Category Archives: Food travel

Three gluten free and dairy free Christmas desserts

In the run up to Christmas I have my annual date with the Portmeirion Food and Craft Fair . Now in its sixth year the market combines all that’s best of our local crafters, small businesses and food producers.

I have a love hate relationship with Christmas. I detest the corporate grasp, on what was once a pagan festival to mark the shortest day and a turning point as the light creeps back in. Even the Christian story is the antithesis of what Christmas has become. On the other hand I love a traditional family Christmas; I love small handmade presents, gifts with meaning and sentiment, carefully chosen or made. I love to make my own presents, food gifts wrapped in tissue and ribbon, bottles of home-made liqueur, chocolates and Christmas puddings and I love browsing the stalls of Christmas markets; eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine as Christmas carols drift along on the breeze.

My kids are now older; both wish for nothing more than hard cash towards a fight to India (the twenty-one year old) and a new drum kit (the fifteen year old). But I still take pleasure in getting them little presents to go along with this distinctly unromantic Christmas gift.

This was my fourth year presenting on the demo stage at Portmeirion. I tend to stick to dessert making as the stage is always heavy with meat offerings, so its nice to provide a contrast, something different that can be recreated at home. I’m also very aware that more and more people have special dietary requirements, myself included, so I concentrated on some tasty alternatives. On the menu this year was traditional Christmas pudding (but a quicker, Gluten free version), mulled wine oranges and fruit and nut dairy free chocolate fudge. The oranges are an awesome accompaniment to the Christmas pudding, on their own with dairy free ice cream (or normal ice cream) and the fudge is a great alternative to pudding if you end up too full to eat Christmas pudding, but want something sweet with coffee. The fudge also makes a great present for anyone avoiding dairy.

Let’s begin with the mulled wine oranges..

To serve four

  • 4 medium oranges
  • 190ml red wine
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 6 black peppercorns

Peel off 6-8 thin strips of zest from one of the oranges

Put the wine and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

Add the pared orange zest and remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then bubble gently for about 10 minutes until the wine is reduced by about half and is lightly syrupy. Leave to cool completely.

Slice the peel and pith away from the remaining oranges. Slice the oranges horizontally into 3mm thick rounds, then put them in a large bowl along with any juice.

Pour the cooled mulled wine syrup over the orange slices. Cover and leave to macerate in the fridge for at least a few hours for the flavours to develop.

Take them out of the fridge half an hour or so before serving, to bring to room temperature. You could also warm them again gently. The oranges and their sweetly spicy liquor are delightful just as they are – but a little ginger biscuit or two on the side is rather good, as is ice cream, or use to pair with Christmas pudding.

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Easy Christmas pudding

175g gluten free plain flour

2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 teaspoon ginger

Half a teaspoon nutmeg

175g gluten free breadcrumbs

175g butter

175g brown sugar

850g mixed fruit

75g mixed peel

Rind and juice one orange

2 eggs

120ml gluten free brown ale

Mix the dried ingredients together (the first five on the list)

Rub in the butter until it resembles course breadcrumbs. It doesn’t have to be perfect)

Stir in the sugar

Add the fruit and stir to combine then mix in the wet ingredients (orange zest and juice, eggs and beer. I used a beer from Cwrw Ogwen, our local micro brewery, which I’m aware is not gluten-free. But there are several gluten-free ales now on the market that can be substituted).

Turn into a pudding basin (3 pint) and cover with greaseproof paper or a pudding cloth and foil

Steam for 6 hours topping the pan up with boiling water if it gets low

Cool, change the paper and store in a cool dry place. It will keep for months!

When ready to use steam for another 2 hours.

***For the speedy version: Make smaller puddings and use individual pudding basins then cook in the oven. Set the oven at 160 degrees/ gas mark 3. Fill a roasting tray with water and cover the puddings as above. Stand the bowls in the tray so the water comes half way up the sides. Cook for two and a half hours. Cool and rewrap as before. When you want to use them reheat in the same way, heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 5 and reheat for 30 minutes.

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Dairy free Chocolate fudge

375g very dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa solids)

1 can of full cream coconut milk

Icing sugar

(Chopped pecans / fruit soaked in rum or brandy/cinnamon/vanilla)

Break chocolate into a bowl

Heat sugar and coconut milk in a saucepan until just bubbling

Pour over the chocolate and stir briskly to melt

Add cinnamon or spices / vanilla (feel free to experiment!)

