Friday, December 30, 2005

Preserved Clementines

Our visitors on Christmas Eve brought us a beautiful mini-crate of clementines - with a wealth of citrus fruit already we wondered what to do with them. So whilst out at the supermarket we had a leaf through Arabesque and found a recipe for stewed oranges. Trying hard to memorize the recipe we bought the extra ingrdients and went home to tailor it to our clementines. So here is our version, served with Gran Marnier scented cream - though yoghurt might have been less rich.

2kg clementines, sliced (skin on)
800g granulated sugar

Place the fruit slices and sugar in layers in a large pan, then add enough water to just about cover the fruit. Simmer gently for a couple of hours with the lid on. Then remove the fruit and rapidly boil the liquid to reduce by half. Add the fruit back in - it should be all soft and squidgy and simmer for a couple of minutes. Then bottle in sterilized jars.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing day ramble: Windsor to Cookham

After a fabulously indulgent day yesterday, we all decided that the little stroll through the village last night was not enough and we had to experience a little more exertion. So this morning we donned our walking shoes and headed for Windsor to start the next leg of the Thames path - Mum and Dad have been beetling their way along this 180-odd mile pathway that goes from the Thames barrier to the source of the river in Wiltshire (or more conventionally the other way around). We fair zoomed down the flat riverside path, and there was I thinking 12miles was a long way having been used to such distances last on the Pennine Way with back pack, tent and all. We made it to Maidenhead by 12.30 and chanced upon the Blue River Cafe which was open and serving lunch. By then we had been rained on several times and feeling a little chilled huddled in the dining room while our wraps and soup arrived. The mushroom soup was scrumptious and there were equal peels of delight over the duck, crab or tandoori wraps. But, as per usual, the pudding was la piece de la résistance - sticky toffee pudding with caramel ice cream - yummy!!!! The ultimate three miles peeled away and soon we were back at the car - once again drenched to the skin.

Back at the house, hot baths later Dougal was rummaging through boxes in the loft and came across a bottle of champers he'd been given for his 18th, which we were all sure had already been drunk - now 20years old (no D is not that old...yet) we were some what surprised, and even more so when it was found on sale on the internet at a considerable sum! Not that that is what is pictured above - this is Jurançon - with a nicely saucy name - that Dad found at Oddbins (not that I really want to tell you as I would quite happily never tell anyone so that we could buy it all - manic laughter in the background ....) "It is deliciously sweet wine for slurping... though you can have it with foie gras.... but slurping is good as it washes over you" says Dad. I couldn't sum it up better - delicious - go and buy it and slurp!!! (And if for some terrible reason you don't like it give it to me.....with the spiral eyes of hissing Sid..... (she's lost her marbles again)).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Cracker critters

Here are a couple of cracker jokes (from pre-Christmas day crackers) that I thought should be shared!

What's white and fluffy and swings through the cake shop?

A merignue-utang

How do snails keep their shells shiny?

They use snail varnish

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2005

A surfeit of food bloggers

On Saturday for the first time I met a host of fellow food bloggers! My day started fairly early picking up Sabine of A Lot on My Plate, as it turns out she lives just around the corner from me! What a coincidence! We travelled down to London, via Wampe's, to visit Johanna the passionate cook. We were joined by Jeanne, Jenni, Celia, Joanna and Martina for a fabulous afternoon of chatter and food - what else!! Johanna got us warmed up with sausages & sauerkraut and then a cheese fondue - all exceedingly delicious. So much so that I forgot that I was having dinner with Mum and Dad and some how had to find room for an equally delicious duck and fig noodly number when I got home!

Above is my little contribution to the afternoon - we all made cookies (and of many varieties). Mine were adapted again from an Ocean Spray recipe - substituting dried blueberries for dried cranberries in a shortbread recipe. Next time I'll try the cranberries as the bluberries tasted rather like raisins and didn't turn the dough a lovely purple colour as I had anticipated.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chinese Printmaking

Yesterday I evetually got round to visiting the Waterhall, part of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery in the city centre, to see the woodblock printing exhibition of a selection of Chinese artists. The prints on display were produced between 1980 and 2000 and are representative of the more free approach to art in the post-Moa era. This is art for artsake and not for 'the people'. Particularly striking is the lead image, from the Muban Foundation collection, by Xiang Silou entitled Mother. Several of the prints eminate from the Heilongjiang province or the great northen wastes and these are particularly stunning images of great open landscapes. The exhibition runs until the 8th January.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Baking Day

What excitement there was on Saturday - I had a chap in my kitchen who wanted to learn how to make cookies! John started off with the gingerbread cookies that I made for IMBB not so long ago and then proceeded on to make my Mum's Nana's chocolate crispies (that would be my greatgrandmother's recipe!), which are incredibly easy to make and even easier to eat!! Then we had a go at a recipe from the chocolate book that Lilian sent me for EBBP - chocolate macaroons! Finally I adapted a cookie recipe from Ocean Spray - Cranberry Ginger Drop Cookies - I omitted the pecans and glaze, as I didn't have the ingredients in the cupboard. We split the spoils and he took most home to be sampled by his family!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Roman Sweets

On our last outing in Rome we popped down to Rosati's in Piazza del Popolo for a swift cappucino. On the way out I bought these two little packets of tasty treats - pure liquorice from Amarelli and aniseed digestives from Pastiglie Leone. Both are very good, though I have to admit that anything liquoricey or aniseedy is right up my street. The pure liquorice is quite astringent whereas the aniseed lozenges are sweet and crunchy.
I was intruiged to see that there is a liquorice museum on the Amarelli website - somewhere to put on my list of places to visit - I wonder if they have liquorice products from around the world, my house can currently claim to be harbouring liquorice sweets from Holland, Norway, Italy and England!
And on the Pastiglie Leone site I was very excited to see that they have made special editions for the upcoming XXth Winter Olympics . Now I wonder howe I can get my sticky mits on some of those to taste............

