What can I say? I love sweets, in all shapes and sizes! You only live once, so why not indulge once in a while? Or, in my case, most of the time...
I’m going to say something that I know most of you probably won’t like. I didn’t really rate Venice. I was pretty excited to visit but I hated the feeling of being in a tourist trap. I hated the way I couldn’t seem to escape the hot summer sun beating down on me as I got more and more lost in the twisting streets. I hated getting lost every. single. time.
I am also willing to concede that first impressions are often wrong. So i’ve picked out the few things I really enjoyed while staying in Venice and thought i’d save some space in my head and my heart for a second visit. First up is the necessary pilgrimage to Harry’s Bar to have a Bellini with the ghost of Hemingway. I know that I just complained about being in a tourist trap but this one the one overpriced experience that I was willing to be a part of.
The exterior was so unassuming that I wasn’t actually sure we were there. It did seem like the kind of hidden bar that someone like Hemingway would want to hide in. Trust the Venetians to have sweet security bars on their windows though.
Harry’s Bar was opened in 1931 by bartender Giuseppe Cipriani after he was lent some money by a wealthy American, Harry Pickering after whom the bar is named. The interior of the bar reminded me of a salty seafarers haunt with the dark wood and low ceilings. Despite being surrounded by tourists, I could imagine the ghosts of rough bearded men in worn, cable knits and canvas pants, their elbows heavy on the tables as they filled up before their next voyage. That’s probably not at all how it was, but it’s how it all played out in my mind!
The signature drink at Harry’s Bar is the Bellini, made of peach nectar and prosecco and is lovely and sweet and refreshing. Apparently Cipriani named it after a painting by Giovanni Bellini because he thought the colour reminded him of a toga worn by one of the subjects. One of these will set you back more euros than you want to spend but I had budgeted for this particular expense. Also, the olives that came as part of the apperitivo were huge and briney. Delicious! Unfortunately, they didn’t replenish the olives like they do in most bars. I think this is because
1. they’re a bit tight
2. it’s actually quite a small venue and they want to move people through quickly
So we came, we drank, we soaked in the atmosphere and we left with lighter wallets. I enjoyed the experience but I can see why many would baulk at the expense. If you’re a fan of Hemingway though, it’s probably worth a visit. (Wikipedia will tell you there were a host of other famous people who frequented Harry’s but Hemingway was the only one I was really interested in. Sorry!)
Calle Vallaresso 1323
30124 San Marco
Open: Daily 10.30am – 11.00pm
On our final night in Milan we found ourselves wandering the streets in search of a fancy bar that I had read about in a guidebook. Unfortunately, I am pretty much the worst navigator in the history of the world and had not only forgotten the map but forgotten the name of the bar. We walked for what seemed like hours until deciding to just give in and find somewhere less fancy and more filling. Hubs thought that he recognised the area of the city we had wandered into and remembered eating at a great pizzeria with his family years ago. After wandering aimlessly some more, we decided to employ the fail-safe method we had developed of finding somewhere good to eat in Italy – the white neon sign. It seemed as though the white neon was the secret code for “this is not a tourist trap but a pretty nice place to eat”.
The interior of Sabatini is large and welcoming with staff who are clearly experienced and genuinely happy to see you. After some banter with our waiter where I tried my hand at a little conversational Italian again, we settled in to do the other favourite activity of restaurant-goers which is people watching. Which is when I saw this…
Oh yes, that is a full sized motorbike in the of the dining room
It was then that hubs realized that we had actually stumbled upon the pizzeria that he had visited years earlier with his family. Win!
That conversational Italian that I mentioned before? Yeah I ordered wine in Italian. No biggie.
And before you say it, no, I didn’t order fish wine by mistake…
My pizza came exactly how I like it with a thin but soft and bubbly base, enough tomato sauce and a healthy dose of olives, mushrooms, ham and marinated artichokes. Really, marinated artichokes should be added to everything.
For our last night in Milan, this restaurant was perfect. We had a relaxed dinner of delicious pizza with friendly and attentive staff. I particularly loved the way they had all the desserts spread out on a table so that you could see what you would get when you ordered. Unfortunately, we were so damn full of pizza that there was to be no dessert! Until I caved and stopped at a gelateria on the way back to the hotel. And i’m not even sorry.
Address: Via Ruggero Boscovich 54, Milan
Opening Hours: 7 days 12pm-3pm for lunch and 7pm-11pm for dinner
One of the things i’ve learnt as i’ve grown up is that you need to make your own happiness. My husband said this during his speech at our wedding and it is wise advice. So i’ve been trying to find things in my life that calm me and make me happy when things aren’t going so well. One of these things is my little balcony garden.
My mum was always an avid and talented gardener and we had the most luscious and colourful garden when I was a child. I never had much interest or success until we moved into this apartment and I thought I would have a crack at it. What was the worst that could happen?