50g of fruit and 50g nuts (I used a berry and cheery mix soaked in rum overnight and chopped pecans but you can experiment with your favourites)

Turn in to a dish lined with greaseproof paper  and refrigerate. Cut into chunks and serve. Or package in neat little boxes and send as presents.

I couldn’t pay a visit to Portmeirion without adding to my photo collection, or getting fuelled up on Poblado coffee. It must be one of THE most photogenic places I’ve ever visited; even in the mud, rain, or on a cold dull Welsh winters day I see a new angle, a new view… a wander with the camera and a warm, smooth coffee from one of our best Welsh producers (they roast their own coffee) and my afternoon wound up perfectly.

 

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Filed under British food, Christmas, Christmas menu's, Food festival, Food travel, home cooking, local produce, photography, Recipes, travel, vegan cookery, Wales tourism, Welsh produce

An art and food lovers guide to Barcelona

Barcelona has been up at the top of my wish list of places to visit as long as I can remember. As an art lover with a particular attraction to Art Nouveau, Modernism, Picasso, Dali and Gaudi and a leaning towards all things Mediterranean (food and weather wise) it’s a wonder I’ve never made it there before now. Somehow the trip had eluded me as other destinations took priority, often those involving visits to stay with family, or friends, or for work. Taking a trip just for ME was pretty much unheard of.

This trip was an extra special one; straight from the top of my bucket list to celebrate a very big birthday. It was totally indulgent and all about what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was explore the art and architecture of the Modernisme movement (or Catalonian modernism) and Catalonian cuisine.

I planned and researched meticulously putting together a detailed travel plan and a ‘must see’ list. I like to immerse myself in the detail, I’m a bit OCD like that,  but I also like a bit of flexibility and am not averse to chopping and changing as I go along, which was just as well as I hadn’t anticipated the enormity of Barcelona. We easily navigated the metro system and our apartment was very central (many things such as La Boqueria,the Cathedral, MACBA, Palau Guell were no more than ten minutes walk away) but still we ended up with an unfinished list, while still managing to clock up a whopping 30k in three days (seriously! we should have got into training before we left, my calves hurt for ages). It dawned on me the very first day that Barcelona was going to be impossible to explore in the time we had.

WHAT I SAW

I managed to pack in most of the arty things I wanted to see and only a few fell by the wayside, but that just means I have to go back and finish what I started!

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Park Guell

Park Guell – (Metro Green Line L3. Book tickets online to avoid the queues. Prices are 7 euros per person) Antoni Gaudi’s extravagant creation for the industrial tycoon Eusebi Guell was originally conceived as a modern housing development which began development in 1900. Sixty houses were planned, but only two were ever completed, one of which Gaudi, his father and niece eventually came to live in. The Park became city property in 1923 and was opened to the public in 1926. In 1984 it was made a World Heritage Site. We caught the Metro train to Vallcarca and then walked up the most hellish hill to the park. My advice; wear sensible shoes and take plenty of water to drink. I was thankful for my life in Wales which prepared me for the hills otherwise the trek there might have finished me off. The sculpture park itself is quite small, but there are about 3 kilometres of hilly paths that criss-cross and wind through the surrounding palm trees and gardens. The colour and architecture of the park reminded us a little of Portmeirion, except with sun and palm trees and a lot more mosaic. When you book you are alloted a time for entry and they are quite strict about adhering to it. We had to wait for about 15 minutes until the correct slot as we were a bit early but once inside we were able to stay as long as we wanted. Even in March the park was busy with tourists so I suspect in high season they may stick more rigidly to the 40 minute time limit we were supposed to have.  We could have spent longer in there but headed out because we were hungry (no picnics allowed inside the sculpture area) and had booked to go into the Gaudi House museum.

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Casa Gaudi

Gaudi House museum (Book tickets separately for the house, again online. 5.50 euros per person) was built as one of the showcase houses in the park and eventually lived in by Gaudi, his father and his niece. Despite Gaudi’s often outlandish and wildly imaginative architecture (Nigel, my partner, says he’s like a child with a doodle who doesn’t know when to stop, he just needs to keep adding one more thing, then another and another) he lived a very simple, pious life. Basic in his needs; he was religious, greatly influenced by the natural world, a vegetarian and remained single all his life. He lived in the house in Park Guell until in 1910 when he moved into his workshop on site at the Sagrada Familia to oversee work. In 1926 he died after being hit by a tram on his way to vespers.

