1 September 2013

September Granola

I've always been fascinated with the idea of looking at food as a culture and how, in looking at it that way, you can take inspiration from different regions, diets or even time scales in the case of British Nostalgia baking. Last year, my big favourite was South East Asian food. I still look to the styles of cooking there a lot now, by creating a nutritious Chinese-style stir fry, or picking up some sushi for lunch in town.

At the moment, I am really interested in 'health foods' -raw, vegan and even Paleo. These are focused on eating healthily, naturally and simply. Because of this, they can often be seen as restrictive, which is why I wouldn't look to eating in any of these ways exclusively. This last month, I've been eating as a pescatarian, which I will be blogging about very soon. This, in comparison, was a very relaxed diet as I could eat everything but land meat, and there were times, say when travelling across country to the Bird Fair when finding lunch was pretty damn hard. However, I really love how choosing to eat in this more natural way causes you to be a much more creative chef. Juices are obviously a big one for this, being totally natural, raw and plant based. At York Station's Filmore and Union, they make the most delicious juices, and I am starting to look into getting one of my own.

So when I found out that Belle Gibson who I follow on Instagram, was launching a new app, The Whole Pantry, I was pretty stoked. The app features wholefood recipes and 'Lifestyle and Wellness guides'. It is especially good for anyone looking for healthier snacks, and all the recipes, I believe, are vegetarian and gluten free.
When yesterday, I decided to stock up on a breakfast staple of mine -granola -I looked to The Whole Pantry for ideas. Belle's recipe didn't include any oats at all, which I though was an impressive use of ingredients. My granola ended up quite different due to the ingredients that I had to hand, but I loved some of the methods and flavours in this. The use of coconut oil rather than butter or sunflower oil is one that I will be using all the time now, and having a splash of vanilla essence gave my mix a floral undertone that made me think of the scents of late summer. You can play around with this as much as you like too; just stick roughly to the ratios of dry to wet ingredients for optimum results. I've used cup measurements for this, as it seemed to be much easier for the recipe.

September Granola
  • Two cups of rolled oats OR flaked coconut.
  • 1-1.5 cups of mixed seeds. I used pumpkin, sunflower and sesame.
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts such as pecan, almond, walnut or hazelnut.
  • 3 tbsp honey, agave syrup or malt rice syrup.
  • 2 heaped tbsp (1/4 cup) coconut oil, melted.
  • 1/2 tsp seasalt flakes (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • Ginger: 2cm cubed fresh grated, or 1 tsp dried.
Preheat the oven to gas mark one / 125'C.
Simply mix all the ingredients together, and tip on two lined trays. Pop them in the oven, ideally both on the same mid-low shelf, and bake for 30 minutes, turning once. For a crunchier bake, which I prefer, leave for forty, but keep checking it. The granola will catch quite quickly, so make sure that you're keeping half an eye out on it.

 Toppings inspiration anyone? Plums or apricots and figs -perfect fruit for the summer-autumn season.

22 August 2013

Bird Fair 2013

I needn't of had any worry of a dull summer, because these last few weeks have been simply non stop. I think that this coming Saturday will be my first day not to have something or another going on, and I'm not sure what to do with myself -though no doubt I will end up on the laptop getting some extra summer work and research in...
This last weekend, I headed down to Rutland Water to volunteer on the RSPB Phoenix and Wildlife Explorers stand at the annual Bird Fair, which has just celebrated it's 25th year. I always enjoy working as an exhibitor here as it makes you feel almost on par with well known environmentalists and television presenters, like Simon King, Bill Oddie and Nick Baker; who's long-suffering relationship with the Phoenix Forum reached comical heights after this year's photo contest...

 I love working here; it is a privilege to spend the weekend alongside people with similar passions to you. And I always learn so much -like seriously, I can barely see that bird/dragonfly/moth and you've already identified it right down to it's age and gender? Wow. It does inspire you to learn more though; to understand what it is you are working to protect and conserve.

I love the variety of companies and people at the fair -from well-known conservation brands like the RSPB to wildlife holidays across the globe, to local charities and reserves. I feel like the name Bird Fair no longer fully covers the range of stands that one can expect to find, with artwork marquee's, protection groups for insects and mammals, and some eye-wateringly  gorgeous, but expensive, camera equipment. Compared to the same scale of the Bird Fair's origins, this growth is impressive -it has even been dubbed the Glastonbury of the natural world. Just, shh, don't disturb the wildlife..!

The Bird Fair is located on the beautiful Rutland Water reserve and has always been a haven for wildlife. The current favourite animal to come and see here is the Osprey, a bird of prey which Rutland has breeding here. I think on a short morning walk we picked out some 77 species of birds and insects; and the crazy thing is, is that when walking out in the countryside, you're potentially walking past numbers like that every day.
Closing in on a hare. I was so close it was unreal. I could of probably got even closer for a better shot, but I didn't want to spook it further, so I took my shot and backed off quietly.
For more information on the RSPB, head over to the website. If you are under 18, are interested in wildlife, debate or just want to know what on earth that strange creature in your garden is, pop over to the Phoenix Official's page on Facebook.

14 August 2013

Turkey #3 Boat Trips and diving

One thing that I knew that I wanted to get out of my holiday was being busy. I booked myself six days unlimited sailing and windsurfing, and spent a few evenings practising yoga with the most incredibly talented, flexible teacher, Monica. She could see our bodies' limits with a glance, and helped everyone attending to get the best possible benefit from each pose.