Helter Skelter

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Aubergine and Garlic Chutney

A picture of my lunch - thats not very exciting I hear you cry! But it is what is alongside the cottage cheese in my sarnie that I want to draw your attention to - aubergine and garlic chutney from Farm Chef. Mum bought a jar for me at a craft fair. And very delicious it is too - plenty of flavour and no harsh garlicy overtones - which is good as I share an office at my new job. Whats best is the inclusion of not only nutty seseme seeds but also onion seeds. Those are the tasty little black seeds which give naan bread its distinctive flavour!

Birmingham Christmas Markets

This year in the city centre, not only do we have the regular markets and the Frankfurt Christmas market (which must now be in its 4th or 5th year) but we also have a place for the local crafts traders down in St Martins Square! I popped into town for a little potter last Friday and bought some chocolate coated gingerbread - yummy, and later on found myself at the Gluwein stand in the rain - great stuff, though they were a bit heavy handed with the raspberry liquor! I am reliably informed that the crepes are good again this year. The very first year the German market came to Brum I remember driving home one night and seeing two halves of a giant Father Christmas proceeding down the road on a low loader. What could it be? It turned out to be the housing for the crepe stand!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Very Roman Weekend

Last weekend saw Mum, Dad, Dougal and me trek off (at 5am no less) to Rome to celebate Mum's Birthday. Arriving around lunchtime we wandered through the streets and ate delicious proscuito and mozzarella or melazane and mozzarella sandwiches. The weather wasn't at its best but we ambled around various sites before getting to the Colloseum at dusk. Dinner on that first night (Friday) was at Giardino di Albino as recommended by Hotel Modigliani , where we were staying. The antipasti were totally breathtaking - there were more than twenty delicious nibbles - though we only sampled a few - such as the sausages, crustless quiche, sweet onions and fresh mozzarella. Dad chose a scrumptious bottle of Brunello to accompany our food. We all opted for the house special - roast suckiling pig with rosmary roast potatoes - exceedingly tasty and the portion was just the right size after gorging ourselves on the antipasti. Finally dessert - the boys couln't resist the tiramisu while the lasses ate almond cake, which was a light sponge covered in a thin layer of lightly toasted marzipan.

On Saturday we met for a tour of the sights of Rome used in the Dan Brown book Angels and Demons. Our guide gave us a quick run down of real and acknowledged events (which end in the 18th century) before showing us the Bernini statues in first the church of Santa Maria di Popolo before we progressed on to Piazza San Pietro (to see the West wind), the Pantheon via the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (where Gallileo was held for 18 days, which is not in the book), the fountain in Piazza Navonna and finally we walked across Angel's Bridge to Castel di Sant'Angelo. From here there is a 'secret' via duct to the popes rooms in the Vatican!

After a long day on the streets of Rome we headed for Federico Primo, a fantastic fish restaurant down by the column of Marcus Aurelius. Unfortunately the heavens opened once more and we were drenched on the walk down to the restaurant. However, it was well worth the effort. We all had pasta to start, I had spaghetti with lobster, which was lightly spiced with chilli. I then had the pan fried halibut - we all had a different fish, with Dad and Dougal trying out things we had never heard of! And finally an apple sorbet - which tasted so fresh I'm not sure they didn't churn it just for me! Dad came up trumps again with a beautiful bottle of Gavi.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Cookie Swap IMBB/SHF

What a fantastic idea from Jennifer of the Domestic Goddess and Alberto of Il Forno to host a Cookie swap! And what a great way to get back into cooking after my trip. At the edge of this festive time of year I have opted for gingerbread christmas tree decorations, which I make every year for hanging on the tree. Its a little early yet to put up a tree so that although I made these biscuits on Wednesday, I did make the full recipe below and put most of the uncooked dough into the freezer for later creations!! They're rather special biscuits because they come with their own music! They are made in my kitchen to the strains of 'Christmas Cookies and Holiday Hearts' by Teresa Brewer from a compliation CD called Christmas Time again, which is as old as the recipe, which I acquired from an old boyfriend - he had a use after all - though I modifed the recipe to include the sugar windows.

Gingerbread Christmas Trees

100g golden syrup
65g caster sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
a pinch of cinnamon
65g margarine
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
275g plain flour
a pinch of salt
1 egg yolk

clear boiled sweets

First gently heat the syrup, sugar, the spices and margarine until the margarine has melted. Stirt in the bicarbonate of soda and leave to cool. (If its quite hot the bicarb will foam but this is fine). Sift the flour and salt into the syrup mixture and mix together, adding the egg yolk to make the dough. Gently kneed to a smooth dough with floured hands and then roll out thinly. Cut out shapes of your choice using a smaller cutter to cut out a window in each shape. I used Christmas trees but I also like using hearts or stars. Place the shape on a baking tray lined with non-stick greaseproof paper and place a small boiled sweet in the window. Whole sweets will melt though you can also crush them and put the powder in the middle, this way you can do mulit-coloured biscuits. Sugar-free sweets work just as well as full sugar ones. You may need to experiment a little with how much you put in the window depending on how thick your biscuits are, as the sugar when liquid can bubble out of the window. Bake the biscuits at 180°C for about 10-15min. As they come out of the oven use a wooden cocktail stick to make a hole in the top through which you can thread a thread to hang the biscuit. Cool slightly on the tray before lifting off and allowing to fully cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

So today I have been back in Brum for a whole week!! And it has passed incredibly quickly. A week tomorrow I shall be starting my new job and all the 'lady of leisure' time will be over. Not that I mind particularly, but crikey its gone quickly. Apart from taking great delight in seeing all my friends over the past week I have also been to see the Bravery in concert, at the Academy. I thought they were an english band but it turns out they're actually from NY, jolly good nevertherless. Susan, Julian, Paul, Jenny, Alex, John and I spent a very merry few hours jumping up and down and singing along! So the plan for the immediate future is to head off to Rome en famile at the crack of dawn on Friday to celebrate Mum's birthday - Happy Birthday Mum!!

