27 December, 2011

Over the mountain, across the sea


Here I am back in Chile for the holidays with my parents, my brother and his wife. Chile is a very narrow country: sea and mountain are not far from one another.

On one day, my brother and I hiked up the Cerro Pochoco just behind Santiago. Warning: it is not as easy as advertised. The rock is very brittle and we ended up having to use all fours to move both up and down. After two hours of climbing we were rewarded with an early lunch of sandwiches at 1 805 m altitude with a beautiful view of the Central Andes.

On the next day, my father took us to the seaside at the miniature village of Quintay. Frigid waters made it impossible to swim without a wetsuit but we enjoyed a lunch of fresh seafood at a small seaside restaurant overlooking this breathtaking view of the Pacific.


Over the mountain, across the sea
Johnnie and Joe, I'll be spinning, the J&S recordings, Ace records UK

05 December, 2011

The final straw

I have blogged on FAO's e-agriculture about a case study mingling the latest ICT with an every-day tool to ensure traceability of fresh organic asparagus all along the food chain from the most demanding rich-country supermarkets right back to the smallholder producers in Thailand.

Read more here.

As a result, I have had the honour to become a guest blogger for e-agriculture.

Final straw
REM, Around the sun, WEA

Photo: Jeff Golden

26 November, 2011

I will crumble I will crumble I will crumble


Last Sunday I hosted Brittany whom I had met and sung with in Bangkok. She stayed with me for a few days to visit Paris. Before coming she had browsed through my blog and asked whether I would cook for her the cauliflower soups I was blogging about. She also mentioned that she remembered my apple crumble from the time I baked one in Bangkok for a musical rehearsal.

I guess I went a bit silly because I decided she would get both her wishes, and more: the whole dinner was made of crumbles.

First, I served a cauliflower soup with bread and Parmigiano Reggiano crumbs on it. I must admit it did not look as good as the coloured cauliflower soups of the past few months but the biocoop only had the white variety last week.

Then came the entrée: cucumber yoghurt seasoned with the secret spices of Isabelle Pelissolo and crushed cereals on top. Refreshing.











The main dish was a beshamel sauce fennel crumble.

Usual salad and cheese to pass time and help finish the wine.

And finally, the long-awaited apple crumble, which I thaught Brittany how to bake.

We had a great time reminiscing our musical and food experiences from Bangkok while enjoying the food. The silliness was contagious: we both took photos of each course as they appeared on the table.

To know what Brittany thought of the crumble experience, read here.

I will crumble
Mike Vogel, Wuthering heights original soundtrack, MTV

25 November, 2011

Find your castle

Find out how I went to this beautiful castle in the middle of the French countryside where lots of interesting people had a lot of knowledge to share on food and agriculture, but I sadly had to leave very quickly because of another commitment - musical, of course.

Read more here.

Castle in the sky
DJ Satomi, Greatest hits, Sunflower

26 September, 2011

Rutabagas, potatoes and greens

Remember the orange cauliflower soup at the beginning of the month?

The latest cauliflower at the organic coop shop is green!


This is starting to become ridiculous... I'm running out of assorted table cloths and table sets.

Bets are open for the next cauliflower colour I come accross...

Green
Blake Shelton, Startin fires, Warner Bros/Wea

10 September, 2011

We're just country boys and girls

Last week I was invited by FAO to help conduct a subregional policy workshop for Southeast Asia and China on supporting farmers' organizations in their market linkage activities.

This was the first time I really got to experience the life of a short-term consultant in international agricultural development. After ten days' reviewing case studies of how farmers' organizations were involved in market linkages I flew to Bangkok on a Friday night and arrived there Saturday noon. Sunday I went to work with Betty del Rosario, the project coordinator and organizer of the workshop. I had to finish my presentations and we discussed how we would conduct the workshop on the next day. Monday and Tuesday saw two days' of intense workshoping with representatives from farmers' organizations from the subregion and a few resources persons from NGOs, the private sector and government. (A delicious welcome dinner of Thai food where we witnessed how the height of a farmers' representative is not correlated with his appetite.) In the evenings I was writing up my report.

