recover though before we were packing up and flying to California. To beloved friends…

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the backyard of my childhood home…

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delicious Mexican food…

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margaritas…

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bloody mary’s…

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and beautiful beaches…24742_936426067503_1246547_51161649_7688528_n

My six days in San Diego flew by far too quickly and before I knew it I was back in Aéroport Roissy making a mad dash to catch my train back to the middle of nowhere. I just made it, with 2 minutes to spare!

Since my return to Kreizh Breizh (Central Brittany) it’s been a whirlwind of work (as a waitress at a local crêperie), hosting French students for English immersion (one student after the next from June-September) and making the most of the gorgeous un-Breton like weather we’ve had for most of the summer by biking, hiking, and rowing in our Canadian canoe…and when I have the odd spare moment, a bit of trying to catch up in my sorely neglected garden.

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Lac de Guerlédan

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Friends come to visit

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One of the many summer BBQs…

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Summer concerts galore

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The dogs don’t move too quickly in this heat…

My two boys having a summer's say snooze

My two boys having a summer’s say snooze

The dogs have shed their winter coats and are soaking up the sun too

The dogs have shed their winter coats and are soaking up the sun too

Our new arrivals:  Mr. Green and Miss Scarlet.

Our new arrivals: Ducks Mr. Green and Miss Scarlet.

Garlic, one of the few things I've grown successfully this year.

Garlic, one of the few things I’ve grown successfully this year.

We have one more week of students, and then it’s off to England and the United States! Counting the days…

Posted in Food, Happy events, Travel | 2 Comments

24 hours in Paris

Though I was I just in Paris recently, I went back once again for a brief 24 hours to meet up with my friend Kate, who was travelling in Europe with her mom. As Kate and I lived in Paris together as students, and her mom has done all the tourist stuff in Paris before, we opted not to do any sight-seeing. Instead we did my favorite thing to do when in Paris. We walked around enjoying the sights, sampled some pastries, ate at delicious restaurants and sipped wine and coffee at various cafés!

I would highly recommend all 3 of the restaurants we at at:

  • Café Constant: A bistro-type atmosphere on the trendy street for hip restaurants/pastry joint Rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th arrondissement, not far from the Eiffel Tower.
  • Le Coupe Chou: A traditional French restaurant and wine bar in the 5th arrondissement, a bit off the beaten tourist track. The exterior is covered in ivy and the interior is just as quaint with its massive wooden and stone fireplace and it’s cave that looks like it’s probably part of the catacombs.
  • La Bouteille d’or: A restaurant set right off the Seine in the 5th arrondissement, with a perfect view of Notre Dame. The decor is stark and modern but the food is simple and classic. This is the only restaurant where I took photos of my food, as I had not had my camera with me on the first day.
    Legumes croustillants au pistou

    Legumes croustillants au pistouMagret de Canard avec pommes de terre sautéesMagret de Canard avec pommes de terre sautées

    But even more than the food, the wine, and the glorious landscapes of Paris, I enjoyed spending time with my friends

    Kelsey and Kate

    Kelsey and Kate

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Spring arrived…along with some visitors

The middle of April it finally felt like Spring. Overnight, everything burst to life: one minute it was winter, everything dormant and cold, and then the next it was sunny, and flowers and birds song came to life. It was much needed around here, after 6 months of winter and a generally miserable last year weather-wise. And, it was just in time for all the visitors!

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The middle of April saw me packing my bags for Paris to meet up with some of my favorite people. Just after arriving, I met my sister and nephew Rowan who were fresh off the Eurostar from London. Seeing my  family is always like coming up for air…

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That night we caught up with my dear friends Kelsey and Steven who are now living their own new Parisian adventure as a graduate student and a law student. The next day my gorgeous friend Emma arrived, and Kelsey, Emma and I reminisced about the good ole’ Teaching Assistantship days in Rennes.

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And then the following day my brother-in-law joined us after finishing his work in London. The weather was beautiful for us, and we had a short but sweet visit in the City of Lights, despite some major mishaps with our rental apartments.