Monday, November 14, 2005


Wow what a day to round off my wee tour of Mexico! I took myself off to the ruined city of Teotihuacan today. Yesterday I got my achaeological juices flowing at the National Anthropology museum in Chapultepec, which was vast and without a guide was a bit like trying to visit the Kremlin museums without a guide! But I saw an awful lot of articles and managed to find the highlights! So today I took the bus and arrived about 10am at the biggest archaeological site I think I have ever been to. It was breath taking! I clambered up the citudela, the pyramides of the Sun and the Moon, upon which I ate my lunch (of cold pizza!). But the star of the show was as I wandered back to get my bus. On the west side of the avenue of the dead I saw the tell tale sign of some excavations and went to have a look. Here they had found under the 'newest' structure eight others and there was a walkway through the subterranean remnants. But these were fab - they still had the stucco on the walls and steps and there was a really feeling of how the place would have looked. In the picture, taken from atop the pyramid of the moon, you can see the avenue of the dead and the pyramid of the sun on the left, which would have been smooth and painted red!! How amazing!!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

San Angel & Coyoacan

I was up with the lark this morning to visit the Saturday markets over in San Angel and Coyoacan, my guide book said the opened at 8am! Luckily, with travelling on the metro and not feeling like rushing I didn't get to Plaza San Jacinto until 9.30 to find the stalls just being erected! So I found a cafe for a cup of tea (harder than it sounds!) and watched the plaza decorate itself magnificent works of art. All were rather too large for me to even think about trying to take home but I had a lot of fun wandering about. Then I took a stroll down many cobbled streets to Plaza Hidalgo at the centre of Coyoacan. The square was filled with stalls too selling knick-knacks and sweeties. I had read in my inflight magazine from Tijuana that the traditional stickies around there were meringues, but I only saw the one vendor, but I saw lots of chaps selling wibbly jellies that looked gem-like and freshly turned out. I took the metro back, which was packed, and there seemed to be a large portion of the 20 million inhabitants of the city milling in the streets - a bit like Oxford Street on a Saturday I am sure.
the vulture vortex overhead signifies breakfast

the crisp-crust-sand enforces shade spent time

the bounce-reverberating concrete lulls the replete sunworshipper

Friday, November 11, 2005

Templo Mayor

Since I last wrote I have been travelling from Baja California to Mexico City. I had to spend a night on the bus and then another in Tijuana, a city I wouldn´t recommend anyone to visit! Apparently the youth of America go there to party - not a pleasant thought. Yesterday I arrived in Mexico City around 4pm and went for a little explore and some dinner. The streets near my hotel are filled with stalls, selling all manner of things but heavily biased towards Christmas at the mo (which is surprising as I hadn´t seen a single Christmas decoration while in Baja).
This morning I have visited Templo Mayor, the temple ruins in the city centre, they were opened up in the 1980s and exploration still goes on. There seem to be extensive archeological sites under the whole area of the Zocalo and the Cathedral. Its amazing to see the consequtive buildings of the temples, which were litteraly encased around earlier temples so that it looks like a giant onion that has had the top sliced off, revealing all for us to see. The adjoining museum houses a vast treasure trove of objects found during excavation, including the skull wall above!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Cave paintings

Well its been a few days since my last blog..... (I have sinned). But its been a busy time. On Saturday I sorted out a hire car, well really pick up, and a guide (Juve) from Cormorant tours in Loreto. We set out at 8am, driving north towards Mulege but turning inland towards San Isidro on a dirt road. Soon we turned off down a really rough road, salsaing along as I alternately avoided the boulders, sandy patches and catci! After about an hours driving we pulled up in what looked like the middle of nowhere and walked for about 15min into the desert. We came to a dam front, though there was no water behind it. A little fruther along I spotted a boulder covered in petroglyphs of fish and just in front of this a canyon wall rose. Here were the cave paitings of Conipule, deer, fish, turtles, hands and various unattributed pictures (some looked like lots of ladybirds). There were more petroglyphs on rocks across the dry river bed. We sat in the shade of a mesquite tree and Juve told me various tales of the native peoples and settlers from the 18th century. My favourite was of the all knowing paper!!

Once the mission had been established in Loreto, the people in the mountains invited the father to visit them and establish a mission there (now San Javier). Once this was done and the first harvest yielded wheat, the new father made some bread and entrusted a native boy with the loaf and asked him to take it with a note to the father in Loreto. The lad set off and smelling the bread thought he'd try some.... and of course it all was eaten! He presented just the note to the father in Loreto, who said there is supposed to be a loaf too, as written on the paper. But the lad denied it and said the paper was lying. The next year the bread was made again and the father from San Javier entrusted it to the same lad but this time followed him a little way. He saw the boy hide the note and then eat the paper, as he thought that the paper could 'see' what he was doing and report later!!

We drove back towards Loreto and then went up into the mountains again to San Javier. The drive was amazing - we followed river bed (arroyo) past the four or five cave paintings closest to Loreto and then went up the winding road through the canyons. San Javier came as a bit of a surprise as the streets were cobbled and there were lots of bouganvilla plants! Very jolly!! The mission, which is the best preserved in Baja, was built in three stages over 50 years, and still has the original paintings in the roof recesses. Behind the church is a 300 year old twisted and gnarled olive tree, and then an orchard, where we illicitly picked guava and oranges!!

