Cornwall: Eden Project

Eden Project is one of the most famous destinations in Cornwall. Formerly a clay pit mine, it was transformed by Tim Smit and his amazing team into a wonderful world of ecological delight. Talk about large scale recycling. There is plenty to explore, included the two covered Biomes, making it a great day out for those rainy days that can literally be a washout on a seaside holiday. The pricey entry ticket also acts as an annual pass allowing unlimited entries for a year – great if you’re a local, not so much if you’re visiting from afar, but the blow is softened somewhat by the 10% discount you get from buying in advance online.

You start off your tour walking through a timeline explaining how plants have evolved through the millennia, with examples of ancient plants still surviving dotted all along the pathway. This leads to the open gardens section – amongst them flowering bushes galore, a massive allotment garden showcasing vegetables from around the world, a herb walk (one of my favourite bits) and a memory garden with an ornamental pool.

But of course the Biomes are the dominant features and main attractions of the site. To be honest they reminded me of frog spawn but hey, to each their own. The Mediterranean biome is filled with plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa and California and is a bright, cheery place to roam about in. The tomatoes, chillies, olives trees and grape vines are enough to transport you to a hillside town somewhere in Italy. There is even a Bacchanalian party playing out amongst the shrubs.

I love chamomile tea and had no idea the plant looked like this.

This olive tree reminded me of how J and I got lost in an olive grove on Corfu once. It was a bit of a laugh, I got a blister from wearing terribly inappropriate footwear and we used an olive leaf to wrap around my toe to help cushion the skin. It didn’t help.

We took a well-earned rest for lunch in the cafeteria area that connects the two Biomes. We brought out own sandwiches but the cafe did look quite enticing with an interesting array of food. There were several aerial bee sculptures that rotated with any slight breeze which fascinated us for a while, trying to figure out their mechanism.

Onward to the Rainforest Biome! This was G’s favourite, a totally novel experience to him, and an introduction to what he could expect on his inaugural trip to Malaysia later on. It reminded me so much of home, especially when we came upon the traditional Malaysian village house. It was so stereotypical, exactly what we would have drawn as schoolchildren.

The air was hot and heavy with humidity, just what it would be like in a rainforest in the tropics. A little air-conditioned cubicle provides respite for visitors not used to the humidity, I suspect they would have installed it after a few fainting episodes occurred.

Beauty and the Beast: Venus fly traps sharing a pot with orchids.

Again, love figs, didn’t know they grew on trees like this.

Roul-roul partridges would dart in an out of the vegetation, some with little chicks scurrying behind their parents. They were adorable, and would come out at the most unexpected times.

Up the path to the canopy walkway which gives a bird’s eye view of the rainforest from above. When we were there they were building an extension called the Weather Maker which could recreate clouds and rain.

And then it was out to the welcoming cool of the outdoors again. The WEEE man (waste electrical and electronic equipment) is a stark reminder of how much household equipment we throw away instead of recycle. The average British person throws away 3 tonnes of equipment in their lifetime.

And last but not least, a rather moving sculpture showcasing our attitudes towards climate change – the older figures markedly ambivalent and the children optimistically looking forward to positive changes in the future. The sculpture was initially installed in the Thames, where the rise and fall of the tide reflected rising sea levels.

Photo from edenproject.com

We didn’t have time to explore The Core and some of the outdoor gardens, but that’s just more excuse to make a return trip. After a little wander through their excellent gift shop, we made a mad dash in the oncoming shower to our car and went back to our B&B to chill out for a bit before heading out for dinner at The Stable on Fistral Beach. It’s located just above Rick Stein’s takeaway and serves much better food. We had the excellent deal of pizza, salad and drink for £10. They were flexible enough to allow us to order pizzas off the set menu with a little surcharge. I had the King Crabber, a most delicious pizza redolent with the briny aromas of white and brown crab meat mingled with chilli, crab and lemon topped with creme fraiche. I can’t remember what G had but it was rich and meaty and spicy and he liked it.

And that ends an epic day out and post. More Cornish posts to come!

 

 

 

 

 

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Cornwall: Padstow and Newquay

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Last month we took a much anticipated week-long break in Cornwall. Having never been there and loving all things water-related, I was looking forward to walks on the beach, amazing seafood and beautiful weather. After a long drive down in the wee hours of the morning this was the scene that greeted us when we parked up in Padstow. My first thought was, oh boy I completely packed the wrong wardrobe.

