Shakshuka and Visiting the Dead Sea area of Israel

Our final leg of our Israel trip was to visit the Dead Sea. You can do a day trip from Jerusalem, but we felt it deserved more than a passing glance, besides there was quite a lot to see in the area.

We stayed on the Ein Gedi Kibbutz, which is located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, at the edge of the Judean desert. It was founded in 1953 with its primary focus on agriculture and tourism. The kibbutz is all lush and green owing to a natural water source that runs under it, but the neighbouring area is barren and desolate. There is a hotel within the kibbutz – but we stayed in an apartment at the top of Zahava’s house, who has lived on the kibbutz, with her husband, for over 30 years.

We booked through Airbnb, so it’s easy to find if you fancy going. She and her husband were wonderful hosts, who made us feel right at home. As it was an B&B, Zahava would arrive each morning with a huge tray of delicious food that set us up for the day. We ate on the veranda before the weather got too hot, overlooking the dead sea and Masada in the distance.

As we were based on the Kibbutz we also had all the facilities available to us – pools, tennis courts, running track, supermarket, as well as a restaurant in the hotel. (Its important to note that the Ein Gedi spa by the edge of the Dead Sea – is not located in the Ein Gedi Kibbutz or hotel, but nearby) One evening we also ate in the kibbutz part of the complex, which you would not be able to do if you were simply staying in the hotel. The calm rhythm of the kibbutz dictated out days. In the morning we would head out and explore and then come back and relax in the afternoon before a late afternoon hike in a wadi. The kibbutz is within the En Gedi Nature Reserve, where there are some truly phenomenal hikes.

It’s super hot here as it is the lowest part of the earth, so as well as carrying a lot of water, I also carry an umbrella and wear a swimming costume so that I can soak in every waterfall and pool we pass. Walking in 40 degrees, requires soaking in cold water as often as possible.

The wildlife is also pretty special here. There are a some venomous snakes – I only saw one at night on the perimeter of the Kibbutz, so it’s advisable to wear covered shoes when you are on the hikes.

We also saw lots of Nubian ibex – desert dwelling goats – clambering around precariously upon the slopes of the wadi. You need to be aware of sudden rock fall if they are climbing above you.

Historically the area is fascinating with huge swaths of tourists visiting spectacular Masada. Herod the Great built a large fortress on the plateau as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. He erected two palaces there between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Jewish Roman historian – Josephus, the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire, at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War, ended in the mass suicide of 960 people (the Sicarii rebels and their families) hiding there.

The fortress is huge and had impressive ways of redirecting and saving fresh water at the fort, along with swimming pools, cold pools and spas. The mosaics found by archeologist are beautifully intact.

To reach this city you can either take the snake path before sunrise or else use the cable car. It’s one of Israel’s most popular sights but as we were in one of the first cable cars of the morning we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The other great magnet of the area is the Dead Sea itself due to its medicinal qualities. Sadly the sea has dramatically shrunk in recent years causing great concern. You can read more about this here.

When you go to the Ein Gedi spa you now have to get on a little train pulled by a tractor from the spa to the waters edge. In the 1980’s the water was right up by the spa itself.  Despite the notion that it is impossible to drown in the dead sea, this is a myth and there have been cases of people drowning. You need to keep on your back, not your front, and don’t attempt to swim.

Due to the high salinity, the water feels very heavy, kind of like bathing in salty olive oil,  so if you are on your front you can find it hard to turn on your back. It feels oily and you want to make sure you don’t get any water in your eyes or mouths. Thankfully the showers are in on the edge of the sea so that you can immediately wash the salty water off you as you get out. The medical qualities of the dead sea mud are also well known so make sure you slather yourself in mud (this is back at the spa itself) and then wait for it to dry before showering if off. Your skin will be glowing and you will be feeling pretty radiant.

The other must-see in the area is over in the West Bank – The Dead Sea Scrolls or the Qumran Cave Scrolls. It’s about 30 minutes from Ein Gedi Reserve and a good place to stop on your way back to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. There is an interesting museum there and you can hike all over the area, although those we saw hiking here had ropes and proper equipment so perhaps only for serious climbers.  The scrolls, which are ancient religious writings, were found by a shepherd in the 1940’s in 11 caves near the site of Qumram. You can see some of the caves in the photograph above.

 

I am going to leave you with a classic Israeli dish that is found throughout the Levant. Shakshuka is a delicious breakfast dish – although of course you can eat it at any time of day. It is basically poached eggs in a spiced tomato sauce with crumbled feta and parsley or coriander sprinkled on top. Everyone has their version but this is mine. It’s a big hit in my house and is super straight forward and easy to execute. Perfect for a filling breakfast before school/work as it takes 15 minutes to make from start to finish.

Shakshuka

serves 4-5

2 tbsp oil

1 white onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, finely diced

1 sweet red pepper (these are the long ones, but bell peppers are also good), sliced lengthways and then finely sliced crossways

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp smoked paprika powder

1 tsp salt

1x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped in the pan

3 large fresh tomatoes, finely diced

50ml water

4 eggs (or 5/6 depending on how many you are feeding)

To serve

1 handful of crumbles feta

1 handful of fresh coriander

 

  1. Heat a deep frying pan and add the oil.
  2. When hot, add the onions followed by the garlic and gently heat. After a couple of minutes, add the pepper, salt and spices. Move around the pan to soften for a further couple of minutes.
  3. Add both the tinned and fresh tomatoes and stir in well.
  4. Add the water and simmer to allow all the ingredients to soften and infuse. Leave for 8 minutes so that it thickens.
  5. Make a hole in the mixture and break an egg into this hole. Repeat, leaving a good gap between each egg.
  6. Place a lid on the pan and leave to simmer on a moderate-low heat for 3-5 minutes, by which time the eggs should be cooked but still soft. Leave for longer and increase the heat if they have not cooked sufficiently.
  7. Just before serving, scatter the feta cheese and fresh coriander. Spoon onto plates with some flatbread or sourdough to mop.

 

 

 

 

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Iraqi Jewish Kubbeh and Exploring the Galilee and Golan Heights

Nimrods Fortress

OK my absolutely TOP TIP when you visit Israel – maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but I reckon you are curious to visit. Am I right? Buy a National Parks Pass. I had no idea they had so many, but there loads with various ruins, waterfalls, forests and deserts. Providing you go to more than three (which you will) it makes sense to buy the pass. When you go off on a hike the important thing is to take loads of water, wear covered shoes, and if you want shade, carry a small umbrella.