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Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia (Metro to Sagrada Familia on L5, blue line or get L2 purple line. Book tickets online, 15 euros per person)- A visit to Gaudi’s unfinished work, which won’t see completion until 2026, has to be on everyones list. As we climbed the steps from the metro station and turned around I literally stepped back open-mouthed. The Sagrada is quite breathtaking in its architectural complexity. It is a mish-mash of religious iconography, elements from nature and impossibly fragile looking towers. They don’t look as though they should stay upright. The building is covered with intricate mosaic, sculpted leaves, figures, birds, shells, lizards and other animals carved into stone and wood. When you step inside it’s as though you’ve entered another world altogether. Outside is dark, gothic and imposing, which leads you to summise that the inside would be similarly intense but it is quite the opposite. As you step through the door the light hits you. A kaleidoscope of colour shines through the various stained glass windows reflecting different colours onto each wall; while one side is warm with reds, yellows and orange, the other streams with blues and greens. The colour seems to be fluid, washing over the interior. I was a little awestruck.IMG_0760 (2)

 

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MACBA – (Nearest metro stop is Universitat on L2 Purple line, but it was 10 minutes walk from our apartment. Book tickets online during high season. Costs 10 euro per person) If you love contemporary art you must pay this gallery a visit. We saved our trip for the one rainy day and the tail end of all that walking, when I literally couldn’t have walked more than ten minutes if I’d tried. The museum has an extensive permanent collection which we spent hours browsing and a temporary exhibition by Antoni Miralda, a Spanish artist who has made food his creative focus. The irony wasn’t lost on us especially when we saw Bread Line and our joint response was “all that wasted bread”!!

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Bread Line by Antoni Miralda

 

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Picasso Museum – While Gaudi was all about the large breathtaking structure, the flight of fancy and the ground breaking architectural design Picasso was quite unexpected. The museum certainly gave us our moneys worth, but since Picasso was one of the twentieth centuries most prolific artists that’s probably no surprise . The exhibited work spanned all of his notable periods; rose, blue, cubist, modernist, and stretched back to his early work as a fourteen year old which was a real eye opener.  Like with Gaudi’s architecture, my partner felt that Picasso was another artist who was somewhat self-indulgent and got a bit carried away, what he didn’t expect was his skill as a classical painter. Even at fourteen he was prodigiously talented, showing great skill as a copyist, slowly honing his talent until he matured and went his own way. If you think you know Picasso, this will show you that there is so much more to him. Book online during high season but we bought tickets there. Fourteen euros per adult pays entry to the normal exhibition and the temporary exhibition (which this time was his portraits).

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Barceloneta

Barceloneta – Friends had suggested that it was better to get out of the centre of Barcelona as the beach nearer to the city was dirty but I found the Barceloneta a lovely area. Fair enough the sand is quite harsh underfoot, great if you want to exfoliate the feet, but not as dirty as I’d expected. We took a stroll on our second morning while it was warm and sunny, past Columbus on his column and down to the sea where we sat, drank a morning coffee at a beach side cafe while watching the sand sculpture makers and then lazed on the beach eating our lunch before heading back towards the Picasso museum. The worst bits of the Barceloneta (and Barcelona as a whole) were the hawkers, although to give them their dues they’ve totally got every market covered. At the beach they tried to flog scarves and shawls, in Park Guell it was selfie sticks and water, outside MACBA which is a haunt for skateboarding students it was cheap beer, in town it was selfie sticks and those light up things that you throw in the air for kids (apart from when it rained, then they quickly swapped to umbrellas..like I said, they knew their market!)

EAT

La Boqueria

La Boqueria is undoubtedly one of the best food markets I have ever visited. A riot of colour, smells, texture and traders selling everything from chillies to cheese, fruit to fish, sea urchins, mushrooms, eggs, manchego, jamon, and everything in-between.

This is the place to come for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Before we headed off for the day we popped in to collect provisions. For my love (who is a philistine Yorkshireman and rather less of a food connoseur) it was a differing selection of empanadas (or as I suggested pasties) and for me it was salad with some sliced Iberico ham and manchego plus a selection of fruit and a smoothie for the road.

There is definitely something for everyone despite my partners singularity in his choices. I think if we’d been staying longer and had an apartment all to ourselves I’d have bought more of the unusual things on sale and experimented more at ‘home’. We also ran out of time and didn’t bring as much back as I’d have liked (it pretty much ended up being tons of chocolate!)

Ocana

Before we left for our trip I checked out ideas for places to eat. Luckily I am part of a food loving family and I’m lucky enough to have two food blogger / photographer cousins  (one of whom is on trend instagrammer Jack Baker) and another aunt/cousin supper club running combo. Jack’s sister Emily’s food and travel blog had a bit about Barcelona so I took some restaurant tips from her. On our first night in the city we wanted somewhere close by that we could walk to easily. Ocana was about ten minutes from our apartment on a lovely palm tree rimmed square just off La Rambas.  We sat outside to make the most of the warm Spanish evening, a bit of a novelty after the cold and damp of North Wales.

