Category Archives: Travelling with kids

I lost my heart to Portmeirion…my favourite place in North Wales

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First let me say this is not a food post, although  my reasons for visiting Portmeirion were food related. The intention was to go with my friend Sunnie on a fact-finding mission and to do a bit of PR for her dairy free toffee and chocolate (her brand is Toffi Toffee) at the Blas ar Fwyd trade show. As one of my primary Welsh produce suppliers it was a ‘business trip’ that soon became something more pleasurable.

For those not familiar with Portmeirion it was created by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. A passionate conservationist and devoted to the protection and preservation rural Wales, and the landscape in general. Williams-Ellis began building the Italianate village of Portmeirion in the 1920’s. Purchased for £20,000 in 1925 he described it as

 “a neglected wilderness – long abandoned by those romantics who had realised the unique appeal and possibilities of this favoured promontory but who had been carried away by their grandiose landscaping…into sorrowful bankruptcy.” 

He then changed its original name, AberIâ (Glacial Estuary) toPortmeirion: Port because of the coastal location andMeirion as this is Welsh for Merioneth, the county in which it lay (quote and history taken from thePortmeirion website) and began to map out his plans. Over the next 50 years he lovingly constructed what is now an absolute romantics dream. His original insights into its unique appeal were spot on, but he avoided stumbling into the same bankrupcy trap as other speculators through careful planning, salvage, the collection of artifacts and later on donations from other architects or salvagers. His plans were workable and with his eye for recycling, conservation and salvage he created what he called

“a home for fallen buildings”

I love that! and maybe that is a reason i’m so drawn to the place (maybe its the perfect home for fallen women?) Its eclectic, unusual, recycled, thrown together but in the most achingly beautiful way.

The first thing that grabs you as you enter the village is it fantasy like architecture; all sensual curves, nymphs on plinths, ethereal looking statues of women in flowing robes, Grecian pillars aplenty and everything doused in a rainbow swathe of warm Mediterranean colours. It immediately reminds me of sunny holidays, transporting me back to Italy and grape picking in the sun, and confusing me into believing I’ve been transported to somewhere more exotic. Anyone could be forgiven for forgetting they were in Wales.

Then there are the grounds; From the almost tropical sculpted gardens (Portmeirion seems to have its own little microclimate of sun and wellbeing), 1920’s style lido’s, secret woods and stunning views over the estuary you couldn’t fail to fall in love. With the place and whoever you are with. On the day we visited the spring flowers were in full bloom; a magnolia spilling petals over a carpet of daffodils, with the sea as a back drop.

I’ve had more than one romantic encounter with Portmeirion and its no secret that I spent my first date with my (now ex) husband there.  Since we spent twenty years together and had two beautiful children my memories are not sad, but joyful that it marked the beginning of something special.

If this isn’t enough to entice you, Portmeirion is also that place where they filmed the 1960’s cult classic The Prisoner . Surreal, intriguing and the inspiration for many searching questions back in the day…what does it all mean? The series remains a cult and has its own fan club ‘Six of One’ and I’m sure some of the questions about control still resonate.

I revisit regularly. It’s that kind of place; once bitten forever smitten and all that and I find myself drawn back again and again (In the past six months I have attended Festival No.6, which is held there in September. I also returned to do a food demonstration at the Christmas Food and Drink Festival in December and now, as the weather slowly improves again last week.

Portmeirion is open throughout the year;

Ticket prices can be found here but are reduced during the winter months. Reduced prices can be found here

You can also buy an annual pass

Under 5’s go free and no dog’s are allowed on the site

The site has a range of other attractions (if the beauty of the place is not enough!!) including gift shops and cafe’s. There are two fantastic restaurants on the site, the brasserie in Castell Deudraeth which I have eaten in on previous visits and loved and the highly acclaimed Hotel Portmeirion  which much to my shame I have never managed to eat in.

If you wanted to extend your stay there are hotel rooms in Castell Deudraeth, The Hotel Portmeirion or you can book to stay in one of the self-catering cottages within the village itself. I’ve always promised myself that I will, one day, but have never quite got round to it (or to be fair been able to afford it!)