Ramparts of Nimrod’s Fortress in the foreground and Banias Nature Reserve in the distance

The Golan Heights area, in the north of the country,  was pretty empty of tourists, but the scenery was stunning. This may have been because it is pretty close to Syria, so most tourists keep away, but we found there was lots to see, it felt safe and we never went closer than 10 miles to the boarder. We even went through an area, which becomes a ski resort in the winter months, with Mount Hermon looming large nearby. Nimrod’s Fortress is a must-see. It takes the mantle of the biggest castle from the time of the Crusaders in all of Israel, a mountain-top stronghold spanning back to the 13th century. You can clamber all over it with virtually no one else there. Below the fortress are the Banias forests with rivers and waterfalls.

Golan Heights is also perfect terrain for vineyards so if you are up for a bit of wine tasting you might want to consider visiting any of the following: Adir winery, Dalton winery, Pelter winery, Chateau Golan, Galil Mountain winery. 

We ended up visiting Jezreel which had some really fine wines with a grape that I don’t often come across – carignan. We learned some super interesting facts about the wines in Israel; such as the fact that many of the wines are kosher – meaning that only religious Jews can be involved in its production. It has to be sealed twice before it can be touched by moderate/non-religious Jew. Had we accidentally touched any of the barrels below, the wine would have had to be discarded immediately. They are trying to appeal to not just a Jewish audience and are beginning to export to the UK. If you are in the wine business then I would highly recommend a trip to Israel to try out the wines. One of the red’s I tried at Jezreel was the best red I have had in ages.

We based ourselves in a house (via Airbnb) in the hills behind Tiberias overlooking the Sea of Galilee – just south of Golan Heights. Tiberias itself was rather built up and did not have many redeeming features if I’m honest, although we did enjoyed a couple of delicious meals at Avi’s restaurant in town. We also drove to the other side of the lake one evening and ate in the Kibbutz En Gev, which had some tasty food.

Dinner at Kibbutz En Gev

Our reason for basing ourselves in this area for a few days was that it was well located to explore the northern region of Israel. The place also feels very familiar as a lot of the sights we visited are spoken about in the bible stories we were told as children – feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fishes (Tabgha), the sermon on the mount (Church of the Beatitudes). The fresh water Sea of Galilee itself is little changed over the centuries. It still has big waves – this surprised us – beautiful sunsets and fish to catch. We bathed in its cool, refreshing waters every day to cool down after a day of touring.

Sea of Galilee from the Church of the Beatitudes

On one day we visited a fascinating archaeological site within Megiddo National Park called ‘Tel Megiddo’ or ‘Armageddon’, as it is known in Greek. During the Iron Age it was a royal city and was of particular importance due to its strategic location overlooking the Jezreel Valley. Some Christians believe this will be the site of the final battle between Jesus Christ and the kings of the Earth who will go to war, as outlined in the Book of Revelation. Interesting stuff, whether you believer or not.

Megiddo

After wandering around the heat, the best thing to do is to submerge yourself in cool waters. Thankfully there is a national park called Gan Hashlosha, also known as Sachne that  is often described as one of the most beautiful places in Israel –  a real-life garden of Eden. It’s basically a series of natural spring pools (at a constant 28 degree Celsius year round). After you’ve swam the length of one you get out and climb into the next. Little fish also swim in these pools and have a tendency to nibble your toes if you take too long to get out – you’ve been warned! There were many families enjoying a day out, cooking their own BBQ lunches and swimming in the pools. There is also an archeological museum here, but we spent our times relaxing in the pools instead.

Gan Hashlosha

I love a good view, especially an elevated one, so before sunset we headed to Belvoir National Park and drove to the highest peak so we could see the whole of the Jordan Valley, with Jordan in the background.

View over the Jordan Valley towards Jordan

Before and after sunset. Totally stunning.

Continuing with the theme that I will incorporate every travel post with a recipe I ate on my travels, today I wanted to show you how to make kubbeh (kubba/kibba), which I mentioned in my post on Jerusalem when I visited Azura restaurant. It’s an Iraqi Jewish recipe that is typically eaten in the winter months, so perfect to eat in the months ahead here in the UK. As I made so many kubbeh – around 24 of so, it made sense to show you two different varieties – one yellowy green and the other red. The kubbeh taste the same, but the soup they are in is very different. The red is sweeter from the beetroot and the yellowy/green is more zingy from the lemon.  What you can do is freeze the patties, pre-cooking, and then use them at a later date if you don’t want to cook them all in one go.

Kubbeh is made with semolina (although I have seen some recipes with 50% plain flour and 50% semolina). They are then filled with minced beef with a hint of cumin, paprika and onion. You can add touch of cinnamon should you wish or perhaps pine nuts; you can be as inventive as you want.

Jewish Iraqi Kubbeh

Makes around 24

2 tbsp olive oil

500g minced beef

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp smoked paprika

salt and pepper, to taste

*******

640g semolina

400ml warm water, add gradually

1 tsp salt

*******

 

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Gently move around the pan to soften for 3 minutes before adding the mince, followed by the spices and salt and pepper. Leave to bronze for 10 minutes, moving the mince around the pan from time to time. Place to one side to cool whilst you prepare the semolina.
  2. In a bowl add the semolina and salt and then gradually add the water. Use your hands to help bind the semolina together so that it comes together like one large play-doh ball. Leave to chill in the fridge for 10 minutes and then remove from the fridge and break off a golf ball size portion of the dough.
  3. Flatten the dough out in your hand and then place a teaspoon amount of spiced beef into the centre. Bring the sides up towards one another and cover so that the semolina dough completely covers the beef. Pat into a round shape and place on a plate whilst you complete the rest.

 

EITHER

Beetroot Kubbeh

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

pinch of cinnamon

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cumin powder

salt and pepper

2 tbsp tomato puree

juice of 1 lemon

1.5 litre water

4 beetroot, peeled and chopped into match sticks

 

  1. In a deep pan heat the olive oil and add the white onion and all the spices and salt and pepper. Move around the pan to soften for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato puree.
  2. Add the water and lemon juice and mix into the ingredients.
  3. Place the beetroot in the pan and gently submerge half the kubbeh. Keep on a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring a few times so that the kubbeh don’t stick to one another.

Serve with fresh parsley.

OR

Greens and Chickpea Kubbeh

1 tbsp oil

1 leek, finely chopped

1 celery, finely chopped

1/8 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 preserved lemon, finely chopped

1 tin (400g) of chickpeas

1 chicken stock cube

1 litre of water

3 tbsp cubed marrow, optional (I had some that needed eating so popped it in)

3 rainbow chard leaves and stalks, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

 

  1. In a separate saucepan, heat the oil and then add the leak and celery and let them soften for a few minutes before adding the spices.
  2. Add the preserved lemon, chicken stock, chickpeas and water.
  3. Now add the marrow (if using), rainbow shard and gently add the kubbeh patties and gently simmer for 20-30 minutes

To serve add some fresh lemon – quartered and some fresh parsley and mint.

