I’ve recently discovered spelt. Well, I’d heard of it before, but had always discounted it based on cost because I’d only seen it on ‘artisan’ bread stands at places like Borough Market, and hadn’t really thought much more about it.
The first thing that changed my mind was that we got a bread maker for Christmas last year, and the book that you get with it contained several recipes using spelt flour, so I decided to look into it a bit more…
Spelt is an ancient and natural grain, which hasn’t been altered or hybridised, unlike wheat. It has the added bonus that it’s easier to digest than wheat, and contains a lot more nutrients, so it’s a lot better for you. Why had I not started eating this before?!
We found spelt flour in a big Sainsbury’s and really enjoyed the crisp crust and great texture, and the slightly nutty flavour of the bread. We were converted! Then I came across a spelt breakfast cereal (also in Sainsbury’s) by Sharpham Park, which I gave a go too and really liked.
It’s difficult to cut out wheat completely, but there plenty more spelt-based food to try, it’s just a case of tracking them down. I’ll definitely be on the look out for spelt alternatives where possible from now on!
I’ve always loved looking through cookbooks and magazines for inspiration, and have built up quite a big library over the past few years. Lately, I’m not sure why, but I’ve become more enthusiastic than usual about trying out new things. I decided to use the bank holiday weekend to make the most of the keenness by trying out a couple of things that I’ve fancied making for a while; a polenta cake and homemade pasta.
My cake recipe choice was heavily influenced by the rhubarb we were given on a visit to Bushy tailed’s parents. I found a great looking recipe in Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume 2 for Rhubarb cinnamon polenta cake. I love the way Nigel Slater’s books are written, and even though he’s not necessarily renowned for his cake recipes, this is the second one I’ve done recently (there’s an awesome carrot cake recipe in Tender Volume 1), and they’ve both been absolute winners.
After the success of the cake, I took on pasta today. Rather than just making plain pasta, I decided to go for a slightly more ambitious ravioli. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe from the first Naked Chef book. The basic recipe is so simple, I wonder why I hadn’t done it before… 1 egg to 100g pasta flour, knead it, chill it, roll it, stuff it. Easy!
We decided a while back that we would take a week off in July and stay at home. It always feels a little lame to respond to “So where did you go on holiday?” with “We had the week at home”. And in some ways I guess it can be seen as a missed opportunity… We have a long list of places we want to go, and you can’t beat a bit of sunshine and being away from everyday worries for helping to relax. But those places will still be there for next time.
Today is the last day of our week off, and I couldn’t be more relaxed. Long soak in the bath, coffee brewing, and the wonderful Joe Pug playing in the background. The house is spotlessly clean and there is a selection of homemade sweet treats in the kitchen. Enough of feeling smug.
A wonderful long weekend in Barcelona with friends and a couple of weekend trips in the UK to see two lovely friends from school get married mean that we’ve done a lot of long overdue catching up with people in recent weeks, which has been amazing. It’s also meant that we haven’t had a lot of time to spend at home, which was becoming obvious from the deepening dust of the shelves and ever-increasing list of stuff to do around the house. Little did we know at the time we booked the week off work earlier in the year, but it couldn’t have been better timed.
So what have we been up to? We decided from the outset that we wouldn’t try to start anything new at home. No decorating, no new DIY projects, and we’ve stuck to it. In between restoring order at home, watching some excellent tennis from Wimbledon, and entertaining family, we’ve done day trips to Colchester Zoo, Suffolk and, perhaps most ambitiously, Paris, which were all great in very different ways, and are probably worth their own separate posts.
Going back to work tomorrow will be a shock to the system, it’s been a great week, and I definitely don’t feel like I’ve missed out by not going away. Now all that’s left is for Murray to win Wimbledon. Let’s wait and see about that!…
It’s been an interesting, busy and at at times extremely stressful few months. We’ve moved out of London to Witham in Essex, via a couple of months on a futon in Grays, and have moved all of my stuff out of my family home, which has been sold. There’s been a lot going on so it’s almost easy to forget that we’ve been to Australia in that time too!
Now that we’re here and getting settled into the new house, I finally feel like there’s time to think and start writing about good things again.
More soon, and good things as they happen on twitter @_brighteyed
Anyone who knows me well will know that I love German and Germany. I lived there for a year during my degree, and have managed to go back at least once a year since. I’ve even managed to convince Bushy Tailed of its many delights.
I lived in Frankfurt, but this summer we went to Berlin for a few days. I’m going to focus on food in this post, and in particular breakfast, because the weather was so bad when we were there, that taking shelter and eating was blatently the best way to spend the morning. That, and German food is so under-rated, I wanted to share my favourites and tips…
My first breakfast tip is a general one for any visit to Germany… Don’t opt to have breakfast in your hotel even if it seems like a good deal. This isn’t because hotel breakfasts are bad, but because breakfasts everywhere else are so good. In fact breakfasting is one of my favourite activities of the day, and is served by pretty much every cafe, bar and restaurant.
