Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Macaroon heaven

My in-box is positively bulging with delicious foodie deals. I am going quite cross-eyed reading them all. But one has stayed with me and tortured me because, you see, I am a sucker for macaroons – especially these little pink ones oozing with fruity creaminess from Ladurée in Paris….

Ladurée is the famed Parisian maison du macaron and to celebrate its 150th birthday it is releasing special limited-edition boxes of its confections every month this year.

As an aside, its website is the cutest ever and has exquisite morsels on display with names such as Macaron Pamplemousse Vanille and Les Incroyables, oh la la !

Ladurée’s March collaboration is with Japanese designer Tsumori Chisato and the macaroons are pink and filled with a light cherry ganache. The box is  illustrated with Chisato’s “whimsical” hand, it is said, and will be available1 March in stores worldwide, including  Ladurée’s new tea salon in New York.

The macaroons have some ardent followers:

Pearl Schwartz says “Love, love your macaroons. Always a destination when in Paris. Happy for New York!”

Deborah Ho says “I never liked macaroons before Laduree”

I say “Book me a large seat and see you in 24 hours.”

Ladurée was originally founded in Paris at 16 Rue Royale in 1862, though their famous macaron — the kind with the ganache filling sandwiched by two cookies — wasn’t conceived until the 1900s, by founder Louis Ernest Ladurée’s grandson, Pierre Desfontaines.

Gail loves macaroons (and other Ladurée delicacies), too, and she will snuffle them into your French itinerary if you choose.  Take a look at her next escorted tours to France and, remember, if none of those suit you, she can design a personalised French holiday exactly to your tastes and schedule. She’s clever like that!

Bon anniversaire, Ladurée

(Photos courtesy of Ladurée)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sweet special occasions – or – Can I touch your taser?

Guest blogger - Susie from Auckland

Gail is an expert at planning ‘special occasions travel’ for her customers: honeymoons, wedding anniversaries, family reunions…

She didn’t plan the occasion I attended this weekend in Sydney but I am going to tell you about it anyway. Why? Because it might inspire you to do the same with people you love in places that are special. It is worth it and will leave you with a smile on your face, your voice hoarse from laughing and singing, your heart warmed through and some priceless memories.

The A320
I started my journey as most do – in an aeroplane – at the tail end of a summer thunderstorm. The A320 was new, black seats, two aisles, 27 rows. To me, this is a small plane. I don’t like small planes. However, it delivered me safely to Sydney Airport, which is all I ask, and we had an uneventful taxi ride to – of all places  –  the new YHA in The Rocks.

New YHA rocks

What a fantastic place to stay! In the heart of The Rocks, with a view of the harbour and the Opera House, this 'hostelle' is a real find. It’s in Cumberland St right next to the Shangri –La. Of course three adults can stay in the Shangri-La for $363 a night, which isn’t bad, but we were on a budget. We paid $352 total for two nights in a clean, spacious, comfortable family room with its own bathroom. Magic!
(Photo courtesy YHA Sydney)

The Kazbah
Three 50-somethings schlepped off to Darling Harbour for dinner. We were to meet three 20-somethings, my daughter, her fiancé and their bridesmaid-to-be, at the Kazbah (The Promenade, Harbourside Shopping Centre) for mezze and a few beers. This restaurant is just down from the Novotel and used to be Sumac. There is a sister restaurant in Balmain and it's very popular.

We sat down in the balmy Sydney warmth and ordered barbecued quail in pomegranate sauce, chorizo-stuffed squid, deep-fried cauliflower florets on a bed of spicy aubergine, prawns encased in crispy batter with a blow-your-mouth-off dipping sauce, spicy lamb koftas and an array of exotic breads and dips.

Add a Kauri Estate (Matakana) pinot gris and the night drifted off into happy conversation and excitement over plans for the next evening – my daughter’s Big Fat Gypsy Wedding-themed hen’s night for the girls and a Casino sleep-over for the boys.

Shopping at Meyer, beer secrets
Next day there was compulsory shopping for me and my friend - photos too disturbing to print, those changing room lights are harsh aren't they? Man whisked away by boy to “fill suitcases with bottles of beer” ? ? ?

Eating ward-winning dumplings
While shopping, we got hungry. You simply must go to the new Pitt St Mall Level 6 and eat made to order  xiaolongbao dumplings at Din Tai Fung. My favourite is filled with pork and chili oil – mind,  they are hot, and can spit onto your trousers.