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Oh, and you’re probably wondering about food. Besides gorging ourselves on Parisian baked goods from a variety of boulangerie across the city, we also had an amazing meal at Le Temps des Cerises in the Marais.

Joue de bouef en choux  Beef cheek in cabbage

Joue de bouef en choux
Beef cheek in cabbage

Then we were off, heading back to the Promised Land: Rennes. I had a long-awaited reunion with most of my friends from the assistantship. Kelsey, Berit, Emma and I enjoyed a romantical dinner at our favorite Rennais restau Chez Paul.

Started: Bulots (Sea Snails) with Potatoes

Starter: Bulots (Sea Snails) with Potatoes (I may have started eating before I remembered to take a photo, hence the messy plate)

Main Course: Cabillaud (White Fish)

Main Course: Cabillaud (White Fish)

Dessert Sharesies: Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream with Roasted Bananas

Dessert Sharesies: Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream with Roasted Pineapple

Dessert Sharesies:Mille Feuille

Dessert Sharesies:Mille Feuille

The following day Maren, Peter and Ro joined us for a market excursion, picnic in the Thabor park and of course, some coffee and cake at Apple Pie. All of my favorite things. But then, all too quickly, my family and I were back in the car heading home to Kreizh Breizh (Breton for Central Brittany), leaving my friends behind in Rennes.

We had a lovely week with Maren and Peter here. The weather was amazing, which made up for the terrible Spring weather they experienced during their visit last year. Hence, we spent a lot of time outside, exploring nearby villages, walking in the forests, hiking, barbecuing, soaking up the sun.

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Last year when M&P visited we went to Cancale, Saint-Malo and Dinard. The big draw to the coast was oysters; we are a family obsessed with oysters. So this year, we went one step further and visited the source: Riec-sur-Belon.

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The flat oysters of Belon are meant to be the best in the world. In almost every country you can find flat oysters called “Belon” for sale in the chichi-est restaurants, but it can only really be a Belon if it comes from the waters of this small town on the Finistère Coast.  Only then can it have the meroir that makes a Belon a Belon. And the belon of all belons comes from Anne de Belon

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Anne’s oyster beds

We first heard about Anne de Belon in the very same Anthony Bourdain episode that led me to the famous Seafood Tower. After having watched that episode so long ago, and having dreamed of Anne’s oysters for so long, walking towards her operation was a bit surreal.

The last leg of the oyster pilgrimage: Anne de Belon

The last leg of the oyster pilgrimage: Anne de Belon

It was worth the wait. But, I will say that I think Cancale oysters are just as good, if not, dare I say it, even a bit better. Or maybe I’m just partial because I have been to Cancale so many times. Either way, you can’t really lose if you’re eating oysters from anywhere in Brittany.

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After Belon we headed to Pont Aven, an extremely picturesque and somewhat bustling little town just inland from Riec-Sur-Belon. After a quick nose around and a lovely picnic lunch by the river, and then we headed back to the coast to visit the thatched roof village of Kerascoët.

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Thatched Roof under repair

Thatched Roof under repair

We capped off an amazing week of sunshine with a big birthday bash chez nous for our friend’s 60th birthday.

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The next day we said a teary goodbye to my family, but I’m comforted by the fact that I will see them in just one month when I go to New York for my brother’s wedding…

*Thanks Emma and Maren for some of the photos!

Come back Rowan, come back!

Come back Rowan, come back!

Posted in Food, Happy events, Restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments

An Indian Feast fit for a Birthday Boy

A reluctant friend shared his birthday with us this week. He isn’t one to relish attention on his big day, but I coerced him out of his shell with the promise of curry. Have you ever met a Brit who doesn’t love curry?

