Category Archives: food

Wanstead Patchwork: Part XII (Hearing is believing)

I was blind, but now I see
I woke up this morning blind. My eyes were glued together by the revolting discharge that is caused by conjunctivitis. A cold I have been fighting – and twice smugly proclaimed victory over – has finally bloomed and seems to have infected my eyes as well my respiratory system.

I am sat in bed useless and ill but quietly pleased I have not been missing too much on the patch as the weather is atrocious.

Yesterday, before this rhino of a virus (do you see what I did there?) charged me down, I went out early to conduct my breeding bird survey of Bush Wood.

A job for ears, not eyes
Even before my corneal membranes became infected, my eyes were somewhat redundant as this survey is all about singing birds, not about birds seen, and I often don’t see the birds I am ticking at all.

Territories of singing Song Thrush

Territories of singing Song Thrush

Some bird counts were up (Chiffchaff arrivals were clear), some were the same (as with the Song Thrush above), and some were down (sadly I didn’t hear any singing Coal Tit or Goldcrest – although I am sure they are still there). It will need more weeks of work before any really useful trends can be drawn.

But I did also witness some wonderful breeding bird behaviour including a fascinating courtship dance between a pair of Green Woodpecker on a tree trunk which followed shortly after this chap chased a female around for a bit (I have noticed recently how much courting Woodpeckers – Great Spots in particular – love chasing each other around):

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

Drinkers beware!
With my ears straining to cut through traffic noise, Blue Tit song, and the cackling and cawing corvids to be able to hear the songs of the birds I am counting, as well as peering up at the trees (in the vague hope of seeing an elusive Nuthatch or Treecreeper), my survey work means I am probably missing a lot of stuff at ground level. If there are any new wildflowers out, I didn’t see them, but I did see this mini fungal jungle which I may well have mis-identified:

Common Ink Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria)??

Common Ink Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria)??

Common Ink Cap gets its name from the black liquid produced after being picked or by the withering cap – in antiquity it was used as ink.

However, this fungus has another name – Tipplers bane. The mushrooms are edible, but only if you are teetotal. The chemicals contained in this fungus are hyper-sensitive to alcohol and will cause palpitations and severe nausea if ingested even within days of sipping alcohol.

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My blogging century

This is my 100th blog post as iago80. It has been fun…

100 photos: one from each blog post

100 photos: one from each blog post

I have shared my travels, including to some exotic places:

Volcano, Costa Rica

Volcano, Costa Rica

… where I have seen exotic wildlife…

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

… and been privileged to photograph some extremely rare animals in the wild…

Costa Rican Red-eyed Brook Frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa)

Costa Rican Red-eyed Brook Frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa)

Closer to home, I have explored history…

Nottingham

… and shared landscapes that I have found interesting and beautiful…

Trent

Many of you have also shared my journey to photograph birds in the wild…

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing my next 100 photo-stories with you.

Wine tasting in Florence

Just occasionally you dine or drink out and you experience something truly special. I am sure most people have memories of the finest restaurants they have been to. A number of factors make an evening special: the food, the drink, the surroundings, the atmosphere, the service, the company you share it with, and so on. Rarely, all of these factors come together brilliantly and you experience something you will remember forever.

And so it was for me just over a week ago in Florence at the Enoteca Pitti Gola Wine Bar. My partner and I were celebrating our engagement with a wine tasting that I really will remember fondly forever. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, so I had to make do with my iPhone (which can take great pics, but less so at night).

Enoteca Pitti has a wonderful location immediately opposite the hugely impressive Pitti Palace of the Medici. We were guided through an incredible range of 17 Italian wines in total and several delectable plates of Tuscan food throughout a long and wonderful evening by our expert sommelier, Zeno:

Zeno, with his brother and another business partner, is one of the three owners of Enoteca Pitti. On their website, it says, “Zeno is known for creating a comradery with his clients, drinking  along with them, as it is a pleasure for him.” Well, whether comradery or camaraderie, I can confirm this statement 110%. Never have I felt so welcome, so involved, and so enthused by the passion of a someone working in, or running, a bar or restaurant. Zeno’s love and knowledge of wine was abundantly clear and he gave us an incredible tour of some rare and amazing wines of the region accompanied by fantastic local delicacies cooked by chef, Marzia Sassetti. Notice how I said the food accompanied the wine, and not the other way around. First and foremost, this is a wine bar. The food was exquisite, but simple enough not to distract from the stars of the show being poured into your glass.