Their website also has many special offers, especially in the off-season. They are currently advertising Spring Afternoon Tea Breaks

To contact Portmeirion about any of these offers or for further information its best to go to their website here

Come and visit, I promise you its wroth it…but you might never want to leave!

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Filed under travel, Travelling with kids, Wales tourism

Five food themed activities to keep the kids entertained this summer

So here we go, the school holidays are upon us and if you are anything like me (a bit last-minute) then you’ve barely begun to think about what to do with the kids. Its fine if you are lucky enough to have the summer off, but for me it’s such a busy time. With work most weekends its difficult to plan a big holiday, so what I tend to do is save that big holiday for spring or Autumn and just do day trips, activities and maybe the odd weekend away camping. One of the things that takes up a lot of time is the Green Man festival. My work period stretches for a tiring three and half weeks and I’m away the whole time. That makes for a big chunk of the school holidays, but there is still the odd week where there are no exciting plans and we want something interactive to do, or sadly we have to work. So how to keep my boy entertained?

Well he and I checked out a few ideas for things to do in over the summer …when his boring parents are otherwise engaged and there are no friends about to hang out with. Between us we came up with a list of five fun food themed and outdoor activities (he likes food and this IS a food blog after all) ranging from the most expensive to the almost-free. Reviews are by me, with added comments from Aidan age 10 and a half.

1. Young Cooks Holiday Kitchen at The Bodnant Welsh Food Centre  runs courses throughout the summer. Kids get the opportunity to make their own nachos with refried beans, guacamole, salsa from scratch, a five bean chilli to take home and bananas with chocolate chimichanga sauce.

Courses cost £45 which makes them a more expensive option but this includes all the ingredients. They run between 10am and 1pm and take place on the 30th and 31st July and 9th and 29th August. They do get busy so booking is essential.

Call 01492 651100

On the 27th/28th July the centre will also be hosting a children’s fun festival with games and lots of food themed entertainment for all the family.

If you don’t live in Wales check out your nearest cookery schools online or give them a call to see if they have special activites planned for the holidays.

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childrens course with eira 5th April 4

Photos courtesy of Bodnant Welsh Food Centre

2. On a similar theme, but a little cheaper…how about spending the day making your own chocolate lollies? North Wales based chocolatiers Baravelli’s are offering bespoke courses where kids get to create their own delights. Prices are £15 per child for an hour and a half session, with a maximum 6 to a group. Kids must be accompanied by a parent (as this is a hands on exercise it’s just as fun for parents to get involved) and at the end you get to take home the things you’ve made….if they last that long!

They also run 3 hour courses for older teens/adults where you can make your own chocolate truffles or learn cake decorating techniques. These run for 3 hours and cost £40 per person and again, you get to take home all you have made (which is apparently a lot).

To book a course call Mark on 01492 338121

3. For a fuller day of child care how about giving the kids a taste of the great outdoors? The aim of  Wonderwoods is to ‘get kids back outside being kids again’ and what kid can resist a bit of den building, some foraging and the lure of cooking on an open campfire?

Sessions will be running on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the first two weeks of the school holidays starting this Tuesday (23rd July) and then the last two weeks.  Sessions cost £20 a day but they offer a £10 reduction for kids attending all three days (each week). The club runs from 10am until 4pm. For more information call Jon on the number on the poster below.

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My two guest reviewers Aidan (10) and his mate Maisy (11) spent the day and this is what they thought.

“The games at the beginning were a bit babyish for me, but it got better when we made fires and started cooking”. Maisy was the only girl and the oldest in the group. She enjoyed the hands on activities like fire and swing making and cooking pancakes the best but thought that perhaps it would be better to divide the kids in two age groups as she found some of the younger boys a bit annoying.

“I’d never made a swing or a hammock before and that was cool” Aidan was the second oldest, but was less irritated with the younger lads. He’s a laid back fellow generally and enjoyed all of the hands on activites, but agreed the games at the beginning were a little young for him. Nevertheless he want’s to go again so that’s as good a reference as any!

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chopping wood for the fire

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making the fire

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kids just love making fire!…Later they made and cooked pancakes and strawberry jam to go on top!