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We took the South West Coastal path out of town towards the Camel Estuary, revelling in the mild weather and warm sunshine.

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We were terribly excited at being on the beach and stripped shoes off to our tootsies before sinking them into the damp sand, ankle deep in the water. We sunned ourselves on the rocks for a bit watching the world go by before heading back into town.

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We meandered through the little alleyways and shops, passing alms houses and the Lifeboat shed before looking for lunch. If you’re in Padstow and your hero is Rick Stein, then the obvious pilgrimage spot is his fish & chip shop.

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Unfortunately the queue was a little too long for our starving stomachs but we did drop by the shop next door and G came away with a gorgeous jute shopping bag.

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Instead of fish and chips, we filled up with another food must-have: Cornish pasty! And from the famous Chough Bakery, no less.

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Probably the best pasty I have ever had, this warm pocket of goodness was filled generously with large chunks of steak instead of the traditional mince, with potatoes and onions. The pastry was thin and crisp but firm enough not to crumble during eating. No soggy bottoms here!

Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps was our next stop off on our southwest adventure. This was one of the places I definitely wanted to visit after reading up about it online.

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Dramatic clifftops surround the beach way down below, peppered with stacks of rock carved by the waves through the ages. This was amongst my favourite beaches we went to, and we were lucky to be there at low tide and to be able to explore the beach and caves thoroughly.

The walk down was a bit hairy though… G chuckled as I made my way gingerly down the stairs.

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But the views made it all worthwhile!

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carnewas at bedruthan

We got a little excited at the abundance of ‘mussels’ on the rocks before realising they were barnacles. There were plenty of rock pools to wade in and little and large caves to explore. We climbed through very sharp rocks through a tunnel  to get to the other side of the beach and continue our exploration. It isn’t hard to see how Cornwall was a smuggler’s paradise back in the day.

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carnewas at bedruthan

We enjoyed ourselves so much we didn’t want to leave but as the shadows started to lengthen we made our way back up the cliffs towards Newquay.

Neither of us realised how long the warning light for the empty petrol tank had been blinking and so began the race against time to find petrol before the car broke down. This involved stopping at Mawgan Porth to get directions, and again at a very kind lady’s house to get more directions. I had faith my little red car would see us through to our salvation though, and so she did when we finally found the petrol station. By then, the blinking warning light had given up and we literally had 0 miles left on the dashboard.

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With much relief, we checked into the Great Western Hotel in Newquay. The room and bathroom were comfortable and well-appointed, and with a view like that, who wouldn’t be happy. I had planned a little surprise for G and had packed a bottle of whiskey and glasses to give him on our first night there. He loved the gift and proceeded to open it with ceremony to officiate the start of our Cornwall adventure.

Dinner was at Rick Stein’s takeaway at Fistral Beach and I’m very sorry to say, the less said about it the better. After such a long day, we crashed into bed early that night.

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The next morning I woke up at dawn and snuck some pictures of the sunrise over the cliffs. We started the day off with a satisfying full English at Oceans Cafe. The owners very happily tell you their recommendations for good restaurants in the area. After passing by shops selling all manner of beach paraphernalia, we found ourselves on Towan Beach.

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What a fabulous house that is, perched on the island rock and linked to the mainland by a graceful suspension bridge. Apparently a famous scientist called Sir Oliver Lodge used to live there.

Leaving central Newquay, we headed on to Perranporth, just a 20 minute drive away. This is a beach dominated by sand dunes, some still crumbly and soft like brown sugar and some further back made more solid and compact with time.

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perranporth beach sand dunes

We perched on the dunes for a bit before the wind rose and the clouds rolled in.

Back in Newquay we relaxed in the room for a while whilst G caught up with some work. After a shower we headed out to the Red Lion for some food.

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It’s a convivial place with a fire going in the corner, a pool table round the back, good food and friendly service. G had the beef & Double Gloucester pie with homemade gravy which was all a pie should be – comforting, rich and oh so satisfying. The ale flavour really stood out for me. I had the slightly healthier sea bream en papillote which was a most excellent conglomeration of fish, prawns, mussels and clams in a lemon and white wine sauce.

