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Walking the South West Coast Path – Clovelly to Hartland Quay

July 28, 2016

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpieAs the rain started to spatter the windscreen, I regretted leaving my waterproof trousers behind. This was not what the weather forecast predicted for mid July. A ‘mizzle’ (a sort of misty drizzle) hung over the sky as we reached the visitor’s centre in Clovelly and we hurried inside. The lady on the desk was not a mine of information and didn’t really know where the start of the South West Coast path was. My sister and I had planned to walk just over 25 miles of the 630 mile path which is continuous round the coast of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. This was the first of three days of glorious hiking, we hoped.

We had a cup of tea in the centre and looked around for maps and information. The books were designed for people sitting on the couch reading about the coastline rather than those wishing to walk. There were an awful lot of knick-knacks and an enormous amount of fudge. Clovelly is a private village and you have to pay to enter.

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Clovelly harbour

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Boats on the shingle at Clovelly

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

After weaving our way past a large party of German pensioners we soon stood at the top of the steep main High street made of pebbles. Even under an overcast sky it is chocolate box pretty and must be heaving during peak season. There was quite a bit of renovation going on and the workmen were pulling their materials up on sledges as the village is car-free. The alternative is by donkey although I think they are for petting not toil these days; we didn’t see any.

Clovelly had been yarn-bombed and crafty ingenuity ranged from a whole knitted beach-hut to a field of woollen pom-pom flowers. The high street leads down into a pretty harbour where you can buy some legendary hot smoked mackerel rolls. We plumped for a pasty for later and, after a fascinating chat to a lady with an owl, made our way up to the coast path.

A large sign on a gate showed up we were in the right place and from then on the whole path was meticulously signposted with little acorn markers (derived from the National Trust emblem). We could have done without the map but it did help us to gauge how well we were doing. With ten miles ahead of us we strode off through woodlands and onto a path bordered by shrubs and trees with glimpses of the sea below, stopping only for a short pasty-eating break.

We soon came to a wooden carved shelter known as Angel’s Wings, built in the 19th century by Sir James Hamlyn Williams, a former owner of Clovelly. He sited it here so that he could look across Bideford Bay to where his daughter, Lady Chichester, lived at Youlston. The name comes from the carvings of angels and angels’ wings supporting the roof.

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

 

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Angels’ wings

Our walk was fairly gentle until we reached some steep and narrow winding paths going up through woods. Once at the top there were a series of open fields climbing upwards. It started to rain and the wind made it heavy going. Eventually we saw glimpses of the Sonar ‘mushroom’ and the promontory of Hartland point. The coastline started to become more dramatic which buoyed our dipping energy levels. Then we spotted something down below in a car park and my sister ran down the hill in excitement.

The Point at Hartland is a fantastic little tea cabin with a range of homemade refreshments. We were super impressed that they even stocked Compeed plasters – take heed Clovelly visitors centre! The steaming mug of tea restored us while we had a nice chat to the owners and a lady who was celebrating her birthday.

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

The Point at Hartland Point car park

Rounding Hartland point and starting to walk along the Atlantic coastline we had around 3 miles to go. These were really tough with steep descents and ascents through dramatic river valleys – a taste of things to come for the next day. Eventually we reached the level higher ground, hiking past the remains of a folly and turned inland to Stoke across a path through a field. It was a short walk to 1 Coastguard Cottages and Anna the owner welcomed us warmly in every sense. She whisked our damp boots and belongings onto the Aga and supplied us with a brimming bone china teapot full of hot tea.

There is only one place for an evening meal here – at the Wrecker’s Retreat – although I believe you can arrange something with Anna too.

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Boots back on, our weary feet made their way back towards the coast and down a steep narrow path. The Wrecker’s Retreat is in the Hartland Quay hotel and has a phenomenal view of craggy granite carved bays. It was once a thriving port in ancient times and the hotel is in converted warehouses and custom houses. The Wrecker’s pub is in an old stable block. There is a small museum which tells the story of four centuries of shipwrecks and heroic life saving services on this beautiful but treacherous coastline.

We entered the packed, warm, lively pub and were dismayed to find no tables available. However, after a short while we bagged one and tucked into fish and chips. The menu is unpretentious pub food, well cooked to order. Our fellow diners were a good mixture of foreign hotel guests, well-heeled British visitors, and locals. While sipping local ale (I recommend Legend from Dartmoor Brewery) you can view some relics of wrecks, including the ‘Green Ranger’ of 1962, that are part of the interior.

It was while enjoying our rest and evening meal we read that our next day’s 15 mile hike was the most challenging and strenuous of the entire 630 mile coast path. Eek!

With trepidation we climbed back up the path stopping every so often to look at the stunning sunset over the Atlantic. There was only one thing for it. We put in our order for a full English breakfast complete with homemade sausages and bacon from Anna’s pigs and eggs from her hens. Tomorrow would be quite a challenge but our spirits would feel brighter after a good night’s sleep.