Yesterday I took the bus to Mulege and today I have been out with Salvador to see more cave paintings. We too started early and drove off into the desert to La Trinidad rancho. So called for the three pointed mountain behind the ranch. We walked down to an old dam as well but this time it was filled with (very cold) water, which we swam across! On the otherside it was a short walk to the Trinidad paintings, the most famous of which is the Trinidad deer, which is leaping across the cave wall. We walked and waded our way round to the San Patricio paintings too. This was great fun but without a guide I would never have known they were there. These featured more delicate paintings of fish, whales and turtles.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A day in the wilderness

Last night I popped into Las Parras Tours again and hired myself a bicycle for today. Then I met with Andi and Olga for tapas, which were very yummy, as was the vino (I think Californian) and the añejo tequila we finished the evening with - this one had been aged in barrels that made it taste of whiskey. My bicycle was delivered at 10pm and I instantly named her Nelly. So this morning I was up with the sun at 6am and set off with my rucksack filled with various spares I had been donated and a picnic lunch. I cycled down Panamerican Highway 1 and took the turning to Primer Agua. The side road was just a dirt road so it took quite some concentration not to fall off as I went over the bigger boulders in the road. It was a magnificent morning, and pleasantly cool. I spotted so many birds - mostly doves and vultures but also teeny tiny thingies and lots of small ground squirrels. Just as I was beginning to think I was on a wild goose chase I came across the oasis in the middle of the spiney forest - there was a whole grove of palm trees, those these were fenced off. A bit further along I actually cycled through the water, past pink oleander and more palms. There just seemed to be a couple of 'houses' and at the end of the road lots of turkey vultures taking a drink. I found myself I nice bit of canyon to sit in, in the shade and while away the day, finishing off Genius, which was a brillaint read, and starting on a detective novel written about Oxford by an Argentinian. Most intruiging. I had prepared myself some a cheese sandwich and a Nutela sandwich (at last opening the Nutela I bought in La Manzanilla!). The creation of the cheese sarnies was highly amusing as in the supermarket I had the choice between either enough cheese to feed a small army or individually wrapped cheese slices. I chose the latter not wishing to deny any small armies of their cheese supply. But there were no instructions on how to open the slices!! Now I might have a PhD but getting into them was nearly beyond me! I struggled and sturggled and just when I thought I should give up ah ha! I managed it! Though by the time I had stuck my mouth together with the first mouthful I wished I hadn't - there is a very good reason why I have never had to open a cheese slice before!!! About 3pm I started back, as the heat was starting to recede and I knew it would be dark by 5.30. I got back to my room and warded off the local cats, I think simply by my odour and swiftly showered before returning Nelly - a trusty steed but with rather an unpadded saddle and with the quirk that the seat post only had the one position so that I was constantly cycling with my knees around my elbows!!!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


What a day! I arrived in Loreto yesterday after a 5h bus ride from La Paz. We came along a pretty hairy road - lots of twists and turns but the scenery was spectacular! Cacti everywhere and lots of arid resistent looking plants, but they kept changing every time we went round a bend! Thankfully it was a little overcast so as I pottered through the town to my chosen hotel I wasn't too hot. I checked in to the Posada San Martin - which seems to be a pleasant place, though last night it started out as a two cockroach hotel and swiftly became a one cockroach ranking and this afternoon I notice my fellow inhabitant has departed too, may be my socks smell too much!!!
Last night I went from tour operator to tour operator trying to organise a few trips, being on my own seems to hamper this somewhat but nevertheless about 8pm a lass from Las Parras Tours came and knocked on my door - did I still want to go out to the islands tomorrow for a little kayaking? Yes!!!! I dined at a fabulous (in expensive) place, Islas Loreto, on local fish which had the texture of monkfish but I cound't catch its name......
This morning I was down at the harbour at 8.30 where I was directed to the boat with the kayak on the roof, El Coralito, and met with Andi and Olga, from Germany. It appeared I was the only one kayaking. Our boatman, Chico, whizzed us out to Isla Coronado. First we took a tour of the island, which is in Loreto National Marine Park. The island has amazing geology (I took some piccies for you D) and down at the base of the stacks a small colony of sea lions were sunning themselves! I also spotted two osprey nests and numerous pelicans and blue footed boobies!!! We landed our craft in a 'paradisesque' white sand cove. There were a couple of palapas (my new mexican word = basher) and I put my bag down in the shade and immediately paddled off on my kayak into the brilliant turquoise waters! I floated out over the rocky reefs and could even see the fish through the water. Back at base I found that Andi and Olga had not hired masks nor snorkels, they though they were included, so I tried out Dad's old snorkel and mask, which though circa 1980 and laughed at heartily by my fellow Earthwatchers, worked very well and then I lent it to them along with the kayak. The sea was clearer from above than when I looked at it through the mask, there was a lot of silt churned up my the boats. But I could see a myriad fish. I recon there were various types of damselfish, angelfish, cornet fish, puffers, stonefish, starfish, goatfish........ Great shoals and just individuals..... I hope that my underwater disposable camera records at least a vague idea of what could see! After several more trips in the kayak and for snorkelling, we got back about 1pm and I was totally exhausted, even though I had had three quesidillas. I had a siesta and now plan to visit the Mission Museum and the Mission itself before some tapas with Andi and Olga.

Monday, October 31, 2005


Yesterday I was up bright and breezey to be picked up by Cantamar Club to go on my eagerly awaited trip to see the sea lions on Isla Espiritu Santos. There were just three of us in the bus and as I was the last one to be picked up we whizzed off Pichilingue immediately. The hotel that the club is run out of is just next door to the ferry terminal, not the most picturesque of spots but well suited for trips out to the islands. It also turned out to be a dive hotel. We arrived to general chaos. Several boats were going out, full of divers. Eventually someone directed me to the place I could pick up some fins, a mask and snorkel and suggested I went and got a coffee. When I booked I had been told I would have to pay extra for breakfast so I asked if it was OK to take a table and the waitress just waved her hand. So I went and helped myself to toast and scrambled eggs and no one batted an eye lid!!! Back on the dock I got on board the Una Mas, as directed, along with about 20 divers. We had three female japanese dive masters and our pilot, Jorge. We steamed ahead for one and a half hours and eventually arrived at a small rocky pinnacle upon which sat a beacon and a couple of sea lions. I was to be the only snorkeller and the others would make 2 dives here. I waited until they were in the water and then made a tour of the 'island' and watched the sea lions. And they watched me and swam under me and generally tried to figure out what this thing in the water with them was! There were lots of fish too - damsel fish again and lots of rainbow wrasse. Below me was a ball of jacks circling slowly, they also came to see what I was when I dived down towards them. I saw a moray eel and even a red and orange camoflage patterned octopus. By 1 I had been in for a few dips and the divers had dived and Jorge had made lunch - tortillas with a chicken filling that tasted strangely of fish! We motored back towards the port stopping at another dive point within glimpsing distance of Isla Espiritu Santos but above a wreck 20m down - not so good for snorkelling. By now I realised that we weren't going to see the 300 or so sea lions on the island, and I was hopping mad!!!! Once back on dry land I made my complaint but the guy behind the desk just shrugged, its seems the other trip had been full and instead of telling me thay had put me on the other boat. I headed back to La Paz and was grumpy all evening. I know there are really nice people here in Mexcio but I am getting rather tired of the attitude that some people take.........