 

Which would you choose?

 

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Seven Things to Do When Exploring Jerusalem

Jerusalem is an absolutely fascinating city on many levels. I loved it. Whether you are religious or not, you can’t help but be hypnotised under it’s spell. My advice is to give the city time. Don’t do a whistle stop tour ticking off the usual suspects and leaving within 24 hours. We stayed for three days and to be honest I would have loved a couple more to explore further and just watch the world go by. People watching in this city is something else.

  1. Hire a Guide

Whilst we did a lot of exploring on our own, we did book an excellent ‘Three Religions Holy City Walking Tour’ of the old city via Viator. We lucked out massively on a hugely knowledgable guide called Joshua Levinson. He was absolutely brilliant. Our tour was a group tour and he kept our attention for 7 hours, both my daughters (12 and 9 years old) were absolutely entranced by all his stories and did not once say they were bored.

If you want to book him directly you can contact him via his facebook. You’ll need a comfortable pair of shoes – be warned that the narrow streets in the old city can be slippery if the shopkeepers have washed their steps outside their shops, and a big bottle of water. I also found an umbrella a great way to keep out of the sun.

The old city is divided up into four uneven quarters – Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim and within these quarters there are subdivisions; for example in the Christian quarter you will also find Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in an area with their own Ethiopian Monastery Church and dwellings.

 

2. Tea at the Austrian Hospice

Take some time out from the hustle and bustle whilst exploring the old city and go to the Austrian Hospice for tea, sachertorte and apple strudel.  Seriously. Sure it’s surreal eating these Austrian fancies in Israel, but I think it’s these things that adds to its charm. It’s based directly on the Via Dolorosa (the road that Jesus walked on carrying the cross to his crucification).  Built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse palaces, once you’ve found the buzzer to open its large looming doors you’ll be greeted by a peaceful oasis. You can also stay here as well – it’s perfectly located in the middle of all the action, but peaceful at the same time. As a visitor you can also go on to the roof, which affords beautiful views across the old city.

3. Try some Middle Eastern Jewish Food at Azura

Modern Jerusalem is culturally rich with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds living together. The food at family-run Azura, located in the middle of the Machine Yehuda Market, or shuk, is an unforgettable experience. It has Iraqi, Kurdish, Turkish and Tunisian influences and the result is sublime. On our first visit (yes we returned it was so good) we felt the best way to experience the menu was to try the tasting menu – obviously! The portions are still large, not your usual tasting menu size, so we ended up taking a doggie bag of goodies home to have for supper.

Highlights from the menu were Azura – Turkish eggplant filled with group beef and pine nuts in a special sauce with cinnamon, okra with tomatoes, Mejadara – a rice and lentil combo, beet kubbeh, a glorious soup made with beet, celery and swiss chard, the meatballs in a tomato sauce, beef sofrito and of course the hummus to kick off the proceedings.

The staff were great, the owner – Moshe – incredibly affable and warm and the food delicious. If you aim for a late lunch getting a table won’t be tricky. It’s closed for supper, but lunch goes on until 4pm. Also don’t go on a Saturday as you’ll find it closed.

4. Linger in Machane Yehuda Market

Since you’ll be going there anyway to visit Azura, make sure you leave time to properly explore the Machane Yehuda Market. It’s the largest in Jerusalem with over 250 vendors selling a wide range of food and clothes. There are also a number of bars within the market, which even at 5pm were pretty buzzing. The sights, sounds and smells are hypnotic and its a great place to feel the vibe of a Middle Eastern style market. If you are staying in an Airbnb and want to cook at home then it’s also a great place to pick up some delicacies.

 

There are a number of food tours available, but it just so happened that the lovely lady, Aliza Press, who welcomed us at our Airbnb (who was a friend of the owners who were away), was a chef and she offered food tours as well as being a private chef. If you drop her an email to AlizaPress@gmail.com she can arrange a time to show her beloved city from a food perspective. Sadly due to timing I could not take her up on her offer, but when I return, I will be certainly be getting in touch. Mention my name and my blog if you get in touch with her.

5. Go eat Pizza and Panzanella at P2

Yes….. seriously….. you read correctly. P2 on Keren HaYesod Street is a small (max 20 covers), unassuming little restaurant where most of seating is up at the bar watching the chefs make the pasta and pizza from scratch – literally. The menu is short, as all good menus should be, but the quality of the food was spot on. We were in awe at the one waiter who served out the tiramisu, made the lettuce salads, served and cleared plates like a whirling dervish, took orders and settled bills for the whole restaurant; it certainly created a buzz. The panzanella salad was the best I’ve eaten – so make sure to order one to share before your pizza. Photo of said salad below.

Below is my take on the wonderful salad that we ate at P2 and the recipe to follow. The combination of the crunchy old toasted baguette, onion rings, cucumber, the creamy mozzarella, salty black olives, fleshy tomatoes, work so well with the sherry vinegar dressing.

 

 

Panzanella Salad

serves 4

4 medium tomatoes, quartered

1 cucumber, cut at diagonal angles

1 small/medium white or red onion, finely sliced

3 tbsp black stoneless olives

2 mozzarella, broken up into bite size chunks

12 small pieces of day or two old baguette, cut into bite sized pieces (I used white petite ficelle hand cut bread that I found at Waitrose)

1 tbsp olive oil

handful or two of fresh basil leaves

*********

vinaigrette 

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/4 tsp dijon mustard (optional)

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

 

  1. This recipe is mostly a case of compiling ingredients. Make sure you cut the cucumber into diagonal bite sized chunks. The different shapes of the ingredients really makes this dish. Place all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Using a pan, dip both ends of the bread in the olive oil and heat in the pan so that it begins to bronze and slightly char, turn over to bronze the other side and then remove. Place into the bowl with all the other ingredients.
  3. Prepare the vinaigrette in a separate small bowl.
  4. When ready to serve gently toss the vinaigrette over the salad and place in a large bowl for people to serve themselves.

Delicious hey!

6. Deciding Where to Stay

There are lots of options on where to stay in Jerusalem. For us it made sense to book an Airbnb and I found a beautiful apartment in Talbiyeh, a good 15 minutes walk to the Jaffa Gate. The area is safe, quiet, with tree lined roads with beautiful grand houses. Below is a photo of the outside of our apartment.

