Author Archives for Ann Laws

About Ann Laws

I really did arrive on the last banana boat! My teenage son loves telling people this. Having been born in Ghana in 1960, we used to travel from Africa to Liverpool, on bi-annual leave, aboard one of the Elder Dempster Line's 'banana boats' which ferried fresh produce and supplies between West Africa and the UK. Our days in Africa were charmed and this adventurous period of my young life was probably the catalyst to my inherent wanderlust and inability, until recently, to settle in one place. Returning to school and life in England during my early teenage years was an unwelcome shock and one that I and my mother both rebelled against in different ways. For my part, it was the confinement of regular school, tedious routine and being made to wear shoes. For my mother it was the general drabness of life which led her to implode and withdraw socially from the world despite having two children to look after. At the time, my father was working in Libya during a difficult political period and struggled to cope with my mother's mental desertion which quickly developed into social isolation and a serious food phobia. During my later adolescence and into my mid twenties, I felt something important was missing in my life. That 'something' was food. Not just meagre bland food to sustain life - the sort I'd been brought up on but food to prepare, savour, share and enjoy. It wasn't really until I left university and was working for a publishing house in London that I identified this void in my life. The joy of learning to cook so that I could entertain friends brought me some stability, creativity and pleasure. To prepare food for family and friends is an act of love. Some of my happiest times have been spent around a table in the company of my precious family and good friends, chatting and putting the world to rights. The dining table is a great place to talk, resolve problems, encourage, plan and debate. I have been fortunate to have lived in Asia and to have travelled extensively for both work and pleasure. This has enabled me, through my love of food and cooking, to enjoy and better understand the nuances of other cultures. It may be naive, but in today's world of unrest and turmoil, perhaps a few of our illustrious leaders could improve their domestic and international relationships, if they were to share a meal and take time to listen, discuss and understand. Sharing food at a table allows time to talk and through communication, problems are shared and often solved. I missed this stability during my teenage years but it's better discovered late than never. Having had an assortment of occupations in publishing, print and real estate, a 'chambers d'hôte' and guest restaurant in France, a restaurant in Portugal; I am now working at a golf resort and living with my family in southern Portugal while finding time to blog and write my second novel.

Viva Espana! (Continued…)

Sorry about that. I don’t know what happened but I must have tapped on the wrong button. I am a techno dinosaur!

So ……. we arrived at the hotel. Our first encounter was very disappointing – I remember wanting to drive on. The hotel is in the centre of an industrial estate on the outskirts of town and the facade is not at all appealing, it looks like something that time has forgotten. Ripped and water stained curtains adorn the windows flanking the main entrance and the lobby is dark with a mishmash of furniture. Leaving our bags in the car (in the event of a speedy retreat), we advanced to the reception desk cautiously. The young man was very welcoming and cheerful, so we checked in, feeling a little more encouraged, and took the ancient lift which creaked its way up to the second floor. The rooms were ‘ok’ – functional and clean. To the delight of the teenagers, WIFI was available so all was good with the world.
The main reason for returning, apart from the excellent service we received, was the most delicious and generous plates of  ‘Jamon Iberico’ that we had enjoyed on our first visit. And there was another BIG plus – a shop – my favourite kind of shop, better to me than any other kind of shop – a shop specialising in hams of the region, along with other scrumptious products like chorizos, salamis, sausages, pates and a variety of local cheeses,wines, olive oils, olives, paprikas, stuffed peppers and much much more. The smell was sensational and I could ramble for ages. The ‘senhor’ was knowledgeable and helpful and imparted a lot of information about the black pigs from which the ham is produced. I learned that the best ham is the ‘Bellota’, meaning ‘acorns’ which form pigs’ staple diet. This meat is salted and hung for longer than the less expensive varieties. The meat is darker than the meat of Serrano which is more pink in colour. I left more knowledgeable and with lots of goodies and a promise that we would visit again on our journey home. How fabulous to have such a treat to look forward to at the end of a holiday!
We enjoyed our simple meal, all feasting on plates of this very special ham accompanied by rustic bread, a deliciously fresh tomato and onion salad and …….. chips. How could we not have chips – sometimes the boys are a good excuse! The wine was good too. 

Viva Espana!

