31 January 2014

i love rice

m-adventure pt. two : i love rice

location | Antananarivo, Madagascar

Rice, I genuinely love it. I'm going to put this down to genetics and an ever growing love affair. I can honestly say that I was pretty excited when a got a rice cooker for Christmas a few years ago. All I could think about was how much rice I could potentially eat. Nom.

If you are a fellow rice-lover, then Madagascar is an ideal destination [I think Asia's a pretty good bet too but they don't have lemurs to hang out with while you're eating all of that rice]. Why? Because to the majority of Malagasy people, rice is a staple. Some countries eat lots of bread, others potatoes or noodles, but Madagascar… it's all about the rice. White rice, brown rice, black rice, red rice [yes, red! thanks to that lovely red soil], there's something for everyone. Hurrah!

(main) keeping it simple: "what's available: rice, accompaniment (various options), soup. Come in madam/sir!"

A typical day could see you eating rice with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Generally, a big heap of rice is the core of the meal and then loaka [the tasty bit to most] is added with a vegetable accompaniment on the side called lasary [normally a tomato salsa or carrot-cabbage salad]. Oh and don't forget the sakay [chilli paste] for spicing things up a bit. I also really like a dish called vary amin anana, a warm savoury rice soup with greens [delicious for breakfast], and ravitoto sy côcô which is ground cassava leaves in coconut milk. These are all lunches I had, Malagasy/healthy-style: (1) rice with carrot-cabbage salad, black-eyed beans, chilli peppers, carrot and green bean ratatouille and angivy [african aubergines, bitter but tasty] (2) rice with chicken and peas, cucumber salad, green bean and carrot ratatouille (3) rice with carrot-cabbage salad, chilli peppers, angivy, pumpkin and chayote [pear squash / vegetable pear] ratatouille.

To me, it's a much healthier and natural lifestyle. Everything I ate either came fresh from the garden or from locals who grow [or find] their own produce to then sell at roadside markets. As for homegrown goods, I was nowhere near brave enough to climb a thinly branched tree but Claude was and he collected so many chuchus [chayote, vegetable pear] for us from the vines in the garden. (1) Claude braving the mango tree to collect chuchu for the next two days' meals (2) winning: a basket full of chuchus, litchis, tomato fruit and herbs all from the garden (3) me attempting to "help" with a stick.

If the garden has an off day or you want variety slash find something a little different then the roadside markets are the places to be hunting and gathering. Whether you are in town or coming back into town from somewhere fun, there will always be sellers with delicious and fresh goods on the way. (1) plump peaches and rosy plums [the sweetest, juiciest plums I have ever eaten!] (2) a more traditional roadside style market with a variety of greens and vegetables (3) discovering local purple mushrooms [nom, delicious].

And though there are butchers amongst the markets, we always buy meat fresh. And when I say fresh, I mean alive. Some may be uncomfortable if you're not used to this but I like knowing exactly where my food comes from. [Caution: please do not try this at home unless you have experience and knowledge of how-to] (1) all our market veggies, and I guess we're having chicken tonight chick-chicken tonight (2) I see your pig in a blanket, and raise you a pig in a basket.

For something a little bit more special, you'll have to drive out of the city to a place called Behenjy where there is a special little shop. This shop is in a restaurant called Coin du Foie Gras and it sells small tubs of the most delicious foie gras I have ever tried. They come in various flavours: natural, black pepper, rose, ginger, vanilla and more. If you're adventurous I would definitely go for it and try out a new flavour combination, and if you're feeling indulgent the restaurant also serves a Royal Hamburger which is steak haché, salad, tomato, pan fried foie gras, cheese and gherkin in a bun with fries for a cool £12. Nom. (1) restaurant Coin du Foie Gras, a foodie's dream (2) where you could casually chow down on some high-end Royal Burger.

When you're done with the hunt for some good food, then other fun things you could do are (1) try my favourite soft drink: Bonbon Anglais, local lemonade which literally translates as English Sweet [expect it to be sweet as] (2) try a local snack called mofo gasy or mokary, a sweet rice cake which you can have plain or with coconut. Yumm-y.

And if it's all getting a bit much, head back out to the countryside to admire where all this delicious fresh food comes from. (1) carrying leeks through the rice fields (2) chayote / vegetable pear heaven, vining everywhere (3) flags galore: the rice is ready!