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Useful info

I’d emailed ahead for the long-term parking arrangements and handed over 12 GBP for three days. Mrs Unhelpful at the Visitor’s centre advised me not to display the ticket in my car so I think I could have easily parked for free. The fee to enter Clovelly includes parking for the day so I ended up paying double for the first day too. Lesson learned.

 

Clovelly to Hartland Quay on the South West Coast path on mycustardpie

Looking back toward the the Sonar just before Hartland Point

Click on the images in the gallery below to enlarge

Our next hike was Hartland Quay to Bude, followed by Bude to Crackington Haven on day three.

Have you done any kind of hiking route or some of the South West Coast Path? What were your biggest challenges?

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Which garlic is safe to eat? How to grow it, and how to make vegan aioli

July 25, 2016

Garlicaioli-8102Have you stood behind me in the grocery weighing section?

Me: “Have you got any garlic that isn’t from China?”

Shop assistant: “Let me look for you Mam.” Goes off, returns. “Sorry Mam. Only from China.”

Me: Leaves shop without garlic looking peeved.

So what’s wrong with the bright, white abundant cheap garlic that most of us consume without thinking? Firstly it’s the taste – bland and un-aromatic, but with nothing to compare it to, we’ve become used to that. But more importantly, the Chinese garlic is treated with chemicals – some are highly toxic. Here in Dubai the authorities are pretty stringent about testing things but there may be residues of treatments that are used in China but banned in other countries. At the very least the garlic is white because it has been bleached by using chlorine dioxide or a mixture of sulphur and wood ash. Whitening is a long-used ploy to attract customers, see bleached flour (now banned in UK). Growth inhibitors to stop garlic from sprouting are also used routinely and can be made from hormones or chemicals. These same substances, together with gamma irradiation, extend the shelf life but do you want them in your food?

Why Chinese garlic could be dangerous plus vegan garlic aioli recipe on mycustardpie.com

Wet garlic from The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace

I try to buy European garlic (usually from Spain) but if I had the choice I would buy local. At the end of the Farmers’ Market there was very young or wet garlic; it looked like a small leek as the cloves hadn’t started to form and had a mild garlic aroma and flavour (good lightly roasted).

In Dubai you can find European garlic in Spinneys and Waitrose most of the time and at Lafayette Gourmet in the Lootah Premium Foods section. The Spanish garlic I got from Waitrose was sprouting when I bought it – this is a good thing. Organic garlic from China is available but aspersions have been cast as to the validity, plus it’s still gleaming white i.e. bleached. Spinneys assures me that their Spanish garlic is white because of the variety i.e. no bleaching. Their buyers travel with Taste of Spain several times a year and visit the farms of their producers.  They are looking at getting organic garlic from this supplier too. It’s good to know they are a member of GLOBAL G.A.P. which promotes sustainable sourcing policies across the globe.

Laura from Slow Food Dubai recommends organic garlic from Organic Foods and Cafe. I asked her, a keen home gardener, if it was possible to grow garlic.

She has tried to grow it many times with very varying success. Garlic cloves need cold weather during their infancy to grow properly into bigger bulbs later. She’s trying to source a few heirloom hot weather varieties and doing some trials in the rooftop garden.

Tips for growing garlic in Dubai or warm climates

  1. Buy some organic garlic around end the of September.
  2. Separate the cloves and select the largest ones; put them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, with the date marked on it.
  3. After 4-6 weeks at temperature below 4°C (but not too cold, so don’t use the freezer) take them out for planting. Soak them in water for a few days until you see them sprout a green shoot. They might have sprouted already in the fridge, if so just soak in water overnight.
  4. Plant out during mid to end of November in a mixture of sand and soil with lots of nitrogen and organic compost.
  5. Don’t over water.

Aioli or allioli is a great use for good garlic, but what to do when you have a vegan in the house or people who are coming round who can’t eat raw egg (pregnant women for instance)? Thanks to Kellie for enlightening me to the magic properties of aquafaba – nothing other than the liquid from chickpeas (or some other beans). It really does whisk up in the same way as egg yolks with oil to form a thick unctuous dippable substance. Depending on the ingredients you use, the chickpea flavour is there in the background but it’s seriously addictive stuff. I’ve been dipping into this by the spoonful. Slightly less creamy than regular aioli but no compromise. I love the fact it uses something that would normally go down the sink too.

Why Chinese garlic could be dangerous plus vegan garlic aioli recipe on mycustardpie.com

Easy vegan garlic mayo or Aquafaba aioli (for true garlic lovers)

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon fresh juice lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or to taste)
  • 45ml liquid from a can of chickpeas
  • 1 medium clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 180ml vegetable oil (I used cold-pressed rapeseed oil)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Place all the ingredients except the oil and seasoning  in a jug or beaker and blitz until combined with a stick (immersion) blender. Keep the blender running and add the oil fairly slowly until the mixture turns thick and glossy like mayonnaise.  Taste and stir in salt and pepper as required.