If a hotel is what you are after and perhaps one with a pool, then The American Colony might be a stylish option. The Austrian Hospice, that I spoke about earlier in this post, looked lovely and might be a good option if you are travelling as a couple or solo traveller. This article by Vogue also has a few other good options.
7. Sunset at the Mount of Olives
Walk up to the Mount of Olives just before dusk to watch the setting sun over the old city. Yes it’s a step – ish climb, but you will be rewarded with a truly beautiful sight. It’s a 15/20 minute walk from Lions Gate in the old city. The walk takes you pass the Garden of Gethsemane as well as the Russian Orthodox church and convent (photo above). It’s a great way to work up an appetite before supper.
There are taxi’s at the top, if you don’t want to walk down, but the evening was so balmy when we were there that we continued down on foot to walk through the old city once the crowds had made their way home.
Jerusalem really is an extraordinary city that I would urge you to visit if you get the opportunity, but don’t get too carried away. I will leave you with these words below written by Lonely Planet about  ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’.
Jerusalem syndrome
Each year tens of thousands of tourists descend on Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of the prophets – and a handful come away thinking they are the prophets. Jerusalem Syndrome is a medically recognised ailment that occurs when visitors become overwhelmed by the metaphysical significance of the Holy City and reach the conclusion that they are biblical characters or the Apocalypse is drawing near. Doctors estimate the syndrome affects between 50 and 200 people per year, and although many have a recorded history of mental health issues, about a quarter of recorded cases have no previous psychiatric record.
Source: Lonely Planet

The Allure of Ancient Jaffa in Tel Aviv

I’d not been to Tel Aviv before, so deciding which area to stay in required a bit of research. Friends had recommend a range of areas but in the end we opted for Jaffa, which is the southern and oldest part of Tel Aviv. It is an ancient port city that is steeped in history with a natural harbour that has been in use since the bronze age. It also offers great vistas of the whole of Tel Aviv as you can see.

The area is predominantly Muslim and home to winding alleys with shops and art galleries, as well as the lively Flea Market, which was a stones throw away from our apartment. The area is filled with cool eateries and hip bars and whilst our Airbnb apartment was in the thick of it, the noise level was low and we slept like logs.  We were also lucky to only be 5 minutes walk from the sea.

The stone staircase leading to the door of our apartment were the most ancient we had ever climbed; it really did feel as if we were stepping back in time with every step. You can see what I mean if you look on my instagram under my instatories under ‘Israel’.

The food in Jaffa is seriously good and a place to head for lunch if you are staying in Jaffa – or indeed another part of Tel Aviv – is Abu Hassan. It’s one of the oldest and most loved hummus restaurants located on Dolphin Street. It attracts locals – Jews and Arabs, as well as tourists and labourers. The concept is simple – there are four dishes (no written menu – only the dishes presented in writing on the wall) – hummus, masabacha, brown beans and labna. To accompany the dishes you are served warm pitas, fresh onions, chilli in lemon water and falafel. It is masabacha that I have tried to replicate in a recipe for you today.

The main difference between masabacha and hummus is the texture. Whilst hummus is smooth, masabacha keeps some of the chickpeas whole. It is also eaten warm – although it is also equally delicious eaten at room temperature. To top the masabacha some chickpeas are added on top in a little water and lemon juice with a little cumin powder or smoked paprika and some freshly chopped parsley. This is my recipe. It is pretty straightforward once you have soaked the chickpeas for 24 hours in cold water.

 

 Masabacha 

Serves 4

8 garlic cloves, unpeeled

255g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp baking powder

*********

80ml chickpea cooking water

3 tbsp chickpeas

125ml reserved chickpea stock

1/4 tsp cumin powder

4 tbsp tahini

125ml olive oil

5 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt

********

chickpea juice

2 tbsp chickpea juice

3 tbsp tahini

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove

1 pinch of salt

 

 

  1. Place the dried chickpeas in a bowl and cover with cold water. Add the baking soda and stir. Refrigerate the chickpeas overnight.
  2. Drain the chickpeas the following morning and place in a pan along with the unpeeled garlic cloves. Cover with fresh cold water so that it covers the chickpeas completely. Simmer for 40 minutes, by which time the chickpeas will have softened. Remove the scum that will form whilst cooking and add more water if it looks to be getting dry.
  3. Strain the chickpeas, keeping all the water and place to one side. Rinse the chickpeas thoroughly. Remove 3 tbsp of chickpeas and place to one side.
  4. Place the chickpeas, all the garlic (except one which you will use later) – with the skins now peeled, 80ml of reserved chickpea cooking water and cumin powder in a blender and whizz. Gradually add the olive oil and tahini so that you end up with a very creamy, smooth hummus. Add salt to taste. Place in a medium sized, shallow serving bowl.
  5. In a separate small bowl mix the chickpea juice ingredients.
  6. To serve make a slight well in the centre of the hummus and scatter the remaining whole chickpeas on top.  Spoon in the tahini-lemon mixture – you may find you won’t need to add it all so spoon it in gradually. Sprinkle with cumin and/or paprika powder and garnish the parsley. Serve with pita bread.

*****************

After lunch it is worth spending time walking around the beautiful narrow streets of old Jaffa. Whilst it might be very hot, if you are visiting in summer, the narrow streets do offer some shade and being near to the sea a gentle breeze is a welcome respite.

A meander around the famous Jaffa Flea market is an absolute must – it sells a range of trinkets, bags from Afghanistan, evil eye pendents, jewellery and clothes, as well as a host of interesting antiques. Being so close to our apartment I spent a fair amount of time nosing around this market as you can imagine.

There are also a number of interesting shops surrounding the market and neighbouring streets. My favourite without a doubt was this little gem. Erez Zielinski Rozen Perfumery.

If you like brands like Aesop and Le Labo then this is really going to appeal. The good news is that the price tag does not equal the other two brands, thankfully. The smells were divine and the packaging and branding were elegant and understated. You can’t buy it in the UK so it feels deliciously unique and original. A few bottles of perfume and hand made soap may have found their way home in my luggage.

If a food market is what you are after then a short taxi ride (I think the taxi drivers were the nicest I’ve experienced – not trying to rip you off and pleasant to talk to) will deliver you to the Carmel Market (in Hebrew it is known as ‘Shuk HaCarmel’ so use that name if riding in a cab).

First opened in 1920, 11 years after the establishment of the city, the market or ‘shuk’ occupies one street, which runs south from the junction of King George Street, Allenby, and Sheinkin Street to the Carmelit Bus depot in the south. The lower part of the market (nearer the sea) is the place to head where food stalls and fresh produce are on offer.

If you are feeling peckish, then head to THIS guy below.