We chatted away excitedly about what we’d got up to in the day and our plans for the rest of the week. Of course, all healthy vibes went out the window when I ordered this for dessert:

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The salted caramel cookie sundae was an epic creation and even drew oohs and ahhs from our neighbouring table when it came out. Filled to the brim with chocolate torte, chocolate brownie, marshmallow, honeycomb, vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream, this was manna from heaven.

We left the Red Lion a little more roly-poly but happy with our meal and with life in general.

 

Beetroot risotto

I still have to do travel journals for my jaunts to the Italian Lakes, Lyon and Croatia! Whew. Meanwhile, here’s a little taster of what we got up to in Italy. Have you seen anything quite so dramatic? I mean, look at that colour.

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Beetroot risotto was not a combination that would have crossed my mind and I like that there are still places and chefs that can challenge your preconceptions of what food should look and taste like. This one’s almost Nordic in its simplicity don’t you think?

We had this dish at Il Vicoletto in Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore. A bright pink disc with swirls of melted gorgonzola on top, this was rich, comforting and just right for a chilly spring evening. JL and I shared it a a starter and were mighty thankful we did. Everywhere we ate in Stresa had impeccable food. The restaurants on our little Isola Superiore even gave complimentary prosecco before every meal.

So of course I had to try and reproduce it at home, and this is what I came up with:

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Not bad for a first try. It turns out there are tons of beetroot risotto recipes on the internet and I settled on a recipe from The Guardian.

Super simple to make, all it needs is a little babysitting over the stove so it doesn’t catch at the bottom and burn. The variety of toppings is endless. This time I went for smoked mackerel with black pepper, dill, sour cream and walnuts. Next time I’ll leave out the walnuts, they were pretty strong and overwhelmed the more delicate flavours of the dish.

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Beetroot risotto
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter

250g cooked beetroot
2 shallots, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled
850ml chicken or vegetable stock
35g butter, plus a knob for later
A splash of olive oil
175g risotto rice
80ml white wine
A little fresh thyme (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon
50g parmesan, freshly grated
Salt and black pepper

Optional toppings
50g gorgonzola, melted and drizzled over with toasted walnuts
Grated parmesan cheese or crumbled soft goat’s cheese
Roast beef with horseradish cream
Smoked mackerel with sour cream or natural yoghurt and dill

1 Pour the stock into a pan, bring it to the boil then lower to a simmer. Blitz the beetroot with a blender or food processor adding 4 tbsp of hot stock to make a thick, smooth puree.

2 Dice the shallots and garlic. Put a second pan on the hob. Add the butter and oil. Once hot, add the shallots and garlic. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 5 minutes, until the onion softens.

3 Tip the unwashed rice into the pan and stir well to coat it. Cook for a minute, stirring. Increase the heat. Add the wine and stir until it’s almost absorbed, then immediately add a large ladle of hot stock. Add the thyme, if using. Reduce the heat, so the mix keeps bubbling but doesn’t cook too fiercely.

4 Once absorbed, add another ladle of stock and keep stirring. Repeat this step until you have used virtually all the stock and the rice is just about cooked – this takes about 15-20 minutes. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice.

5 Stir in two-thirds of the beetroot puree. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the rest of the puree and half the parmesan. Stir in the butter to make it glossy. Taste and adjust.

Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pan and leave to rest for 3 minutes. Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and then finish with the remaining parmesan and your choice of toppings.

Whitby Wanderings

G decided one day that a weekend away was in order and planned a surprise trip up north. I badgered him a bit to see if he would give up the destination and bummer he gave in so easily. The man does not hold up well in interrogation.

We drove through the Yorkshire Moors on the way to Whitby. They are as wild and desolate as Charlotte Brontë would have you believe but also really beautiful in their own way. We stopped by for a quick photo op at the Hole of Horcum before carrying on our way. I hiked the area with a couple of friends last year and can honestly say it was one of the most beautiful walks I’ve done.

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The long and winding road……

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We arrived in Whitby sharpish and were immediately buffeted by winds but thankfully it was dry and sunny. The harbour stood pretty in the sunlight with the abbey keeping a watchful eye in the background.

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We made out way to the Humble Pie ‘n’ Mash Shop and fortified ourselves with good ol’ pie, mash, peas and gravy.

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Ah, it was so good getting out of the cold and settling into our chairs by the wood-burning fire. The shop is full of kitschy knicknacks that will keep you occupied during your short wait for the food to arrive.