Saturday, October 29, 2005

La Paz by boat

This morning I reached La Paz in Baja California, after an 18h ferry ride!! I spent my last morning in Mazatlan visiting the blink-and-you-missed-it sized archaeology museum and various art galleries - though I didn't buy anthing I was sorely tempted. The boat left at 4 and I had to be there two hours earlier, it took me a while to find the waiting area but when I did I was pleasantly surprised to see not so many people waiting. We boarded and I made friends with the other europeans going to La Paz: Anita and Mirco (from Austria and Sicily) and Monica and Andrea (from Switzerland). They had invested in cabins while I was going to rough it in the Salon! I found my seat - right in front of both the TV and the AC. I stashed my bag with the guard and went to find some air. Overlooking the quay I met Luis and Oscar, a couple of lorry drivers who wanted to practice their english, though this turned into them wanting me to teach them.... beer and tequila were mentioned..... it was time to leave them to it. But Luis had a special nack of finding me, so I cold shouldered him and he eventually got the message and left me alone - phew!
Dinner (and breakfast) was included in the price of the ticket so the five of us ate together - I seemed to come out best with a sort of pork stew but the others had totally unidentifiable and I think fairly unpalitable offerings!! (Needless to say I didn't go back for breakfast) The sun had set as if liquid gold was pouring into the sea and after dinner we marveled at the stars - we could see the milky way and also I spotted a couple of shooting stars! Anita was very amused that they were called 'shooting' stars and not falling!! And then it was bedtime. I retired to my seat but could barely hear myself think and kept getting attacked by a small child with his lorry..... so I walked around the salon and found a quiet corner. There were bodies strewn about - wrapped in blankets and the more enterprising had mattresses too. I was roasting so just used my jumper as a pillow and tried to sleep. Well, as you can imagine it wasn't the most comfortable night of my life but at least they turned the telly off around 10.30pm!!
So upon disembarking I said farewell to Anita and Mirco who were off to los Cabos and got the bus up to La Paz. I walked round to Hotel Lorimar and was so surprised to see Monica and Andrea checking in ahead of me (they had taken a taxi). So I have signed up to go snorkelling tomorrow with the sea lions!! And I think tonight I think a group of us will go out for dinner together! (The clocks change here tomorrow too, so I shall stay 7h behind GB).

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I arrived in Mazatlan yesterday after a 10hour bus ride from Guadalajara! It was quite eventful too - I got to watch three films and we had the sniffer dog come on to the bus! I also passed from normal Mexico time into mountain time so I am now 7h behind the UK. As I was on the bus for so long I decided it would be good to stretch my legs and walk into the centre of Mazatlan. The book said it was about 1.5km! But it took me an hour - and yes I was carrying my rucksacks and got slightly lost but I recon it was more like 2miles! And I was sooooo sweaty when I got to the centre! I tried to find the Hotel Central but must have walked past it and so I am staying at thr Royal Dutch B&B, run by Wim and his Mexican wife Alicia. They made me feel very at home, and in fact its like I am staying with old friends as the room is full of art and antiques! I popped straight out to see if I could get a ferry ticket to La Paz but the office wasn't open. I had a fabulous vegetarian dinner of garlic mushrooms (almost a soup) and oyster mushrooms al la plancha! Yummy!
This morning, after a superb breakfast of fruit and yoghurt, I zoomed down to the ferry terminal and got a ticket - I leave tomorrow for La Paz. Then I walked up to the lighthouse. This nearly finished me off - I was sweating myself into a small puddle by the time I got to the top! But the view was fabulous, I should mention that it is the highest functioning lighthouse in the world at 500ft. Sadly the view also highlighted the pollution, which hangs over the city like a pinky-grey cloud. Overhead I caught sight of 6 frigate birds and as I came down, trying my hardest to break an ankel on the dusty rocks, I saw both green and black iguanas. In fact, in Guadalajara I saw a lad with one of the green ones sitting on his shoulder! I then proceded to walk all the way around the bay (8km), passing numerous statues, mostly of naked ladies, but one was to celebrate 100years of brewing beer on the Pacific coast and was a giant fermentor made into a fountain!
I went as far as Zona Dorado (the golden zone) where I had to practically swim against the tide of American tourist buying tat! I have to say this is my least favorite part of Mazatlan, the old area where I am staying has so much more character and no pushy touts. But each to their own. I didn't stay long and took a bus back to the centre. Or at least I though so. As we passed a right turn for the Centre I decided it was time to get off, and as luck would have it I found myself outside a hypermarket. So as I like to mosey round these places I popped in. Once I had been reprimanded for not handing in my bag I had a thorough browse. I bought some supplies for my boat trip but also bought myself a wee cake! They have gone Halloween mad here with nightclubs offering free drinks and the selling of many pumpkin shaped things. So my cake is a wee pumpkin - I shall savour (?) it later! Back in Viejo Mazatlan I had lunch at Arterios (yes that means artery and there was even a picture of one in the menu, I had a vegetarian sandwich - more mushrooms!) and then have appreciated the AC in this internet cafe!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


The party consisted of some very tired folk drinking Dave's very strong margaritas - which were excellent but did make us all rather sleepy! Today I caught the bus from Melaque up to Guadalajara. I had planned on going on to Mazatlan as well but the bus would have got me in at 11pm so I am here for a night. Its a great place! I have had a very merry few hours wandering around the streets and going in and out of the shops. I took a taxi from the bus station into town, the driver was very helpful and half in english half in spanish he told me that the hotel I had selected wasn't in the best of areas so recommended another - which is very pleasant. The other I have just walked past and is in the middle of the market area. There's a very pleasant atmosphere in the centre of town - lots of little stalls selling jewellery and such like, and though they're not quite as keen on icecream as the Chileans I have an ice cream with me here in the internet cafe!

