Travel

I have always found that travel broadens my own personal recipe book, so to speak, and my appreciation of culinary diversity. I have explored the world extensively over the past 20+ years, including living and working in London, Switzerland, Greece, the Bahamas and New York. I continue to travel regularly for the culinary inspiration I gain from eating dishes in their country of origin. My recipes reflect influences of the cuisines of the world and whenever possible I like to share by writing about my travels. I've also been studying photography for the past 7 years, and have reached a level where I now takes my own travel images and professional food images. My photographs have been published in my cookbooks and also in several magazine travel features.



ON CRANBERRY POND
 Julie Le Clerc takes a pilgrimage to beautiful New England, USA

There’s no doubt big cities like New York and Boston are exciting destinations,
but for a relaxing US vacation there’s nothing like the countryside. Recently,
55km south of Boston, I discovered breathtaking scenery, fascinating history,
unique local produce and some very friendly folk.

The towns of New England are quaint, with old English names such as Bedford, Rochester and Plymouth – and they’re all easy to visit by car. In fact, self-drive
car hire is really the best way to get around, enabling you to make a beeline to interesting off-road places.

I decide that Plymouth, where the original pilgrims landed in 1620, is a good
place to begin and following a brochure picked up from the visitor information
centre, I set out to retrace the footsteps of history. Plymouth Harbour is the
landing site of the Mayflower, which arrived in 1620 bearing a load of English settlers who were very keen to get back on dry land. Plymouth Rock itself lies
on the waterfront. It’s smaller than I’d imagined and well protected by a
colonnade.

Nearby, a replica of the Mayflower is anchored. It’s well worth taking a tour of
the boat to see for yourself the conditions those poor, intrepid pilgrims had to endure. Being a harbour-side town, Plymouth has dozens of eateries where
regulars and visitors alike can enjoy the luxury of seafood freshly caught in local waters. Succulent lobster, jumbo shrimp (which are bigger than king prawns), scallops and local types of fish feature on every menu in town.

I’ve set myself a mission to compare all the local versions of New England
chowder – a thick, creamy potato and clam soup. I do advise you to take a
hearty appetite to Plymouth as helpings are more than generous!

During their second fall (autumn), the settlers in Plymouth held the very first
Thanks-giving Feast – to express gratitude for the harvest’s bounty – with the
local native Americans who brought most of the food. This event is a major
milestone on the US calendar, and families and friends gather for feasts
revolving around roast turkey and seasonal produce such as pumpkin and cranberries.
On Cranberry Pond guesthouse
I’ve set up base at On Cranberry Pond, a delightful guesthouse near the town
of Middleboro. The area around here feels like real Martha Stewart country,
with tall wooden Cape Cod-style houses, antiques, folk art and beautiful
woodlands full of pathways strewn with fallen pine needles and pretty autumn
leaves. Indeed, my “innkeeper”, Jeannine LaBossiere-Krushas, tells me that Martha’s magazine team has visited here and compiled a story on the wonders
of the local cranberry harvest.
Native to North America and well known to the indigenous Americans, the
health-giving cranberry has a long and fascinating heritage and a good part of
the district is devoted to cranberry growing.
While staying in Middleboro, I’m delighted when the chance arises for me to experience an Ocean Spray (farmers’ co-operative) cranberry harvest first-hand. The ruby-red cranberry is not only a super fruit with unique health benefits, but it
is harvested by quite extraordinary methods which make for truly spectacular viewing.
Cranberries grow in bogs (marshland) under tightly packed, low-growing
vines. They are very difficult to harvest by hand, so the majority are cleverly
wet-harvested.
Basically, the bogs are flooded with water, then the vines are beaten with a
paddle machine which releases the berries. Cranberries contain natural
air-pockets so they rise to the water’s surface and there they float in a
magnificent sea of swirling crimson.
That's me doing some cranberry wrangling!
Wearing waders, workers wrangle and corral the berries, which are quickly
pumped out of the water, washed, then trucked to a receiving station to be processed into juice or sauces.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself here at harvest time, do try to join a
cranberry bog tour. Some local communities also hold cranberry-harvest
festivals and information flyers are generally posted at local bogs and towns.
Fall (autumn) is a great time to visit this region, because there are few other
tourists around. The air is crisp, the sky blue and the harvest colours will stop
you in your tracks and keep your camera working overtime.
Locals introduce me to “leaf peeping”, which involves driving around and
watching the foliage change colour. There are even organised ”fall foliage
tours” wherein groups can marvel at the multi-coloured splendour. This may
sound a little like a trivial pursuit but I soon discover that connecting with
nature in this way has a wonderfully calming effect on stressed out city
dwellers such as myself.