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G had the steak and stout pie and I chose the lamb, leek and rosemary pie. Delicious comfort food!

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But be warned, they only accept cash here so bring enough for your meal lest you have to dash over to the nearest cash point to get some (as we did).

We walked along the cobblestoned pathways and explored the shops to the left and right.

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And popped behind a row of shops down an alley and found ourselves on a little beach, away from the hustle and bustle. You can just about see the lighthouse on the pier in the background. The wind huffed and puffed us away back into town.

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Leading us to the bottom of the Whitby Steps. All 199 of them. We soldiered upwards and onwards for the sake of good views from above, burning thighs cursing us along the way.

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Up and up we went…

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And were greeted with an imposing view of the Church of St Mary and the graveyard at the top.

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It’s not difficult to imagine with the storm clouds rolling in and standing in the middle of the graveyard how Bram Stoker was inspired to write his horror novel Dracula. Down again we went and towards another beach. By that time the winds got a bit nippy so we retreated to a nearby pub and had some coffee before heading to our B&B.

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But not before a few more shots of Whitby in the golden light.

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Our guesthouse was luxurious by B&B standards and the owners Kath and Peter are the warmest and friendliest of hosts. Peter cooks up a stonking good breakfast as well. Prices are reasonable and the location is within walking distance to the town so it’s a win-win situation in my book.

After a bit of a rest we headed back down into town for a slap-up dinner at the Magpie. These people do good things with their fryer.

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Our pretty table setting of fresh flowers and thistle.

For starters I had breaded whitebait with garlic mayonnaise dip. They were crispy, not at all soggy or oily. G doesn’t like whitebait very much so I had the pleasure of finishing it off by myself.

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But the winner in the starters department was definitely his special of scallops with blue cheese, bacon and a pesto sauce. Oh my, it’s making my mouth water again. Look at those plump and perfectly cooked scallops.

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G had been craving a good fish and chips for a while so plumbed for that as his main – a ‘regular’ sized haddock and chips.

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Look at that monster. Yorkshire portion sizes are no joke. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The haddock was again perfectly cooked and so sweet and juicy underneath that crisp batter coating.

My dish though was the star of the meal. I’ve always loved monkfish and I couldn’t resist ordering it when I saw it on the specials menu. It was a beautiful melange of fish, artichoke, shallots, fried parma ham, potatoes and an amazing gravy. A curious combination, but it worked and I’m sort of sad that I probably won’t have a dish like that again.

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We waddled back home against the strong winds (oh those winds!) and went into a food-induced coma for the rest of the night.

The next day we weren’t so lucky with the weather but made the best of it with a short trip over to Robin Hood’s Bay. These are actually pictures as we were leaving when the weather cleared a little but I wanted to show the view whilst walking down to the bay.

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The village is full of little walkways and nooks and crannies that you can explore

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We watched the waves crashing onto the pier and nipped into the Old Coastguard Station to get a bit of respite from the rain where I met this little nipper who started waving and dancing at me as soon as I got my camera out:

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It was slightly difficult getting a good picture, he wouldn’t stand still. A crabby crab.

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On the way back we spied this little fella through a window.

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We drove back to Whitby for a late lunch where we queued up outside Mr. Chips restaurant in the rain and hail. What a change from the weather the day before. By the time we got in we were wet and cold and starving, I forgot to take any pictures of the food. Rest assured, it was very good and I would thoroughly recommend it. G went for fish and chips again and I went for the little set of small fish and chips with tea. Dessert deserves a mention though. We shared an apple and pear crumble and it was probably the most delicious crumble I’ve had. I think the key to that was a crumble layer that was almost as thick as the single layer of fruit beneath it.

Go to Whitby, stuff yourselves silly on fish and chips, breathe in some salty sea air and leave happy.