A decent German breakfast can also easily see you through to dinner in the evening, while allowing room for the mandatory afternoon coffee and cake, so means you can get the most out of the rest of the day.
Now on to the most important part – the food itself! Most places have similar breakfast menus, where the different options are themed around countries – so French breakfast is croissants, jam, bread rolls etc, Italian breakfast usually involves parma ham, mozerella, bread, salami and the like. You get the idea. But there’s also usually a massive range of options from the typical bread, cold meat and cheese, to muesli (German muesli is worth getting excited about!), yogurt, fresh fruit, cooked breakfasts and eggs any way you like them. So essentially, whatever you like.
Most places are open for breakfast every day, even when you think that no one would go for breakfast, and at weekends there are often massive breakfast buffets, where you can linger for hours (although they do usually set a cut off point) and just keep going back for more of the good stuff.
As for breakfast in Berlin, my absolute favourite place is Cafe am Neuen See in the Tiergarten. It’s a bit of a mission to get to (check out the buses rather than trains) but worth it every time. It even doubles as a beer garden if you’re lucky enough to go there in good weather. Sadly so far I haven’t been, but just another reason to go back.
Another good place to go hunting for breakfast is along Bergmannstrasse (nearest station Mehringdamm) – there are loads of places to choose from along there but I’ve been to Kaffee am Meer a couple of times and it’s been good both times.
If you don’t have time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, it’s also worth mentioning Balzac Coffee. It’s a chain of coffee shops, much like Starbucks etc in layout, but the baked goods and sandwiches are way superior to any of the equivalents in the UK, so even popping in there for a quick coffee and a bite to eat is not a bad option.
The conclusion has to be that it’s hard to go wrong!
Update – Have embedded videos from YouTube
I came across an article today on the NPR Music ‘All songs considered’ blog entitled ‘Songs that make you feel good‘, a follow-up to their previous, and much debated feature on ‘Songs that make you weep‘, which is also worth a look.
Even though, as anyone familiar with my music collection would attest, my musical taste couldn’t really be classed as ‘happy’, in the spirit of all things lovely and good, this has got me thinking about songs that make me feel good, and in particular, songs that make me smile.
After much pondering, the conclusion that I’ve come to is that there are approximately 3 types of song that make me smile…
- Happy songs – no surprises here – think cheerful lyrics and upbeat melody
- Good times songs – songs that bring back happy memories
- Amazing – songs that are so damn good that they make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and bring a smile to your face
I’ve tried to identify one song from each category – no mean feat when you consider the size of the combined bright eyed/bushy tailed music library – but this just gives us an excuse to write about more songs another time!
1. Bluetonic by The Bluetones
“There’s no heart you can’t melt with a certain little smile…” This has been one of my favourite songs for a long time so an obvious choice for me – bouncing along to the chorus is obligatory. In a few weeks’ time we’ll be goin to see The Bluetones play on their farewell tour – a very sad day, but they always put on a great show and a very good excuse for a bit of a party.
2. Goodbye yellow brick road by Elton John
This does nothing for my credibility I’m sure, but I’m going to say it – I love a bit of Elton. If one man can transport me back to my childhood with a song it’s him, and this was always a particular favourite!
3. Idea track by Idlewild
There’s not really much I can say, apart from, ‘where’s the repeat button?’ Just love this song, and seeing Idlewild play it a couple of years ago when they played 3 gigs on consecutive nights, each with 2 albums from start to finish, back to back still brings back brilliant memories. The video isn’t great quality but it’s from that gig.
Anyone who knows me at all well knows I (along it seems with the rest of the internet) have a particular soft spot for small furry animals. A select few might even know I have a particular prediliction for illustrated artwork.
A few years ago I stumbled across a site that provided a perfect crossover of these two things. The site was for an Edinburgh based company called Analogue Books, a small bookshop in the Grassmarket that sells all sorts of books and artworks, and holds occasional exhibitions and the like. Check them out, they’re really quite cool, and sell some pretty stunning stuff.
Anyway, where was I. Oh yes, a crossover of illustration and small furry animals. That takes me to: Kozyndan. Kozy and Dan as they are, are two illustrators based in Los Angeles, who create quite amazingly detailed illustrations, featuring all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures and situations. We currently have three of their works, and I’ll probably fit a few more in when we get a bigger place.
Pacific drift sits very nicely in our hallway, and shows a school of “bunnyfish” defending a reef by eating human debris. It employs Kozyndan’s most prominant motif – the bunny. They’re everywhere!