Naturally I went for sangria; in this case a blueberry sangria with Jerez brandy and lots of crushed berries. It knocked my socks off!  As it was late we didn’t want to get into a massive tapas fest so chose a dish of arroz caldoso to share. A bit like paella but rich and mushroomy, it was stuffed with lovely langoustine and squid.

Pudding was essential and Nigel finished with chocolate pie with dulce de leche while I went for crema catalana (of course! The traditional Catalan creme brulee just had to be done). The meal was delicious and the restaurant beautiful.

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Ocana on Placa Reial

La Rita

Our second meal and another suggestion from Emily. Sadly this time not quite living up to its review, especially after Ocana which was absolutely divine. I found it strange that they went to so much trouble bringing me fresh warm gluten-free bread, only to be told that there was at most three things I could eat on the menu. Even the desserts (including the ice cream) were apparently full of gluten. My Spanish was nowhere near good enough to try to discover if the gluten was something like a wafer that they could easily leave out and I ended up somewhat frustrated. Even the choices we eventually made were underwhelming.

Horiginal

We discovered Horiginal by accident. Wandering back from a night at the opera (yep, I also got to tick that off my bucket list; Carmina Burana at the Tivoli Theatre) it was too early to go back to the apartment so we went in search of an after show drink. The bar is pretty much next door to MACBA and convenient as a lunch or evening spot. On this night we just wanted a drink and a snack having eaten dinner earlier (a rather expensive and forgettable paella hastily grabbed on the street where our apartment was) so a hearty portion of patatas bravas and a Sangria sorted us out. On our last day we returned for lunch after our MACBA visit. A section of tapas including some seriously huge prawns, patatas bravas (again) although I skipped the Sangria this time. The portions were great, the only downside was the rather frosty lunch time service

Taller de Tapas

We’d deliberately avoided eating on La Ramblas expecting it to be expensive and touristy, but on our last night as a storm raged overhead and the rain became biblical we couldn’t face a long trek anywhere. I did a quick search on the internet for the best, reasonably priced restaurants close to La Ramblas and discovered Taller de Tapas. We’d walked past it several times but hadn’t paid it any attention but this time decided to give it a go. On arrival the place was packed with cold wet tourists, but we only had to wait dripping by the door for about ten minutes before a table became available.

As it was our last night we decided to go for it. We started with a selection of tapas; Mussels with herbs, sautéed wild mushrooms, Spanish tortilla and chicken kebab with herbs and spices. All were delicious and the portions were good; they would have been too much for me, but I reckon my partner could have eaten the paella on his own. Since we were sharing everything and grazing at a leisurely pace (we weren’t in a big hurry to go back out in the rain) we ordered plenty;  the tapas and the paella was filling, but left plenty of room for dessert. True to predictable form I chose Catalan creme brulee (I can’t help it, its my favourite and everything else had gluten in it) while my partner went for almond tart. All of this plus a couple of beers and Sangria and it didn’t break the bank. This was the best spontaneous find of the week!

STAY

We looked at B&B’s and hotels but then decided to go for Airbnb in order to save money on accommodation so we could do and see more while we were there. We found ourselves a reasonable budget apartment.  At 40 euros the one I found seemed too cheap to be true and perhaps a bit of a risk but I wasn’t going to spend a fortune on somewhere that we were just going to be sleeping.

There are pluses and minuses to going budget. The room was clean, basic, with a private bathroom and completely adequate. It was just off La Rambla so close to everything, close to Liceu Metro station with an array of shops, bars and cafes next door. In reality we spent very little time there.

The down side? The apartment was on the fourth floor with no lift. The street was noisy at night and we seemed to be sharing with quite a few others so the ‘shared’ space (kitchen and lounge) didn’t seem so inviting. We used the kitchen for breakfast but I got the impression that a couple of the guys there were long-term room renters. I think maybe we would have cooked for ourselves or used the apartment more if we’d had it to ourselves but it was fine because we were only there for a few days.

We flew from Liverpool to Barcelona and then caught the train into the city and then the Metro to Liceu stop. On the way back we caught the airport bus (Aerobus) from Placa Catalunya which was much more convenient

Other stuff we didn’t quite get around to….. On our first night we took a walk up to Passeig de Gracia so I could get my first glimpse of Gaudi. I was impatient and couldn’t wait but as it turned out we didn’t ever make it back to go inside. La Pedrera and Casa Batllo were both lit up and I took a few pictures but that’s as far as it went. There was so much to see and its a place that draws you in so obviously I’ll just have to go back again and catch the places I missed first time around!