It really does transform into thick mayo before your eyes, quite magically. The rapeseed oil in mine gives it a beautiful yellow colour. This packs quite a punch so halve the garlic if you are planning on doing anything intimate (or make sure you both eat it).

I’d love to hear about other types of garlic. It’s become one of those monoculture crops that we only see the same type of. Surely there must be a whole range of varieties somewhere. And have you ever tried growing it? Do let me know….

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Unexpectedly cool. Pomegranate Cointreau fizz

June 30, 2016

Good for a party or just sipping solo. Bookmark for long hot summer days or when you are dreaming of summer. Pomegranate Cointreau fizz on mycustardpie.com

If we’re thinking about summery citrus things, let’s talk about Cointreau. It’s that forgotten bottle at the back of your drinks cupboard that gets whipped out to make a Margarita. It might get dusted off again at Christmas when it’s an awesome soaking ingredient for mince pie fillings or dashed into cranberry sauce (it’s super delicious with cranberries).  But, if you’re like me, it languishes unloved for the rest of the year.

What exactly is Cointreau anyway? It’s a brand of triple sec and distilled from sugar beet, sweet and bitter oranges peels that was first made by the Cointreau brothers in the Loire in 1875; the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret. Why Cointreau over other brands? They claim it has ‘the highest amount of essential oils and the lowest amount of added sugar’. Is it the same as Grand Marnier? Nope – that’s made from aged cognac infused with bitter orange peel and is sweeter, heavier and less cleanly orange in taste.

So stepping out with Hazel at 6am this morning, I felt the full ‘open the oven door’ effect as 36 C enveloped us while we pottered round the streets. Only something cool, long and refreshing will do right now, after 6pm obviously.  The classic Cointreau Fizz is a double measure of Cointreau with the juice of half a lime, topped up with about 100 ml of soda or sparkling water. Here’s my Middle Eastern, gin-loving riff on that.

Looking for a summer alternative to cranberries I settled on pomegranates. I’ll admit that I tried using pomegranate molasses but it sinks to the bottom of the cocktail shaker in a sticky blob. I think you’d have to dissolve some in boiling water and let it cool if trying this route. The light brown colour it imparts is not as attractive either. The ice cubes are easy – these are made in an oversized mould I got from Amazon.uk. Put a layer of seeds in (or lime slices) and fill up with water to one-third. Freeze and repeat two more times.

There are two ways you can go with this cocktail: sweet or bitter. We had a cocktail making session on elder teen’s last night before leaving us to return to the UK. She came up with most of this recipe and shares my bitter-loving taste buds. Veggie teen liked the sweeter version using grenadine, “it’s like an alcoholic Shirley Temple, and that’s a good thing.” The rosemary and lime peels add another layer of aromatic bitterness, the gin heady, citrus freshness. The bitters just take it to another level – Angostura is fine but orange is better.  We can buy fresh pomegranate juice alongside the freshly squeezed orange juice here in Dubai but you can make your own quite easily if you have a blender and a sieve. The quantity here is for one glassful but you could easily multiply it and make a jugful for a crowd.

Perfect for a summer party. Pomegranate Cointreau fizz on mycustardpie.com

Perfect for refreshing a crowd. Grenadine in this pic – for a lighter look and fruitier, less sweet taste use pomegranate juice

Pomegranate Cointreau fizz

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1/2 fresh lime
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 25ml Cointreau (1 measure)
  • 25ml gin (I used Sacred Oris which I think is a limited edition)
  • 25ml grenadine or 50ml of fresh pomegranate juice
  • A dash of orange bitters.
  • Tonic water

Method

Squeeze the lime juice into a cocktail shaker then put in the peel along with the sprig of fresh rosemary. Add the Cointreau and lightly muddle (you can use the end of a rolling pin for this). Measure in the gin and pomegranate (juice or syrup). Shake with ice and strain into a long, tall glass over fresh ice. Add a dash of orange bitters and stir. Top up with tonic water.

Whatever the weather where you are in the world, get your sunglasses out, pour yourself one of these, put on DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, kick back and quote Frank Sinatra… who said (apparently):

“Orange is the happiest colour.”

Thanks to Cointreau for sending me a hamper packed with good things to experiment with.

Check out what other people are doing by following the hashtags (above). I just love what my friend Sarah has created especially this cocktail made with custard.

This is getting me in the mood for another change of scene as I’m off to the UK next week. I’ll be getting reacquainted with my hiking boots, clouds, umbrellas and drinking tap water. Find me on Snapchat and Instagram if you want to join me for country walks, cosy pubs, farmers’ markets and cups of tea.

Are you traveling during July and August? Drop me a line below – I’d love to know.