4. Celebrate fish! On the last weekend of the school holidays (31st August) it’s the inaugural Menai Seafood Festival. Based around the harbour and waterside in Menai Bridge it celebrates all things fishy, highlighting the coast and sea life that surrounds Anglesey and Gwynedd. Dylan’s Restaurant are the driving force behind what should be a busy, action packed, family day out. With rib rides, seashore safari’s with Anglesey sea zoo, educational talks from Bangor University marine biology team, watery themed art workshops, local music and a number of talented local chefs cooking up a  plethora of crustacean and pescatarian dishes to sample there is something for both adults and kids alike. All that and it’s free!

5. Last but certainly not least why not spend an afternoon picking your own fruit? Always fun. It whiles away a couple of hours in the sun (something we have plenty of at the moment), you can eat while you pick and still bring some home for tea. Hunt for your local pick your own farm online or ask at a farm shop, or just take a trip into the countryside surrounding you and see what you find….the two closest to me (one in Tregarth and one on Anglesey) are…

Moelyci Community Farm  is open for picking between 12 until 7pm everyday. They have plenty of strawberries, raspberries, loganberries and huge quantities of currants (red, white and black). Prices are very reasonable and the setting is stunning.

Hooton’s  PYO site is on the A5025 just one mile from Menai Bridge in the direction of Pentraeth – LL59 5RR (Look out for the signs). It’s open between 11am and 5pm during peak season.

Aidan says:”it’s great because it doesn’t cost much, you can eat loads and take stuff home to make all sorts of things like Eton mess” 8/10

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Blackcurrants ripe for picking at Moelyci

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***THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED WITH PICTURES AND COMMENTS AS AIDAN ATTENDS THESE ACTIVITIES. THE SEAFOOD FESTIVAL IS THE EXCEPTION AS IT DOESN’T HAPPEN UNTIL THE LAST WEEKEND OF THE HOLIDAYS

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Filed under chocolate, cookery courses, Food activities for kids, Food festival, Foraging for fruit, seasonal food, Travelling with kids

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

A brief introduction to Kiel

This is my third visit to Kiel, one the smaller German cities that sits on the coast of the Baltic sea. It’s the capital city of Schleswig-Holstein, the most northern of Germany’s sixteen states and although it’s not the most popular destination for UK tourists it is a real hub for visitors heading up from Southern Germany and those travelling over on ferries from the Scandinavian countries.

Many tourists from elsewhere in Europe miss Kiel possibly in the mistaken belief that it is either a/generally cold and not the place for a beach holiday or b/ that it is simply the gateway to Scandinavia (it has the main ferry terminal offering overnight trips to Oslo, Gottenburg and Klaipeda in Lithuania) and is very close to the Danish border. Plus its a stop off point for cruise ships travelling the Baltic countries. To think that this is all it has to offer is a long way from the truth.

Kiel may not have the most historic or beautiful buildings (it had the shit bombed out of it during the war) but it does have a rich and interesting history and an air of culture and heritage. It has always been one of the major maritime centres of Germany, home to the German Navy’s Baltic Fleet and a centre for high-tech shipbuilding (hence it becoming a target for allied bombers). It’s sailing culture remains strong as Kiel plays host to many international sailing events, these include the Kieler Woche (Kiel Week) the biggest sailing event in the World which usually takes place during the last week of June. But there are lots of smaller events popping up at one time or another throughout May and June (which is often when the weather is at its best)..in fact the weekend I visited saw a childrens festival on the harbour, a sailing festival and a kids football championship (out where I was staying)

Kiel makes a great base for exploring Northern Germany and the Baltic sea beaches, which have much to offer. There are plenty to choose from as they flank both sides of the Kieler Forde, the inlet from the Baltic that runs down to the city. All are very clean and sandy, have extremely safe waters (shallow, calm and no with big choppy waves) and are very popular with families (especially those with small kids). Of course they tend to be busy around the sailing weeks, so double-check before visiting if you don’t fancy tangling with the sailing set.