Monday, October 24, 2005

An end and a beginning

Well another busy few days hasve passed since I last blogged. After my brief session in Barra in the delightfully air-conditioned internet place I joined the others for a really scrummy lunch of fish in garlic sauce. We had ice-creams walking back to the van and then came back to La Manzanilla. Yesterday was a day of great induc}stry. Having learnt many of the techniques required we took kayaks across the bay to another reef for a snrokelling survey of the fish. I was really cold in the water and I was very glad of my shorty wetsuit. There are lots of puffers and damselfish and many more spceies out there. Then in the afternoon we got to do more rubbish surveys - which we now have down to a fine art and whizzed through lots of them. Sadly we didn{t finish all the sites and Paco will have to do some when we have all departed. So last night I was really tired but it was really worth it.
Today has also been an exhausting day - we went to the mangrove this morning and did a bird survey. Have I emtnioned already that this is where the crocodiles live? There american crocks - the biggest is 4m but luckily the crock arm of the study is finished. Paco has showed us some piccies of the tagging of crocks that was done last year- no thanks ! And then this afternoon we have been finishing off the signs for the interpretive trail and setting them in concrete along the path. We had 5 teenagers come and help us which was great - many hands made light work! Even so its been a tough day and though tonight we{re to have a celebratory dinner I´m sure we´ll be early to bed again!
More news: I had planned on going down to the Yucatan to see all the Mayn sites but as the weather has been so bad I shall change my plans and head for Baja California instead!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

And today....

is a day of rest as we have been exceptionally busy for the last few days. We had more lectures and then spent the afternoon in the field. My group went on a litter survey with Paco. We got to use our newly gained GPS skills and to estimate how much rubbish was in a dump site. Then on Thursday we all worked together on the interpretive trail in the mangrove, clearing wood from the path and lining the edge with tree trunks. Sounds unexciting but I was really enjoying swinging my machete! I had a bit of a scare when I went back to the house though as I found a scorpion in my bag!! Yikes!! Luckily Fred (our tame entomologist) stepped on it. And then yesterday we had a whole day out. First we went bird watching and then on to the UNAM biological station. Wow! This was a really well set out research facility, we wandered along there interpretive trail and got to appreciate the tropical dry forest. Then we were whisked off to Tenacatita for a picnic lunch and a spot of snorkelling (all in the name of science!). Clad in wesuits we tried to identify fish with Paco, who is a Marine Biologist. What fun, but I was exhausted by the time we got out of the water. So today is our day off and we have come to Barra de Navidad for a spot of ´culture´ and to do shopping if we want to. So until next time...adios!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Back to school

Today was great - though I felt like I was going back to school as I set off this morning with my rucksack filled with pens and booklets! We learnt some Mexican history and then about the mangroves and the bird life. This afternoon we leant how to use a GPS and how to use binos! Not that the latter part was terribly new to me but they also have a telescope and can hook it up to a digital camera which was pretty cool!
Going back a bit - after I had blogged yesterday I set off back to the hotel where I met Fred, from Philidelphia, who too had been here for a couple of days but at another (more expensive) hotel! Paco and Vanessa, two of the organisers met us there and took us to meet everyone else. Dee, fron Maine, and Luiza, from Brasil, had arrived the night before and had stayed at Casa de Maria, where we are staying. Susan, from Mobile Alabama, and Denny, from Rio, had come down with Dave our organiser and runner of Immersion Adventures. And there´s Santiago who is Dave´s assistant and who wants to study ecotourism next year. So thats everyone, we were to be joined by a chap from Egypt but he couldn´t get a visa. We went down into the village for dinner at Immersion Adventures HQ and Linda cooked prawn kebabs, rice and salad - yummy!!! After a few ´getting to know you comrades´ type games we had a briefing on the project and were then left to find our own way home - which wasn´t too hard.
We´ve been put into teams and I am with Fred for dining duties, we had to sort out breakfast and lunch today - lots of cereal for breaky and then boiled eggs and tortillas for lunch, which went down very well. Then I am in a research team with Susan and Denis. Tomorrow there will be more studying in the morning, this time of marine fish and how to identify them, then we´re off into the field. I am toasting like a marshmallow so I shall don as much suncream and long sleeves as possible without roasting, and hopefully will not burn any more!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Coco Ostiones

So I left you yesterday as I was about to get to La Manzanilla - a place nobody was willing to admit existed! Well I hopped in a micro (taxi) and scooted down here and even found the right hotel! Not that they had any idea of who Earthwatch were. So I dumped my bags and headed for the beach and very beautiful it is too. There´s a huge cresent of brown sand and the waves were lapping it and many people were playing in the sea. I pottered about. La Manzanilla is pretty tiny (well compared to Brum anyway) and I think I covered most of the centre in a few minutes. I had spotted Pepes pizza on the way in and although what I really wnated was to sink my teeth into a huge steak I settled for a familiar pizza. It was great and I washed it down with agua fresca - which I thought might just be water but was in fact a pinkish red drink from a big vat with a sweet flavour (no tummy problems). Anyway I slept very well - a full 12h! And this morning I went for a dip in the sea before breaky! Which in itself was interesting as there was nothing at the hotel so I had Ques... and fresh orange at Restaurant Yola. Very tasty too - sort of fried tortilla in little bits with a tomato sauce and cheese. The rest of the day has been spent at Crispins Coco Ostiones. I wandered along the beach for about 20min and found a shelter of palm branches (a basher). So I set myself up and gently wiled away the afternoon. About 3.30 three chaps on bicycles went by and one waved. He came up the beach and said hello and went into the house behind. A few minutes later he came out and we chatted about how I was where I was from the usual questions. Then he offered me a coconut - very yummy in the sunshine! So now its nearly time to meet the guys from Eartwatch. I hope everything goes to plan and now that I have found this place may be I can tell you more of my adventure over the next few days!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

