Monday, 28 February 2011

Boozy blackberries

A long, long time ago, blackberry brandy was made in this household. An even longer time ago, blackberries were lingering in the fridge from the first batch of brandy made. Because the batch referred to in the first sentence is indeed the second batch. Any idea where I'm getting at? Well, a second batch meant a whole new load of blackberries in the fridge.

I can never get myself to throw them out, there's nothing wrong with them really, and they're soaked in brandy. It would be criminal. So I keep them there, certain they will be fine for months to come (alcohol is a wonderful preservative), waiting for the perfect recipe to come along.

And along it came in a little booklet of "light recipes" with last month's Olive magazine. So off I went, substituted the frozen mixed berries that were called for, with my lovely brandy-infused blackberries. I adapted the recipe ever so slightly and so here it is. Quite a lot of you have been making fruity booze over the last year or so, and I'm pretty sure this would work a treat with all types of fruit.


  • 200g butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 300g boozy blackberries (or however much fruit you need to cover the bottom of your tin)
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup


  • Line a 20cm spring-form cake with paper and grease it.
  • Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs.
  • Fold in the flour and almonds.
  • Add a little water to make the mix spoonable.
  • Spread the berries at the bottom of the tin and cover with the golden syrup.
  • Spoon the cake mix on top.
  • Bake for 1hr, or until cooked at 180degrees C.
  • Cool in the tin then turn out and enjoy!

I've kept this for nearly a week (I'm trying to control my cake-eating urges!), and it was still as nice on Day 6 as it was on Day 1. I even froze a quarter and had a sneaky slice last night and it was still delicious. Go on, have a go!!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Reading treat

Bank balance: checked.

Pay day: end of this week.

Wanties level: through the roof.

Do you see where I'm getting at? Yep, I'd seen something I wanted and I desperately wanted to get my little grubby mitts on it. Last Friday provided the perfect opportunity to indulge. And indulge I did.

I left work at a reasonable hour, and enjoyed walking to this lovely little bookshop not too far away. The sun was low in the sky, the air was cold but invigorating. I was feeling happy and inspired. I thought I could go there and treat myself to one book. The second I walked in, I knew this would not do. Bookshelves explored and tiny snippets of information about each book read, I walked out with three. I don't know what came over me but I can tell you one thing: I felt happy. Content. Satisfied. And a little bit guilty too.

I've just finished reading Dickens' Great Expectations, and feel like I need a little break, something a little lighter (and shorter) before embarking on Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. So I shall be reading Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy first. Practically, this book seems nice and manageable in size. More importantly, I know it will be fascinating: the author has been described as the Jewish Jane Austen, and she is a feminist.

Now, as soon as I've finished flicking through last month's Good Food and Olive magazines, and my latest Making mag too, I'll make a start on it. My brain needs a little distraction after spending one on one time with Dickens. I'm sure you know what I mean.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Granola mamma

One day last week, I ran out of breakfast cereal. I'd got into the habit of eating this famous 'healthy' cereal because, well, it was on offer. And yeah, I'm a little bit of a cheap skate some times. Anyway, the offer is no longer on, and I didn't care for it so much that I was willing to pay full price for it. And then, there was a spark. So many times I'd told myself I should make some homemade granola. I've been inspired by lots of you doing just that in the past, and I thought, this is it! This is my granola making chance! So I grabbed it with both hands, checked out plenty of your recipes online, bought a couple of things and had a look at my kitchen cupboards. This is what I came up with (ie, truly a cupboard emptying effort).


  • 300g porridge oats
  • 100g barley flakes
  • 100g rye flakes
  • 35g pumpkin and flax seeds
  • 35g linseeds
  • 40g poppy seeds
  • 75g walnuts
  • 110g dessicated coconut
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 50ml sunflower oil
  • 50ml honey
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp Maldon salt
  • 120g chopped dates
  • 120g sultanas


  • Mix in the dry ingredients except the fruit and coconut
  • Add the honey, golden syrup and oil.
  • Spread out on a baking tray and bake at 140degrees C for 1 hour, stirring gently every 20min
  • Add the coconut for the last 10min of baking.
  • Leave to cool in the tray then mix in the fruit.
  • Store in an airtight container.

