Getting festive: book choice

Getting festive: book choice

There’s a a day each year, usually around the end of August on which I get my first autumnal feeling of the season. A leaf falling from a tree. The smell of woodsmoke. An unseasonably chilly morning. It’s a divine sensation. The increasingly cold weather brings with it a new energy after a stifling summer. When others are bemoaning the advent of long, dark evenings, frosted-over cars and the need to don multiple layers of wool, I’m looking forward to it all with barely contained glee.

Let me explain. Autumn does exactly as it’s meant to every year. The other seasons bring with them a certain amount of disappointment. Spring doesn’t spring early enough. Summer is never hot enough – or worse, too hot. Winter is never snowy enough.

Which brings me onto the other reason I love autumn. It’s when we prepare for Christmas – and the preparation is the best part. The big day itself is just one small element of the festive season; beforehand it’s an excuse to sip on too-hot mulled wine from paper cups, gorge on mince pies, spend whole days baking, share time with family or hibernate under a heavy blanket watching delightfully terrible made-for-tv Christmas films or indulging in a book.

This year’s book of choice is Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles. If it’s at all possible to fall in love with paper and words, then I believe I have done so. The writer and chef created a dedication to the cold months so perfect that I want to take up residence inside it.

Slater combines precious memories of childhood winters, festive facts, and accounts of the ordinary (an afternoon sweeping leaves) and the extraordinary (a Norwegian excursion to select the tree for Trafalgar Square), with a hundred mouthwatering food and drink recipes. Leave me among the pages of candle recommendations, plum puddings, frost fairs and hot apple cider, for I will be happy there from November, when he begins his notes on midwinter, right through until February.

It’s a handsome book. The grey hardback is simply decorated with bronze trees and inside is punctuated with evocative images of food and festivities. It has a ribbon page marker too, and who doesn’t love a ribbon page marker?

Grab a blanket, light a candle, make yourself a drink and let Nigel guide you through the season. Now excuse me while I go to set up some dried fruit for a snooze in some booze – I missed stir-up Sunday, so have some remedying to do.

 

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Pieces of Portugal

Pieces of Portugal

Beauty is in the detail. This post is all about looking up, down and closer around Lisbon.

 

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Stepping out. Lisbon’s underfoot mosaics are spectacular.
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The alluring deep blue.
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Olive tree, Cristo-Rei.
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Soft, soft, golden sands at Nazaré.
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Every street is a cobbled dream.
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Stunning blooms on the Jacaranda trees.

 

 

Zig a zig Zar…zuela

Zig a zig Zar…zuela

“Traditional Cake Since 1968” or so says the logo of Zarzuela bakery in Lison, Portugal. But this is no ordinary place of pastries and breads. Zarzuela is an allergy friendly cafe and deli counter, selling gluten free and lactose free goods. In fact, the entire menu, covering breakfast through to early evening, can be served gluten free.

 

I have a gluten intolerance, so finding an eatery where not only are my dietary requirements understood but fully catered for is near impossible. Especially in a foreign country where my knowledge of the lingo is (embarrassingly) minimal to nothing.

 

I found mention of Zarzuela online while doing research on GF restaurants and cafes before flying out. We hot-footed over on our second day and ended up visiting three times and taking away a few cheeky treats each time. Being able to walk into a BAKERY and take my pick of ANYTHING was INCREDIBLE. I can’t overstate how utterly wonderful it was to have that sense of freedom when choosing what to eat while outside of my own home. It’s been three and a half years since I’ve been able to do that.

The menu has breakfasts, snacks, sandwiches, chips, pizzas, burgers, and a huge range of sweet dishes including waffles, doughnuts, ice cream and traditional Portugese custard tarts. Everything I sampled was delicious, homemade and high quality – including the best Sangria we had all week. Pure gluten free heaven.

 

http://www.zarzuela.pt

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Mirror

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One from the holiday archives: Vancouver.

Vancouver took A LOT of warming up to. Our first night in the city resulted in an unintentional tour of the less salubrious side of Downtown. But after discovering Stanley Park my view started to shift somewhat. This was taken from the park at low tide, the water still enough to catch a good reflection.

 

Weekly photo challenge

 

Canada: wonderful wildlife

Canada: wonderful wildlife

Back in July Mr S and I visited Canada. Our tour took us from Calgary, through the Rockies, to Vancouver (with a bit of extra time in Victoria).

Hailing from the UK where the wildlife is somewhat ‘safe’, I couldn’t get enough of the Canadian critters. Here are a few of my favourite snaps:

 

On day two of the tour we visited Lake Louise and the Columbia icefields. It also turned out to be BLACK BEAR DAY. In true Goldilocks style, we saw not one, not two but THREE. This fella was having a sniff about near the road and I managed to get a few decent pics from the safety of the coach. Can you believe people were out of their vehicles, kids in tow trying to selfies? Luckily he slumped off, clearly agitated by the attention, before taking too much offence to the cameras.

 

On the subject of bears, I loved the fact that all of the bins displayed this anti-bear logo. These guys are grizzly bears, which we didn’t get to see… which I’m kinda glad about – they look a bit big.

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We also came across these cute deer and mountain sheep on Bear Day….

…and these cheeky little columbian ground squirrels. Maybe I should rename Bear Day, WILDLIFE DAY.

 

The Rockies had their fair share of animals, but so too did the cities. We spotted several raccoons padding around Vancouver’s Stanley Park. They’re about the size of a cat, so it was rather startling to see them just having a stroll through the park. Rabies is a real threat though, so we kept our distance.

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Undeniably a magnificent bird, the heron was our top sighting. Our walk around Stanley Park’s seawall resulted in at least nine heron spots. We also came across a breeding sight (right) in Victoria’s Beacon Hill park.

 

Finally, the photo I’m most proud of: the butterfly. Sunning itself on the coastline of Beacon Hill park, this flutter allowed me to take its portrait and is surely going to win me critical acclaim as a wildlife photographer [modest].

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xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project Garden: the beginning

Project Garden: the beginning

Mr S bought his house in February 2015. Save from a lone summer barbecue, the square of grass out the back lay virtually unused for over a year. One ill-fated attempt to spruce up the area left me pulling up weeds alone with nothing but a broken trowel for company. Boredom, hayfever and an aversion to sunshine drove Mr S into the shady confines of his mancave.

Moving in last winter gave me unprecedented access to the house and I quickly claimed the outside space as my own. Planting my flag firmly in the patchy lawn of course piqued Mr S’s interest. We have therefore embarked on a project to transform the space.

The first step was to take a look at what we’ve got. There was a moss ridden, waterlogged lawn, a square patio, a couple of areas of stone chips and a rather sad-looking plastic excuse for a shed. The fences had, at some point in the distance past, been treated to a coat of grim brown paint and were slowly being overtaken by neighbourly foliage. It was essentially a dull, characterless space with no purpose and unsuited to any sort of social event. (We did host one barbecue last summer where we perched borrowed garden chairs and an Ikea coffee table among the weeds.)

Original Garden
‘Before’ garden design.

Top priorities for project garden:

  •  Add colour through planting and accessories
  •  Add height and structure
  •  Furniture and lighting
  •  New shed
  •  Keep the lawn
  •  Repaint the fences
  •  Improve lawn quality
  •  Encourage wildlife.
New Garden Plan
‘After’ garden plan.

Back in April we went into this project with a huge amount of misplaced enthusiasm, believing it would take a weekend, maybe two at most, to carry out a complete transformation of the garden. Three months down the line a combination of inclement weather, inexperience and an ignorance of the effort required has taught us otherwise.

(For infor: sketches using gardena.com’s My Garden design tool.)