So that was what I ate. Nothing weird really but maybe a few new things some of you might not have tried before. Felt super healthy afterwards which has inspired me to eat fresh wherever possible now that I'm back. 

To find out what I actually did in Madagascar, check out m-adventure pt. one : the red island.


27 January 2014

the red island

m-adventure pt. one : the red island

location | Antananarivo, Madagascar

Boy does it feel like ages since my m-adventures. Anyway, it's here, finally! So, where did I go and what did I get up to you ask? This is Part I of [hopefully*] a series and I would like to introduce you all to the beautiful country of Madagascar. [*please bear with me, there are bazillions of photos to go through!]

five [fun] facts | Madagascar...
1. is also known as the Red Island because of its distinct red soil/earth.
2. is the 4th largest island on earth [about three times the size of England] and the 46th largest country.
2. is a biodiversity hotspot with 8 out of 10 species found nowhere else in the world and many still to be discovered.
3. is the home of the lemur [my favourites are the Sifaka and the Black-and-White Ruffed] and vanilla [yummm-y]. 
5. is one of the most impoverished countries in the world with 82% of people living on 32p or less a day.

the trip | Antananarivo and beyond

This is Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital, from one of the highest points in the city next to the Rova, aka The Queen Palace. It's one of the best views of the whole city so if you ever manage to get there make sure you go. I mean, just look at it. I always feel very calm when I see a view like this. From here you can also see the famous Lake Anosy, also home of the Black Angel monument. You can also see the Hilton from here (next to Lake Anosy) but that's not really a landmark per se.

During my visit, I stayed at the lovely Antshow Arts & Cultural Centre. It's made out of traditional red brick [thanks to that lovely red earth] and has been built using traditional methods. (1) I love the courtyard at Antshow because it was just a great place to chill out: sunbathe, read and eat - everything you'd need on a holiday really. (2) This is Tiger, one of the beautiful American Amstaffs that lives at Antshow. Isn't he just such a cutie! He loves to sunbathe and this is his favourite position which I call "the frog" because he properly spreads himself out like one.

I mainly stayed in Antananarivo during my visit using my time to catch up with family and just immerse myself back into Malagasy daily life. It had been a good few years so I wasn't short of things to do! Although my Malagasy is slightly more foreign-fied now, it was great to brush up and feel part of local life again. Integrating was made that much easier by all the friendly, smiley faces too. (1) Visiting a primary school in Mazoarivo and admiring the view. (2) People watching and umbrella admiring under the burning sun [it was about 30 degrees, mmm my favourite]. (3) Enjoyed watching this cutie while she ate her lolly and danced around with her friends.

Although it is the capital, staying in Antananarivo doesn't mean that you only get to see built up city life. Just a 30 minute drive out and you get into the start of the beautiful countryside. One of my favourite landscapes in Madagascar is seeing houses in the middle of rice fields with jungly, green hills in the background. (1) Traditional painted red brick house amongst the rice fields. (2) If you don't have your own car, escaping the city means going on an adventure and grabbing a taxi-brousse (a must try experience for the adventurous as you get to travel with people and all sorts of live animals)!

On route, you will undoubtedly go past many a market stall. Usually selling anything from fresh fruit, vegetables, [some live] animals to plants and [my favourite] handmade crafts. It's very unlikely you'll miss them as they are either super colourful or busy busy drawing in the crowds, both locals and non-locals. I get distracted by anything shiny so this is dangerous ground for me but lots of fun! (1) A beautiful and lush flower and plant market selling both for the house and garden - they had the most amazing roses. (2) Local artisans getting creative with colourful raffia and making original craft onsite, from bags to decorations to lemur-shaped ornaments. (3) What I chose: a cute rainbow shoulder number :)

In amongst the countryside, there are also some amazing local businesses. A particular one we stopped at was a workshop which got creative with metal - outside there were garden ornaments in all sorts of shapes [baobabs, lighthouses, grasshoppers, birds, etc.] and inside there were intricate lamps, mirrors, jewellery and more. What really touched me about this place was that not only was the workmanship incredible but the actual setting [meaning their office, shop and grounds] was just so special. The buildings are also built in a traditional style but with a twist, which meant lots of interesting shapes and textures. Some of my favourite parts were the baobab toilets and helicopter duck house. (1) Entrance and main house / shop. (2) Sleepy puppies. (3) Best friends: dog and duck. I was told they enjoyed playing duck duck goose together. Not really though, that just seemed like a nice story in my head.