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How to make ‘Birds’ Custard’ – the Marina Social way

June 29, 2016

What was the first thing you ever did in the kitchen? I’d like to say my first tentative steps into cooking were scrambling eggs or stirring a risotto, but it was far less auspicious. The pre-school memory of standing on a chair next to our formica kitchen table helping to make custard is very clear in my mind. It didn’t involve eggs or cream but a little paper sachet from a brightly coloured box marked Birds. My job was to tip some light orange powder from the sachet into a jug, add a spoonful of sugar and a splash of milk. With a spoon, I molded these elements into a bright orange paste, making sure there were no lumps. Meanwhile milk was heating on the stove. As soon as it boiled and started to creep rapidly up the sides of the pan, my Mum would snatch it away and pour it onto my paste, stirring all the time. Magically, a jug of steaming, yellow custard was the result which cooled to thick pouring consistency with a skin (which when my sister came along used to fight me for).  We ate custard on an almost daily basis as pudding (we never called it dessert) was always served after ‘tea’ (our main evening meal).

Making Birds custard at Marina Social Dubai. Custard recipe on mycustardpie.com

The aftermath of cooking and lunch at Marina Social

This early processed convenience food was Bird’s Custard was first formulated and first cooked by Alfred Bird in 1837, because his wife was allergic to eggs the key ingredient used to thicken traditional custard.

A few weeks ago I spent a few hours with Jason Atherton, Tristan Farmer and the chefs of Marina Social. Jason first set foot in Dubai as Executive Chef for Gordon Ramsay’s Verre (now Table 9); after launching many other projects with the Ramsay Group he left to set up his own restaurants, earning a Michelin star for Pollen Street Social. At the last count he has seven restaurants in London, in addition to setting up others in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Australia and, Marina Social in Dubai. His next to open will be on Cebu, the island in the Philippines where his wife Irha comes from.

The food is quite casual at Marina Social but a great deal of care goes into its preparation. We learned the secret of their slow-prove pizza dough and how to make tarte tatin without the pastry going soggy.  Our reward for all that concentration and hands on cooking was to sit down for a late lunch. One of the desserts was a show-stopping rhubarb souffle with ‘Bird’s Custard’ poured into the middle.

The vanilla-flecked yellow stuff in a Bird’s custard jug tasted remarkably like a luxurious version of the packet stuff, which I presume is their aim. You won’t be surprised that this was the recipe I begged for. I would put a little less sugar but that’s my taste. They specify Italian eggs for the intense yellow of the yolks; I think the free range ones I get from local farms will do the job.

If you are put off making custard because you think it might split, this could be the recipe for you. Adding a bit of cornflour makes it more stable.

Here’s Jason’s advice for making English-style custard – although he says to add the cornflour after heating and then putting it through a sieve which is different from the recipe supplied below:

Marina Social Birds Custard

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 350 ml double cream
  • 80g (approx. 4) Italian egg yolks
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 3g cornflour
  • 1 vanilla pod

Method

Pour the double cream into a pan.  Split open the vanilla pod and, with the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds into the liquid and bring slowly to almost boiling point.
While the cream is heating, beat the sugar, egg yolks and cornflour together in a heat-proof bowl. When the cream is scalding hot and about to boil, pour it in a stream into the bowl while beating vigorously with a whisk. Tip  the custard back into the saucepan and stir over a very low heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon (approximately 75C). Do not let the custard boil, otherwise, it will curdle.
Remove from heat and place over an ice bath to cool.

Making Birds custard at Marina Social Dubai. Custard recipe on mycustardpie.com

We mean business! With Jason Atherton and the chefs at Marina Social

Thanks to Jason and the Marina Social team for a fantastic afternoon. You can find Marina Social at the Intercontinental Hotel Dubai Marina.

Find more classic favourites with Inheritance recipes over at Pebble Soup and Coffee and Vanilla.

Do you ever make custard from scratch? What is your first memory of cooking?

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Why I didn’t want to go to the Maldives

June 26, 2016
A perfect beach. Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Absolutely no filter

The rhythm of the sea is a constant soundtrack to everything on the island. I can hear it thwacking the concrete stilts underneath my private villa suspended over the ocean, it laps in imperfect syncopation beneath the floor of the spa where I’m having a massage, crashes lazily onto the beach, seethes and plops alongside the raised teak pathways, and even when walking on the little sand trails through the small jungle, the quiet hiss is audible in the distance. It’s the first thing I hear on waking and lulls me to sleep at night. I’m obsessed by its changing colour. Being surrounded by this much water, from clear aqua blue to deep petrol grey has me taking pictures of it at every moment. It changes and reflect the light, the sky, the clouds, the sunrays and a myriad of different influences.

So here I am on this perfect island. Even though my home for the last 16 years has been a short four-hour flight away from the Maldives, unlike so many of my friends, I have never visited. I’d never even considered it and I had to dig deep to understand why.