Thai Chicken & Holy Basil Stir-Fry (Pad Kra Pao Gai)

Thai chicken & basil

I promise the only reason I went to the red light district when I was in Amsterdam was to head to Thai Snackbar Bird to check out the food. There are plenty of good reviews on TripAdvisor, in fact some of them are outright raves on the authenticity of the food. I’d downloaded a travel app from The Telegraph as well which listed it as one of the places to eat in Amsterdam. It even goes so far as to say that the snack bar is much better than the restaurant across the road run by the same Thai people. It really is only a no frills takeaway with a few tables and chairs and a bar table by the window but I don’t really care about atmosphere if the food is this good. A friendly lady from Bristol (of all places!) sat next to me at the bar table and we got to talking and decided to share our orders of stir-fry squid with holy basil (favourite of The Telegraph author) and pad thai with prawns to get the most out of our lunch. As it was with my app, it was her Lonely Planet Pocket Amsterdam travel guide that directed her there. Boy were our dishes delicious. And the portions were huge! Each was enough for two and we actually struggled to finish. I was too shy to snap photos of our food in front of her and we were also too busy gobbling down our food so apologies there is no pictorial evidence.

My recipe is an adaptation of Ken Hom’s after reading through the comments on the page. It’s such a simple dish to whip up and barely takes any time, the only proviso being able to find Thai holy basil from the shops. Thai holy basil has a subtle sweet aniseed flavour different to the usual basil which is stronger and punchier. I’d even say save this recipe until the time you can get holy basil as the flavour of the dish is so altered without it. Fresh squid is not easy to find here in Nottingham but luckily this recipe is pretty versatile you can substitute it with any sort of meat you like be it chicken, pork, or beef. Apparently it can also be cooked with minced pork and served with a fried egg on top. Anything goes! This is pretty much a one dish meal when cooked with the peppers and goes great with plain boiled rice to soak up the savoury sauce.

Thai Chicken & Holy Basil Stir-Fry (Pad Kra Pao Gai)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
450g boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 red pepper, cut into 1cm slices
3 tbsp sliced shallots
3 red chillies, deseeded and finely shredded (leave the seeds in 1 or 2 of the chillies for a spicier kick)
3 tbsp chopped garlic
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 tsp dark soy sauce
4 tsp sugar (granulated or caster is fine)
Water to thin the sauce down
Leaves from 2 large bunches of Thai holy basil
A handful of toasted cashew nuts

  1. Heat a wok on a high heat until it’s smoking and add in the oil. Once the oil is smoking as well add in the shallots and chilies and stir for 2 minutes until softened, then add in the garlic and stir for another minute.
  2. Add in the chicken pieces and stir until browned, then add in the red peppers and stir for a minute.
  3. Lower the heat to medium and add in the fish sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Add in 50 to 100ml of water to thin the sauce and leave to simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. The amount of water will vary according to how much sauce you’d prefer without losing the flavour. If you add too much just boil it a little longer to reduce it down again.
  4. Switch off the heat and stir in all the basil leaves. It might seem plenty but they do wilt down a lot.
  5. Serve with cashew nuts sprinkled on top. (I forgot to add them in the pic above!)

Weekend jaunt in London 2

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Sunday morning started with a lazy brunch at Kopapa, a Kiwi establishment in Seven Dials serving exciting fusion food. Tables online were booked up in advance so we took a chance, went there, put our names in the book and sat outside patiently under heating lamps for a table. It felt a particularly warm day for autumn so we braved an outside table and pushed it even further with iced coffees!

Nothing I ate this weekend in London was a dud, and Kopapa did not disappoint. It was great sitting outside under the heating lamps, sipping our coffees and doing some people watching, and boy, does London have some beautiful people. My friend had some Turkish eggs – 2 poached eggs in whipped yoghurt, hot chilli butter and 2 slices of buttered toast. He couldn’t resist a side order of bacon to round it up!

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I was torn between the French toast and the soft shell crab burger. Behold their descriptions on the menu:
Spiced banana French toast, grilled bacon, orange blossom labne, tamarind raisin relish, orange vanilla syrup
OR
Soft shell crab burger, nam jim salad, spicy peanut mayonnaise, avocado
I mean, give a girl a break! How was I supposed to choose? Some french toast and bacon, or a WHOLE soft shell crab? Don’t kill me, I went for the burger. It. Was. So. Good. Ahhhh.

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We spied the couple next to us having a cheeky doughnut with their coffee and found out they were from Crosstown and vowed to get some later on in the day. After that indulgent brunch, a brisk walk was needed to burn off the calories (and make space for the doughnut later!) so we headed on to the V&A and the Science Museum to check out some of the exhibits.