…..he is located on the right hand side – if the sea is behind you – in the food section of the market –  for an egg, potato or a mix of both, or lamb burika.  He is a real entertainer and is pretty mesmerising to watch as he prepares his tasty treats. Burika is basically a paper thin pastry dough that is smeared with herbed mashed potato that is folded and dunked in boiling oil, then an egg is wrapped in it. It comes out crisp and is then popped into a pita bread along with hot sauce (harissa I guess), fresh tomatoes, cabbage, onion and then presented in a little paper bag. Order one to share as they are filling.

Whilst munching on your burika you can stroll through the market taking in the smells, sounds and general buzz of the market.

As the sun sets head back to the harbour by Jaffa to watch the setting sun.

Then grab a pew and wait to be entertained by the whirling dervish waiters at ‘Old Man and the Sea’ 

Sit outside and soak up the ambiance of the locals and tourists promenading around the harbour, whilst you devour your feast. 

 

 


Oven Baked Aubergines with Tahini and Tomatoes in Acre, Israel

It’s been a while, but I am excited to be back. Israel was the most INCREDIBLE adventure where we were treated warmly by all those we met. I have been pondering on how best to break up the blog posts as I know that some of my blog readers (or social media followers) have trips planned and others that are thinking about going in the future. As not everyone is interested in the travel aspect I will incorporate every Israel blog post with a recipe that was inspired from my trip – therefore hopefully appealing to all readers.

The order of our trip (which maybe useful if you are thinking on going yourself) was as follows:

Tel Aviv (stayed in Jaffa – highly recommend)

Acre (also known as Akko/Akka) – which I will talk about today

Sea of Galilee – and explored all the northern region – Golan Heights

Jerusalem  – mind blowing – absolutely loved the city.

Dead Sea – stayed on the Kibbutz part of Ein Gedi (more on that in another post)

First up I wanted to tell you about the old Crusader city of Acre, which is also known as Akko/Akka. In Israel most places have two or three names – just to keep us on our toes. Acre was recognised in 2001 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is an absolute must if you are visiting Israel. The old city is mainly Muslim, although Jewish and Christians can be found living and working together within its walls.  It is an ancient port city and was the gateway to the holy land. The present day city is 300 years old, but beneath it lies amazing ruins of a 900 year old Crusader city, which as a tourist you can see first hand for yourself, thanks to careful preservation.

The place itself is wonderfully peaceful, a living museum, that was not overrun with tourists when we visited. As an aside the city reminded me of Galle in Sri Lanka – probably because of its ancient stone wall surrounding the city and its walkable size.

As we wanted to experience all that Acre had to offer we bought a combined ticket which allowed us to visit: The Knights Hall, The Hospitaller Fortress,Turkish Bath, Templars’ Tunnel and the Okashi Art Museum. You are given an interactive headset, which really helps bring the city to life, especially when you are in the old city under the present day old city. The exhibitions and sites were really impressively curated and filled a large part of our day. You can find details of all the sites here. I highly recommend embracing all these museums. They are fun and perfect for all ages.

Taking a step back however, I will never forget our arrival through the labyrinth of streets, little changed for hundreds of years, at the boutique Arabesque Hotel, which is a beautiful Ottoman building that has been recently restored and renovated to a high standard. It has three bedrooms, however, in the next couple of months a further four rooms will be available at another equally beautiful building across from Arabesque. The hotel is an oasis of calm and tranquility and the perfect place to rest after a days touring of the city, which is very easy to do on foot.

It is also a few minutes walk away from the old market (suk) where you will find a little shop selling all manner of baklava and the BEST kanafeh I had in the whole of Israel. It is a traditional Arab dessert made with thin noodle-like pastry, or alternatively fine semolina dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, depending on the region. It tastes amazing and I urge you to see out this cake shop.

It comes hot, which surprised us, but it utterly addictive; it became our daily tea-time treat whilst we were there. You will recognise the shop as you go down a couple of stairs and all the baklava and kanafeh are on the right, even in the entrance, and the seating is on the left. It’s so close to Arabesque, you can’t miss it.

Whilst staying at the hotel, which offers B&B, we were fed this wonderful offering at breakfast (see above). So much so that I wanted to show you all how to make. Simple to prepare and yet it tastes SO good. I have cooked it quite a number of times since returning home, although I have mainly eaten it for lunch of supper, along with a couple of other dishes. All it requires is a couple of aubergines, tahini – which you can pick up at any supermarket these days, although I did managed to purchase the one below in Acre itself, as the guys at the hotel said it was the ‘best’, – tomatoes, flat leaf parsley, spring onions and a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Tahini, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a sesame seed paste, which is added to hummus in fact. The flavour combinations and textures work really well and I think you will be equally impressed.

 

 

Here is my version of this dish.

Not bad hey! I had some heritage tomatoes in my fridge hence the rainbow coloured tomatoes. Here is a close up.

Oven Baked Aubergine with Tahini and Tomatoes

Serves 4

2 aubergines, cut in half lengthways

2 tbsp olive oil

270g tomatoes, cut into bit sized pieces

1 spring onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, roughy chopped

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat an oven to 260C (I use a fan oven) –  basically you want the oven really hot.
  2. Place the aubergines on an oven proof dish and score the top of the flesh along the top like a lattice (see the photo below)
  3. Evenly distribute the olive oil over the flesh.
  4. Place in the oven for 20-30 minutes so that the flesh has turned dark brown – to the point that it has almost blackened.
  5. Meanwhile in a bowl prepare the tomatoes, spring onion and flat leaf parsley.
  6. When the aubergine is cooked you can either allow the aubergine to cool down completely or serve it hot with a dollop of tahini on each aubergine half, followed by the tomato mix and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Two other suggestions when you go to Acre are:

  1. Go and have drinks on the roof of the beautiful Efendi Boutique Hotel. It would also be another wonderful place to stay in Acre. The sunset views from the roof are pretty special.

2. Book a table at Uri Buri – the food at this restaurant was exceptional and the owner, the award-winning head chef  – Uri Jermia , is a larger than life, ‘Father Christmas’ looking culinary wizard. It was tricky to photograph all the food due to the light, but you can see them on my instastories under ‘Israel’ if you are interested. We opted for a tasting menu where they bought out dish upon dish of beautifully presented (and tasting) Mediterranean fish and seafood. This is not your typical Levant restaurant – it is more fine dining, but in a relaxed setting, overlooking the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Homemade Elderflower Cordial and a Walk on the North Downs

Elderflower is having its moment right now both in the real world and on instagram, where everyone seems to be making elderflower cordial. From the end of May until mid-July you can find it all over the place, both in the city and in the countryside, although you want to gather it away from roads and above hip height for obvious reasons.

It’s very easy to identify and the scent is heavenly – the only thing that you could mistake it for is cow parsley, but once you know the difference its easy to tell the two apart. Each elderflower head is called an “umbel” – such a cool little word don’t you think? The weather was so beautiful last weekend we thought we would head out of town for the day, which also gave me the opportunity to gather some.