I actually stayed about 15 kilometres outside Kiel with hosts living on the West side of the Forde. The village of Danischenhagen is very convenient  for the beaches of Strande and Schilksee (only 5 kilometres), while on the East side the beaches of Monkeberg, Schoenberg and Laboe (where you can visit the Laboe Naval Memorial and the U-995; the world’s only remaining Type VII U-boat) a must-see for kids and adults alike

As the Kieler Forde opens out to the open sea more beaches line with flanked by numerous little campsites that run up and down the coastal area.

This part of Germany was once owned by Denmark (hence some of the village names) and is so close to the border that there are some similarities in the food, but whether this is due to Scandinavian influences or simply because it is so close to the sea is unclear. Whatever the influences this is a great place for seafood lovers. With regular fish markets, stalls and great restaurants there is plenty of choice.

Here are a few impressions from in and around Kiel …

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Tall ships in the harbour for a sailing festival

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Bunker 19: Left over from the war…spot the shrapnel and shell holes in this air raid bunker, turned cinema/theatre/art venue on Kiel University campus

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Sails and rigging

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13th century St. Nicholas’ church

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U-995 at Leboe

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Rathaus and the Opera House

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Sandy beach at Schilksee…you see the wicker chairs everywhere in the summer

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street food German style

Travel:

There are various cheap flights to be found if you search around. I flew Easyjet from Manchester airport.  They also fly from Gatwick and various other UK airports.

From Hamburg I travelled to Kiel by Kielius bus. It conveniently pulls up right outside Terminal 1 arrivals, and the journey ends at the main bus terminal in Kiel. It costs 19 euro one way and stops close to plenty of budget and mid priced hotels.  Basic Hotel on Muhliusstrasse has three stars and is a popular choice, but there is a greater selection of accommodation to be found here. If you prefer to book an apartment there are several in and around Kiel including two overlooking the sea at Laboe (see HouseTrip)

For those travelling onwards and into Scandinavia, ferries can be booked online or directly at the ferry terminus which is impossible to miss as its on the harbour, close to the railway station and many of the hotels.

Look out for next post which is all about FOOD!

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

March mayhem (with added snow, birds and landscapes, but not much food)

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Snow in the village

Well, doesn’t time fly? Its been over two weeks since my last post and such a lot has happened. Every day I intend to write and then something else comes along to stop me.

I’m not sure where to begin with all the things that fill my days; whether it’s behind the scenes stuff like planning for all the dinners coming up in April (four in one week!!) or responding to requests for quotes, putting together invoices, menu selection and ordering. Theres not much glamour there but its all an essential part of my job.

Of course I prefer the interesting meetings where we discuss new ideas or presenting at mentoring sessions. I get out for lunch, meet people away from the four walls of my house and either put together plans or get to talk about me! (That sounds sooo narcissistic, but how many of us don’t relish the opportunity show pride in our achievements and tell others about what we’ve done). Last week I was out talking to the catering students at Llandrillo College in my role as a Dynamo role model, flying the flag for Big Ideas Wales and inspiring others to do follow their dreams….  And when I’m not fitting all of that in I’m juggling the demands of two kids (one a teenager with ADHD and my partner. After all of that there are times when I have little energy left for writing.

This particular two weeks has proved extra challenging. I’ve braved snow (yep, we snowed in again, for the second time this year. In January its expected but March!! Now that’s a bit crazy), a chaotic visit to my parents, a dislocated shoulder (my partner) plus a rather nasty and aggressive 24 hour virus that took out everyone in the house one by one. Most of our holiday plans were shelved.

One of the reasons I was in London was to hold a pop-up teashop for those attending the Easter art workshops at Wing Asylum.  I had to bring a full catering kit with me, tins, plates, ingredients, all of which were to be packed into my van. Not an easy task when it’s parked at the bottom of the village separated from my house by a steep, ice packed impassable hill. This called for improvisation. We had to tie each crate, suitcase and bag to a wooden toboggan and gingerly guide it through snow and over treacherous patches of ice. Ice grip shoes were necessary. It took four trips before we finally got on our way.

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The icy approach to my house

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The kids bike….left out in the garden

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strapping everything to a toboggan

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roses…well they’re under there somewhere

Next I had to cook and prepare cakes and tarts in a small, unfamiliar kitchen, with family members wandering in and out at will and with little space to stack boxes, crates or anything really.My mothers house is not designed to accommodate eight people so chaos reigned supreme. For a whole week.