We couldn’t ignore the siren call of Soho any longer and succumbed to a peanut butter & berry doughnut for him and a matcha tea doughnut for me at Crosstown. Mine was tinged with a slight bittersweet matcha flavour and went down very easily. My friend had no problems with his doughnut either. However, the quality of service left us wanting. Counter lady made us feel like she was deigning to serve us and probably thought she had better things to do with her time. There probably are a lot of more worthwhile things to do than selling doughnuts, but if you’re going to have it as a job, do it well!

Onward to Joe & The Juice to quench our parched throats with some Hell of a Nerve and Sex Me Up, then it was on to King’s Cross for the train home!

Joe & the juice

 

 

 

Weekend jaunt in London

I spent a wonderful weekend in London recently, and despite the wet had a fantastic time traipsing around the capital enriching my soul with culture and my tummy with delicious food. This is a bumper edition of what I did on Saturday.

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Saturday morning started off with brunch at Maltby Street Market. My friend had delicious fried chicken with waffles from Waffle On and I had a bountiful lamb wrap from a stall manned by two ladies who brought some Mediterranean cheer to the dreary day. We got a bacon brownie and salted caramel brownie each from Bad Brownie as takeaway for dessert later on, some freshly squeezed juices and a coffee to warm up.

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You would think that after that we’d be done with the food bonanza for several hours yes? Nope, off we went to Cafe TPT in Chinatown for some tau fu fa. This is a soft, unctuous beancurd dessert served with syrup in its simplest form but of course we had the jazzed up versions of mango tau fu fa and red bean tau fu fa. Portions are huge and served in lovely wooden buckets. Then yes, we were done for a few hours but part of that was enforced deprivation via the The Father, a play at Wyndham’s Theatre telling the sad but often comedic story of a father and daughter coping with his Alzheimer’s disease. The play’s fractured and disconnected format puzzled us initially until we realised that the story was told from his view of the world in his mind and then it finally clicked. Claire Skinner in her frustrated and long-suffering role as daughter was competently portrayed but the star of the show had to be Kenneth Cranham who played the lead with a charming combination of grumpiness, humour and pathos.

Off we hopped, skipped and jumped to the Natural History Museum who were having their annual exhibition of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Apart from being thoroughly depressed that 17 year olds were producing photographs at a level that we could only aspire to, I was completely inspired by the photos on display, many of which had an important message or story to tell. A picture truly tells a thousand words. Ironically, mine aren’t very good as I snapped them on my camera phone in low light conditions.  The three below were my favourite in the exhibition.

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Reflection in black – A black macaque stares at you hauntingly with a disturbing humanlike gaze. Black macaques are critically endangered and still hunted for food in Indonesia.

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Broken Cats – Winner of the Photojournalist Award category. I found this particularly disturbing. Big cats in a Chinese circus have been drugged, their teeth pulled out and are controlled with a pole with a spiky end. Shockingly taken only 3 years ago. No more circus shows for me!

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A tale of two foxes – Grand Title winner. This is a subtle message in global warming, where the red fox’s expanding territory threatens the white fox’s survival both as competitor and predator.

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Doesn’t the museum foyer remind you a little of Hogwarts? The exhibition is completely worth your time and money and if you find yourself in London with a couple of hours to spare, please do make a visit.

For dinner we headed to Soho to trendy new establishment Bao. From their humble beginnings as a street stall to opening a permanent place by savvily securing funding from established restaurateurs, our meal at Bao has to be one of the best I’ve eaten. There was not a dud amongst the Taiwanese street food dishes we ordered. I love discovering new flavours in new cuisines and everything was just so good. Their egalitarian policy of no reservations does lead to queues but at least you know you’re guaranteed a seat at the end of it. Our queue of 45 minutes on a Saturday night was not bad I think, especially considering what we ate at the end of it. We ordered a feast of small dishes and shared them all.

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Look how cute and precise this is, they put individual timers for each teapot to ensure a perfect brew each time.

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Foam tea – chilled oolong tea topped with foam cream, very refreshing against all that rich food.

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Clockwise from top: Savoury aubergine mash and wonton crisps, lamb shoulder bao, classic bao. The classic bao was my favourite dish of the night – melt-in-your-mouth braised pork shoulder topped with peanut powder and folded in a pillowy milk bun.