And here it is. I thought I might be bored. Fully aware that being bored is a deficiency in your own character rather than your environment, this is a big confession. Much has been said about the dwindling attention span of youth due to the stream of information and entertainment via a myriad of sources, but it can affect anyone. Handling multiple social media channels for my blog and for clients, plus my dependency on online information has given me the attention span of a gnat.  A gnat that landed in the Maldives (still in the grip of a flu virus).

So when faced with the prospect of four days on an island with perfect white beaches, coral filled sea and not much else, I was slightly panicked.

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.comThis is what changed my mind

My trip to Coco Bodu Hithi in the Maldives was arranged by Travel Junkie Diaries. This is an initiative inviting followers to a new destination, to travel with strangers on an adventure of a lifetime. It’s a journey to know oneself, to seek inspiration and to share it with others. It’s a tale of new friendships… but more of that later…

There is a four-hour flight to Male from Dubai courtesy of Fly Dubai. While the airline is a low-cost no frills carrier they do have a business class option with big roomy comfortable seats, loads of leg room, free in-flight entertainment and a food and drink menu with a decent amount of choice. As our flight leaves at 1.30 am, being able to sleep comfortably is a real bonus for making sure we are in good shape to enjoy our first day to the max.

The sunset from my private deck. Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

The sunset from my private deck

Chilling out in my room

We step out of the airport in Male, the capital of the Maldives, board a small boat and forty minutes later are refreshed with cool towels and walking up the teak walkway in our flip-flops, stopping every five seconds to take another picture of the views. A few clouds don’t spoil it – rain is always expected at this time of year.  A short buggy ride through lush vegetation and sandy paths leads us to the first of many vistas which are straight out of a Pinterest mood board. We emerge from the leafy canopy to a sweeping white bay and teak huts on stilts, teal waves lapping around them. The Coco residences is home for the next few days.

An L-shaped space, surrounds a deck with a private infinity pool, a double sun bed and a diving point and ladder leading directly into the crystal clear sea. The view is of waves to the skyline – not a single boat, person or other man-made item interrupts it and it’s completely screened from the views of each neighbour. This is blissful private seclusion. This mesmerizing view is visible at all times; through the double doors of my bedroom and double bed; from the huge marble bath; from the cosy sitting room; from the windows by the extensive wardrobe and dressing area; even from the glass sided walk in shower room. Add in a Bose sound system and a wine fridge.  There was little to tempt me to leave this space…. ever.

Watching nature

As an early riser, I leaped out bed at dawn ready to explore. During those early hours I encountered our local heron who fished from the end of our villas. Small lizards darted over the earth paths and a variety of birds swooped and darted over and around the island.  Strolling along the beach at this hour revealed tiny transparent crabs that scurried in and out with the tide, and hermit crabs – nimble despite the cumbersome shell homes on their backs. Nadine* did this walk at night and her torch revealed huge land crabs emerging from their sandy holes. Shoals of fish were easy to spot from the walkways and then there was the snorkelling and diving with turtles and sharks. While our rooms were suspended above the water other villas were nestled into a mini jungle on the island which was a verdant tangle of planting. Elegant palms soared into the sky above the lush greenery and there were all sorts of shrubs, flowers and even a little spice plantation, to investigate. I was particularly drawn to a plant with a bushy red ‘tail’.

We were warned that rain was a probability and the changing landscape, especially for a desert dweller kept me captivated. There was thrilling thunder and a deluge of rain at one point but it soon turned into the bluest, clearest skies I have ever seen. Watching the sunrises and sunsets was a rewarding occupation for a couple of hours a day (especially the latter with a gorgeous cocktail in hand).

Snorkelling and diving

There is equipment hire, boat hire and guidance for dive trips providing on Bodu Hithi. Lisa, the resident marine biologist took us out several times and has a wealth of knowledge. Three reefs surround the island and it’s possible to walk off shore and snorkel a few metres away. The sea-life is teaming although the coral has suffered some bleaching (as it has the world over) from global warming. We took a short boat ride to an area known for turtles and saw a couple.

Another short boat ride away was completely thrilling. We put on our gear, slipped into the water, dipped our masks in… and there in dark blue water directly underneath us were a huge school of nurse sharks and stingrays. White elegant shapes flipping and gliding so close, small fish tucking in tight to the sides of the sharks for protection. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed.

Maldives-1030

Snorkelling. Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Nurse sharks. Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Walking

Golf buggies were available at all times to ferry you round, but I rarely used this service. While Bodu Hithi is less than half a square kilometre in size, the little paths give you a variety of routes or you could walk on the beach round the island. There was always a new sight or vista round the corner to discover and the health app on my iPhone showed that I walked over 13 km on one day.

Swimming and watersports

There is a main pool as well as the crystal clear sea surrounding the island. I visited in June when the water felt like a degree cooler than body temperature; refreshing to get into but never cold or too hot (yes this is a thing – I live in Dubai!).

Michelle took a canoe out on the waters and a group flung themselves around on a donut. Windsurfing and waterskiing was also available.