Just beyond Croydon – literally 5 miles south – you suddenly hit countryside and rolling hills and wheat fields. Off the main roads, you wind down narrow lanes where passing traffic gradually changes from cars to horses. We headed to the “White Bear” at Fickleshole – even the name of the place sounds enchanting – where we left our car in the car park. On the Inn’s website there are a few recommended walks so we opted for route twoa circular walk over the North Downs. ‘Downs’ is from the old English word ‘dun’, which means hills. I grew up near the South Downs, which pretty much runs parallel to the North Downs, but with a good 31 miles (50km) between them. I don’t know the latter at all, so felt it was a good opportunity to stretch the legs and explore the beautiful countryside.

I had printed off the instructions and we headed off on what was to be a beautiful 8 mile walk down ancient pathways, rolling fields, Saltbox Hill nature reserve and Biggin Hill airstrip. There were a couple of brief times when we had to walk down a lane/road, one time was a little scary as there was no pathway so it was a case of running at breakneck speed about 100m to get to the pathway, which was on a severe bend. Nothing like a little bit of adrenaline to get the heart racing.

We almost missed this sign, so thought I would take a photo of it if you plan on doing the walk yourselves. It’s on Downe Road as you head towards Holwood Farm Shop. You cross the road and then walk down a little pathway that comes out into a large field with crops growing and a clear pathway leading through them and a couple of unsightly large pylons in the field (just ignore that bit).

I adore circular walks that I have not been on before as there is so much so see and take in. At one stage we walked alongside Biggin Hill airstrip, which has private planes landing and taking off at intervals and we even managed to see an old spitfire fly above us. We passed a church on our travels, which had a baptism going on when we poked our heads round the door.

The North Downs, like it’s sister counterpart, are made up of chalk and flint. The latter you can see being used as part of the facade on the local houses – rather pretty I thought!

We seem to come across a lot of horses on the footpaths (in fields). This beauty below was rather special. Just shortly after walking along the top edge of the field we came to ‘Saltbox Hill Nature Reserve’ a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. Each Sunday, during the summer months, there are guided nature walks through the reserve.

The walk was not particularly demanding, although there were some inclines from time to time and we did keep a close eye on the instructions so as not to get lost.

Back at the White Bear we drank some ginger beer before ordering lunch. In hindsight a picnic on the walk itself may have been more preferable as the walk took a little longer than expected.

The pub is very atmospheric, with cosy corners, black and white photos of owners long gone and a ghost or two apparently. It’s a great place for a drink, although the menu let it down – far too long and the quality of the food was not memorable for us, which was a shame.  It did provide, however, the perfect place to set off on our adventure.

With a bag full of elderflower umbels I left them to rest back at home for a while so that any creepy crawlies could escape. Do not wash them as this can spoil the flavour.

One very important ingredient you need for elderflower cordial, if you want it to last for a long period, is citric acid, which you can easily pick up from your local pharmacy.

Other than that it is very straightforward. You do add 1 kg of granulated sugar – this sounds a huge amount, but you need to remember that the cordial is concentrated so will be used sparingly and added to sparkling water or perhaps a gin cocktail or with some prosecco. The amount I made will easily last for quite a number of months.

The reason I have not been precise on the number of umbel heads required is because the size of the umbel differs from umbel to umbel so it really isn’t an exact science hence I have not given a specific amount.

 

Elderflower Cordial

makes around 2 litres of cordial

1 kg granulated sugar

2 litres of boiling water

4 unwaxed lemons, grated and sliced

50g citric acid (can be found at your pharmacy)

20-30 elderflower umbels (heads)

4 x 500ml glass bottle – sterilised

 

  1. Place the sugar in a large bowl or pan and cover with boiling water. Stir gently to help the sugar dissolve.
  2. Add the citric acid and stir into the water.
  3. Add the grated and sliced lemon.
  4. When the water has cooled add the umbels and submerge them as much as possible.
  5. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. Sterilise your glass bottles by throughly washing them and then placing them in an oven (on the lowest temperature) for 10 minutes and then remove them from the oven to cool completely.
  7. Use a muslin/clean tea towel over a large bowl/jug and pour the contents of your original bowl into the muslin. Gently squeeze so that all the juice comes through.
  8. Seal and use as and when you want a refreshing summer drink or cocktail. Keep in a cool place and once opened store in the fridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Things To Do in New York City

I was recently in New York and spent a lot of time on my feet, pounding the pavements to see the sights and explore – clocking up over 80 miles in a week. I have been to New York many times before, both for pleasure and business, but this time it was definitely pleasure and I had the whole family in tow. My last trip I posted a post here  – so take a look if you are planning a trip. Here are some of my suggestions on things to do in the city that never sleeps.

  1. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Ok, before you switch off and give up on my suggestions before they have begun, let me just say this. This museum completely knocked us for six, it’s brilliant. My girls (12 and 8 yrs old) LOVED it and my husband and I were equally absorbed. It was so interesting in fact that we left if at lunch time to grab something to eat to then returned for another session after lunch. The museum is on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid and the cruise missile submarine USS Growler, both of which are fascinating to explore. In addition they showcase a Concorde SST, a Lockheed A-12 supersonic reconnaissance plane and the Space Shuttle Enterprise. It was all quite overwhelming to have all these things in one place.

It is located at Pier 86 at 46th Street in the Hell’s Kitchen neighboured on the West Side of Manhattan.

yes it snowed when we were there can you believe it……kind of pretty with the blossom, in a surreal way!

2. The Met

An obvious choice I know, but my goodness the place is fascinating. Focus on one of two periods and then absorb yourself in these rooms. It is based in the Upper East Side just by Central Park. After visiting the Met you could pop into another of my favourite galleries The Frick, which I mentioned about here.

 

3. The Tenement Museum 

Try and book tickets before you arrive in New York for one of their tours as they sell out fast. The museum is interactive in many respects and focuses on Americas urban immigration history. There are a number of tours which allow visitors to view restored apartments from the 19th and 20th centuries, walk the historic neighborhood, and interact with residents to learn the stories of generations of immigrants who helped shape the American experience.

Based on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side.

4. Katz Deli

Close by to the Tenement Museum so a great place to go for lunch if the timing works. This kosher style Jewish deli has got to be one of the oldest in town – first serving customers in 1888. Tourist and locals equally adore the fanfare that goes into making their sandwiches. The portions are epically huge so order one sandwich between two.

Located at 205 East Houston Street, on the southwest corner of Houston and Ludlow Streets on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, New York City .