 My verdict? It's a little confused to be completely honest. It's good, but not great.

Good points:
  • nice texture
  • crunchy
  • I'd have it again (which is a bonus since I have a massive jar of this left)

Bad points:
  • cinnamon and coconut aren't the best of friends; it should really be one or the other
  • poppy seeds... what can i say, they're small, black and get in your teeth - not a good office look

Next time I will:
  • only use cinnamon, no coconut allowed
  • use less poppy seeds and up the amount of bigger seeds used
  • increase the amount of barley and rye flakes
  • use my largest roasting tin straight away instead of trying to get it all on a slippery baking sheet - it was never going to work was it?

Alternative ingredients list to keep it simple and leave the cupboard emptying effort to you:
  • 500g cereal
  • 150g seeds
  • 100g nuts
  • 250g dried fruit
  • ground spices/ vanilla essence, whatever floats your boat
  • 50ml oil
  • 100ml honey and/ or golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Right, the bullet point fest is over for today!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Final round up

I hope you enjoyed the last few posts about Cambodia, I had such a great time putting it all together. It forced me to go through all those photos, and I've now found out which ones are my favourites, which ones will make it in the annual photobook (more on this some other time).

This trip was a magical one. I don't know when I'll have the chance to travel so far again, or when I'll be lucky enough to go back to that part of the world, but I definitely hope I do go back one day. I feel under its spell, one of wonders, magic, smiles.

To those of you who enjoyed this little retrospective with me, I hope you enjoy the last of the photos, water-related as you can see. All taken in various places, from Kampot to Sinanoukville via Siem Reap. All full of happy memories, now distant, but forever in my heart.

Cambodia, one day, I'll be back.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Foreign crafts

We found numerous facilities around Cambodia aimed at helping disadvantaged people gain skills which they can take back home and make a living from. This included a sewing school, and more craft based places. One of the latter was extremely well known in Siem Reap, and we very much enjoyed walking around the various workshops, where students learn wood carving, metal work, painting and other such skills. What I love about going abroad on holiday is bringing back a little something that you can enjoy on a daily basis which will remind you of fun exciting times.

A visit to Artisans d'Angkor was a perfect excuse to purchase one of those little holiday tokens which help to make a house a home.

Another skill which they're trying to revive is traditional silk weaving. I'm afraid I didn't buy one of the many beautiful scarves they had for sale, they were a little over budget. And I tried really hard, like really really hard to find skeins of silk to buy, but not no avail... I thought I might be able to find some cotton maybe, but that search was fruitless too. All that was left for me was to admire the fantastic silk on display at a silk farm we visited. Look at all the colours they can get from natural dyes, I find it simply beautiful. All those natural colours, I wish I could have taken all of them home!

On the plus side, I did manage to buy a large bed spread in dark blue and gold silk, which will look beautiful spread out once it's warm enough and we can swap it for a quilt which has somehow made a permanent place for itself in our bedroom...

It's so beautiful, and reversible too, so should I get tired with the Gold and blue, I can turn it around and enjoy the Blue and gold (with a different emphasis on each obviously)...

It's so soft and delicate, I think it might make an outting next time parents come and visit, it might just impress them!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Kampot and the south western coast

As I mentioned in last Friday's post, Kampot was probably my favourite place of the holidays. Of course, there wasn't as much to see as in Siem Reap, no impressive temples here, but it was truly wonderful. The town itself feels rather eerie at times, an old French colonial resort partly destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, but slowly being taken over by locals again. Some buildings have been renovated, other are left to crumble.

It is a very quiet place too, which made a nice change after Phnom Penh. Not to everyone's taste I'm sure, but we had a great relaxing time there. Just what you need when you're on holiday and you've been doing some serious sightseeing. You don't want to come home knackered now do you?!

So rest we did. Full days at a time. Walking around the town, eating Indian food again after days of forced food restrictions... And planning days out. Oh yes, we didn't just sit on our bums all day, sipping iced coffees. No, we did a trek in the jungle.

Rather unexpected to be honest, but we ended walking uphill to reach a former French hotel/ casino, built as a cool retreat from the heat. It is now completely abandoned and most definitely very eerie, and rather creepy at times too...