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Filed under Food travel, Spain, travel, Uncategorized

The sensory pleasure of Bristol

I visited Bristol once for an interview at the university. This was years ago when I was still an academic researcher, searching for a highly sought after PhD place just before I had kids. Despite seeing little of the city I liked the feel of the place; it had a nice vibe and the people were friendly.  I didn’t get the PhD place so never discovered more and was just left with that brief first impression.

Last year the teen started visiting Bristol. She too fell in love with its hippy vibe, its cool vintage shops, eclectic night life and variety of festival loving people. She fitted right in. I promised myself a return visit to see for myself exactly what it was she had fallen in love with, and as several of my ‘Green Man’ crew friends live there (one of whom just a couple of weeks away from having her first baby) I took the opportunity on a rare weekend off work.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love all over again. Precisely half an hour I’d say. As soon as I sat down in the sun outside The Bristolian with a late lunch I knew I didn’t want to go home. One of the friends with whom I stayed lives in Montpelier, arguably the most vibrant, up and coming part of the city where everyone is hip, cool and arty. Essential accessories include a guitar, a skateboard and a beard (although not if you are a woman of course…save that for Eurovision).

I felt at home among the vintage shops, graffiti adorned walls and independent cafes and shops. The share and recycle culture is clear. Just up the road from my friend’s house is the street where locals rioted in protest at a Tesco moving in. I’d probably have been one of them if I lived there. Sadly it didn’t stop the multinational opening shop, but they did make their point loud and clear.

Imagine the slightly stoned crowd of a festival, transplant it back in a city and there you have Bristol. Ok so I happened to visit on a particularly sun drenched weekend, this probably helped, and the Rave On Avon music festival (we went to see a band playing as part of the festival, the Bombs with their soulful, funky trip hop tinged with a bit of rock) was in full swing, but it seems to me that every weekend has a festival of some kind happening just down the road, plus there is street art everywhere, so many local food producers, purveyors and markets, cool community owned and run venues like The Canteen where we watched the Bombs and music hanging in the air. They even have their own currency!! Bristol is a city of sensory overload, but not in the 100-miles-an-hour London kind of way, of community, of recycling…..I could go on but I’ll tell you what, feast your eyes on the pictures instead…they will show you exactly why I love Bristol!

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Thali cafe at the Tobacco Factory Produce market

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Local produce and street art at the Tobacco Factory

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Eli enjoying a gigantic cheese straw

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More Love at the Old Police Station

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Aren’t we all 🙂

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Say No to Monsanto…mural at Stokes Croft

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So long til next year: A few last pictures from Abergavenny Food Festival

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Giant onions in the Market Hall…and below more giant veg adorning the ceiling

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Beautiful jewelled tomatoes from The Tomato Stall

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A mean and moody looking Alex Gooch caught doing a photocall; and his wonderful bread below

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Alison, Jess and David from Halen Mon….deliberately taking a step left because she hates having her picture taken!!

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The mushroom man (a familiar sight from the Green Man Festival)

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Busy stalls along the one of the side streets

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Omar Allibhoy from Tapas Revolution ranting about Spanish Food for Rude Health 

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Alice in Wonderland inspired ceiling in the kids kitchen

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smouldering looks and big smiles from Joe & Sephs gourmet popcorn sellers…I rather liked the gin and tonic version!

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Chef’s favourite Cotswold Gold director Charlie Beldam busy selling out of their newly launched mayonnaise….I brought back some amazing white truffle oil.

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I want one!!! Too big for me to carry….I did buy a giant wooden spoon from the same people though.

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Abergavenny food festival (day one)

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As the summer wanes and the hectic music festival and wedding season draws to a close, Autumn arrives with a glint in its eye offering a whole new wave of food festivals to keep me busy.

First came the Menai Seafood Festival. As one of the organising committee this was a biggie for me. It was the first time I’d stage-managed a chef demo tent, booked chefs, set out the itinerary etc. I was kept busy, as you can imagine, ironing out problems, filling gaps and firefights when things didn’t go according to plan but it was a buzz watching all the chefs do fantastic demos and seeing the crowd have such a great time. The down side of working at events like this is that you get to see very little of the festival. I only managed the briefest of walks around the site and that was at the end of the day once all the stall holders had sold out!