And so my adeventure begins

I´m here - in Mexico! After travelling for 48h I am nearly at my destination - La Manzanilla (Hotel Posada Tonala) in Jalisco state. My flights went off without a hitch and I landed in Mexico city yesterday at about 6pm. I swiftly made my way over to the Northern bus terminal and bought myself a ticket for Manzanillo, for an overnight bus. I got myself a bottle of water and when my stomach started rumbling I bought a mole verde pasty - a big puff pastry affair with some kind of nut on the outside and a creamy spicy green chicken filling - not bad. I went to catch my bus but it never seemed to arrive. A chap from the bus terminal asked where I was going and he then told me that my bus had already left - no I said its gone early! But then he corrected me - my watch was wrong by an hour!!!! Stress and lots of "NO!"s later Rodrigo calmed me down and got me on to another bus to Guadalajara without having to pay anything! I wish I could say I slept like a baby but sadly not I slept in 30min bursts as it was cold and there was a constant stream of Mexican pop music...... So this morning at 5am I arrived in Guadalajara (and saw my first cockroach ambling along the pavenment) and swapped buses to go to Manzanillo. More pop music and several hours later I arrived in a sweltering coastal city. I had only an hour to wait for the bus to La Manzanilla and read my book (which is the Time Traveller´s Wife, its magic but if I had known it was so sad I would have read soemthing jollier for my first few days!). I went to the bus and asked the driver to tell me when to get off but he says he´s never heard of the place I want to go to! So its with apprehension that I boarded the bus. We headed south. This is a bad sign as I´m pretty sure that I should be going north. I got off after an hour and returned to Manzanillo. I check my details again and find another address and head for there! So now I am in Melaque/San Patricio and I feel like I´m in the right place. The camomile tea is doing a marvellous job and the sun is cracking the pavement as Dr S would say. So, hopefully, more updates later!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

London in the rain

carluccio's Posted by Picasa

Continuing in a 'lady of leisure' frame of mind I went down to see Mum and Dad on Tuesday evening and then yesterday we all went in to London for a jolly. First call was Carluccio'sfor coffee and panetone! Then just round the corner we were dazzled by the brilliance of the crafts at the Chelsea Craft Fair. This is its 25th year, and was truely spectacular, though a little on the expensive side for me! We meandered our way down the Kings Road and lunched in Patisserie Valerie on the best croque monsieur I think I have ever had. With the rain starting to fall we jumped on the tube and then walked up to Stanfords for a map of Mexico and a bird book, which they didn't have. We pottered up to Waterstone's in Piccadilly and, having purchased the bird book, had coffees and read books! Finally another tube journey took us to Wagamamas in Covent Garden (the Yasai Yaki Soba was delicious).

coliseum Posted by Picasa

And so to the highlight of the evening - The Magic Flute by ENO at the newly refurbished Coliseum. The set they used was the same as one Mum and Dad had seen back in Holland, complete with nest coming down from the roof for Papageno and Papagena. I never realized how many references there were to Isis and Osiris in it! One of the most spectacular scenes was when the brotherhood appeared on stage in front of a lattice of Egyptian hieroglyphs lit from behind in red!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Birmingham's Best kept autumnal secret

highbury park Posted by Picasa

Being 'lady of leisure' I got to do something yesterday that I have been planning to do for a little while - I went to see the autumn crocus at Highbury Park. I used to cycle through the park everyday and so could keep an eye on the flowering of the crocus up at the Yew Tree Road entrance, but since I moved my cycle route has changed. So it was with baited breath that I walked through the park from Kings Heath High Street. And I wasn't disappointed - the carpet of purple flowers was spectacular. I would highly recommend a visit for anyone in the vicinity. Another great thing happened yesterday - I have graduated from being a novice at the climbing wall! No excuses now for dropping J!

Friday, October 07, 2005

End of an Era

mailbox Posted by Picasa

I can't quite believe that this is my last day at Aston, five years have gone by very quickly. So transmission will become a little more sketchy on laughingsnail and hecticium until I sort out an internet connection at home or find an internet cafe! I have a couple of months before I start work again so it is with great excitement that I can say that I shall be off to Mexico a week on Saturday, for a month. I have signed up for an Earthwatch expedition for the first week and then I shall do a little travelling. I am hoping that I won't get washed away by a lot of rain!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day and the theme for this year is space. Not feeling terribly inspired (and also not being a great poet) 48h ago I managed to come up with this little offering, nothing to do with space but a lot to do with the Universe and U.

For Seasons

For Autumn
I will bring you one hundred crisp crunchy leaves
In sunset red and yellow.

Fow Winter
I will bring you a pine cone
Sparkling with Jack Frost's jewels.

For Spring
I will bring you the first daffodil
Fresh with dew, its scent heady and intoxicating.

For Summer
I will bring you a clutch of pebbles
Warm from the sun, rounded by the sea.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Autumn colour

westonbirt Posted by Picasa

I popped down to see Wampe yesterday and we went to see the leaves that had already turned at Westonbirt Arboretum, which was just getting into the swing of things! A couple of weeks and the colour will be spectacular! Happy Autumn!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

EBBP Bread and butter pudding

savory bread and butter pudding Posted by Picasa

I felt totally inspired by my parcel from Lilian so I popped down to the international market for some french cheese - Tomme de Savoie. There was lots going on - giant paellas and tartiflette being cooked, giant meringues for sale just to mention the things I tried. Back home I created a savory bread and butter pudding with Lilian's pear and walnut bread, a savory custard and the tomme. It was just a case of following a recipe for the regular sweet version and baking it for 30min. I thought I had made enough for 2 but I was ravenous and ate the lot! For dessert I had one of the giant meringues from the market with ready made custard. All very yummy.

isle flotante Posted by Picasa

I am still contemplating the many possibilities......