5. One World Observatory

There are a number of place in NY to get that birds eye view of the city, but One World Observatory is pretty impressive and worth booking tickets in advance online. If you manage to go up on a clear day you really do feel on top of the world. Whilst visiting the observatory, just near by are two pools – approximately 1 acre in size – of where the original twin towers stood before that fateful day on 9/11. Take time to pay your respects to those who perished and see the names engraved around the outside. Behind the memorial you will see the impressive Oculus building, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to look like a dove in flight. Some critics have been rather harsh but I personally loved the structure. It is in fact a train station for the PATH train over to Jersey City and cost the grandiose sum of $4 billion to build over 12 years.

Based at 285 Fulton St

6. Nom Wah Tea Parlor and a walk around China Town

Book at table at Nom Was Tea Parlor, which has been serving dumplings to hungry New Yorkers since the 1920. There are a number of pleather booths (book one of those if you can), or tables scattered across the restaurant. Order the Xia Long Bao, which are called Shanghainese soup dumplings. It was raining cats and dogs when I visited so provided the perfect respite to warm up and fill our bellies with delicious dim sum.

After lunch have a wonder around Chinatown, which is a feast for the eyes. Mott and Grand street have a host of interesting food stalls, but stay south of Broome Street and east of Lafayette to get that real Chinatown experience. I managed to pick up a gorgeous Chinese teapot for my sister – so much so I returned and picked up one for myself a day later.

Photo credit: @sahirschmann of Five Leaves

7. Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Take some time to explore Brooklyn. As it is such a huge area, aim for Williamsburg which has a host of fabulous, shops, eateries and great street graffiti. Just walking the streets and soaking up the vibe will be interesting enough. There are some great places to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat.

Marlow and Sons – is regarded by some as ‘the best place to eat in the city’. It is great to stop for a snack or just a coffee or a more main meal for lunch or supper. It’s rustic, down to earth charm gives the place a genuine warmth and an enjoyable place to pass the time in good company. The American menu has an emphasis on fresh food and menus that change daily.

Five Leaves, based at Greenpoint, is another good option if you are after brunch with a hip crowd creating a nice buzz to the place.

If you love a bit of thrift/vintage shopping, those in the know head to Beacon’s Closet, which have a few locations, but one is a stones throw from Five Leaves.

Photo credit: @reynardnyc of Wythe Hotel

If you fancy staying in Brooklyn these hotels are worth checking out:

Wythe Hotel: 80 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11249; tel: 1.718 460 8000; rates from $300; www.wythehotel.com

right next door is: The Williamsburg Hotel:  96 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11249; tel: 1.718 362 8100; rates from $285; www.thewilliamsburghotel.com

1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge60 Furman St, Brooklyn, NY 11201; tel: 1.718 631 8400; rates from $350; www.1hotels.com

Urban Cowboy: 111 Powers Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211; rates from $195; www.urbancowboybnb.com

McCarren Hotel & Pool60 N 12th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249; tel: 1.718 218 7500; rates from $350; www.mccarrenhotel.com

8. Moma – the Museum of Modern Art

If you feel the urge for a modern art fix then Moma is definitely worth a visit. The Tarsila Do Amaral: Investing Modern Art in Brazil exhibition was on when we visited, but most of all we enjoyed admiring the permanent collection, including works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.

18 West 54 Street

9. A browse around the East Village neighbourhood

We were staying in East Village so over the course of a week got to know a number of the eateries in the neighbourhood. Some evenings we ate in, stopping off at nearby Russo’s for some fresh pasta and sauces and the BEST fried artichokes, to take back to our apartment and devour. This Italian deli has been serving customers for over 100 years so is definitely worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood.

Another must is to either eat in or order take out at Xian Famous Foods (which I recently discovered is about to open a branch in London). I ordered take out ‘spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles, which were heavenly, but I could quite easily have ordered the whole menu.

A few streets away is an adorable little treasure trove of a shop, called Casey Rubber Stamps, owned by an affable Irish guy called John Casey, selling all manner of rubber stamps. It’s the type of place that you wander in and before you know it you end up buying quite a number of rubber stamps. They are great as gifts or to keep for yourself. It’s is so important to keep small business thriving so make sure you visit John’s store. My whole family loved it and spent time admiring the wide variety of stamps for sale.

For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you will know that I love Vietnamese food. Thankfully there is a great Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village called Hanoi House  which is definitely worth a visit, if you are in the nighbourhood. Right next door to Hanoi House looked a rather good neighbourhood bar called Ten Degrees. and a little further down the street you will see a sign saying ‘Eat Me’. If you head into the door below this sign, you walk into a random hotdog vendor where you will find a telephone booth. You then have to enter and dial a number where you will be asked if you have a booking (make sure you do). Then the wall springs back and you enter the speakeasy. It’s called ‘Please Don’t Tell’ or ‘PDT’ for short. As we had our daughters in tow, we were unable to go in, but my sources tell me it’s a fun place to have a few cocktails and beers.

10. Visit Central Park

No visit to New York is complete without a stroll around central park –  you can even hire bikes or take a horse driven carriage, although the latter might scream ‘TOURIST’ more than you would wish. It maybe good to combine it with a visit to The Frick, The Met or MOMA. If you are visiting over winter you can have a go on the ice rink and in spring and summer there is the option of the zoo. It’s also a great place to have a picnic and watch the clouds float overhead.

Whatever you decide to do, have fun, walk as much as possible and don’t feel you need to cross of everything off your list on your first visit. New York is a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by. There are so many interesting characters that you’ll never have a dull moment.

 

 

 

 

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Sea Beet and Potato Curry

Recently I went on a lovely coastal walk on Mersea Island, which is off the Essex coast (it’s reached by a tidal causeway). I hadn’t planned to go foraging but when I came across sea beet growing in large clusters, it made sense to gather up two large handfuls to take home and cook into something interesting.

I do love to forage from time to time – not mushrooms mind you as they can be tricky to identify unless you are with an expert. Somethings are easier to recognise and sea beet is one of those. Disclaimer: If you are going to try to find some yourself please consult the internet for other sources to check on identification. John Wright’s book ‘Edible Seashore’ may also be a good book to take on your walks to help identify. It’s best to check with a few sources to be sure.

I thought the sea beet would lend itself well to a ‘sag aloo’ type dish (spinach and potato curry). It’s more robust than spinach and has a lovely earthy taste to it. It is in fact the wild ancestor to the beetroot, sugar beet and swiss chard and is called a host of names including sea beet, sea spinach, wild beet and wild spinach. In ancient times, the leaves and root of the sea beet were used to treat several diseases, particularly tumours. The juice is even good for treating ulcers apparently!