Being an avid tea drinker I had a couple of cute, empty tea caddys lying around taking up space so I thought, why not use them as pots? I chose some herbs that wouldn’t take up much space and wouldn’t mind being a bit stunted (as the caddys have very narrow openings there isn’t much room for the plants to grow).
I decided on purple sage (hidden at the back of this picture) and lemon thyme for this potting experiment
and potted the herbs with a bit of potting mix.
It’s far from a perfect situation for these little herbies to grow as its difficult to get enough potting mix in that tiny hole once the plants are in but they look so damn pretty I don’t even care!
These little herbs have been so resilient and given me a decent crop for my cooking. I can’t say that they have flourished but they have certainly prevailed against caterpillars, scorching hot afternoon summer sun and some seriously neglectful watering. I would probably choose tins with a wider opening or cut the top out of them next time. Please, learn from my mistakes! In the end, this project certainly helped increase my happiness and I really love sitting on my balcony and seeing my little plants grow against the odds. What small things do you do to choose happiness?
After rubbing shoulders with the rich and fabulous at the Teatro Alla Scala we had a bit of a taste for the high life. The next day we decided to take a look at 10 Corso Como, a trendy mix of fashion and design with a sprawling garden bar where you can escape the heat of a Milanese Summer. Opened in the 90’s 10 Corso Como is the brainchild of Italian Vogue editor Carla Sozzani and houses some of the most exciting and outrageous fashion and home decorating pieces i’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of place that only people who are Croesus-rich could shop at and I had so much fun imagining the kind of person who could wear velvet loafers studded with gold spikes of varying lengths, sporting a four figure price tag. If you’re on a budget (like we were, after splurging on the opera!) but still want a keepsake, there is a huge range of fashion photography and biography books. Some are in Italian and many are in English and there are also some cookbooks in the mix too. I ended up buying a cookbook of Milanese recipes written in Italian so that I could keep practising my language skills.
If you’re far too broke or don’t want to use up valuable baggage kilos on a heavy book, you might just want to chill in the garden with a cool cocktail.
I had a ginger and lime with dark rum and hubs had a gin fizz. I think it’s a bit of an Italian trait that the gin cocktails come with a maraschino cherry on top. Not that i’m complaining! The drinks came with the standard generous bowls of aperitivos which were salted nuts and chips. Not quite the olives I was hoping for but again, i’m not complaining!
10 Corso Como is a short walk from the Garibaldi metro stop and also quite close to Eataly which is why we didn’t eat more when we visited. If you want to get out of the very busy center of Milan, this is a lovely, quiet district to wander through. You can also indulge in a little people-watching as you relax.
Address: 10 Corso Como, Milan
Nearest Metro: Garibaldi
Opening Hours: Friday – Tuesday 10:30am -7:30pm, Wednesday and Thursday 10:30am – 9pm
You might be surprised to hear that eating wasn’t the only thing that we did in Milan. As we were treating the trip as a sort of ‘European Honeymoon’ we tried to do things that we probably would only do once in our lives. Doing something luxurious in this stylish city was a given and we settled on a night of opera at the iconic Teatro Alla Scala. The season had only just begun and it seemed perfect that the production that was on while we were there was Puccini’s Tosca.
We purchased ridiculously expensive tickets from the theatre’s website and ended up in an opulent box with an incredible view of the stage. The theatre is steeped in history and I felt as though we had wandered into a 19th century Russian novel where the rich and glamorous would conduct elicit affairs in private boxes when the lights were dim.
Can’t you just imagine what would go on in these boxes?
I felt a little bit sorry for some of these patrons because the angle of the boxes on the side of the theatre means that they would have had a pretty obscured view of the stage.
Each box had three rows of paired seats, each slightly higher than those in front. We were very lucky that the third couple in our box didn’t turn up so we were able to lean against the back wall for some support. The gorgeously decorated padded red velvet walls I should say….
The machine in our box that supplied English subtitles was broken and my limited proficiency in Italian meant that I was limited to understanding the occasional
or the far less polite
Still, with a basic understanding of the plot, the swelling of the music was enough to tell us what was going on in this romantic opera. We were both captivated and so glad that of all the things to do in Milan, this had been the thing we had splurged on. The prohibitive cost means that we will probably never go again but, if you can wrangle some tickets, this experience is absolutely incredible.