I addition to this, I also wanted to get a practise dive in. Both of my parents are open water qualified divers, and I've always wanted to join them, but up until now, I hadn't had a chance myself. I absolutely loved it, which is a good thing, since I want to become a European Scientific Diver as part of my journey to becoming a marine biologist. Breathing underwater felt surprisingly natural and comfortable, and luckily for me, my ears equalise from pressure easily, which should help me should I ever go for deeper dives. Had we been staying a little longer, I would have seriously been tempted to pay for my PADI open water certificate there and then.

Mama with the adorable ship's dog!
Another day was spent on the Mediterranean waters on a boat trip. We cruised around the coastline, stopping at various points to go swimming in the clear sea. The captain and his sons looked after us all really well, and we were treated to a feast of a lunch, with salads, stuffed mushrooms, savoury pastries and the centre piece: fresh sea bream, grilled in front of us on a barbecue. Throughout the afternoon, we were kept well fed with gooey sweet figs and cactus fruit (prickly pears).
On our last stop, we entered a pretty cove where fish swarmed to eat the scraps of fruit and bread that we threw to them, and geese swam from outside the little house of their owner in a glimpse of an older Turkish lifestyle. Suddenly, a little boat approached us -an ice cream boat! That really was too cool. Ice creams abroad are always better than in the UK, because even the big brands sell a much greater variety of flavours -I treated myself to both strawberry and pistachio Magnums throughout the week. 

We finished back outside our hotel's beach front; close enough to swim luxuriously back to shore.

12 August 2013

Turkey #2 Turkish Bazaars

I was in Turkey in one of the hottest weeks of the year, with almost every day surpassing the 40 degree mark. Because of this, it was hard to go anywhere away from the coast for much of the day. So last Thursday, Mum and I found myself on a Dolmus, a local minibus service, first thing in the morning, zooming across the rugged countryside to reach Yalikavak Bazaar before it got too hot.

Turkish bazaars are markets that are feasts for the eyes. Yalikavak's bazaar was largely food based, on a huge scale. Each seller filled overflowing basket with an array of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices. Had we not been staying in a half-board hotel, I would have made some serious foodie purchases, but as it was, I had to steer away from most of the perishable items. Luckily, bazaars don't stop there, and we wended our way around to stalls filled with jewellery, textiles and ceramics. I love how the markets are all organised into clear sections for different products, which made working our way around all the stalls much easier.

This overhead cover was a godsend against the heat of the sun:
I purchased a few bracelets and an anklet, as well as this gorgeous handmade bowl. I probably paid over the odds for all of it... I need to get better at bartering! But despite the tourist-inflated prices, it was hardly expensive, so I wasn't too worried.

Afterwards, my Mother and I walked down to the marina for a drink and some light lunch, cooled by the gentle sea breeze.
The temperature was well up by then, so we walked back through the shopping quarter -filled with independent shops -and hopped onto anther Dolmus and headed back to the hotel.

8 August 2013

Turkey #1

I spent last week on a glorious, sun drenched holiday in Bodrum, Turkey. We didn't go abroad last year, so it was really nice to go travelling further afield again and to explore new places. As it is pretty much the peak of summer temperatures, most days reached the 40'C mark. Luckily, I was stationed just a few meters from the Mediterranean on my beach-front hotel, with a cool breeze and plenty of water; sea and pool; to keep me cool.
We stayed at the Tamarisk Beach Hotel, a small, friendly business that doesn't advertise or work with the larger travel companies. The hotel was made up of small buildings that housed rooms and suites, which were laid out to give a more intimate, neighbourly feel than the faceless, block structure that many hotels have.


The Tamarisk provided a range of Turkish and more "western" meals to cater for a variety of tastes. I tried to stick to the country's dishes as much as I could, and the Turkish breakfasts were my favourite meal to indulge in every day. Fresh fruit, especially figs, sweet breads, local yogurt, drizzled over with rich palm honey and oats, washed down with a cup of Turkish coffee. Too good!
I also became quite partial to the scrambled Turkish omelette, filled with roasted tomatoes and peppers.
Keep tuned over the next couple of weeks for some more photos and tales of my time in Turkey!

1 August 2013

Lemon Drizzle Traybake

 As summer rolls on, thoughts turn to picnics and I begin to plan outdoor-friendly meals. A favourite of mine last year was this Quiche Lorraine, but this week I decided to bake a lemon drizzle cake, using Mary Berry's recipe to adapt it into a picnic-friendly traybake. My friends and I have made a trip to Victoria Park in Bath for the last couple of years for a picnic, but since moving to Yorkshire, I need to find a new spot.

The sponge is lighter than the traditional loaf form, but still gets a good crunch from the lemon syrup. I am really impressed with this recipe, and haven't adjusted it at all, except to mix in the ingredients one at a time, rather than the suggested all in one recipe. This will fill a 30 x 23cm tin to produce 15 generous squares, or 30 bite sized ones.

Lemon Drizzle Traybake
  • 225g softened butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 free range eggs 
  • Zest of two large lemons
  • 275g self raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp milk
For the Topping:
  • 175g granulated sugar
  • Juice of the two lemons  
Grease and line the tin, and preheat the oven  to gas mark 3/160'C.
Cream together the butter and sugar before beating in the eggs, one at a time, along with a spoonful of flour to avoid curdling and adding the zest. Mix or fold in the flour baking powder, and add the milk to give a light dropping texture.

Pour the mix into the prepared tin, and gently smooth over with a spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the sponge is lightly golden, and springs back when touched. Meanwhile, combine the lemon juice and sugar in a bowl for the syrup.

Rest for a few minutes, before transfering to a lined cooling rack with a tray underneath. Dot over a few holes with a fork to help the syrup run through. Gently spoon over the lemon syrup, taking care to make sure that no area is neglected. When it is cooled completely, cut into squares, ready to take with you to your summer events.

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