Prep at the Suisse Hotel

Another great spot to stay right in the heart of the CBD on top of Meyer is Suisse Hotel ($200 a night via Wotif) complete with pool, where my girl was being turned into a Big Fat Gypsy Bride.

Bubbles, nibbles, false eye lashes, fake nails, glue gun, orange fake tan, say no more….

Then it was off to the first watering hole...
The Ivy, George St
The Ivy pool bar is like being in the tropics – or perhaps the Playboy Mansion – you must try the Palm cocktail. To die for. Strange men are starting to kiss my daughter. Unnerving.

Jamie’s Italian with planks of good food and odd wine

Jamie Oliver’s new restaurant in Pitt St serves some VERY odd wine - one a blend of every white grape known to man (yuck) - so Prosecco bubbles for us. Very funky spot, though, and you have to book.

We started with 'planks' – large wooden boards held up by tins of tomatoes and serving up buffalo mozzarella in lemon and mint, crunchy shaved root veg, green Gaeta olives,wagyu bresaola, finocchio and capocollo, caper berries, aubergine caponata, San Daniele prosciutto and more! Followed for me by truffle risotto.

More indiscriminate (and embarrassing) kissing of a fireman, waiter, tattooed man, bald man, hairy man...

(Photo courtesy of Jamie's website)

Retro Club - fist pumping (activity part of trip!)
Okay at this point my friend and I realize we may not be welcome, but we braved it anyway. Thankfully the bridesmaid had said no to Puppetry of the Penis and just booked the bar and the disco. Daughter bites button off some poor man’s shirt. Daughter asks policeman if she can touch his taser. He’s amused but declines.

Mother is past embarrassment, dishevelled, covered in sauvignon blanc, has glow in the dark wristbands on both arms, sore feet and can no longer see or hear anything. We decide to leave the kids and walk home to the Y at 1.15am. We lose 40 minutes of our lives.

Regardless, I now know that I may be an old chook but I can still strut my stuff as good as the next chick - or rooster for that matter!

Meanwhile, back at the Casino
Two suitcase cases of beer, a pallet of bourbon, four topless waitresses, two $900 suites, one broken picture frame, a security raid and 24 men later – outcome? New movie, Hangover III, out soon!

The Boeing 777-300 
If you haven’t flown on Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 777-300 yet, I hope like me you will love it! This is a BIG plane and in row 45 I am still nowhere near the back of it. Lots of leg room, pleasant staff, cute “books” in the dunny. Long haul wouldn't be tooo bad.

The Kiwi birds greet me in the arrival hall, I get lovely customs people, my friend’s family is waiting with a huge welcome home banner (perhaps they didn’t expect us to make it back?) and our car is waiting for us under cover and paid for ($39).


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Never eat more than you can lift

Stay tuned mes amis - it's going to be a bumpy blog...

Did you see Miss Piggy on the telly at the Big Animals Film and Television Awards (BAFTAs) in her French get up? My hippo heart was racing as the pink love of my life hosted The Orange BAFTA Red Carpet show (my brain was also trying to digest orange and red and pink in the same shot). In a press release building up to the big event Miss Piggy wrote: "Moi on the Red Carpet at the BAFTAs wearing Louis Vitton designed by my dear friend Marc Jacobs."

My admiration for the Muppet dawned when I discovered we share the very same cuisine philosophies and, from that moment, it was love Va VA VA Vrooooooom. Now, I know I am meant to be a vegetarian, but who can resist fast food and, as my porcine princess whole-heartedly agrees, one must never eat more than one can lift. So, for Valentine's Day in honour of Piggy, I didn't...

(You can view this as a Vore Animation on Youtube if you prefer  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqmJ5XTKuaM )

Gail says tours to deepest darkest Africa are possible, but unlikely. ( I did warn you this post would be bumpy)

Monday, 13 February 2012

Flying the flag for Lloyd

Today we launch our new website - you probably already know this because it is through that or our newsletter that you have found me. Believe me, we are happy and relieved to be revealing this helpful and pretty website to the world, and we would be flying a great big flag of happiness if it weren't for the fact that there is another flag on our minds...