Kampot wasn't the only place we visited in the south western part of the country, we also stopped in two sea side towns. Most definite opposites of each other, and we were definitely blown away by both, for quite different reasons. The first one was Kep. A recent article came out in the Guardian about it. They lauded this little village, once a grand French sea side resort, and now all but abandoned. A great place to eat crab apparently. This was enough to convince us to go there for a few days, but we failed to remember an important fact: it was Chinese New Year and that meant locals had a few days off.

What was usually a sleepy village turned into Khmer chaos. Thousands and thousands of people lining the small beach, gorging themselves on food. It was a rather impressive sight, one that we're not about to forget!!

The other place we stopped at was Sihanoukville. We'd heard mixed reviews about the place, but for various reasons, decided to stay there for one night.

Not quite my cup of tea to be completely honest. Well, the photos you see here (the cow statue in the sea, what's that all about?!!) are obviously, I'm not completely mental. But there's a side to it I'm not showing you here. Beaches taken over by westerners with 'getting tanned and drunk' as their only worries... Anyway, the quiet beaches were wonderful and much enjoyed before a rather eventful night bus trip back to Siem Reap... I much prefer to remember the wonderful sunset we enjoyed on our first night in Kampot though - can you blame me?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Lost in translation

How often do you go abroad, to non-English-speaking countries, and giggle at the poor translations on billboards/ restaurant menus etc ? This one made us laugh out loud. It's about little fish that nibbles on your feet and supposedly eat your dead skin, but I can safely say they were definitely going for the softer bits... Anyway, for your enjoyment:

Friday, 18 February 2011

Past and present

Our visit to Phnom Penh fell in the middle of the holiday. We knew that this would coincide with us finding out a whole lot more about the country, its people, and its violent past. This is where the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is based, and from where you can visit one of the country's most famous killing fields. To say it was chilling is an understatement. I feel that words can only inadequately describe the feelings you experience when you visit one of these places. I have never been to any of the concentration camps in Central Europe, but I can only imagine it must feel similar. With the exception that here, the atrocities happened only a few decades ago. It felt even more strange for me because the museum is based in a former school which was used by the Khmer Rouge as a prison and torture centre. The school was built by the French and yes, my primary school looked rather similar... I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about it.

Of course, there was more to Phnom Penh than that. But these thoughts stayed with us for the rest of the holiday and we definitely had a different outlook on Cambodia's people after that. We were struck by their friendliness, their smiles, their general joie-de-vivre. And seeing monks walk around the streets freely felt right, just right, especially after realising that none of them would have been allowed to practice under Democratic Kampuchea...

I have rather mixed feelings about the city. It was a nice stop, but I much preferred other parts of the country. It was an instructive stop, but a very noisy and busy one. I'm not sure I'm a capital city kind of girl!! The Royal Palace, where the king and his family live, and the Silver Pagoda were quite a disappointment. Access to gardens was restricted, and the entrance fee was rather high for what you saw. I wouldn't recommend anyone bothers to go there. Nonetheless, I managed to get a few nice photos in the few areas where I was indeed allowed to take photos.

My favourite place might have been Kampot, on the south western coast, but that's a whole other post in itself! Hope you have a lovely Friday, the weekend starts tonight after all!!!!!!!!!!! Hooray!!!!!!!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

There's no two ways around it

There just has to be a post, and I mean an entire post about temples. Don't go!! Please, don't go yet! I'll try my hardest not to make this boring...

At the same time, you must understand most people only go to Cambodia to visit these temples. So please, sit back, and enjoy something rather different. This was a truly mind blowing experience for me.

Try and picture what it was like walking through those temples, in 30degrees C +, going from one to the other in a tuk tuk...

Admiring all the detailed carvings and statues... Entire walls covered in such intricate details, all telling amazing stories of kings and gods and demons...

It was magical, the light changing at different times of day, some most definitely on the tourist trail, others more remote...

Some had been well cleared while others were still taken over by the jungle... rather an impressive sight! I couldn't stop myself from just looking up all the time - those trees were some of the tallest I have seen in my entire life!