When you forage you need to wash and clean your ‘treasure’ properly in cold water. I rinsed the leaves three times to be on the safe side. I then roughly chopped the leaves and prepared the potatoes. This curry is a lovely way to include sea beet into your diet, but if you are not going near any coastal areas you can always use spinach instead.

I would love to hear from any of you who may have used this ingredient before? How did you cook it? Leave a comment in the comment box below.

Sea Beet and Potato Curry

1 tbsp oil

2 dried red chilli

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

pinch of asafoetida/hing (optional)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut roughly into 2 inch cubes

1 tsp salt to taste

2 large handfuls of foraged sea beet or around 260g of fresh spinach

2 tbsp water

  1. Heat the oil and then add the dried red chillies. Move around the pan for 10 seconds before adding the cumin seeds. Let the seeds begin to fizzle and then add the turmeric powder and asafoetida (if using).
  2. Add the potatoes and cover them in seeds and spices and cook gently on a medium to low heat, stirring every now and then. Add the salt.
  3. After about 8-10 minutes, add the washed sea beet and fold in gently to the potatoes.
  4. Add 1 tbsp of water and allow the sea beet to wilt and the potato to soften completely. To check the potato has soften stick a sharp knife into it, if it goes in easily then they are ready. You may need to place a lid on the pan to help steam it, if the potato needs more time to soften,  which will speed up the softening. Add the remaining water if need.

Serve immediately with a dollop of yogurt and a wedge of lemon on the side. It also works really well if you cook my chana dal to eat along side it.

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A Weekend in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Fancy a weekend of fresh air, open spaces, glorious views, rolling countryside and peace and quiet? Then I have just the place for you. The weekend before last  – you know the glorious hot one  – me and a couple of girlfriends – headed to the Brecon Beacons in Wales,  an area of outstanding beauty. Not sure that’s the official line but it definitely warrants that accolade. It was a very stress free journey from London Paddington to Newport, a quick change of trains and then a further 30 minutes or so onto Abergavenny – a charming station, which really makes you feel as if you have gone back in time.

Greeted by one of my friends in her car (she had driven from the Cotswolds) we whizzed a further 45 minutes to the picturesque Brecon Beacons National Park where we would be staying for two nights in Fan Cottage (sleeps 6), which is part of the Cnewr Estate. If you are with a larger party you can book out the Farmhouse (sleeps 16). You can book them for the week or the weekend. Fan cottage is the little white cottage that you can see in the photo above.

Both properties have been tastefully refurbished in 2017. The beds are super comfortable (that’s mine above) with puffy pillows and duvets, the bathrooms have excellent power showers (one had a bath and shower), there is a snug and sitting room and a good sized, well equipped kitchen with stylish crockery. I was also really impressed by the quality of the curtains – random I know – but seriously people they were so beautifully made. Also the place is really well heated – we had to turn off some of the radiators the weekend we visited as the weather was a scorcher. We couldn’t resist putting on the log burner one evening though to add to the atmosphere of the cottage – so warm and inviting.

Both cottage and farmhouse afford incredible vistas of the Cray Reservoir (no swimming as it’s super dangerous), but fun to admire and walk around at leisure. The dam was pretty spectacular, although am I the only one who imagines it breaking when waking this side of it? Now the sunsets from the cottage were just divine.

It did not take us long to feel relaxed and rejuvenated. One day we went and ate lunch at The Felin Fach Griffin which is about 10 minutes on from the town of Brecon. I had met the owner – Charles and his family – last year at the Ballymaloe Food and Drink Festival in Ireland and he had spoken about his three Inns – two in Cornwall and one in Wales.

The food and service were excellent and I would return in a heartbeat. The place is rustic and low key, the perfect place to nestle in for the afternoon around the fire with the papers or in our case on the grass outside. The food was full of flavour, original, but not too left field, and platted in a way that makes you want to actually dive in. The faro risotto was the tastiest I’ve eaten – just check out the colours on the plate.

Whilst we didn’t even see even half of the Brecon Beacons we did climb the highest peak in South Wales – Pen Y Fan – 886 metres about sea level and Corn Du just next to it, which enabled us to see for miles around.

The round trip, interspersed with lots of chatter and going at a slow and steady pace, is about 3 hours. We did pass a few people running up and down it – but each for their own hey!

We rewarded ourselves with lunch at the beautiful fishing hotel of Gliffaes, which is perched above River Usk. My cauliflower and roasted garlic soup definitely hit the spot after my hike.

The place is enchanting and feels as if it’s from another era, where time has literally stood still. Imagine grandfather clocks, roaring fires, tea in the drawing room, butler service (not quite, but almost) then you get the picture. The grounds and position are beautiful and great to wander around after a bite to eat and before catching the train back to the big smoke refreshed and rejuvenated after a wonderful weekend in Wales.

 

 

To Book:

Fan Cottage or the Farmhouse on the Cnewr Estate – click here

Felin Fach Griffin – click here

Gliffaes  – click here 

 

 

 

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Cambodian Nut Mix

I wanted to introduce you all to my favourite snackage at the moment. I only came across it recently when I was staying in Kep-sur-Mer in the south of Cambodia – you can read about my stay in Kep here. Most evenings we would head to the sailing club (below – the pool table was a perfect activity during cocktails hour) next to our hotel – Knai Bang Chatt – which I really recommend if you are thinking about a trip – and when you order your drink they give you a bowl of this delicious nut mix.

They are so simple to make and yet completely addictive and because they are a little salty you naturally want more to drink. Clever hey.

Anyway I thought it would be perfect to show you how to make your own nut mix at home. It makes sense to make a decent amount and then store it in an airtight container. There seems a bit of a theme with airtight containers – I blame it on the snow and being stuck inside few weeks back. There is literally 5 ingredients: peanuts – with their red skins on- fresh curry leaves, dried red chillies, garlic and salt. That said I think there may have been some lemongrass mixed in with the nuts, but I can’t be sure, so if you have any by all means finely slice it lengthways and fry it with the sliced garlic.

Cambodian Nut Mix

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 whole garlic, pealed and thinly sliced

2 steams of fresh curry leaves (approx 20 leaves)

5 dried red chillies

1kg of red peanuts

rock salt to taste

optional: lemongrass, thinly sliced lengthways and fried with the garlic

 

  1. In a large pan gently heat the oil and then fry the garlic so it turns a light brown. If you are also going to use lemongrass, add it at this stage.  Remove and place on kitchen paper.
  2. Using the same pan gently fry the fresh curry leaves and add the dried red chillies. I tend to split some of them so as to release some of the seeds to give heat.
  3. Add the nuts and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with salt.
  4. Take off the heat and add the garlic (and lemongrass if using) thoroughly.
  5. Once cooled store in an airtight container. They will last for ages and are good to bring out with drinks in the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

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