Yes, mes amis, today we also pay tribute to Lloyd Morrison - a great and passionate New Zealander, who has died at the tender age of 54. Lloyd was the employer of one of Gail's greatest supporters, George. The active gourmet travel even has one of these new design flags that Lloyd gave Gail in France. It is, of course, now more treasured than ever.

I have certainly done a lot in my short life - especially for a portly hippopotamus - I have a nose for fine wines, I love to paddle my own waka and, as for fashion, I am the hippopotomi of sartorial elegance, not to mention extremely well connected and travelled. But to see what Lloyd Morrison achieved in his lifetime is mind blowing ! His contributions and interests stretched from cultural and social, to political and commercial. He began a campaign to change the national flag and he helped launch the Phoenix Foundation onto the national music scene. And MUCH more besides. The NZ Herald tells a little homily about Lloyd that tickled me:

"Unsworth recalls bumping into Morrison while queuing in Woodward Street to buy morning tea to celebrate a staffer's 50th birthday, but Morrison insisted they come up to the Infratil offices.
"We went out for muffins and came back with champagne and half a dozen bottles of pinot," he said, recalling Morrison's love of fine wine, as well as a dashing fashion sense and an impish sense of humour.

Hah ! You see, he was just like me - an impeccably dressed, funny old wine connoisseur. Ah, bon voyage Monsieur Morrison, you will be missed not just by us but by a nation.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sacre bleu it's cold!

Much excitement - I was sent an email from France today and this is what it said:

"Bonjour, voici la vue de la loire a Langeais quand il fait moins 5 degrés pendant 1 semaine..." 

And, because of my exceptional linguistic skills,  I happened to know that what they were saying was something about finding five dirty necklaces in a seminary at the Loire ! Well, mes amis, I was intrigued and more than just a little confused:  what did this have to do with me, the active gourmet travel's mascot? Then I opened the attached photo ( I am very good now with technology) and I was even more baffled.

But Gail came to my rescue; she said I was reading in my school boy French and that what the email really said was: "The Loire at Langeais after a week of minus 5 degrees."

This is no place for a hippopotamus !  I would freeze my arse derriere off and chatter my enormous yellow teeth. How do the French people manage ? Aren't you glad you are going there on Gail's escorted tour in May (or August) and not February ! Still, there is a certain wonder to the winter months, yes? Unless you are a fish.

If not - please enjoy your day.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Ok, so a slight hiccup was encountered

If you think the world of travel is mysterious, try mastering the launching of a website. We are not launching a rocket to the moon, so it should be simple, yes ? Let's talk about something else -

Today, I am enjoying reading about the Basque country - The Basques are an ancient race with a unique language. For years Euskadi (the Basque Country) was viewed with great suspicion by the world in general regarded as a strange, slightly sinister area full of people in a constant state of revolt. Today it is one of the most progressive areas in Europe. 

Two contributing factors: the building of the magnificent Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in the former grubby port town of Bilbao, and the recognition of San Sebastian as one of the foremost towns in the world for lovers of good food. There are more Michelin stars in this town than anywhere else in Europe but it is possible to eat splendid food at all price points. San Sebastian is the spiritual home of the pinxtos (tapas).

The Basque Country's rugged coastline produces the seafood that forms the basis of many of the meals, and the mountainous green countryside produces beef and sensational sheep cheeses. From a base in or near San Sebastian it is possible to visit La Rioja wine region. Medieval villages are also nestled in the hills and all farm houses are built in the distinctive Basque style with heavy beams and tiled roof. Great surfing is possible at a beach right in the middle of town, or pop over the French border to the surfing meccas of Biarritz and St-Jean de Luz.

I feel better now : 0) 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Interwebbing between bouts of yelling

It's no small accomplishment for a portly hippopotamus to build a new website - well I don't know about building it - per se - but putting all the words in the right places and spelling them propelry wothout tpyos properly without typos - quite frankly, it's exhausting ! It's quite hard to reach the keyboard plus I don't like all the summer flies we've been having either, they keep landing on me when I am trying to upload delicious picnic photos and I have to keep yelling at them !

Tell you what, though, there's no flies on Gail. She has got some great news for you !!! Not just the new (secret) website launch BUT a newsletter with "specials". Hah ! You will have to wait until tomorrow mes amis... one more sleep.

Delicious picnic photo (of course) with the Trapps.