Life: Lambeth Country Show

We were at a bit of a loss on Sunday morning as to how to spend the day.

I googled things to do in London which usually (and bizarrely) we don’t find overly helpful, so I was really happy to see that Lambeth Country Show was on.

We decided to cycle over as it was an easy 3 miles.

We had such a wonderful day. There were so many great things about it. Firstly, living in London, you don’t get any opportunity to see farm animals, so it was great to see all the kids loving petting and feeding the various farm animals including this sweet duckling. Secondly, everyone was so happy and friendly – I basically adore any occasion which brings notoriously unfriendly Londoners together in one mass of happiness. Thirdly, it was FREE and therefore accessible to everyone. And finally, it was huge – there was much going on – live music, scarecrow judging competitions, food stalls, farm animals, local produce…

A particular highlight of mine was watching the sheep shearing demonstration. I had to practise ‘turning’ a sheep during my first year at university so it made the demonstrator’s work even more impressive as I know how very strong sheep can be!

The show really is a slice of country in London. There were even cake and vegetable competitions- I can’t help aways feeling really amused when you see 6 identical potatoes sat out ready for judging – how on earth can you tell the difference between the entries? There was also a vegetable carving competition including a hugely inappropriate one of Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson.

As expected, there were a huge number of places to choose from for lunch. Including:

In the end, I plumped for an amazing chicken tikka and vegetable chickpea curry with rice and bread which I had with a sustainable mango juice.

It was super busy and it was great to see such a large number of people making the most of the beautiful weather on this great family day out.

Have you ever been to the Lambeth Country Show? What’s your favourite show/fete?

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Life: Toscano

I fell in love with Italy last year when I was working in Venice, so I couldn’t wait to return this year with my best school friend Anna.

We used Airbnb to book our accommodation – a flat in Benabbio, a tiny village nestling in the Tuscan hills. The road up to Bennabio is not for the faint hearted as it’s full of narrow hairpin bends.

Our flat was absolutely amazing – beautifully clean and fresh and very reasonably priced at just £55 per night.

There were beautiful gardens too – full of vines, hydrangeas and olive trees.

But its real draw lay in the view which was absolutely stunning. We spent every evening watching the sun go down over the mountains. It actually ended up being a really reasonable holiday moneywise as we wanted to eat at home every night so that we could look at the view! Plus Italian food is so fresh and delicious – all we needed was some figs and antipasti to make a large delicious salad washed down with the best prosecco I’ve ever tasted.

We went walking in the mountains on one of the days. We were dressed completely wrongly – I was wearing a playsuit and converse and it poured with rain and we saw tonnes of leeches. But all the same it was amazing – more incredible views and some of the best echoes I’ve ever heard.

We also visited Lucca (an ancient walled city) and walked the whole way round on top of the city walls. I was happy to spot my favourite Italian Gelateria Grom and loved my pistachio and melon ice cream.

A visit to Northern Tuscany couldn’t be without a visit to the leaning tower of Pisa. It was so touristy around there so we didn’t stay for long.
Have you ever been to Italy? What’s your favourite city? 

Life: escaping to and from Stratford-Upon-Avon and simple pleasures

Last weekend, I went home to South Warwickshire. My cousin’s daughter was playing the young Anastasia in Finding Anastasia and we were keen to watch her.

I was determined this time, that in addition to visiting relatives, that I would show Martin around some of the delights of the area. Well, that didn’t go to plan. We planned to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon on Saturday calling in to see my cousin and auntie en route. She warned us that the traffic would be terrible and she was so, so right.

Driving into Stratford proved to be a nightmare – so much traffic. We should have taken this as a bad sign i.e. go home, but we persevered and ended up doing park and ride (using the train).

I have never seen Stratford so busy in my life, ever. We had to pigeon step our way on the bridge across the river.

I really do love Stratford, but I’m so boring and I really hate big crowds like that. We stayed long enough to take a few snaps of the river and Shakespeare’s birthplace before heading straight for my grandma’s house in Kenilworth.

I grew up with my Grandma in her house and, when I was younger, I don’t think I would ever have guessed how much I would one day appreciate spending an afternoon lying on a rug in her garden.