On Tuesday noon the workshop programme gave me one hour to prepare a presentation synthesizing the results of our work from the various materials discussed during the two days: frantic copying-and-pasting. The output of the workshop was finalized at the end of the workshop and cleared by the participants. On Wednesday I continued writing my report and flew back to Paris. I sent my report for clearance yesterday Friday evening. 15 days of work more or less non-stop with 24 hours of flight and jet lag at both ends...

The first lesson I have learned from this experience: the life of an international development consultant is not for me. I can do it from time to time but I think I would not be able to lead this kind of life on a regular basis: it is exhausting!





The second lesson I have learned from this mission: it looks like the workshop method of knowledge sharing is becoming so commonly used that even farmers' representatives get into the activity without asking what they should be doing. Facilitators of the working groups emerged naturally from among the participants; rapporteurs likewise. These workshops were a great way to get the participants to discuss and forge a common understanding of issues without resorting to tedious plenary declarations on the microphone. Participants even seemed to enjoy it judging from the way some of the groups were eager to start the second group exercise.

The third lesson I have learned from this workshop: the counting method to assign group membership becomes complicated when some participants cannot speak the common working language and need a colleague-interpreter with them. For the first groupwork I assigned groups by counting pairs of participants so that all delegates had a colleague who could translate for them. However, when I tried to count different group compositions for the second group session by counting one pair out of each two, participants and I all got mixed up. I will have to think of another way of assigning groups for next time.

Photos: Betty del Rosario

Down on the farm
Tim Mcgraw, Greatest hits, Curb records

09 September, 2011

Just a spoonful

Question: What do you get when a boy who lives to cook meets a girl who only cooks because she has to eat...
but is also passionately interested in ethical businesses and developing sustainable livelihoods of local communities in developing countries?
Answer:

I have been travelling to Bangkok for work last week but I also took the opportunity to see friends and former colleagues. Nanae Yabuki, Pearl Daophises and I went to try the food at the restaurant just opened by our common friend and former colleague Regan Suzuki. It is called Seven spoons.

Regan's Thai partner was alone in the kitchen probably enjoying doing all the cooking while Regan sat with us in the wood-decorated dining room where we sipped cocktails and enjoyed the Mediterranean-inspired food. All the ingredients are organic whenever possible and Regan insists on this being a sustainable business venture for her, her partner, their suppliers and the environment.

The signature cocktail Silver spoon was light and refreshingly spicy. Regan said this was the place to come to if you could not stand Bangkok's version of the mojito: full of brown sugar and lime. Seven spoons serves the transparent original recipe.

The starters were light and made us expect more. The dishes were generous. We all shared the food so as to try as many different things as possible. The risotto ball in squid tomato gravy was enjoyed by all of us. The spinach and pumpkin ravioli were so natural all the flavours came out one after the other linked by the melted butter that topped them. The skin of the white snapper was perfectly fried to a delicious crisp on top of the filet.

The dessert selection still has to grow (there were only two items when we went) but the lemon-flavoured crème brulée served its purpose very well. None of us left any although we had all eaten a lot.

By the way, Seven spoons delivers lunch and dinner boxes in the Ratanakosin area. I have heard the meals are nutritious and exquisitely presented in biodegradable material. How greener could one get?

A spoonful of sugar
From the original soundtrack of Mary Poppins, Walt Disney

Out of an orange-coloured sky

Remember last year's purple cauliflower soup?

This month the organic cooperative supermarket has an orange cauliflower variety. This shop guarantees its food does not contain genetically modified organisms so I guess this orange cauliflower is a resurrected old variety. It is quite incredible how we could enliven our food with natural colour rather than always going for the usual green, red and white.



Orange-coloured sky
Nat King Cole, The Nat King Cole story, Capital catalog

04 August, 2011

Did you say that I've got a lot to learn?

The lessons I have learned from collaborating with my older colleagues in "knowledge organizations".

Read more here.

Teach me tonight
Dinah Washington, The ultimate collection, Master series Inc.

28 July, 2011

We were young and restless 2

We still need to unwind.