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Menu

Curried Lentils in Tomato Sauce
Spicy Vegetable Red Curry
Saag Paneer with Homemade Cheese
Hardboiled Eggs
Rice
Buttery Garlic Naan Bread

Curried Lentils in Tomato Sauce

From Martha Stewart

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 piece fresh ginger (2 inches long), peeled and finely grated
Coarse salt
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala (sub cumin if you don’t have this spice mix on hand)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 jar (26 ounces) best-quality store-bought tomato sauce ( I made my own with a can of tomatoes, smashed, seasoned with salt and pepper and stewed with 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes)
2 cans (20 ounces each) cooked lentils, rinsed and drained (Or cook your own from dried lentils as I did)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime) (I subbed for a lemon)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish (optional) (I used parsley instead)

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and ginger; season with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add spices; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds.
Add tomato sauce, lentils, and 1 cup water. Simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in lime juice and cilantro; season with salt.
Serve lentil mixture with rice; garnish with more cilantro, if desired.

Saag Paneer

From 101 Cookbooks with notes from Caely in double parentheses

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 pounds fresh (baby) spinach, well washed and dried
2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
8 – 12 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (( I made my own paneer with the help of this beautiful blogpost))
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon spice mixture* (see below)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup buttermilk ((I didn’t have, so I subbed 1/2 cup of plain yogurt))
splash of cream or dollop of plain yogurt (optional)
fresh lemon to finish, and toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle

Chop the spinach well, and set aside in a large bowl.

While you’re chopping spinach, cook the paneer in one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure the paneer is in a single layer and use a spatula to flip it regularly so all sides get deeply brown. This typically takes 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of butter in your largest soup pot. Add the onions and salt, and saute until the onions soften up, five minutes or so. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, and turmeric. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nicely combined – a minute or two.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach to the pan all at once, if possible. Cook, stirring all the while, until the spinach is collapsed and wilted, a couple of minutes. If you need to add the spinach in batches (adding more spinach as it collapses), that is fine too, just do it as quickly as possible.

Stir in the buttermilk and cream and heat gently while stirring. If the mixture seems dry, add more buttermilk a splash at a time (this rarely happens to me). Taste and add more salt if necessary and more red pepper flakes if you like. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stir in the paneer, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

*Spice Mixture: Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the following spices as finely as possible: 2 tablespoons cumin seed, 1 tablespoons coriander seed, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 3 whole cloves. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.

Spicy Red Vegetable Curry

3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
3 large potatoes, boiled and cut into bite size pieces
5 carrots, sliced into 1/2″ thick slices
3 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tbsp red curry paste
400 grams (16 ounce) can coconut milk (you can sub with a mixture of equal parts chicken or vegetable broth with plain yogurt)
225 grams (1 cup) peas

Warm oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add carrot, potatoes, garlic and curry paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add coconut milk or broth and yogurt and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until carrots are soft.

Buttery Garlic Naan Bread

Adapted from Anjum Anand for BBC

Serves 5

Ingredients

For the dough

250g/9oz plain flour
2 teaspoons sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
110-130ml (3½-4½ fl oz) milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the topping

2 tablespoons butter, melted 
3 cloves garlic, chopped 

Variations: Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, chopped parlsey

For the dough, sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a bowl. In another bowl, mix together the milk and oil.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the liquid mixture. Slowly mix together the dough by working from the centre and incorporating the flour from the edges of the ‘well’, to make a smooth, soft dough. Knead well for 8-10 minutes, adding a little flour if the dough is too sticky. This can be done in a mixer if you’re lazy like me!

Once kneaded, place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea-towel and leave in a warm place for 10-15 minutes. Form the dough into five balls.

Preheat the grill to medium and place a heavy baking sheet on the upper shelf of the grill to heat. If you don’t have a grill handy, preheat the broiler of your oven.

Roll the dough balls out quite thinly, ideally in a teardrop shape, but really this is just aesthetic. Brush the naan with the melted butter and then sprinkle over your chosen topping and press into the surface of the dough. Place the naan onto the hot baking sheet and grill for just 1-2 minutes, or until lightly browned, or place onto a baking sheet and cook under broiler for 2-3 minutes.

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