We spent the whole afternoon lazing in the garden enjoying the quiet, reading Game of Thrones (I’m still only 51% of the way through it on my Kindle and I feel like I’ve been reading it my entire life!) and loving being away from hugely hectic London.

Victoria plums

The following day, we took Grandma to one of my favourite restaurants in Kenilworth – The Cross.

It didn’t disappoint. Grandma and I began with a delicious braised lamb starter which I unfortunately ate every singe mouthful of before I remembered that I ought to have taken a photo of it. Martin had a hen’s egg and chickpea salad which I did manage to take a snap of.

This was followed by a mango jelly palate cleanser.

I took this picture and really liked the reflection!

For her main, Grandma ordered hake with crab bisque. Judging by how quickly it disappeared, she obviously loved it. Martin and I ordered pork (which was little dry) accompanied by some delicious salt baked beetroot. I also had my first foray into black pudding which I thought was tasty and surprisingly sweet. I am trying so hard to be less fussy!

roast pork, shallots, black pudding and salt baked beetroot
hake and crab bisque

For pudding, Grandma ate an incredible strawberry parfait with thai basil meringue. The day was scorching and this was a beautifully light summery pudding. Martin ordered chocolate mousse. I couldn’t resist the cheeseboard despite the boiling weather. The Cross always has such nice cheeses and this was no exception, although I thought it was odd that the waitress couldn’t name any of them when I wanted to know what they were. The cheese was accompanied by some oaty crumbly plain biscuit type things and tomato chutney which must have been the best accompaniment to cheese I’ve ever had.

After lunch, we went to watch the Wimbledon final with some of my great friends – the Ashley family. Jeremy had been quite unwell the week before, so it was good to see that he was feeling much better. I think the Murray win must have certainly helped too!

How’re you enjoying the hot weather? Have you been holding lots of BBQs?

Food: summer salads and perfect poached eggs

Now that summer is well and truly here in England, I can’t resist knocking up a quick salad most nights for dinner. Not only are they incredibly nutritious, they’re also so easy and tasty.

I wrote a post here about the formula for making an easy, tasty salad every time, but I just wanted to share with you the one I ate last night.

Feeds 2

2 nectarines
salad leaves e.g. water cress, rocket, baby spinach, lambs lettuce
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
parmesan – use a potato peeler to make shavings
handful of green beans
2 eggs

simple dressing: 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For my actual salad, I just used some balsamic glaze which you can buy from any supermarket.

1. Add the green beans to a pan of boiling water, boil for 4 minutes. Drain and run immediately under cold water. Cut into inch long lengths.
2. Add the salad leaves to a plate together with the parmesan shavings and green beans.
3. Remove the stone and slice the nectarines. Caramelise for a couple of minutes in a hot frying pan.
4. Poach the eggs according to the instructions below.

Although this salad is very filling by itself, I added some avocado and bacon toasts on the side using a recipe from the amazing Londoner blog.

To make enough toasts for 2:

4 thick slices from a crusty loaf
1 ripe avocado
1/2 lemon
5 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 clove of garlic, halved
4 rashes of streaky bacon

1. Mash the avocado with the lemon juice and a little salt. Combine with the tomatoes.
2. Grill the bacon on a medium heat until nice and crispy
3. Toast the bread and brush each side with the garlic clove.
3. Top the toast with the avocado, tomato and bacon.

Today, for lunch, I fancied more poached eggs. I added a recipe for perfect poached eggs ages ago, but in case you missed it, here it is again. I promise it works every time!

Method:

Firstly, you need incredibly fresh eggs. If your eggs are older than 4 days, you’ll need to add a teaspoon of white wine vinegar to your pan. Don’t over do the vinegar – there’s nothing worse than a vinegary tasting egg and it makes the egg white rubbery. The vinegar, incidentally, helps keeps the white together. Only poach a maximum of two eggs at once – any more becomes difficult to handle. Use a large frying pan filled with boiling water. Have the eggs preprepared by cracking each into an individual cup. Create a vortex in the water by stirring quickly with a spoon. Now add each egg to the pan on opposite sides. Place a lid on the frying pan and boil for 3 minutes. And voila perfect poached eggs – a lovely runny yolk, and firm white.