I am now also contributing to the blogs on the Young professionals' platform for agricultural research for development (YPARD).

This post reflects on the various definitions of a "young farmer" around the world. Read more here.

The first part was written last year here.

Summer of '69
Brian Adams, So far so good, A&M

19 July, 2011

Farmers of the world unite...

Strength in numbers we can get it right

Read more here.

Rythm nation
Janet Jackson, Rythm Nation 1814, A&M

06 July, 2011

Working again...

I have been allowed to blog about work once again, although not on this space.

I will be contributing this Summer to the blog series on youth, agriculture and ICTs hosted by YPARD and e-agriculture.

Check out my first blog on the lessons I have learned from facilitating an online discussion group.

Working again
Michael Stanley Band, Heartland, EMI Records

18 June, 2011

Istanbul


I went to Istanbul last week end for a few days of Middle-eastern atmosphere. Mosques at every corner; busy bazaar selling cheap T-shirts, carpets, spices and turkish delights; muezzin call five times a day; city busy with tourists; Bosporus busy with ships; grilled kebabs; turkish bath. Usual clichés, but I found them comforting for my first trip there and reminiscent of Iran, which I had visited ten years ago.

I must admit I have never been keen on kebabs. After all, it is just skewered grilled meat. So I was particularly interested to try out the Ottoman court cuisine at the Asitane Restaurant. Just like musicians playing early music on period instruments in a historically informed way, this restaurant has gone through the process of uncovering from the historical records the recipes and flavours used in the sultan's palaces. The humus was definitely not regular: a crumbly paste with whole pine nuts and cinnamon. My main dish was extraordinary. A stuffed baked melon. Imagine a British Christmas-time mince pie, add minced beef and pepper, all baked inside a ripe rock melon, served with melon flesh poached in butter. Each mouthful was a surprising combination of sugar, salt and spice. The sharp local red wine was perfect to wash the mouth before another go at the sugar, salt and spice.

If you have time and some money to spend during your next trip to Istanbul, try out this incredible cuisine. They even have historically informed kebab on the menu.

Istanbul (not Constantinople)
They might be giants, Dial-a-song, Rhino record

27 May, 2011

Catch your train!

I often hear foreign friends saying the French spend so much time eating. In some sense, I guess they are right.

Last Sunday I was hosting the soon-to-be-married Hannah and Tim who had come over from England. Their train home was leaving from Gare du Nord at 15.15. I thought if we started early, there would be enough time to enjoy a real traditional home-cooked gastronomic French lunch.

Everything was ready in the kitchen for lunch when Hannah and Tim finally awoke at noon.

They had their apéritif straight out of bed and shower! We only started on the food around 12.30: radish leaf clear soup, green salad with pan-fried duck breast slices, roast pork and assorted vegetables, asparaguses, cheese platter, Bordeaux red and Burgundy white wines. It was already 14.15 when I brought the îles flottantes dessert onto the table and Hannah just noticed that her train ticket needed to be changed if she wanted to leave on the 15.15 service to London. So Tim and Hannah left in a hurry without finishing their dessert; no coffee, tea or digestif...

The lesson I have learned: don't start a gastronomic French meal if you have a train to catch, even with three hours to spare.

Catch your train
Scorpions, Original album classics, Sony BMG

Photo: Ben Kreunen

07 May, 2011

Lisboa cidade


The past week end I travelled to Lisbon in Portugal with the Choeur Varenne. We call it our "tour": every year we choose a city somewhere in France or in Europe; we find a church or concert hall in which to sing one of our programmes for a local audience; but it is a really good excuse to spend a week end among friends while visiting interesting places and tasting the local food.

What I enjoy most in Portugal is the pastries. There is one, if not two or three local specialty recipes in each village. When one moves around the country, one gets to taste a great variety of delicious pastries, for breakfast, mid-morning break, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. Sweet tooth heaven!

In this country even the carved stones in churches can be eaten.

Minha Lisboa de mim
Katia Guerreiro, Fado maior, Ocarina

23 April, 2011

Swimmin' in the creek, way down South

Before heading for Bangkok, I spent three days doing nothing in the Southern Thai Province of Krabi. Just to rest.