If you are looking to buy tickets, these are the best pieces of advice I can give you:
1. Spend some time getting familiar with the website – it can be tricky to navigate and tickets for desirable shows will sell out quickly so you want to be ready to go when your desired show becomes available
2. If you can afford it, try for a box as close to the royal box as possible and try to steer clear of the ones on the side of the theatre as you will have a partially (or mostly) obstructed view of the stage
3. Again, if you can afford it, buy tickets for the front or middle of your box. I’m not sure that the people behind us (had they turned up) would have seen much at all
4. Read up on the show that you are seeing so that you don’t get too lost
5. Enjoy the people watching! There were some amazing, glamorous outfits and some crazy, quirky ones but the people watching was almost as much fun as the show itself! Feel free to glam yourself up too. I brought a special little black dress just for wearing to the opera and I felt a little bit ‘Holly Golightly’ attending a fancy party!
For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers’ deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares : macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze.
So this may seem a little controversial, but I have come to the conclusion that macarons are a bit of a rort. This is not my first macaron rodeo so i’ve had a little experience with baking these finnicky little biscuits and I still think that the amount of time and emotional energy that is invested in these, albeit delicious, little sweets is a bit absurd. I know that there is a scientific method that we follow, but the number of variables that are utterly out of the home baker’s control and the significant impact that these variables have on the final product mean that I mostly put these in the ‘too hard basket’. For the sake of this challenge though, I dusted off my macaron stencil for a final go at them.
I’ve had zero success with the french method, so Rachael’s Italian Method was my chosen recipe. I know its all voodoo but I find something comforting in the stability of the italian meringue. But really, we all know that once that tray is in the oven, all you can really do is pray to the Mac Gods and hope that they are feeling benevolent and will bestow your little macs with some tiny little feet to stand on.
I decided to fill mine with a chai buttercream
so I flavoured a normal buttercream recipe with chai powder
(you can see how some of the tray behind went wonky and refused to pop up their sweet little feet)
and I was feeling a little bit artsy
so I decorated the top shells with some edible gold paint
So, lovely readers, how have your adventures in macaron making been? Many successes? Or is the formula to footed macs still as elusive as ever?
Macaron Shell Ingredients
140g ground almonds, room temperature
140g powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
100g egg white (from approx. 3 eggs), room temperature, divided 50/50
100g granulated (white) sugar
40g (weight) water
1. Mix the ground almonds and powdered sugar together in a bowl, then grind in a food processor until you have an extra fine texture. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your food processor.
2. Sift into a large bowl, putting any bigger pieces of almond back into the food processor to re-grind.
3. Add 50g egg whites and mix thoroughly into the almond mixture. Set aside.
4. In another bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, scrupulously clean and free of any oil or egg yolk, beat the other 50g egg whites to stiff peaks.
5. Meanwhile, put the granulated sugar and water into a small heavy-based saucepan and heat on medium-low to 118°C / 244°F, without stirring.
6. While whisking constantly on low speed (to avoid splashing hot syrup), slowly add the cooked sugar mixture to the beaten egg whites, pouring it down the inside edge of the bowl. You’ll get a bit of it hardening on the side of the bowl, but that’s okay – just leave it there.
7. Whisk at high speed until the mixture is cool, about 3 minutes. About 1 minute before the end, you can add food colouring, if not done at the almond paste stage. The mixture should increase in volume and become firm and shiny, and it should be thick and marshmallowy when you lift the whisk.
8. Scrape the meringue onto the almond mixture and incorporate with a rubber or silicone spatula. You do actually want to get a lot of the air out of the mixture – you do this by folding and squashing the mixture against the side of the bowl, rotating the bowl a quarter turn with each fold. Be sure to firmly scrape the bottom of the bowl with the spatula, so you don’t leave a layer of almond paste there. Mix until you have a homogenous batter that runs from the spatula in a thick ribbon.
9. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 7 – 9mm / #10 – #12 plain round tip (this is best done in two batches, so you don’t overfill the bag). Pipe 60 equally sized rounds, about 4cm / 1 1/2” in diameter, in staggered rows onto the prepared sheets. Hold the piping bag upright with the tip just above the sheet and pipe without pulling upwards or swirling in circles, so the batter comes out in a round blob around the tip, and give a little sideways flick at the end to break the stream.
10. Tap the baking sheet firmly on the bench several times to release air bubbles and obtain a smooth surface. If you have any tips sticking up, press them gently down with a damp fingertip.
11. Leave the tray to rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes until a slight skin forms. If you touch it, it should be only just tacky.
12. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2. Bake the macarons in the centre of the oven for 18 minutes (20 minutes if using cocoa in the shells), one sheet at a time, turning the sheet half-way.
13. Remove from oven and remove the parchment from the tray with the shells still on it and place on a cooling racks for at least 30 minutes, until completely cool, then remove macaron shells carefully from the parchment.
Chai Spiced Buttercream Ingredients
125g unsalted butter (softened)
1 1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 sachet chai powder (1-2 tbsp depending on your taste)
1. Beat the butter and icing sugar until combined
2. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time and beat on high until light and fluffy
3. Mix in the chai powder
4. Fill those macarons!