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 aƱejo 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.
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