Coco spa

My knotty shoulders mean that I’ve had regular massages for most of my life. Living in Dubai where  competition makes standards so high (over 50,000 salons and spas in the UAE) always makes me nervous of trying somewhere else. I needn’t have worried. The location alone induced a feeling of calm, the private treatment room cabin had a glass side looking out to sea. My therapist clicked my back (alarming but amazing) and wrung my muscles so it was almost painful but not quite. I loved it. Everyone in the group came back raving about their treatments too.

Inside the Coco spa. The infinity pool. Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Yoga

There was a yoga teacher who led sunrise and sunset sessions. I’d packed my gear and was ready to yoga. However, we cancelled all our sessions as we didn’t have time to fit it in! I know, I know… but that just tells you how busy we were. If I was there for longer than four days I would have done sun salutations with the best of them.

Gym

Watch this video to see why this is probably one of the best views from a gym ever. It very, nearly tempted me in.

Coco Bodu Hithi - Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Our rooms

Food and drink

Or should I say eating and drinking. The Maldives is a series of atolls and islands so they don’t produce any produce, coconuts expected, and everything is imported – mainly from Dubai. For such a tiny resort there were a surprising range of options. We started each day with a buffet breakfast at Air, overlooking the sea and infinity pool of course. There was loads of choice including lots of healthy fruit, juices and Bircher muesli. We could have eaten a la carte in Stars on our pier, ordered room service or even booked an early morning fishing trip complete with breakfast.

Our favourite lunch spot was Latitude right by the pool, with comfortable rattan chairs and a sand floor. Grazing food like nachos, pizza and some good salads kept us going. At night we never ate in the same place twice, with Thai food at Aqua, sushi (plus an excellent wine list) at the Wine Library and a sumptuous barbecue cooked at one of the villas being highlights.

Our regular sundowner spot became Stars where Gautham, who acted as our own personal concierge, also whipped up a mean cocktail.

Tuna steak for lunch. Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Coco cinema

After supper one night, a screen was rigged up on the beach; loungers, drinks and popcorn provided, so we could watch a movie under the stars. Coco comes up with all sorts of tailored activities like this which go down a storm with the many honeymooners who come to the island, but they can create things for groups too, such as a scavenger hunt for us.

Sunsets and sunrises

As alluded to earlier, watching the arrival and departure of the sun was something we treasured, in many alternative ways. At certain times of the year you can travel by boat to a sand bank in the middle of the sea, although it was under water at the time of our visit. We did go on a sunset cruise and watched a dramatic black cloud overwhelm the sky, glass of bubbles in hand. Another evening we jumped from the private deck of one of our rooms and saw the water around us turn pink. Moonlight cruises were available too.

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Sunrise

Sunset from my deck. Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Sunset from my deck

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Friendships and inspiration

As for the aim of this Travel Junkie Diary initiative to make friends and learn from other people, any scepticism about this lofty aim was blown out of the water by the incredible women I shared this trip with. I returned from the Maldives, my spirit lifted, gales of laughter still ringing in my ears and with a renewed sense of purpose ignited by the examples of these generous, talented go-getters. Do check them out, you will be rewarded. In no particular order:

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Live Loud Girl

I’ll admit I was rather nervous about going away with bloggers who were outside my comfortable sphere of food. Looking at Linda’s Instagram offered no solace. Clean minimalism, impeccable taste and then she arrived at the airport in a chic dress and perfect white Stan Smiths. However there was clue in the name and her anarchic sense of humour and unrestrained guffaws blew any trepidation out of the water. Her clear vision, military organisational skills and creative talents are seriously inspiring – she’s in Saudi right now unpacking a whole container for a whole house styling project. Her Snapchat is seriously hilarious. I just hope she never sees the state of my desk! Live Loud Girl

Glory Girl Fit

*At the Stylist Arabia Social Media Awards, I saw a bronzed, beautiful girl with an incredible figure and a massive smile claim the fitness category prize. Make no mistake, Nadine works very hard for everything she achieves and looks for good in every situation and everybody. Her enthusiasm for life is totally infectious and she was bouncing around like a Duracell bunny or doing backflips into the pool when the rest of us were indulging in downtime. She’s not at all puritanical (before I met her I dreaded healthy eating mantras where major food groups are the devil incarnate), and promotes strength, activity and health rather than weight loss. The more I got to know her, the more I realised what a genuinely good and kind person she is.  She’s inspired me to be more focused and motivated about my own fitness. GloryGirlFit

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

I’m Anna Roberts

The professionalism of Anna just blew me away. She was never, ever without her tripod and had a clear plan of the range of shots she wanted to take each day. Every evening she edited and scheduled a beautifully made video, brilliant capsules of memories and highlights. Day one, day two, day three and day four here, plus check out her new website – a media platform for ambitious and career oriented women.

Alabaster Fox

Adrianna travelled from Poland to join our trip and took the bravest step into the unknown. Don’t be fooled by her cool, elegant images, she was utterly beguiled by the whole experience and got ridiculously excited about macarons and french fries! Most photographers spend years trying to develop their own unique personal style, but she has certainly found hers; impressive for someone so young.  Delve into her Instagram to see a naturally good eye for beauty and composition in full force.