Just to give you a flavour of the food, we were given a selection of stunning local cheeses and cured meats as well the finest Steak Tartare I have ever eaten and the best pasta including this ravioli lovingly prepared from scratch only minutes before being set on our plates… (click here to see their photo of Marzia preparing the fresh pasta)

But, for me, it was the wines and the stories of the wines – lovingly told by Zeno – which made the evening so incredibly special. We were treated to tastings of three sparkling wines, four whites, seven reds, one dessert wine, and two Grappas (with Zeno often refilling my glass in the process as well!). All of the wines were Italian, many of them Tuscan, and all from small producers who focus all their attention on producing quality rather than quantity. We tried wines which were produced in the hundreds and thousands of bottles rather than hundreds of thousands.

Wines included the lovely white Capezzana Trebbiano 2009 – from a family vineyard that has been producing wine since 804!! And no, I haven’t missed a digit, that is 1200 years of wine production culminating in this…

When you next plan to buy a bottle of Prosecco from a shop or restaurant, see if there is an opportunity to buy a different Italian sparkling wine instead, Franciacorta. They will not rival the finest champagnes, but they are excellent at a fraction of the price. We tried three of them, including, Faccoli brut which had a lovely dry taste with an appley finish…

We worked our way through seven distinct and remarkable reds, finishing on the Langhe Rosso Status from 2001 by Giuseppe Mascarello, a powerful blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Freisa grapes that, if you can track it down, you might be able to order for around £60-70 a bottle…

Zeno explained his sadness and shame that a by-product of the fame of Chianti has meant that so much of what is produced for the international market is mass-produced and unworthy of the name. We tasted a number of superb Sangiovese grape wines including this Monteraponi Chianti Classico Riserva from 2009 produced in an ancient vineyard in the hills of Chianti…

If you go to Florence and you like wine, I could not recommend Enoteca Pitti highly enough – it was a truly superb experience.

Here are the other wines that we tried:

Il Mosnel Franciacorta

Faccoli Franciacorta Rose

Tenute Dettori Renosu

Laimburg Riesling

Renato Keber Collio Friulano 2007

Rosso di Montalcino, Cerbaiona di Diego Molinari 2009 (no website found)

Ragnaie V.V. Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (possibly my favourite red of the evening)

Le Potazzine, Gorelli, Brunello di Montalcino 2004

Il Colles di Carli, Brunello di Montalcino 2004 (no website found)

Barbaresco Roccalini, 2008 (no website found)

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the details of this lovely Passito dessert wine

Finally, the two Grappas:

Marolo, Grappa di Barolo (50%!)

and

Milla (by Marolo) (a much friendlier 35%)

A little ode to toast

I love food… I love all different types of food… I will happily spend quite a lot of money for exquisite flavours in expensive restaurants… but I am not sure there are many types of food that make me quite as happy as toast and butter…

“That’s toast, mmm yeah,
Just toast,
That’s toast,
Just toast.” – Streetband

Celebrating Shiitake

A little known fact for you: shiitake mushrooms have been cultivated in far eastern countries for around 1000 years.

A better known fact for you: shiitake mushrooms are delicious!

Here is one way they can be enjoyed:

fry some onion and garlic…

“wait a second! What’s that cheeky little half-finished cocktail doing in the shot?”

*…Digression

OK. That ‘cheeky little cocktail’ is a Dubonnet Negroni. You already know that I am a fan of Dubonnet. Well, another cocktail to enjoy if you want something a little more hardcore and bitter than a Dubonnet Cocktail is the Negroni version. It is simply one part gin (preferably not from a £100 bottle of discontinued limited edition ‘Crown Jewel’ like I used – I ran out of normal gin, I wasn’t just showing off), one part Campari, and one part Dubonnet (or sweet vermouth in a normal Negroni) stirred over ice and strained.

End of digression*

So… once the onions are soft and going slightly golden I then add the roughly chopped shiitake. Then add cream (I like a mixture of double cream and full fat milk, but then I don’t really do diet food), a generous pinch or three of nutmeg, a bit of oregano, and then season very generously with salt and pepper. Simmer it down to a nice rich mixture and then serve over pasta of your choice (I used large fresh penne, but tagliatelle could be lovely) and… that’s it. I just made up the recipe as I went along, and it was delicious and super simple!