My birthday came and went (I barely noticed it, but promised myself extended celebrations once the job had finished) and then the Wing Asylum opening night was upon us. A late night drunken affair in the toe and finger numbingly cold Asylum Chapel in Peckham. Courvoissier cocktails served to render some incapable and memories of the night are a little hazy.

We all surfaced the following morning felling like we’d been punched in the head but after caffeine, paracetamol and a BLT were fit enough to pack up our kit and drive into an uncharacteristically quiet London.

Even here things were not simple. The urn fused the electrics. The microwave in the van stopped working (so no hot chocolate…disaster!!) and we froze yet again….The stall was a success despite it all, but the organisers were left claiming NEVER to run kids workshops again after one piece sustained damage, and that night my son too went down with the dreaded lurgy.

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Asylum….and my cake stall

On Saturday I finally got to celebrate my birthday. Even our late dinner at Moro (a hugely popular North African/Lebanese/Spanish influenced restaurant run by highly regarded chefs, husband and wife team Sam and Sam Clark) turned into a drama…the closest tube station was, as it turned out,  closed. We hadn’t realised and ended up walking from Barbican arriving hot, flustered, starving and 20 minutes late. The food was worth the drama, but this being my birthday dinner I wasn’t allowed to ‘work’….i.e. no photo’s, no reviewing. It is a place I would definitely like to revisit though and we all agreed the food was superb.

We intended to go for drinks after dinner but discovered we only had half an hour to get back to London Bridge for the last train home. We panicked as we discovered a second tube station closed so in desperation hailed a cab

Can you get us to London Bridge in 15 minutes? We begged.

She promised to do her best and after 11 minutes of hair-raising driving, back ache inducing races across speed bumps…and minus my cervix which I left back at a crossing on route, we arrived with 10 minutes to spare. I’m sure this did nothing for our digestion but we got home and that’s the main thing.

Easter Sunday was somewhat underwhelming. The teen had gone off to a ‘illegal rave’ in London and had yet to return….the kid was still recovering from the virus and late in the morning my sister emerged with her boyfriend late announcing that they too had been hit by ‘the bug’ . We held a very late and slightly half-hearted Easter egg hunt and even today the eggs are still pretty much intact.

With my 8 hour shoulder of lamb cooking in the oven we were all a bit dejected. My sister claimed that this must be the worst day ever to come down with a stomach bug and we all struggled to motivate ourselves. With a little sun returning and a suggestion that spring might yet arrive we blew the cobwebs away with a walk around the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes in Essex admiring award-winning Visitors Centre and Bird Hide (designed by my sisters firm Van Heyningen and Haward)

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RSPB Reserve, Rainham

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The Purfleet Hide

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Cold but beautiful….you’d never know how close to the M25 you are

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The bird hide

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Despite it all we managed to fit in a fair bit….and most had recovered enough to enjoy an Easter Sunday dinner and glass of wine (albeit a small one for some).

The RSPB Visitor Centre, car park and reserve trails are open 9.30 am to 4.30 pm from 1 November-31 March and 9.30 am to 5 pm from 1 April-31 October. There are tons of things for kids to do aside from bird spotting plus a great walk around the perimeter of the lakes.  My ten-year old had a great afternoon. For more info check here

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A trip around West Cork

I’d hoped for something of a gastro tour of Ireland but clearly with a family of four (including a picky teenager and an easily bored nine-year old) and a tight budget it was not the cheapest or easiest option. But really that didn’t matter because we had a never-ending expanse of coastline to explore and plenty to do without actively seeking out foodie experiences and boring the kids to death, we called it ‘stealth foodie-ism’. Armed with some tips from Niamh (eat like a girl) and a few of her twitter followers, plus local knowledge from the in-laws we were able to eat very well and very cheaply.

My in-laws live just outside Clonakilty which is about half an hours drive from Cork city. They’d organised a place for us to stay (two minutes along the lane from them) and filled our fridge with local produce. Clonakilty black and white pudding, local bacon and sausages, eggs from the farm up the road, salad, ham, bread and organic milk. All local, all fantastic. We topped this up with local strawberries and raspberries, Glenilen Farm cream, Gubbeen cheeses and tapas tubs of olives, tapenade and stuffed sweet peppers from the award-winning Scally’s supervalu in Clonakilty. Packed lunches, fruit, plenty of juice and water were the mainstay of our holiday, with a couple of dinners at the in-laws helping keep our costs down.