Last weekend was different as I paid my first visit to Abergavenny Food Festival, this time as a visitor rather than as an organiser or presenter, so I was able to enjoy the full array of events, activities and food sampling on offer. In earlier years I looked on with envy as fellow bloggers and food producers wrote and Tweeted about the weekend but this year I got to do it! What an amazing weekend it was. I was bowled over by the scale of it all, the excitement, bustle and general feeling of good will around the town. In three words, I loved it!

Abergavenny Food Festival is so much bigger than other food events I’ve attended. With demonstrations, master classes, tutored tastings and inspiring talks spread across four different venues around the town, I found it hard to decide what I wanted to see and do. There was also a fifth demo kitchen featuring local and regional chefs (I didn’t manage to spend any time there at all), plus a series of walks and forays around the local area. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to take it all in.

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Unlike smaller festivals where most of the demos are free and open to all, the bigger events here (tutored tastings, masterclasses and talks) are ticketed and many had sold out on the day. As a guest I was lucky enough to attend any I wanted, but it was impossible to fit in more than three or four in a day. On day one I managed three, plus a food debate that went on until about 6.30 pm. I finally left for the refuge of my friend’s house in Crickhowell at 7.30, totally exhausted.

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The day’s highlight was Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food masterclass at The Priory Centre. I love the simplicity of his food. Proper British dishes cooked without fuss, focusing on great ingredients and clarity of taste. His masterclass was entertaining and inspirational and under it all he seems a genuinely lovely, down to earth bloke. I came away an even bigger fan and a bit star struck having had a brief conversation with him about his visit to North Wales. I wanted to talk more but felt like a stalker as he was ushered off to sign books.

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From here I took a walk over to The Angel Hotel Ballroom to join Martin Morales’ Ceviche tutored tasting session. I love South American food and especially enjoy making ceviche, so Martin’s Peruvian menus have always appealed (along with a good Pisco sour). Martin is an inspiration. Just at a time when he was a successful DJ and music producer he had a sudden urge to change career, a move driven by a passion for his native Peruvian food and the wish to share it with others.  His ethos is one of sharing (it’s no surprise he began his journey with supper clubs) and his aim is to leave a healthy legacy. This is clear in his commitment to and links with Amantani, a charity focused on helping the poorest children in Peru.

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He Tweeted me earlier this year to invite me along to his Cardiff pop-up and I was gutted I couldn’t attend (it was the same weekend as FBC13, the food bloggers conference in London) but his restaurant in Soho should be top of everyone’s list to visit. Again the event was in great demand. I sat on the press table at the back wedged between his wife and children, photographer and publisher. They were all lovely as we sat chatting food and kids over the delicious tasters; Cancha, Pisco sour, Don Ceviche (with sea bass) and it was great to finally meet Martin, who gave me such a warm heartfelt greeting that I was a little taken aback!

Next up was another tutored tasting, this time with master chocolatier Marc Demarquette. Apart from a love of chocolate I also wanted to see Jess from Halen Mon and Shop Cwtch who acted as his glamorous assistant for the demo. Her cheeks turned a little pink as she saw me taking photographs! Marc demonstrated how they make their 85% chocolate truffles (dark and rich and tasting as if laced with rum…although it isn’t. It’s a trick of the chocolate, something I’ve discovered when making my chocolate torte). Marc’s aim is to create chocolate with length and depth – a chocolate that’s smooth and rich but without the sugar hit and crash afterwards. A chocolate that stays with you. His velvety ganache (71%) was as it should be, silky smooth with a hint of orange (although again this may have been a trick of the chocolate) and the fresh strawberry caramel, my particular favourite, just dissolved on the tongue, flavour trickling down the throat, neither too sweet or too sharp, an almost erotic experience. I could have eaten a bucket full! To finish we drank hot chocolate made of full fat milk and pure chocolate. Heaven in a cup. The last sample was a Halen Mon salted caramel with a dollop of cream on top. The perfect finish to a truly heavenly tasting.

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By the time I wended my way back to the Market Hall for the Big Debate with food writer, presenter and bug eating fan  Stefan Gates Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation Steve Trent, biologist and farmer Jonathan Herrington and fruit farmer Anthony Snell, I was already shattered.  It was hard to concentrate as I was tired and to a certain extent I felt it was a missed opportunity; the conversation firmly focused on GM versus non GM and intensive farming and not the issue of food waste which I think is key when we talk about feeding future generations. With food poverty on the increase in the Western World, discussion of food grown for export or animal feed, rather than to feed the indigenous population and the reduction of animal farming needs to be to the fore. But then that is my favourite soap box rant!