Maya Toubia

“I thought the way you all took so many photographs of everything was a bit ridiculous” chuckled Maya candidly about her first encounter with our group as the only non-blogger.  As the owner of a successful wedding planning business she soon became part of the ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ camp and was beating us at our own game on Instagram. Her utter enjoyment of every moment of every day was palpable and uplifting. Maya Toubia

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

Travel Junkie Diary

Introducing you to the person with the vision, drive, imagination and grit to make all this happen – Michelle Karam. I’ve followed Travel Junkie Diary from the start and watched it grow from a small but perfectly formed blog into the multi-dimensional platform it is today. She steered our group on this trip with a light but deft hand on the rudder and nothing was too much trouble (or ruffled her composure). Together with lovely Lara Taki and the Coco Collection Badu Hithi team, they ensured we were treated like queens and truly this was a trip of a lifetime for which I am eternally grateful; for the company and the place. Travel Junkie Diary

Also a huge shout out to the wonderful, warm, generous, funny, outrageous Houda from Fly Dubai who has a soundtrack for every moment of the day and lights up a room when she arrives.

Environment

You know I couldn’t enjoy my time on the island without digging into the effects of this development on the land, sea and creatures around it. The resort has it’s own desalination plant to produce water and a sewage treatment plant (some islands eject waste into the sea) and has an environmental policy which includes recycling. There are many practices to protect the coral, fish and sealife around Bodu Hithi from turtle identification to the detection and removal of ghost nets. You can read more here, but talking to Lisa the Marine Biologist and the Bodu Hithi team I felt there was a genuine commitment to preserving this beautiful place.

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

The four days we spent on Coco Bodu Hithi flew by but the rejuvenating effects felt as though I’d been away for much longer. My book remained unread and I still had many things that I’d return to the island for. Do I want to go to the Maldives now? I think you know the answer.

Thanks to Travel Junkie Diary, Coco Bodu Hithi and Fly Dubai for a phenomenal trip. Thanks also to Clarins for treating us to items from their summer collection which I loved especially the Instant Light Lip Comfort Oil.

Check out more beautiful pics by Michelle’s here and on the Coco Bodu Hithi site here.

Going to the Maldives-on mycustardpie.com

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A gin cocktail for salad days

May 31, 2016

A Mediterranean inspired cocktail for salad days - on mycustardpie.comHow was your May? I’ve been seeing sunny barbecues all over my friend’s news feeds in the UK. Thankfully our surfeit of summer sun here in Dubai seems to have left its usual cousin – humidity – at home for a while. So we’ve had suppers in the garden for a few more precious weeks, the farmers’ market season was extended and the beautiful local produce continues, particularly tomatoes.

I’ve had elder teen (who won’t be a teen for much longer) home and she’s been a joy, helping out a lot especially in the kitchen. It’s fun to have someone to bounce ideas off and we work well together. Veggie teen is immersed in full-on revision for her final exams and on a countdown to leaving me with an empty nest. I’m trying to feed her body with healthy foods so her brain can do its stuff to the max.

Early last Saturday I hopped in the car and drove 50 minutes to a farm near Abu Dhabi for my weekly organic local veg particularly their candy-sweet tomatoes. We got to pick some from the vine, inhaling the tomato scent deeply. I asked for quail’s eggs and some were whipped from out from under the birds, speckled and warm. That’s the way to buy eggs.

Visiting IGR farm to buy tomatoes and local veg on mycustardpie.com

Buying veg at the farm

Denzel’s cocktail for me this month involves vegetables as a mini salad garnish to complement the savoury and herb flavours of the the drink. It’s refreshing and green with umami moreishness. The base is Gin Mare which is distilled from arbequina olives and laced with Mediterranean botanicals including thyme, basil, rosemary and juniper berries along with cardamom and coriander.  Citrus is another dominant flavour using a blend of sweet oranges from Seville, bitter oranges from Valencia and lemons from Lleida.

The other main element is Mastiha (or mastika), a Greek liqueur flavoured by a resin from the mastic tree that also contains Mediterranean flavours of cucumber, fresh herbs, pine needles and green acorns. If you can’t lay your hands on some, while there is no 100% accurate alternative, Bianco Vermouth adds a similar texture and herbaceous flavours.

Denzel chose agave syrup for its health benefits. “It contains marginally more calories per serving than sugar, but it 1.5 times sweeter, whilst its glycemic index is significantly lower. It contains 90% fructose rather than sucrose and is an alternative to artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners.” Personally I’m more sceptical about agave and would choose raw honey any day, but we are talking about a cocktail here… so the health benefits are moot!

The inspiration for this summery herbal concoction came from the Tomatini by Zuma’s Jimmy Barratt and a Gin Basil Smash by Jörg Meyer hence the name.