I stayed at the Islanda Eco Village Resort on Koh Klang Island, just across from Krabi town. There's only a fishers' village and the resort on the island. The resort has around 30 bungalows but only around four were occupied when I was there: peace and quiet.

I chartered a boat to get to the resort. Twice in the middle of the sea, the boat stopped moving after a thud and to my surprise the boatman just stepped out of the boat! He was turning the boat around and the water only reached his thighs: it was still low tide... For the same reason, the boat couldn't reach the beach in front of the resort. I would have had to wait a long time for high tide so I reached the hotel wading through the sea, the boatman carrying my suitcase on his shoulders. Not the grandest of arrivals, but quite exotic.

The staff in the kitchen and restaurant were particularly friendly. I tried all the local Southern Thai specialties, which reminded me of the rich Malay curries. I was even allowed to buy my own chili-and-dried-fish dip from the nearby village and enjoy it with fresh vegetables and rice at the hotel. I was even given a complimentary dish from the chef at three out of the five meals I took in the hotel restaurant. First a coconut syrup dessert; another time a fruit platter; at my last lunch I was given a plate of five king prawns, grilled with sweet and sour topping, compliments from the chef! After all this, the least I can do is make some free advertisement for this great resort.


Way down South
Josh Turner, Your man, MCA Nashville

The sounds of the city sifting through trees








I just came back from a holiday in Asia, passing through Thailand and Hong Kong. I spent three days in Bangkok during the Thai new year holiday. Timing was not ideal to see friends as everybody would have been on holiday. FAO was closed so I did not try to meet former colleagues. I did manage to meet a few friends, around drinks and food, of course.

I stayed with Lien Heikens and her two delightful daughters. One night we sat silently overviewing the city from the Hilton Millenium rooftop bar, just above where I used to live.

Just as pleasant as seeing friends again, I particularly enjoyed wandering around town through familiar places. It was like meeting a very old friend again, some subtle changes here and there but still the same overall.

Old friends
Simon and Garfunkel, Best of Simon and Garfunkel: Old friends
Sony Music Catalogue

27 March, 2011

Lift up your heads!

I have been having a kind of singing marathon last week.
Wednesday: recording session with the choral ensemble Les Métaboles
Thursday: dress rehearsal for Messiah with Choeur Varenne
Friday: première of Messiah
Saturday: voice tuition.

Luckily, I now get to rest until next Thursday and Friday when Choeur Varenne will give Messiah at Saint Germain des Prés Church in the centre of Paris.

The lesson I have learned is in the title of this post.

Lift up your heads to look at the conductor during the recording: it looks better on video.

Lift up your heads to look at the conductor during the dress rehearsal and concert: the church accoustics at Maisons Laffite where we first gave Messiah were very good for the choir as we could hear all the voices. However, the conductor said she could not hear us tenors because we were all at the back. We had to look at her and anticipate all her moves rather than just follow her: tricky.

Lift up the head of the palate inside the mouth to get a clear "o" sound; mine always tends to go off compared with other vowels and I have to pay particular attention to my Os.

I look forward to the concerts this coming week.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates
Messiah, G.F. Haendel.
The English Concert and Choir, Trevor Pinnock, Archiv Produktion

02 March, 2011

I'm on the top of the world

I was most fortunate to be invited by my friend and fellow singer Eric Cogniat in his chalet in the French Alps for a few days of skiing. In the village of Puy Saint Vincent, to be exact.

Big hearty breakfasts in the morning. Skiing all day with a midday break at the altitude restaurant to try out the local specialties (rabbit in mustard sauce or cabbage sausage). Home-cooked dinner by Eric's partner Emmanuel, me or whoever else felt like using the kitchen: cheese fondue, nouvelle cuisine, traditional French five-course meal, leftover smorgasbord, chocolate mousse, banana cake, carrot cake...

It was grand, including the view from the summit.