…oh and the weirdest thing I put in my mouth over the weekend (courtesy of Stefan) ? Just so you know, they weren’t alive….they were crispy, salted and with a hint of smoked paprika.

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One day in Menai Bridge: The Seafood Festival in pictures

Today is the fourth anniversary of my blog. My very first post was a recipe for courgette chutney, (quite apt considering I currently have a glut in my fridge) but today I will mostly be writing about my amazing weekend.

What can I say? I keep finding myself smiling at random moments as I think back over Saturdays first ever Menai Seafood Festival. We thought people would come, we hoped it would be worth all the effort and hard work. We expected maybe three, four thousand but in the first hour we clocked 1,500 and stopped counting when numbers reached 8,500. We were gobsmacked (for want of a better phrase, but this perfectly describes our open-mouthed observations of the crowd that streamed into Menai Bridge). It didn’t just catch us, the organisers, off guard. Stall holders sold out in two hours, car parks overflowed and my demo tent had queues of people waiting to get in!

The total number of visitors was undoubtedly closer to 10,000. I’d call that a success, don’t know about you!

Sadly I didn’t get out to see much as I was so busy stage managing the demo tent, but here is small selection of the pictures I managed to snap on the day (between rounding up chefs, ingredients and getting the washing up done in-between demo’s)…I think the pictures speak volumes about how good our day was and how professional the event was.

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Demo tent at 10.30am packed already

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Rob Alexander from The Black Lion, cooking razor clams

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Aled Williams, Cennin….and his beautiful crab risotto served in a stunning Welsh slate bowl

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Neil Davies, Dylan’s Restaurant cooking clam chowder and drunken mussels

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The boatyard

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Rowan Clark, Coleg Menai tutor overseeing their demo

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Backstage discussions

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Young chefs Jake and Ioan do a double act as they cook up two mussel dishes….they had the audience in stitches. It was their first ever demo and they loved it (both are third year Coleg Menai students training as they work…one with the Bulkeley Hotel in Beaumaris and the other at the Hayloft Restaurant, Ye Olde Bulls Head in Beaumaris.

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Visitors enjoying the event

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The air sea rescue helicopter and boat do a quick fly past…

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Crowds in the boatyard give them a wave as they pass over head

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Bryan Webb from Tyddyn Llan, made four stunning dishes in just three-quarters of an hour!!

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Our wonderful compere Elliw Williams from ATOM PR…dropped in it by me, she did a truly wonderful job especially as it was her first time compering

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Matt White and I also did a double act…Matt is one of very few local fishmongers (he runs MJWhite Fishmongers) . He demonstrated how to fillet seabass and turbot

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…while I demonstrated how to hot smoke at home, then pan fry turbot and make a simple white wine and cream sauce to go with it. 

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mum watches on enthralled

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smoked seabass with beetroot slaw and a lime and ginger cream…the healthy option!

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….while Elliw enjoys the turbot dish

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Filed under British food, festival food, Food activities for kids, Food festival, Food travel, in the press, local produce, photography, Seafood recipes, sustainable fish, Welsh produce

Part II of my North German adventure…eating in, out and on the street

Here I am. Back to writing after a brief hiatus (well, crew catering in a field at Kaya Festival to be precise).  Now I’m back and here is part two of my trip to Northern Germany. This time it’s all about the food.

My North German guide was in her element feeding and cooking me local dishes and getting me to taste all kinds of strange and wonderful things. When friends heard I was visiting North Germany their standard response was ‘have a beer and currywurst for me’. Clearly that’s what our perception of German food is, but I soon discovered there is much than this. OK its true, they do like sausages and beer, and yes I did have both, although I stayed as far away from currywurst as I could! (Once experienced forever avoided). I did eat a fair bit of ham and salami, and lots of bread and cheese, but since Kiel is on the coast seafood makes up a big part of the local diet plus it was the peak of the white asparagus season so there was lots of that too.

On the first night of my stay my host excitedly cooked up the traditional white asparagus dish which consists of a rich hollandaise sauce, steamed white asparagus, new potatoes and smoked ham, which looked to me like uncooked bacon but she assured me it was the traditional way to eat it. The ham, which tasted like the Bavarian stuff back home in the UK was thickly sliced on to the plate and everything else layered on top. Plenty of heavy, buttery, artery hardening sauce coated the asparagus and potatoes and it was just heaven on a plate. We finished our meal with a tiny glass of ice-cold Kummel Schnapps, a traditional caraway flavoured schnapps to clean the palate, which was refreshing after all the richness.