I pretty much love all of their work – it reminds me a little of the Giles cartoons that my dad collected that I used to read avidly (and, having just looked back over some, that I’ll probably blog about again). Intricate detail in every inch that rewards really close examination. The image above, for example – you’re pretty much guarenteed to spot something new every time you look at it.
While I love all their work, it’s one series that particularly draws me in – “Seasons of the Bunny”. Originally a single image – “Uprisings“, which is based upon Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Kanagawa” – Kozyndan have extended it to be a series of images depicting different seasons. They’re all quite beautiful, and play on the same concept of showers of material – water, snow, blossom etc – being replaced with handdrawn images of thousands of bunny rabbits. The two we have – summer and spring – take pride of place in our bedroom, their colours marking out our territory.
The pink one is not mine
Well, my first post is finally here. I’ve been pontificating in the background for some time now, taking lots of photos of things that I like but never actually getting around to writing anything. Time for that to change!
We’ve been living in our maisonette in South Londonshire for two and a half years now, and after a completely bare start where our only furniture was a wooden folding chair (and lunch was a sandwich from Somerfield – desperate times) we’ve gradually turned the place into a proper home. I’m sure there will plenty more posts about the transformation, but for now, a small start.
I’m a bit of a nostalgic techno geek, so certain things around the place have to be “just so”. One of these was the humble telephone. For practical reasons, we of course have some mundane, functional, completely unbeautiful cordless phones. But they just feel … anaemic. So what better than a proper old fashioned phone, to make proper old fashioned calls.
Both our parents owned the same style rotary dial 70′s phone when we were younger, so it felt like the perfect choice. Chunky, wonderfully sculpted, and simply perfect for it’s purpose. A proper ringing bell, that has now been stolen by pretty much every mobile company as their “old phone” ringtone, a handpiece that is curved perfectly to fit both hand and head, and a clarity of voice quality that relies on good old fashioned electronics rather than microcircuits and software compensation, and is therefore infinitely better than it’s modern equivalents.
There’s also the simple joy of having a MASSIVE RED PHONE! It’s like having the batphone in the house. Awesome.
Perhaps the only downside is the old rotary dial. Many modern versions of this phone have been produced, with the electronics replaced so that the rotary dial is now push button. But sod that. I want the authentic experience, not a modern knock off that is just a modern phone in a different shell. So a big rotary dial it is. It’s wonderful to dial, and wait for the purring as it dials each individual digit… but this is a phone of a different age, when numbers were a LOT shorter. And of course, no chance of using it with call centres that ask you to “press 1 for…”.
But who likes calling places like that anyway? This is a phone for calling family and friends, for sharing experiences and talking about things that actually matter to you. Leave the anonymous phone calls to the anonymous modern cordless phones. Pick up, dial, and relax. This is the 70′s, and the content of the call is the thing that matters.
Back in April, we met my Mum in Cambridge for the day for my birthday. I’ve been to Cambridge a lot of times but had never even heard of the University Botanical Gardens – I think the temptation is always to head straight for the punting but I now can’t quite work out how I’d missed it.
The weather was amazing and spring was well and truly springing so it seemed like a good opportunity to check out the gardens. The trees were all in blossom and a lot of the plants were comig out – my favourite being the Hellebores, which I neglected to take a photo but have tracked down a stock photo.
Another highlight was in the Tropical glasshouse – the Jade vine was in full flower and looked totally surreal. Here are a few of our photos…
We’ll definitely be heading back to the gardens, perhaps in Autumn next time – I’m sure the trees will be fairly spectacular!
When I say this, I realise that we’ve been on a bit of a lucky streak with the weather, but I think that some of our best holidays and short breaks in the past year or so have been the ones where we’ve stayed in the UK.
Yesterday we got back from a couple of nights in Dedham in Essex, right in the middle of Constable Country. The area is full of beautiful little villages and countryside, much of which was the inspiration for John Constable’s paintings, such as The Hay Wain, which you probably recognise from your Grandma’s living room. Dedham is a short stroll along the river from Flatford Mill – the setting for The Hay Wain – compare and contrast:
Image courtesy of The National Gallery: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/john-constable-the-hay-wain
Dedham is a lovely village in its own right – we liked it so much when we went last October that we were really keen to go back again for wanders around the countryside, a touch of rowing on the River Stour, and just as importantly the excellent, food, drink and accommodation on offer at The Sun Inn.
Other highlights of the area have been the villages of Nayland and Stoke-by-Nayland – both packed with house-porn and general country charm.
I think we can milk the trip for a few more blog posts, plus we still need to grab the photos off the camera, so will stop here for now. This has also inspired me to write about our other trips so I’ll put together some more blog posts about our UK travels to such exotic destinations as Yorkshire, Edinburgh, Cambridge and maybe even something about my native Norfolk!