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Clockwise from left: House pickles – sharp, crisp and delicious, fried chicken topped with hot sauce which reminded me of Kentucky seasoned flour my mum used to cook with when I was a child at home, and another pic of that wonderful classic bao because one isn’t enough.

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Scallops in a yellow bean, garlic and soy sauce sprinkled with seaweed powder. The scallops were cooked just so. It’s rich but delicate at the same time and full of umami goodness. They tell you to slurp the sauce up and that is exactly what we did. I could have had a couple more of these easy!

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These meaty grilled mushrooms were delicious topped with jewels of century egg and spring onions.

Bao 8

Guinea fowl with chi siang rice – still good but probably the least exciting of the lot. Break up the soy braised egg yolk to coat the rice with eggy sauce.

Bao 9

And to end an excellent meal – a sweet dessert bao filled with Horlick ice-cream. Malty goodness!

Don’t be afraid of the queue, turnover is fast as you order whist you’re queueing up and food comes out quickly. Service is efficient and knowledgeable and they don’t make you don’t feel rushed. A brilliant end to a brilliant day!

But wait…..

The brownies were still in my bag! No intermission during the play meant no snacking so we munched on them whilst watching Date Night on Netflix at home. Bliss.

 

Skegness

Ferris wheelSkegness beachBeach paraphernaliaWind farmBeach detailSkegness beachFish and chipsMeerkatsIguanaBaby sealPenguinsPenguinsInpatient at the Seal HospitalFlamingoGive us a shakeFeeding timeWho ya lookin' at?PiranhaMoray eelAxolotlCoral reefFerris wheel

A day trip to Skegness proved to be a relaxing day out. We toughed out the cold but sunshiney day on the beautifully deserted beach. A trip there wouldn’t be complete without having the obligatory fish and chips. The fish was incredibly fresh and delicious.

We’d spied the Skegness Natureland Seal Sanctuary on our way there and stopped by for a visit after lunch. The sanctuary accepts rescued seals and nurses them back to health first in the Seal Hospital, then in the main aquarium before releasing them back into the wild.  There was one inpatient baby seal in the hospital, which reminded me so much of a puppy. Feeding time came around and the sealkeeper (I’m taking a stab at this one) gave us a little educational talk about what they did at the centre while feeding fishies to the seals. Wildlife photography is pretty tricky isn’t it? The buggers move so fast I couldn’t get a really good picture of them in the water. The sanctuary also has a separate aquarium for other fish, aviary, and a tropical house.

I thoroughly recommend making a trip to Skegness in the off-season. Less crowds and more charm. Next time we might actually make it to the Parrot Zoo!

Islandbound, Part II

At the National Museum of Iceland, I read about the daring rescue of the crew of a British trawler in the winter of 1947. Local men and farmers left early in the day and trekked through the treacherous trails to reach the site of the stricken ship, below the Látrabjarg cliffs. By then, the stranded sailors were suffering from cold and exhaustion. A storm prevented rescue from the sea, so the only way to bring the men to safety was to climb down the 200 metre cliffs with ropes – a method traditionally used to collect nesting sea birds and their eggs from the cliff face. Men who could not be rescued before dark had to spend the night at the bottom of the cliffs, while the rest camped up top as others trekked back through snow-covered trails to fetch supplies. I wander through the gallery and linger at every sepia-toned photograph. The story is full of pathos and returns my faith in the resilience of the human spirit and the kindness and generosity of strangers.

 

Did you know that the majority of females in the Icelandic founding population have Gaelic ancestry, whereas the majority of males have Scandinavian ancestry? This comes from analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed through matrilineal lines and analysis of Y chromosomes, obviously only present in males. The theory goes that the Norse Vikings on invading and settling in the British Isles took wives there and their descendants then forged a new life in the uncharted land of Iceland.

Best friend goes: “What do they mean by ‘took’?

In Iceland, the major shaping elements of nature are so prevalent around you that you cannot fail to ignore their effects.

In Iceland, Mother Nature is not the gentle, nurturing presence you might get elsewhere. Here she hammers her point home, like a mother disciplining a stubborn child who refuses to obey. You will behave!

The land undulates around us and is interrupted by hills that rise suddenly from the flat earth. Black lava rock is punctuated by vivid green moss. Driving through the countryside, you really get the sense of the birth of a new land, most of it occurring violently courtesy of this or that volcano eruption, or the more gentle but still havoc-wreaking movement of glaciers.

