Food market shopping just became as chic as walking the runway in Fashion Week, declares the friendly blurb on luggage designer L/Uniform’s website. “Only in France.” I mutter into my screen. Yet still, annoyingly, with party dressing still on a very distant horizon, that €495 monogrammed canvas shopping cart, available in 20 colours (three different pinks!) looks almost as tempting as a new frock used to.
This troubling development is a new one. I have never been any kind of spendthrift shopaholic, online or otherwise. Of all the many pleasures I miss from the before-times real world, spending hours browsing for stuff and more stuff, is not really one of them. Most of my retail pleasure came from stationery shops, or discovering new, exciting cooking ingredients in out-of-the way Parisian stores and shopping centres and department stores (with some exceptions, such as Le Bon Marché, Brown Thomas, Barneys) were, and still are, nightmarish places for me. But eventually, I knew my ramshackle, fire-damaged French kitchen had to be seen to, and my future life and work styles addressed. To add to the fun, last summer my chéri bought a small farmhouse and barn, with a garden and orchard gone wild, just a few miles from my house, and as neither his schedule nor his French are really up to choosing and ordering bath taps or climbing roses, it is all left up to me.
Now, with two kitchens and two gardens to kit out entirely online, my eyes are slowly becoming screen-shaped and anxiety levels are building as steeply as my bookmark list. I’ve already sent one three-ovened, flimsy-knobbed cooker back to the shop after a few days’ sub-par usage, having only seen it for the first time as it was being unwrapped in my kitchen. Thankfully, French consumer law provides for these online mishaps, and allows full refunds, no questions asked, but when the Wendy House-sized washing machine – we thought “compact” sounded good in the description – arrived, I just did not dare put the nice man from our local store through the same ordeal again and it is here to stay in all its mini-magnificence.
We had to sign a disclaimer for the delivery men and remove part of the kitchen door to fit the new, gigantic fridge into the kitchen so yes, I’ve learned the hard way that on Amazon and eBay particularly, size matters. I’m still regularly being caught out by tricky measurements, from one kilo bags of Nigella seeds, to teeny rabbit-shaped terrines meant to hold two large chocolate eggs but with barely room for a fresh one. At least in my special delivery of White Mausu condiments from Ireland, I already know the size of the jars, but when I do our online grocery shop too quickly, we invariably end up with quirky items like two-litre bottles of vodka or four six-packs of Pink Gala instead of just four apples.
Disappointment and anti-climax may be common in my online shopping world, but the thrill of opening up the box is always worth it, especially when the packaging is as pretty and as thoughtful as traders like White Mausu. And sometimes, when you are sent the same order twice at no extra cost, through your complaint or the supermarket’s error, you feel like your premium bonds have come up.
My rapidly growing addiction for online vintage kitchen and tableware shops is, happily, one area where expectations are fully met and often surpassed. There’s always something so beautiful in the look and feel of a object with a story to tell that simply doesn’t come through in a photo. My favourite pieces, in dusty pink and bright blue, inviting vibrant greens and reds in my food, are always the inspiration for the dishes I cook. I have become so obsessed that I am seriously considering starting my own Instagram brocante. With many piles of vintage props in the attic, an unused barn in my garden and the village post office right opposite my house, I’m thinking the Online Gods are, in fact, demanding it. Watch this space. @TrishDeseine @trishdeseineencore
TOMATO AND ONION TART WITH OLIVE OIL PASTRY AND GLÉANN OIR
We’re not quite in peak tomato season yet, but why deprive ourselves of the intense, fruity flavours of this lovely tart? The olive oil pastry can be crumbly, so again, do use butter instead if you prefer.
30 minutes preparation
20 minutes chilling
30 minutes cooking
FOR THE PASTRY
250g plain flour
100ml olive oil
2 tbsps water
Salt and pepper
1 tbsps Nigella seeds
FOR THE TART
5 onions, peeled, thinly sliced
4 tbsps olive oil
20–25 cherry tomatoes
3 tbsps crumbled goats or sheeps cheese
Olive oil for drizzling
Basil, oregano, mint or a mixture for garnish
1. For the pastry, rub the olive oil into the flour. Season with salt and pepper, add the Nigella seeds and bring the pastry together with the water.
2. Oil the base of a 22cm tart tin and press the pastry into the base and along the sides.
3. Leave to chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes while you cook the onions.
4. Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions over medium heat, stirring all the time, until they start to brown slightly. Keep cooking, adding some oil and dropping the heat if needs be, until they are fully softened and slightly caramelised. This will take a good 15 minutes. Season and reserve.
5. Heat the oven to 180C and bake the pastry base for 15 minutes, until it is slightly golden around the edges and starting to crisp up in the middle.
6. Slice the tomatoes in half. Remove the pastry base and spread the soft onions on it, right up to the edges. Set the tomatoes into the onions, drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the tomatoes are soft and sizzling.
7. Remove from the oven, garnish with fresh herbs and crumbled cheese, season and serve.
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