We hardly ate out at all apart from a couple of trips to the chippy (freshly caught and cooked fish is far superior to the stuff bought at home) and a late lunch at a gorgeous pub on the harbour at Crookhaven. This followed a dramatic, bracing and windswept walk along the cliffs at Mizen Head, the most westerly point in Ireland making the most of the afternoon sun after a drizzly start to the day. Kids generally hate walking but this included just enough adrenaline pumping scenery and plenty of interesting lighthouse facts (Fastnet lighthouse is just visible to the south) to keep them happy.

We finished the afternoon with a pint of Murphy’s, some ham ‘sangwiches’ and Tayto crisps (for the kids) and a gloriously rich and creamy bowl of seafood chowder for me at O’Sullivan’s bar.

We also took a trip to Kinsale. Another undoubtedly pretty harbour town but I found it rather twee in a very touristy kind of way. It wasn’t our cup of tea. It was very anglicised, full of coach parties and the ‘sailing set’ (not that I have anything against those that sail. We had our own afternoon on the sea later in the week) but because of the clientele everything just that bit more expensive. I prefer places off the beaten track where I can live like a local and tucked well away from the very touristy haunts, as do the rest of the family.

We had a quick look at fishy fishy, a well-known, award-winning seafood restaurant which was recommended by Niamh, but with four of us it would have proved too costly (plus the teen hates fish). Instead the kids opted for an enormous ice cream from a really lovely ice cream parlour and we headed out-of-town to James Fort for another bracing cliff walk. Far more enjoyable for a nine-year old boy and much more spectacular than a fish dinner in an expensive cafe.

As the weather improved over the week we gravitated towards the sea and beaches more. There were plenty to choose from and we were spoilt for choice. With dramatic rocky coastlines at Dunworly to blue flag beaches at Inchydoney and the Warren at Rosscarbery. The Warren proved a little windy on our first trip, although that didn’t stop our nine-year old stripping off and running for the sea.

On another day we took my father in law’s boat out to sea. It hadn’t been out for a year so it was an opportunity to give it a run and do a bit of fishing. We didn’t catch anything, but sailing with seals was a fantastic experience for the kids. On an earlier trip to Ireland we took a charter trip out from Union Hall (there are plenty of boats going out, but check and book in advance. Easiest to go down to the pier and ask the harbour master or one of the fishermen) to do some sea fishing and look for seals, dolphins and whales. It was a little early for Whales but we saw plenty of seals, who tend to chase the fish into the harbour on the tide. That was a bigger boat. This time our boat was much smaller and the seals swam really close to us.

Friday was our one dedicated foodie day as we headed to the farmers market in Clonakilty. Gubbeen cheese nestled beside home-made cakes, chorizo, preserves and great coffee. Dips, basil hummus, chorizo and mozzarella, plus a bit of salad made a great supper (we’d taken some wraps with us which came in handy). The sunshine, buskers and a throng of people gave it a real festival atmosphere as we sat eating local organic lamb burgers. Later that evening we headed back into the town for the Random Acts of Kindness Festival where our kid got to show off his giant bubbling skills as part of a ‘bubble flash mob’ followed by live music and an absolutely hilarious Ceilih at the famous De Barras folk club. Money raised was for the Clonakilty Flood Relief Campaign.

We spent our last day in scorching sunshine. We followed up a huge lunch with the in-laws at the West Cork hotel (the food wasn’t that much to rave about but again the produce was all local and the meat and fish was delicious) with a trip to Lough Hyne. We sat in the sun looking over the small deserted harbour watching people dive off their boats into a clear warm sea longing for a yacht of our own.

Loch Hyne

Once we’d thoroughly depressed ourselves with our longing for a boat and lack of resources to do anything about it we headed for the beach at Inchydoney.  Here we whiled away an hour or two swimming in gloriously warm sea before taking a last trip to Rosscarbery pier and a bit of fishing (the fish had been elusive so far so this was our last hope).