Determined to recreate this at home I packed the ingredients in my suitcase and they survived the flight…

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My first meal out was at elMovenschiss a lovely little terrace restaurant overlooking the sea at Schilksee and a mere 5 kilometres from where I was staying. The food joined traditional Northern German cooking with dishes of Mediterranean influence with a heavy emphasis on seafood.

Loosely translated the name means el seagull shit and with that bit of German wit won us over. It was actually recommended to me by Shropshire supper club host Kerstin Losch (Kerstins kitchen). I trusted her. She is German and knows about food and her recommendation proved a good one.

It was a sunny evening and as the restaurant was busy and full we sat outside overlooking the marina. Folded blankets lined our seat and kept us warm as the evening drew on. I felt like an old woman with my blanket over my knees, but even the kids wrapped themselves up after they’d finished running around the beach in-between courses.

We loved the greeting page of the menu…lost in translation?

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Apart from the kids in our party (who of course chose the ubiquitous sausage or currywurst) we all ordered fish dishes and hefty portions of well cooked food arrived promptly (as one might expect in Germany!). My guide ordered a traditional Northern German dish of  herring, cream sauce potatoes and salad, while my other companion chose Zander and salmon fillet, pan-fried and served with roasted potatoes, spinach and mustard sauce. I opted for a tomateoey Mediterranean fish soup, with prawns, scallops and white fish. All were delicious and very filling.

I managed to save a little room for dessert as i’d already spotted that they had a favourite of mine on the menu, Crema Catalana. It didn’t disappoint with its perfect crispy sugar topping and beautiful orangey cream underneath. We left as the sun set over the harbour, watching the boats all lined up for the sailing event at the weekend and feeling full, but pleased with our choice.

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busy open plan kitchen…checking out portion sizes before we ordered!

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currywurst

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traditional German Fare…herring, cream sauce and potatoes

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Mediterranean fish soup

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Lights twinkling in the harbour as we prepare to leave

Saturday arrived and we headed off early to the market. The market in Kiel like the rest of Germany isn’t like the pokey little farmers markets we have in the UK. This one is huge and runs twice weekly. People come and do all their shopping, meet friends, drink coffee and generally make a day of it. Its a great place to browse, do a bit of tasting and some people watching. Here you can everything from beautiful ceramics, household goods, plants and general bric a brac to vegetables, fruit, cheese, bread, meat, cake, sweets and anything else you could want to eat. We tasted, drank coffee and cake bought a bit of everything.

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smoked fish counter at the market

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Kieler sprotten….a local speciality. Whole smoked sprats eaten head ‘an all.

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Horse butcher….sausages, salami the works…I brought some home

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White Asparagus

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all the fruit and veg stalls were busy…lots of local produce

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cheese!

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market coffee

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drinking coffee and watching the world go by…it was very busy

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salami stall

Next we wandered off past the Rathaus and Opera house to a small artisan brewery  in Kiel for lunch (yes I know, we just had coffee and cake..but I was on holiday!). The Kieler brewery only makes one beer. Kiel Beer. Nothing flash, but very nice. We indulged in a small glass and ordered a plate of cold meat (or cold cuts they call it) to share.

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cold cuts….the circle of meat on the left turned out to be raw pork…or spreading meat as my host called it. Traditionally eaten on dark rye bread with raw onion and pepper. she didn’t tell me it was raw until I’d eaten it. She said “you British are funny about that sort of thing”

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fermentation in one of the large vats

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the brewing room in the basement

Our day of food wasn’t done. Next we headed back to Danischenhagen where my hosts kids were playing in a German/Scandinavian football tournament. The first thing that caught my eye was the German ‘street food’. I thought of the greasy burger and chip vans that line British streets when football matches are on. The doughnuts, candy floss…but not here. Ok, there was a barbecue van, manned by parent voulunteers…but look what else I spotted

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fish in a bun

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lots of different types of fish in a bun…street food stall

…it might be traditional but a few kids were heard giggling and saying “eeuukk fish in a bun” …once again the German sausage ruled

ElMovenschiss can be found at….

Soling 36

24159 Schilksee

T 0431 / 888 05 14

info@elmoevenschiss.de

The Kieler Brewery can be found or contacted here……

Kieler Brauerei am Alten Markt GmbH & Co. KG
Alter Markt 9
24103 Kiel

Telephone: +49 431 – 906290
Faximile: +49 431 – 906290
E-Mail: info@kieler-brauerei.de

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Filed under Food travel, German food, photography, Travelling with kids