Top of the world
The Carpenters, Carpenters Gold, Universal

19 February, 2011

Now we've had our fruit salad today

Producers of red wines are always advertising the wonderful fruity flavours one can discover by drinking their wares. I have had a complete fruit salad experience over the course of two meals with just one wine.

First, I was delighted to host my old friend from agronomics school Bastien and his girlfriend Oz last Sunday night. I had prepared pears poached in wine for pudding. Because I knew I was going to use the wine for cooking, I did not purchase the most expensive wine I could find in the supermarket. I selected a bottle of red Cheverny from the Loire region; a blend of Gamay, Cabernet and Pinot noir grapes. "Very fruity", said the label. The wine had been poached with the pears, sugar, half a vanilla pod and cinnamon powder. Left over in our bowls was a deliciously sweet and light wine syrup, which in the mouth gave out pear and vanilla aromas slowly replaced by lingering cinnamon. However, these flavours were obviously those of the other ingredients cooked in the wine.

On the following Wednesday, I finished the leftover wine with my simple dinner of soup, salad, cheese platter and lemon tart but I was quite astonished to discover completely new and diverse flavours from this rather inexpensive wine.

Drunk alone, it was not particularly memorable, suitably fruity as advertized.
Along with fresh goat's cheese, the berry side came out while accentuating the "goaty" flavour of the cheese. Together with a more mature creamy goat's cheese, the mix reminded me of ripe apples. The real surprise came with the very creamy Camembert. I was expecting the wine to highlight the pungent cheese but instead it mellowed the taste of the Camembert into a cherry-flavoured cream! Finally, with the lemon tart, the wine gave hints of almond paste.

What a fruit salad! All that from just one bottle. Or perhaps I had just been rather too generous with the rhum for my piña colada before the meal...

Fruit salad
The Wiggles, Wiggles tribute - The greatest hits, BSA Media

30 January, 2011

Drinking is good for you

This evening, I have sung for the first time in concert with the small vocal ensemble Les Métaboles, which I joined last September. It had been somewhat frustrating up to now as I had missed two previous concerts because of my travelling, although just rehearsing with the group had been very fulfilling.

We just gave a world premiere of Dimitri Tchesnokov's Concerto for Piano and Choir. The composer was at the piano and we were the choir. It is a very beautiful piece, reminiscent of the greatest Russian tradition: Mussorgsky and his musical frescoes with chorus, Shostakovitch and his piano fugues. In addition, a touch of Liszt for the virtuoso piano.

The words of the chorus part are rather desperate: a man so disillusioned by life the only thing he wants is salvation from God and vodka, lots of vodka to forget it all. It all ends in drunken abuse. Luckily, it is all in Russian, so hopefully not many people in the audience understood what we were saying...


No drinking before the concert! The piece was so difficult to master we had to be very concentrated to sing it well. However, after the concert, while I was enjoying a glass of red wine with a friend who had come to listen to us, I saw a group from the choir toast our achievement with the composer in the same bar. I joined them later.

I hope we get to sing this beautiful piece again.

Vodka
Korpiklaani, Karkelo, Nuclear blast

16 January, 2011

Warm my mind near my gentle stove

Back in Paris, I jave just moved into a new apartment, which was custom-designed and renovated for me by a designer friend of my mother's, Afshin. His partner Kevin did all the woodwork.

Although the living space is limited in small Parisian apartments, I have chosen to keep the original separate kitchen so as to have a real kitchen in which to enjoy cooking. Thanks to Afshin & Kevin's intelligent design, I have managed to fit all my cooking utensils and larder items into a kitchen only a third the size the one I had in Bangkok. Furthermore, I still have next to three square meters of flat working space, a big sink and a real stove.


The stove is very modern, with electronic beeping and all. I am still discovering how to operate all the fancy cooking programmes. The German brand is obviously extremely reliable. However, it does not feature cooking tips for one of my favourite week end meat cuts: grilled duck wing confit from my native Southwest of France.

I have prepared one last night using the cooking tips for roasted chicken wing but the result was not perfectly grilled and crunchy as it should have been. I will try again next week by tweaking the preset programmes.

Soul kitchen
The Doors, The very best of The Doors, Rhino/Elektra