Since the beginning of time, we’ve met with many a famous couple: Adam and Eve, Caesar and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Harry and Sally, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Yves Saint Laurent and Victoire Doutreleau, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, James Bond and an endless row of girls, Miss Marple and Mr Stringer, Tintin and Captain Haddock, but the most successful couple to me is a strawberry and the cheesecake she’s just been introduced to. Admittedly, their love affair won’t last long, a fork will be their hangman, my stomach their grave, but neither did Romeo and Juliet’s, and so I will continue to help any strawberry meet the love of her life, my cheesecake. Short live the happy couple!
Pasta e basta! To me, a much more fitting maxim to act on than Louis XIV’s l’état, c’est moi, maybe because I don’t have a state to call my own and reign in as I please, but mainly because I love to eat, and if I ever were to become the King of France, they probably would call me Le Roi Cuisine instead of Le Roi Soleil. Anyway, pasta is the best there is. If a pasta dish is properly done, you cannot top it, not with the best recipes in the world. Fine pasta, no matter how easily it is to prepare, puts any cook to shame, no matter how highly decorated. Tonight, I put them all to bitter shame with penne rigate, black olives, tomatoes, anchovis (grinded in a mortar to make it almost dissolve in the sauce), olive oil, chillies, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and some sauteed prosciutto crudo. Yum! The state of pasta, c’est moi!
Lately, I started to eat oranges as a refreshing snack after dinner because I don’t drink them anymore for breakfast. Instead, I have a bloodbath. You see, pomegranates make the best juice, but pressing them demands a certain amount of precision, the fruit is easily cut in half, just like an orange, but don’t get fooled, the seeds are highly explosive, you don’t want to put to much pressure on the skin or they spatter everything from top to floor with their thick red juice and you end up renovating your kitchen on a daily basis and coming in late to work. And nobody, absolutely nobody wants to hear your excuse. But once you’ve developed some technique, you are rewarded with great taste and enough vitamins, flavonoids, antioxidants, minerals, and other healthy stuff to easily turn 100. Or even older. 107, for instance. Depends on how much you drink, I guess.
When I turned 35, I was frolicking through the food halls of La Grande Épicerie de Paris on Rue de Sèvres, in Paris’ stylish 7th arrondissement, to get some tea from Kusmi, I was in desperate need of new supplies of Prince Vladimir and St. Petersburg, my two favourite blends (and boxes, because who am I kidding, I buy it mostly for the boxes), but then I got sidetracked, sidetracked by a salami that looked so yummy as any salami ever could, the sign said “saucisson des Abruzzes”, and although I didn’t know where the Abruzzo (or is it “Abruzzi”?) are, Italy, I guess—I do have to look it up one of these days—anyway, I was sure that they produced the best salami in the whole world, it just looked so yummy—perfection, absolute perfection! I bought 500 gr of it, a baguette, a bottle of red wine, can’t remember what kind but I guess St.Émilion as I usually buy St.Émilion, and however Italian that salami was, I was still in Paris, France, wasn’t I? I made it happily to my hotel nearby to meet my parents who were waiting in their hotel room, you see, after dropping my tea in my room, I was supposed to pick them up to go to a nice place to celebrate my birthday, kind of a family tradition to dine in Paris on our birthdays, but I had just made a change of plans: I was planning on having a picnic in my hotel room! Baguette, salami and Bordeaux while looking out of the window. How swell, I thought, how very swell – but my mother’s reply was “What? Are you crazy?” – an hour later I had Bœuf Bourguignon at a nice place on Île St. Louis. Mothers! But I kept the box. I’m a romantic.
I am a heavy drinker; of tea, that is. My afternoons are consumed by tea breaks, it starts with bringing water to the boil, counting the spoons, deciding whether it’s going to be tea from Assam or Darjeeling, Kusmi or Fortnum & Mason, pure or with some fancy aroma, Earl Grey or Queen Mary, with or without milk, there a thousands of questions to be answered with a every new brew. And then there’s the question of the cup, elegant or convenient, convenient meaning big enough not having to pour a new cup after every sip. My favourite convenient cup is actually a bouillon cup, a bouillon cup that lost one of its handles many a year ago, turning itself into a tea cup (I’m to blame for that—coincidence? I think not), it’s big enough for a bouillon spoon, Carson, the butler at Downton Abbey told us about these somewhat démodé items of cutlery, but more importantly, it’s big enough for a heavy drinker’s mouthfuls. I love that cup. And I think I’m having another pot of that organic grown Assam now. Milk in first.
Austria is very blessed a country. They not only have Sissi, that wonderful iconic empress played so heartbreakingly sweet by Romy Schneider, more importantly, they are lucky to have the very best pastries in the world. You all know the Sachertorte from Sacher’s in Vienna, probably the most famous chocolate cake in the world, although it’s not the vast amounts of chocolate that are to blame for its fame, but the fine layer of apricot marmalade, then there’s Demel on Kohlmarkt near Hofburg Palace, purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court of Austria, the best pastry shop in the world (at least, as far as I’m concerned) with an absurdly delicious range of tarts and cakes (and a very yummy Beef Wellington, too) that make you forget all about the importance of beach bodies in general and very much of your own in particular, and finally there’s Kaiserschmarrn, a kind of elaborate pancake with lots of rum raisins—and some apricot marmalade to dip your pieces into for a slightly sour yet very fruity contrast. That one, at least, you can do all by yourself (don’t forget some grated lemon peel, it’s quite crucial), for anything from Sacher or Demel’s you need years and years of training… Years!