By car or by foot, exploring is my favourite thing to do! A few days during my stay we went right out of Antananarivo to get fresh air, fresh food and have a little relax from city life. All I can say is that it was green green and green, with red earth of course, and I was definitely in my happy place :) (1) Winding roads in amongst the hills of the outskirts of Antananarivo. (2) My 4x4 chosen footwear for exploring [had to co-ordinate with the ride, obviously.] (3) Tangled trunk trees making beautiful shapes in the green.

We discovered traditional little villages, with hundred year old houses still standing strong and livestock ruling the courtyards. Exploring also meant fun for our little friends from Antshow. (1) This is Tchippie, the second American Amstaff that lives at Antshow, a one-year old hyper puppy [yes, puppy!], who loves the outdoors and running up hills whenever she gets the chance. (2) Blue veranda red brick house in an old traditional village on one of the sacred hills of Antananarivo. (3) Chicken run: the local poultry's favourite form of transport for everyday village life. Goes down really well with the chicks.

It was a pretty incredible trip and I have made a pact with myself that I can't leave it too long before I go back again. Madagascar is a vast and beautiful place, and I know I have so much more of it to explore. I cannot wait to go back. Even now, I am still missing how warm and welcoming it is. So, if you hadn't already thought about it, I hope this has given you a little taster or inspiration to hop on a plane and explore it too :) (1) It's so lush that even in the most unlikely places [e.g. a rock] there is green! Magic. (2) A valley of rice fields looking beeeautiful as ever. The rice lover's dream [i.e. me]. (3) Chilling in some tall grass, because I could.

Part I of my recent m-adventure done. Part II will be coming shortly. This time, we'll be looking at the food. Yes, that giant elephant in the room: did I eat anything weird and how excited was I when I ate it? You'll just have to wait and find out soon. Watch this space. And, thanks for stopping by and getting through all of that!


15 January 2014

live fresh

First off, Happy New Year to all of you lovely people!

Gosh, 2014 already. I was very lucky to have whisked it in whilst on m-adventure but more on that soon… I have a really good feeling about this year though so am excited to kick it off with a post full of vegetables and personal aims for the coming year. 

January is always a funny month. Most [me included] get a sudden urge to start a-fresh, start something new or make a positive change in their every day lives. I generally don't like the word resolution - mainly because it makes me think of lists; lists that might mean I get to the end of a year and find I haven't ticked off any of my resolutions off, ha [meaning the art of "managing <my own> expectations"]. So, instead I try to decide on one mini personal challenge so that I can experience something new, adopt a slight lifestyle change or learn a new skill. 

the challenge | every year it's different [and hopefully achievable]. It is only one challenge after all... Last year, I wanted to try at least thirty different exotic fruits [this excludes your bog-standard bananas and apples]. By the 31st December, I had achieved a pathetic total of ten, meaning I failed. To redeem myself, and also inspired by a recent trip to Madagascar where I ate fresh food everyday, I want to expand last year's challenge to: live fresh. It won't be possible all of the time [YEY for "cheat days"] but I'm aiming to eat fresh, drink fresh and exercise fresh (outside) as much as I can this year. OK, it's really three goals in "one"… eeep.

With the Challenge Accepted, first stop this weekend was Marylebone Farmers Market to grab fresh food in preparation for the week ahead. Diane and I aimed for the end of the market in order to get the best deals but were so late that most of the stalls had packed up [woops]. As a result, I ended up panic-buying the goods of the remaining stalls… which turned out to not be that bad as I still managed to get a wide variety of delicious goods. Will do better with that next time though… Clearly jet lag has made my brain mushy and super slow =)

in my basket | leeks, chinese leaves, beetroot, watercress, squash, onions, eggs and homemade asian chicken broth

Post the mini market-sweep, Diane and I decided we needed food and warmth so opted for the nearby Coco Momo for coffee and lunch. She went for toast plus a yoghurt berry granola combo [healthy healthy] and I opted for a goats cheese, tomato and caramelised onion toasted sandwich [naughty], all pretty tasty.

Overall, I think it was a good start to my 2014 challenge. Once I'm back in the groove properly, live fresh should hopefully be going strong. If not, please feel free to poke and pressurise me, or even better - join me! If you do decide to try and live fresh with me this year, let me know how you get on and please share if you find any great markets or places for me to take advantage of.

As much as I miss adventuring, it's good to be back in London-town. Much aided by my girlies and their warm welcome back =)