Each year, my husband, my son and I pack our bags for an extended trip in the spring. Two years ago we drove through California, camping in Yosemite, staying in a yurt in Big Sur, and driving through Sonoma. Last year, we took our time and drove through New Mexico – visting geological landmarks, museums, hot springs and galleries. We write, we hike, we learn and we explore. As luck holds true, we often combine these springtime trips with business like speaking engagements, festivals or cooking demonstrations that require travel anyway. This year, we were blessed with the opportunity to visit Italy on business, and we dutifully took the opportunity to spend our ritualistic springtime travels in Western Europe.
We’re on a hunt for real food, for farmers markets, for raw dairies, for old-school butchers, and for wholesome, traditional foods. We’re four weeks into the tour, and I had intended to update more frequently but internet access is woefully lacking as we find ourselves nestled into the rural folds of the verdant green hills of Devon, on trains, on the coast of France, or cuddled into an old Swiss farmhouse held tight against the vivid green breast of towering Alps. Here we’ve explored old recipes, followed farmers into the fields and tried new foods (like lamb’s pluck with olive oil and bay).
We’ve two more weeks to go, and I have so much to share with you – finding myself revitalized by the traditions of the old world. Here’s what remains of our trip, and if you have any suggestions for me as we work our way through Switzerland, Netherlands and Iceland, please share.
A Dairy Farm in Devon, England
During our first week, we visited a dairy in a tiny farming community in Devon – we stayed in a little Featherdown Cabin, cooked on a woodfired stove and explored the neighboring towns. Each morning, I’d don my gloves and pluck fresh nettle which we’d combine with eggs from our rented hens for scrambles and omelets. In the afternoon, a stew pot of pasture-raised and grass-fed meats and organic vegetables would wait us, and we’d light up the fire and wait for the stew to simmer and cook on the stove. You can find a recipe for my favorite Farmhouse Beef and Bacon Stew here, and more recipes for nettle omelets, potato and sausage hash and bacon soup will come. And we drank fresh, raw milk every chance we could get.
When our time in Devon ended, we drove to London and stayed only one brief night. My husband and I aren’t fond of cities, as the flavor and spirit of a nation rests in its countryside. We took our time, visited museums and markets before heading on to France.
From London, we visited Paris – eating out at our favorite Steak Frites restaurant whose sauce is incomparably delicious – and reportedly contains a combination of butter, cream, shallots and chicken livers. We stayed in a little two bedroom apartment, shopped the farmers markets every day and prepared dinner at home every evening after a visiting the museums. And we drank wine, lots of wine. I learned about little grey shrimp, dined on fresh mackerel and worked with a terribly finicky old gas stove.
From Paris, we hopped on the trains and rode south toward the coast where we visited Cassis, a small tourist community on the coast – most notably for its steep seaside cliffs coupled with the calanques – little inlets where the cliffs meet the sea. We visited the market, picked up wine, saucissons secs, and hiked from the village through steep limestone cliffs down to the water where we picnicked and soaked up the sun. From there, we visited the restaurants and ate Soupe de Poisson, a regional specialty served at every restaurant. Richly flavored with fish, fennel, olive oil, tomato and orange, the fish soup is paired with toasted bread, rouille (a saffron and garlic mayonnaise) and shredded Gruyere cheese. When I return home, I’ll test my recipes from the memory of the flavors and share them with you if I can do it justice.
Cooking Retreat in Lucca, Italy
After six days in Cassis, we traveled by train to Lucca, in the Tuscany region of Italy where I met the folks at Jovial Foods, and several Nourished Kitchen readers who joined me for a cooking retreat focusing on traditionally prepared, fresh local foods. We covered fermentation and sourdoughs, soups and bone broths, and emphasized traditional nose-to-tail eating. And it was here that I discovered I actually enjoy lamb’s pluck (a combination of lamb’s heart, liver and lung) cooked in olive oil and sweet bay. And it was here I discovered the joy of pizzas topped with lard, rosemary and freshly grated parmesan cheese. The traditional foods of Italy are remarkable. We also visited an organic and biodynamic einkorn farm pictured above.
When we left Lucca, exhausted and worn but joyous, too, we took the train to Zermatt. My husband and little boy wanted to see the Matterhorn, and also to ride the Glacier Express – a train that weaves its way through the alps revealing stunning views of valleys, peaks and glaciers. Here I ate what has now become my favorite barley soup – Gerstensuppe. The soup combines barley, leek, carrot, smoked bacon, and chicken stock with heavy cream.
Now, I write to you from Langwies where we’re staying on a tiny alpine dairy farm that produces milk, cream and traditional cheeses just as described in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which describes the traditional foods and habits of long-lived, isolated peoples living in the rural and remote areas of the globe not yet touched by industrialized foods. Here we wake every morning to a traditional breakfast of muesli soaked in yogurt, fresh raw milk, fresh bread, and grass-fed alpine cheeses. I plan to share more with you about this beautiful little farm, but we’re off to explore, learn and photograph what we see.
From Langwies, we’ll return to Amsterdam on our way home. It is where my husband and I eloped eight years ago, and where we return out of nostalgia, and a love for the city itself. We’re looking forward to taking our son here, and to showing him the special places we’ve found that mean so much to my husband and I – the museums, the restaurants, the canals and the bridges.
After a few days in Amsterdam, we’ll fly to Iceland. It was an afterthought really, to visit Iceland, but the airfare was less expensive if we also visited the country, and now I’m looking forward to our time there more than anything else. We’ll see the glaciers, the fjords, visit the hot springs and stay on yet another farm.
How to Keep Updated
The quality of internet has been challenging on this trip – places we’ve stayed promise WiFi but have none, or very spotty connections, and I haven’t enjoyed the opportunity to keep up-to-date with photographs and recipes from the places we visit, but if you follow Nourished Kitchen on Instagram, you’ll see much more in real time of the food and farms. And as time allows, I update Facebook with our trip, and will post more from our real food tour once we return to a solid connection.