In fact, I have to pull myself away from leaf peeping to stop for
lunch and as I tuck into yet another steaming bowl of New England chowder,
I can’t help thinking “Bet you wish you were here, Martha Stewart!”


Don’t miss: North American Cranberry bog harvest – October to November.
Julie Le Clerc travelled to New England courtesy of Ocean Spray.
Where to stay:
Julie stayed at On Cranberry Pond Guesthouse (bed and breakfast),
43 Fuller St, Middleboro, Massachusetts, USA .
“Here, I was spoilt with a home-cooked breakfast every morning (my host’s cranberry pancakes are legendary), and packed picnic lunches.” 
For more information visit http://www.oncranberrypond.com/

Barging In...

Julie Le Clerc's culinary travels on a unique canal boat 

through Southwest France


The canal craft Liberté stands out among the crowd of traditional barges on the European waterways. This impressive houseboat was actually built in New Zealand and transported
to Europe on a container ship by her Kiwi
owners, who now spend the northern summers exploring Europe at their leisure onboard
Liberté.

With this stylish set-up and with many years’ boating experience behind them, owners David and Janette Wylie, expertly and safely navigate canals, rivers
and locks, while, as a passenger, I can be as involved with the process of
boating as I choose.

I joined the Liberté for an excursion on the Canal du Midi (Southwest France), cruising from Carcassonne to Toulouse. A shady canopy of giant plane trees protects much of the Midi and throughout the scenery is magical. Travelling
via the canal yields an intimate view, allowing us to glimpse into people’s
gardens, houses and daily lives. I spent my time here delving into the land-
scape, wine and food of the Languedoc region, which surrounds the canal.

Moving through locks is a very distinct feature of
canal life. Sometimes there’s even an opportunity
to purchase ingredients, such as olive oil, wine, honey
or garden vegetables from the lock keepers. Local
open-air markets are another incomparable place to
shop for supplies to create a memorable breakfast
or lunch to share.

One of the great advantages of this form of transport
is having the freedom to stop when and where you
please and there are bikes onboard for those keen
on easy sightseeing tours. Walking or cycling from
the canal typically took us past fields of vivid sunflowers in full-bloom to small
villages of faded stone houses to buy our daily bread; to markets and wine
co-ops for supplies; or to local eateries to dine-out on regional specialities.

One of my favourite regional dishes is the speciality of Castelnaudary, cassoulet: a
meltingly rich stew of creamy white beans
flavoured with various meats, such as duck,
pork and sausage. This simple meal takes
its name from the cassole, an earthenware
cooking pot in which it is made. Cassoulet
is remarkably filling but I, like many others,
find it deliciously irresistible.

I gained endless inspiration from visiting the village markets to select stunning produce to cook on the barbecue or in Liberté’s spacious kitchen. During
convivial meals onboard we savoured the flavours of market-fresh food, such
as juicy sun-warmed tomatoes; wild asparagus; saucisson sec (dried sausage) enrobed in local herbs; perfectly ripened cheeses; and crusty baguettes and pastries still warm from the bakery.

During this memorable voyage I created the following recipe from local
ingredients and discoveries made along the way. Try it and experience a
taste of the French summer – canalside. Bon appétit!
Cherry Tomato Pastries with Persillade
Persillade is a mixture of chopped parsley and garlic, which is added to
certain French dishes after cooking. It works to deliciously perfume these
tomato pastries.
Makes 4
Cherry Tomato Pastries:
1 pre-rolled sheet puff pastry
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups ripe red cherry tomatoes
Persillade:
1/4 cup parsley leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Preheat oven to 200°C. Divide the pastry sheet into 4 even squares and
place squares on a lightly oiled baking tray. With the tip of a knife, score a
1cm border around the edge of each pastry square and prick the centre of
each with a fork.
2 Puree the sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor and season with salt
and pepper to taste. Spread puree over the centre of each pastry square,
leaving the border free of topping. Arrange cherry tomatoes to cover the
sun-dried tomato puree.
3 Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry edges are puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with persillade while still hot.
4 To make persillade, finely chop parsley and garlic and mix together.