Jimmy Meyer cocktail recipe with Gin Mare on mycustardpie.com

Jimmy Meyer

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Equipment

  • A shaker
  • A strainer
  • Long glass or tin can

Ingredients

  • Cubed ice and crushed ice
  • 60ml Gin Mare
  • 15ml agave syrup
  • 30ml fresh lemon juice
  • 15ml Skinos Mastiha*
  • Garnish: 2 cherry tomatoes, 2 fresh basil leaves, 2 sugar snap peas, pink peppercorns, Kalamata olives, feta cheese (or to taste).

How to mix

Put all ingredients inside a cocktail shaker with a lot of cubed ice. Shake really hard for at least 10 seconds. Strain off the ice and serve in a glass or tin over new crushed ice. Add garnishes and serve with a spoon.

Madame Fromage is a cheese expert extraordinaire who I’ve followed for many years. Her writing is a joy to read and it seems she’s a dab hand with cocktails too. The New Cocktail Hour is coming back from the UK with me this summer and a gin basil smash party is in order.  Cheese and cocktail matching sound strange? Try the Greensgrow Mule with goats cheese. Just magic.

If you are missing the farmers’ market too, find an updated list of other places to get local, organic veg in Dubai during the fallow months here.

Bring on June which involves two very different travel adventures for me – the Maldives and Moscow (a bit of contrast!). What does June hold for you?

Quick Romesco sauce

May 26, 2016

Each month for at least ten years, House and Gardens magazine has winged its way across oceans to our PO Box courtesy of KP (an annual subscription for Christmas). I find it comforting to look at the immaculate interiors, most of them British; maybe it’s something to do with being an expat for so long and living in a rented home. Inevitably I turn to the food and drink section first. The collections of recipes are well-written, beautifully photographed and don’t succumb to the quick and easy style (often using pre-made components) that other cookery mags have started to feature so often. It’s not complicated cooking but it’s the kind I like to do, from scratch.

House guest was back for a couple of days after being in Saudi for a week. KP was on a rugby/golf trip in UK and veggie teen out with a friend, so supper for two was in order.  A cold Chablis was opened and I roasted a mixture of onions from the farmers’ market until soft and slightly caramelised, then griddled some lamb cutlets until the fat was crisp and the meat pink. The sweetest, ripest cherry tomatoes and fragrant peppers (from IGR at the market) went into a homemade Romesco.

My haul from the farmers market - mycustardpie.com

My haul from the farmers market

Pesto and muhamarra were guesses on Instagram when I asked people if they knew what I’d made. Romesco is kind of similar but from Catalonia in Spain where a regional type of hot pepper is used as a spice and the sauce is usually served with fish and a type of large spring onion, grilled over charcoal. The traditional version involves a lot of pounding in a pestle and mortar and roasting of ingredients. The name itself may have come from the word “rumiskal” meaning to mix, from the Moorish era in Spain, so this could have some Arabic influences, although it would differ in taste now as tomatoes and chillies didn’t arrive in Spain until the 16th century.

So having roundly condemned speedy versions of things, here’s my riff on the H&G quick Romesco sauce recipe (original by Louisa Carter).

Quick Romesco sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 60g almonds (sliced are fine)
  • 30g hazelnuts
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 6 cloves of pink garlic
  • 300g ripe cherry tomatoes
  • 65ml extra virgin olive oil
  • A hunk (about 50g) of robust bread (I used Baker & Spice sourdough ciabatta)
  • 2 tsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
  • red wine vinegar
  • sea salt

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 220C (or 200C for a fan oven). Spread the nuts on a baking tray and roast for about 2 minutes. Watch them like a hawk as they can burn easily. Remove when the nuts are lightly golden brown and put them onto a plate to cool.
  2. Core and deseed the pepper and cut into large cubes (about 4cm in size), peel the garlic. Put the tomatoes, chopped pepper and garlic onto the baking tray and pour over the olive oil. Give it a good stir to mix, sprinkle with sea salt and roast for about 10 mins until the garlic is soft. Remove the cloves and roast for another 5 minutes. Tear the bread into small pieces and add to the tray along with the paprika. Roast for a final 5 minutes.
  3. Scrape the contents of the baking tray into a food processor (or a large bowl and use a stick blender). Add the roasted garlic and nuts, a dash of red wine vinegar and about 1 tablespoon of boiling water then blitz. You want a loose consistency with a bit of texture from the nuts remaining. Add more boiling water and blitz again if necessary. Season to taste with additional red wine vinegar and salt if required.

Note: While you are roasting the pepper mixture on one tray, you can put in another tray of spring onions in olive oil to dip into the Romesco afterwards.

Guess what I made? #mcpfood

A photo posted by Trusted food + travel writing (@mycustardpie) on

Sending this to Katie on Feeding Boys for Simple and in Season – pop over for more recipe inspiration.

What’s your favourite mag for food and recipes?