Thursday, September 29, 2005


stephen whitehead Posted by Picasa

Susan, John, Liz, Ethan and I pottered down to the Custard Factory for Stephen Whitehead's new exhibition (on until 1st December). Being some of the first to arrive meant that we got lots of time to speak to Steve and were positively encouraged to pick up and 'foddle' his art. The piece on the flyer above is a broach but there were earrings, rings, cufflinks and larger pieces cast in bronze. These were very organic and we tried very hard to to think scientifically! When we'd had our fill of marvelling we went for a swift CAMRA ale in the Crown.


EBBP Posted by Picasa

Great excitement has just swept into the room as I have received my parcel from Lilian of for Euro Blogging by Post. What fantastic goodies! Yummy looking chocolate - dark and white; Irish wholwheat bread; pear and walnut bread (homemade?); chutney; sea salt; and lastly a funky grinder with sundried tomatoes, black pepper, roasted garlic, olives, bell peppers, red onions, basil and wheatgrass!! And not to forget a book of chocolate recipes! WOW!!!! I shall have a busy weekend!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


peterborough Posted by Picasa

I had to go to Peterborough for a new passport and I also got to visit the magnificent Cathedral! Built in 972 it is spectacular and houses the tomb of Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, who must have been a tiny lady judging by the size of the covering stone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Winter Guest

newt Posted by Picasa

There was great excitement when I got home from climbing last night. It was raining but as I put Toulouse away I thought I should take out the rubbish for the bin men, in case they came early in the morning. And as I looked down at the hose by the base of the bin I found this little chappie! I was so surprised! A little research this morning and I suggest that it is a smooth newt. I am pleased to find they particularly like eating snails and I hope slugs, and shelter under logs in cold weather. I have a winter guest it seems.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sweltering September - IMBB #19

Piccadilly arcade Posted by Picasa

Yesterday, I couldn't quite believe it was September. It must have been nearly 20°C in my garden, with the sun beaming down. Having had a bit of a late start I pottered off to the shops to get an ingredient for EBBP (more of which later I hope). I cycle through Sparkbrook and Sparkhill nearly every day and had never found the time to stop and wander around the shops, what with either rushing to work or rushing home! I went to Medina Supermarket and though I had thought of the ingredient I wanted to buy I came away with something else entirely, such is the strength of my will.
From Sparkbrook into town, I went. I felt like a walk but didn't fancy taking a trip into the countryside. So I joined, for a little while, the masses doing their Saturday shopping. For IMBB this time we had been challenged to eat vegan, and not just for one meal. It was suggested by Sam of Becks and Posh to try and last a whole day. With this in mind I was trying out 24h as a vegan.
My walk took me up to Victoria Square and then along to the Piccadilly Arcade, one of my favourite places in the city. Not only has it got a selection of brilliant independent shops but the ceiling is decorated in a fabulous mural (can you have a mural on a ceiling?) that depicts life as seen from ground level (ie by our feet) upwards. Next I struggled through the crowds around the new Bullring and down to the Custard Factory. This is regularly described as the bohemian quarter (which complements at least a dozen 'quarters' in Birmingham!). A brief trip around the second hand books at Oxfam and then into a new gallery, where the owner was so friendly I was invited down to the opening of an exhibition on Thursday night! Tucked into one corner is Rooty Frooty. I can't say enough good things about this restaurant/cafe. I merely had an apple and carrot juice this time but they make fantastic vegetarian and vegan foods. Wandering back home I pondered what to make for IMBB. I had never cooked with tofu, so I thought as it is a staple of many a vegan diet that should be on the menu but may be add a twist.... And then I thought of all the things I normally eat that are incidentally vegan....lemony lentil soup, lentil bolognaise.....ah yes broccolli and peanut noodles. I love them and they are a cobbled together invention of my own so what better to cook. Elizabeth advised me to call into the Day In supermarket in the Chinese quarter for fresh bean curd. I had had it round at her house when we all went for hot pot, and I knew it was good.
Back home I looked up on the internet for a tofu based pudding and found chocolate mousse from the vegan society, and with a little modification to make it less heavy on the fat content I had a dinner fit for a king! So here are the recipes. I have thoroughly enjoyed my temporary veganism - breakfast was easy - toast with peanut butter and apricot jam, lunch pitta bread with hummus and salad. But I don't know if I could keep it cakes, cookies, leather shoes.....Nooooooooo!

broccolli and peanut noodles Posted by Picasa

Broccolli and Peanut Noodles

Ingredients for one:
as much broccolli as you think you can eat - I had about half a small head
1 tablespoon peanut butter mixed with enough water to make a think pouring sauce
chilli powder to taste
1 clove of garlic, crushed
one small onion sliced
one portion thin rice noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil

Fry the onion until soft then add the garlic. Put the noodles into a bowl with the broccolli and pour over boiling water, leave for 4 min. Then add the broccolli to the onion and garlic and fry off lightly. Add the peanut sauce and as much or as little chilli as you like. Then strain off the noodles and stir into the sauce. Season and serve.

vegan chocolate mousse Posted by Picasa

Vegan Chocolate Mousse

ingredients for 4:

100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
50g soft brown sugar
50ml orange juice
200g fresh beancurd (tofu)

Melt the chocolate with the sugar and orange juice. The blitz with the tofu. I used a liquidizer, though the original recipe suggested a blender. It took a little time for the mixture to become smooth, though it was still a little grainy. Then I poured it into individual ramkins and out it in the fridge. Now I thought it wouldn't set but a couple of hours later it had a beautiful solidity, just like a non-vegan variety of mousse.

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