As high tide approached fishermen lined the sea wall on one side and a gaggle of kids threw themselves off the pier into the sea on the other.

The teen somersaulting into the sea…crazy girl that she is!

Diving into the sea at Rosscarbery pier

Fishing off the sea wall…I didn’t get a pic of the seal

Once again the fish were elusive, this time scared away by the diving kids on one side and seals chasing every fish on the other. It’s not that the fish weren’t there, plenty bit, but it was impossible to land them with Mr. seal lying in wait to grab them off the hook as we reeled them in. In fact the fishing went on longer than anticipated as it became a real battle of wills. Man against seal. Every fish was a fight to the death. Those feckin seals became public enemy number one. We eventually left at 9.30pm tired, hungry and with two tiny pollack, the landing of which received huge cheers all along the pier!

Pollack

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Filed under Eating out with kids, family budget cooking, Food in Ireland, local produce, seasonal food, Travelling with kids, Uncategorized

Seasonal eating in Germany

I have to say Germany and Kiel were quite unexpected. I’ve been there before, but last time I didn’t really go looking for culinary uniqueness, it was a flying visit but this time was different. I was staying for nine days so consequently I had plenty of time to soak up the traditions, hunt for the unusual and generally eat the way the Germans do.

I’m not saying I ate out much, with five kids between us, four of them under nine and both families fairly skint, plans for expensive and elaborate dining were shelved, so we did what we always do best, cook at home, sharing ideas and preparation until we came up with a variety of hearty, wholesome home cooked dinners, using lots and  lots of local produce. I suppose it was a busman’s holiday really, lots of cooking for lots of people, interspersed during the week with three days English language teaching at Kiel University, but the experience, even the work bit, was totally enjoyable all the same. Some of my students had even googled me before I arrived and discovered my alternative foodie occupation so we spent a great time discussing that as well.

Following our trip to the market on Saturday we were well stocked for the weekend. Easter Sunday began with the obligatory Easter egg hunt followed by a late and lazy breakfast which consisted of lots of different German cheeses, meats and salami, fruit, fresh bread and coffee. This was our friends usual continental routine. During the week muesli, fruit and yogurt started the day, but of course while we were staying there were much more lazy breakfasts like this. While the sun blazed we simply sat, relaxed, ate and even managed a glass of Easter Sunday champagne. Lunch was unnecessary since breakfast ran on forever, in fact it probably only finished a couple of hours before we began to think about the barbecue we were having that evening.

In between this we drank what became known as ‘girly beer’ (basically beer, such as Becks, ready mixed with lemon or lime, or grapefruit) and the occasional cup of tea accompanied by a traditional German afternoon tea cake (cherry and chocolate).

Annette’s secret recipe chocolate and cherry cake…delicious and I’m determined to get that recipe!!

Later more friends arrived; we barbecued trout with herbs, wild garlic and lemon, some extremely phallic looking white asparagus marinated with olive oil and basil, chicken sate, ribs with a honey dressing and German sausages. For pudding the kids made Eton mess, a household favourite, with strawberries, cream and meringues.

traditional Easter bonfire...they seem to have them everywhere!

I feel almost guilty to admit that every day was much the same; fresh rolls, fruit, cheese and salami, followed by cake and a large late dinner. We tried various specialities. At the coast we had Fischbrochen basically freshly caught fish either marinated, with herbs or smoked and served in a bun with mayonnaise or a sauce and salad. I had smoked mackerel with horseradish, particularly yummy. Another night we took the kids bowling. I’ve never seen as classy a restaurant attached to a bowling alley anywhere else, ever. After a couple of games we sat down to eat. Sean decided to try another speciality currywurst. Our local friends did warn him not to choose this but he opted to ignore advice. Currywurst is basically German sausage in a tomato ketchup kind of curry sauce. It’s very popular there although Sean did proclaim that he chose unwisely, I had a taste and it was absolutely foul. Probably the kind of thing you would pick up after the pub when drunk! The kids chose a hearty portion of sausage or fish and chips, whilst the sensible adults that chose wisely went for steak, local white asparagus and a sauce of some kind. Mine came with a generous helping of light, buttery Hollandaise sauce, while one of my companions went for an unusual sounding strawberry chilli chutney. It was certainly different but unexpectedly lovely. A little hint of a chilli kick, but not too much, and still with the distinctive strawberry taste and sweetness. It accompanied the asparagus beautifully. The decent sized steak came with a generous portion of garlicky herb butter and was fantastic, succulent, full of flavour and cooked perfectly medium rare. The asparagus was tender and cooked to perfection. I couldn’t have asked for more.