We have just returned from a short holiday to the Basque region of France. It was a most wonderful journey for a food lover like me. When we travel, I like to plan very carefully where we stop, so as to make the most of the local specialities and delicacies. So long as we have sufficient time, we prefer to travel by car. The ‘we’ here, is Peter and me. Jonathan (our 14 year old son) is not so keen and like so many teenagers these days, he requires immediacy. A ‘tardiss’ to zap him and his friends into a theme park with a burger stand on every corner, would be his idea of heaven. For the moment, however, he has to do it our way and maybe, one day, he will look back on our ‘culinary-biased’ travel with more appreciation. Am I dreaming? Anyway, on with the purpose of this blog.

With the car packed to the gunnels – we booked a self catering apartment on a golf course – we set off on our travels. I had been looking forward to this short holiday with great expectation. It would be the relaxation, after a particularly stressful period of our lives, that we needed; it would give us some family time and be all things to all of us. Jonathan, with his accompanying friend Jack, would enjoy 4 days of golf while we took ourselves on outings to discover some of the Basque region. Opportunities for more culinary exploits and my heaven!
At the break of dawn, we took the coast road east along the Algarve, crossing the border into Spain. The landscape changes quite noticeably, as the golden sun flower fields pass our view. They are an absolutely splendid and cheerful sight. As I think I might already have said – I adore their boldness as their heads turn to follow the movement of the sun – tournasol – in French. I deviate again, sorry!
The boys slept most of the way to our first stop – the town of Plasencia – waking only for sustenance, or to try and find a more comfortable position, wedged between all the necessary paraphernalia for the holiday. Plasencia is a good half way point between the south-west tip of Portugal and the Spanish border and comes at about the right stage of the journey for me. Seven hours in a car is quite enough for me – I could never be a long distance lorry driver! We have stayed at the Hotel Cuidad de Plasencia before, so I am not at all disappointed on arrival this time, because I know what is in store and I could hardly wait

Market Day

I live in a small traditional Portuguese village away from the tourist towns along the coast of the Algarve, and one of the things that I love most is the market. It is predominantly a fish and vegetable market serving the local Portuguese community – we don’t have many visitors, so the prices have remained as they should be. Yesterday morning, I was there early to buy my vegetables for the weekend. The new potatoes are delicious (we had some earlier in the week) and they really ‘taste’ of goodness – both nutty and creamy. I also bought figs – the season for figs is just starting here and soon we will be able to gather our own from the garden and the road sides.
Last night I cooked the potatoes using a recipe that was given to me by the cook at my son’s new school. It is a typical and very simple dish from the region around Aljezur on the west coast – I will call it Aljuzurian Garlic Potatoes: in a casserole or baking dish, cut the larger of the new potatoes in half, add a generous number of crushed cloves of garlic, slice a medium size onion into wedges, add some cherry tomatoes, coat everything with a good quality olive oil and insert sprigs of fresh mint around. Season with sea salt and ground pepper. Bake for 30 minutes in an oven pre-set to 180 degrees. It was absolutely scrumptious and was a great accompaniment to the tiger prawns! We are so fortunate to have such wonderful fresh produce on our doorstep. And I am enjoying cooking at home after restaurant life, although I’m still finding it hard to work with smaller quantities!

Bom Dia from sunny Portugal

This is my first blog! I’ve wanted to blog for a long time, but work (I was a restaurateur until a couple of weeks ago, when I sold my restaurant) and family commitments have consumed all my time. And I don’t like to do anything if I can’t do it properly. So here goes . . . I’ve always liked writing, it is like releasing a pressure value and sometimes I’ve used it to sort out problems. It helps me to see things more clearly and to work things through in my head. Combining this with my other passions – food and travel, I should have a whale of a time! I’ve been fortunate enough to visits many part of the world for both work and vacation; and on each of these journeys, I have always tried to learn about the food of each culture and how food and eating brings people together.

I live in the south of Portugal, in a village inhabited predominantly by Portuguese, away for the coast though close enough to visit. It is a higgledy-piggledy sort of village. Quite scruffy compared to the pristine villages of West Sussex where I once lived. I like it here. A mishmash of architecture stands side by side, lining a network of small roads and alley ways. Today the sun is shining brightly and the air is warm. I have the doors wide open onto an elevated terrace and all I can hear is the clucking of a neighbour’s chickens and one very persistently vociferous cockerel. It’s been creating a din since 5am this morning, but we’ve got used to it. It’s more melodic than the night long chorus of the local wild dogs!
This morning, I’m sending out a ‘coup de soleil’ before heading off to the village market. The photo was taken locally and I just love it! Sunflowers are my favourite – strong, bright and bold.

 

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