At Þingvellir National Park you can literally stand witness to the movement of the earth beneath your feet. Iceland lies bang on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. These plates are drifting apart by 2cm every year. The enormity of this is almost too grand to comprehend as you walk along the valley of the mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Mist envelopes the land around and it’s not hard to imagine a Viking setting off on a long boat to conquer lands more westerly. Or in full battle regalia, fighting because it was in their blood and because it was what they lived for. They relied on the triumvirate of warrior gods Óðinn, Þórr and Týr, to give them protection. They carried carved talismans for this purpose. They were fearless – if they died, they would only join their slain comrades in Valhalla, to fight endless battles and await for the end of days, the final showdown with the Ice Gods. And that was glorious.

Islandbound

Or How To Explore Iceland In A Laidback Manner.

Book your flights months in advance, then forget that actual planning is involved before a holiday. Panic for a bit on checking weather forecast that Iceland only gets FOUR hours of sunshine at this time of year. Luckily not true in practice, sun thankfully sets at very sensible time of 7pm.

Engage in a very interesting conversation with best friend as to whether Eskimos live in Iceland. Adamantly declare they do not. Then proceed to confess that did not know Iceland was an island. Said best friend has still not allowed to let me live that down. Is it very wrong to assume that it’s part of the great land of Scandinavia, given their shared histories and cultures? Important lesson #1: Sometimes it’s best to let others be ignorant of your ignorance. Perhaps just nod sagely.

Get pleasantly surprised to be unknowingly upgraded to a three-bed room as opposed to booked doubles, marvel at the lovely bathroom even though the hot water is a little whiffy of sulphur because that adds authenticity to your adventure. Revel in the view of the harbour, towered over by magnificent mountains. Saunter up to your hostel reception every night in hopes that the Aurora Borealis tour will go out. It does not. Have chirpy optimism slightly crushed every night.

Have the most amazing lobster soup you will ever have in your lifetime in a little shanty on the harbour, manned by the darlingest of old fishermen. Happily he conforms to stereotype sporting an Icelandic knit sweater. I order grilled halibut. It tastes pleasantly of the freshest of fish. Best friend orders grilled minke whale, then professes to be completely amazed it does not taste of fish! Lesson #2: Whales = mammals. Mammals do not taste like fish. Ergo, whales will not taste of fish despite living in ocean and looking a lot like big fish.

Eyjafjallajökull, Hallgrímskirkja, Langjökull, Þingvellir, Þor (like Thor, axe-happy Norse god of old). The words roll off your tongue if you knew how to pronounce them in the first place.

Eat skyr. Lots of skyr. Skyr with grapes for breakfast, skyr in cheesecake. Did you know they grew bananas in Iceland? Bananas!

Try really hard not to get seasick whilst on a whale-watching tour. Really really hard. Almost fail spectacularly at one point and have barf bag at the ready but hold your nerve until you get back to the calm waters of the harbour.

Sip the most amazing, delicately spiced, soothing chai latte in a cool cafe in Reykjavik with the cool in-crowd. Admire Joseph Gordon-Levitt nattily suited up in GQ whilst best friend industriously writes postcards. Some people have their priorities right. (Btw, is it just me or has JGL suddenly become cool?)

Attempt to take a clear, sharp picture of the surreal landscape zooming past through a bus window. This will go on for a while, perseverance (read: stubbornness) is an inherent part of human nature. Then resign and just glorify in the beautiful scenery.

Scour town, nay Iceland for a beautiful (and affordable) reindeer rug before settling on a gorgeous one in soft shades of brown. Then lug it back home in a great big plastic bag. Unfurl it at home and admire how it makes your pine-effect floor look a little more luxurious. I have the rugs and wool throws, now I just need the wall-to-wall bookshelf and a library to go with it.

Fit in a dip in the Blue Lagoon before flying home. Have a mud mask. Go on, it’s good for your skin. Tough it out in the wet and dry saunas, get your back vigorously massaged by the high pressure waterfall. It’s time to go when you’re all pruney. Walk out from the Blue Lagoon all relaxed and rejuvenated, get to bus and be horrified that there are no bags in the luggage compartment. No luggage, but more importantly, no reindeer rug! Thankfully many buses identical and finally locate correct one. British African dudes find episode quite amusing as they traipse round buses with us.