We bought the three-day pass and didn't come close to seeing all the temples in the area... I guess it would be a labour of love to do so, but all I can say is this: if you ever have the chance of going in that part of the world, you absolutely must visit these temples. I'd never seen anything quite like it.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Crabs etc

Right, let's get this out of the way. Generally, I wasn't totally blown away by the food in Cambodia. Now, this really comes down to two reasons:
  • I like my food spicy and Cambodian food is generally similar to Thai food, just without the chili - there's only so much coconut one person can take before you get to the point where you gag the second you hear about coconut - sorry if that was too much information on a Wednesday morning
  • change of environment, malaria tablets and dubious food hygiene tend to make you ill - and experimenting with food is just not on your agenda when you want to do more with your day than spend it face to face with a toilet - or running back to your hotel because, well, things are getting rather urgent.
Again, too much detail? I'm sorry, I don't know what's got into me. So there. We learnt that "fresh spring rolls" as opposed to "spring rolls" aren't fresh as in made this morning, but rather, not cooked/ fried... Not so nice when you're trying to limit your intake of raw vegetables... And walking around the food market will turn you into a temporary vegetarian. Seeing women sat with their feet amongst raw meat, flies flying around, no refrigeration methods, I tell you, I'm not usually squeamish but that turned my stomach a little.

To be fair, I think I'm being a little harsh here. We also had some pretty amazing food. My top food list is here below, from amazing to frigging fantastic:
  • 3/ breakfast at the posh hotel we won a 5 night stay in. Breakfast was simply gorgeous and I had a daily feast of eggs florentine, pastries, fruit and home-made muesli. It was like having a four course meal first thing in the morning. Lush.
  • 2/ vegetarian thalis. Now, I know you can get these in the UK in south Indian restaurants, but not at the same prices. Dirt cheap, but so so so good and filling. No dodgy meat in there, just plenty of veggie goodness. With Indian spices. And chili. My life is now complete.

  • 1/ Crab. Need I say more? In our parts of the world, eating crab is a rare treat, well it is for me at least. And half of the time, it's comes from a tin. Cambodia allowed me to savour and lick my little chubster fingers on a couple of occasions, and I think I will savour those memories for some time to come. Kep crab with Kampot pepper. You know sometimes you read celebrity columns where they get asked what their last meal would be? Well crab and Kampot pepper would be one of my starters. (Last meal, you're allowed more than one starter, well I would).

And finally, the star of the holiday. Not so much food, as it fits in more in the drinks category.

Iced coffee with sweet milk

This is like sipping on heaven. Honestly, just take my word for it. And I'm determined to make some here sooner rather than later. It can't be that hard, can it? Good strong black coffee left to cool down, mixed with lots of ice, and topped with a generous dollop of condensed milk. I'll let you know how it goes when I get round to making some.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tuk tuk sir?

Before I go on about temples, food and other Cambodian wonders, I must start with the mentalness that characterises places like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. "Mentalness" here refers to the total chaos, particularly in Phnom Penh, that you find yourself in as soon as you come out of a shop/ hotel/ restaurant... you get the idea. So much traffic, so many people, so many tuk tuks (motobike with a somewhat precarious carriage attached to the back of it which serves as taxis in most places around the country).After a few days, you learn to stop being so polite to everyone (no thank you, I don't want a tuk tuk now, no thank you, I won't be needing a tuk tuk tomorrow) and learn to shrug off any persistent drivers.

Tuk tuks in itself do not explain the total madness on the streets of main cities. Motorbikes are everywhere, and are similarly used as taxis by visitors. I can't say I accepted an offer which included me and my massive suitcase to fit on one of those motos, but we did make daily use of tuk tuks. It was great fun too, because it meant travelling around towns and surrounding countryside at a leasurely pace, albeit with some shaking around and bumping up and down, but with the added benefit of natural ventilation. And I'm the living proof that there is somewhat some order to the road chaos, and that you can indeed cross and survive. I know, added bonus really. Although to be honest,  it may feel like you're about to be run over at every corner, but just carry on walking, and traffic will somehow move around you. You might be sweating a little more by the end of it, and have a few palpitations, but it can be done, just go for it.