the bowling alley which adjoined the restaurantThe specials board…this was definitely the list to choose from

Currywurst…the most disgusting thing eversteak with roasted vegetables and chips

white asparagus with strawberry chilli chutney

my steak and asparagus with hollandaise

We ate so much yummy stuff it’s hard to pick a favourite …spiced pork roasts with apple sauce; lasagne made with smoked speck as well as mince; a variety of cheeses and salami and of course a mountain of apple cake, lemon cake, local marzipan and beer. Of course all of that means that my souvenir from Kiel is an extra half a stone, but hey it was worth it.

All of those tastes are still running through my head, but I keep coming back to that white asparagus and hollandaise. My lasting impression that there is more to German food than meets the eye, it’s not overtly elaborate but with so many unexpected high points, discoveries of tastes and flavours, I now know that there is definitely more to German food than just beer and Bratwurst.

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An Easter postcard from Kiel

coloured eggs on Easter Saturday

Easter in Germany is a far different experience from the one back home. One of the traditions I like the most is the dying and painting of eggs, an activity carried out by children all over Germany in the run up to Easter.  Common in schools, kindergartens and at home, the eggs they create end up decorating the house for Easter Sunday. I think it’s a shame that these kind of activities have died out in Britain and that there is very little creativity left. These days consumerism has taken over and everyone has fallen into the trap of buying large quantities of huge expensive branded eggs. Here in Germany however there is great excitement, but without much of this consumerist obsession; the Easter egg hunt is the thing, with lots of little eggs and chocolate treats being hidden around the house or garden. The children love the search, running off in eager anticipation clutching their baskets determined to find as many as they can. I liked this a lot and although secretly I wondered if my kids would miss their large trashy Easter eggs, I don’t think they did since both rushed around with mad enthusiasm, scrabbling through plants trying cramming their baskets to the brim before bringing them back to add to the stack ready for sharing at the end of the hunt. As well as chocolate eggs, each child had their own papier-mache egg filled with a special gift just for them. In the case of the teen it was jewellery and a leopard print belt, while the kids had a wealth of lego and toys.

home painted eggs

Easter traditions were in abundance at the local produce market in Kiel on Easter Saturday. Coloured eggs adorned stalls, Easter baskets for sale everywhere, as well as the usual range of predominantly local produce. The farmers markets in the UK are a quarter of the size of these places and sell a tiny choice of produce in comparison. Here local farmers sell their own goods as well as buying and selling produce from their close European neighbours. Local German cheeses share a counter with those from France, Holland, Switzerland and Austria; Dutch tulips sold along with those grown closer to home. It was a great start to the Easter weekend, providing an opportunity to discover the tastes and specialities of Northern Germany and shopping with friends who are locals, gave an even greater insight into the amazing seasonal produce available.

In some ways it’s not that different to Britain particularly the kind of produce on sale, although everything seems ready a little earlier. This may just be a fluke due to the particularly hot weather, (since Kiel probably has the same kind of climate to Britain, especially North Wales), but there certainly were things in greater abundance than in Wales. White asparagus for example was well and truly in season and we bought a big bunch for barbecuing on Sunday. There was also lots of rhubarb, Feldsalat (or field salad in English) which looked pretty much like lambs lettuce to me, Baerlauch or ramsons (wild garlic in English which has been in for some weeks back home) and a variety of early salad leaves. We got a bit carried away stocking up ready for our alternative Easter Sunday celebrations. We bought not only fresh salads but also a variety of cheeses, meats, german bread, sweets and even meringues for dessert.

I love markets in Europe and it was a brilliant way to spend Saturday morning. Laden with produce and chocolate we headed back home in preparation for a trip to the beach.


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