I  was still hungry after my eggs so I also had my first Coyo yoghurt from Wholefoods (£1.99). Pretty expensive so it’ll just have to be an occasional treat.

How do you get on with poach eggs? What’s your favourite salad recipe?

Life: final New Forest instalment

On our final day, Caz and I decided that a scenic drive around Dorset was in order. Caz and I love a good road trip. She drives a much loved, battered old Vauxhall which has endured much abuse being thrown around the English countryside on her farm visits whilst training to be a vet.

We started by getting the ferry across from Poole to Swanage and continued on through the stunning, quintessentially English Dorset countryside.

The villages we passed through were full of thatched cottages and we passed the ruined, but beautiful Corfe Castle on the way to Kimmeridge.

We were appalled at having to pay £5 to park at the car park, but because Kimmeridge beach held promises of fossils, we couldn’t resist paying up.

There was a minor disaster when I slipped on some sea weed and ended up ankle deep in some stinking  quagmire. I was seriously unhappy especially as it effectively ruined one of my brand new Converse. Martin tells me I can wash them in the washing machine but I’m not overly keen to do that. Caz, needless to say, found it absolutely hilarious.

After lunch we couldn’t resist hunting for fossils. I first did this years ago at Lyme Regis when I was 9, but had forgotten all the tips I was taught. After cracking some rocks hopefully together, we eventually found a couple of ammonite imprints.

We then drove to Durdle Door and I spotted my dream house enroute.

However, since we were feeling lazy we didn’t actual manage to make it all the way down the coast path to Durdle Door which is why my photos don’t show it off to its fully glory in the slightest. Durdle Door is actually a rock formation which is an arch out at sea (it’s the rocky outcrop in the middle of the photo below).

On the way back to Ringwood, we stopped off at the Rural Farm Shop co. and had a cream tea. There were so many lovely things to buy that it was hard to exercise any self control – I wanted to buy the whole shop! In the end, I bought Martin some locally produced cider.

There were lots of farm animals including free range hens, goats, shetland ponies, pigs and some sweet greyhound puppies for sale.

Do you have a local farm shop that you like to visit? They’re few and far between in London so I love popping in to one as soon as I’m out in the country.

Have you ever visited Dorset? 

Life: a New Forest horse ride and badger watching

Caz loves horses. She goes riding practically every day including the day before her uni exams which, at the time, I found very shocking. Needless to say, I had no need to worry – Caz always did more than fine!

A visit to hers then, HAD to include a ride in the New Forest. I’m no horsewoman, I’ve still only been riding a couple of times under Caz’s expert tuition. However, I absolutely love going on a hack through the New Forest and what could be better than ending up at pub nestled in the middle of the forest for lunch?

Caz’s mum Una, keeps her horse Missy at a farm. It’s such a lovely place to visit. There are several other horses and I was allowed to borrow a pony called Serenade.

Barney coming over all coquettish

I love farm cats – they’re so unfriendly though, they run off as soon as you get remotely close to them.

There were also a couple of farm dogs – they were far friendlier, especially with each other!

There were two alpacas. Have you ever heard the noise an alpaca makes when it’s a bit nervous? (there was a new dog on the farm that they hadn’t got used to yet). It’s identical to a loud squeaky toy – really bizarre.

We brought the ponies from the field to the stable to saddle them up.

Serenade

We rode through the forest. I love these couple of photos. It looks like I’m riding on one of those toys with a toy horse head and stick like I used to have when I was a kid.

Crisis was narrowly avoided when an overly amorous New Forest stallion showed far too much interest in our girls. Caz had to shoo him off – apparently they can end up mounting your horse when you’re still on it if you’re not careful. After several hours of ambling and chatting, we ended up at the Red Shoot Pub for lunch. I love how pubs in the New Forest have designated areas for tying up horses.

After lunch, we rode back to the stables.

wild New Forest ponies

In the evening, we returned to Caz’s friend’s house and did a spot of badger watching. Such a highlight! Every evening the badgers come out of their sett and eat some food left out for them. There’s also an adorable fox which comes too, but the badgers are the boss and he has to wait his turn before he gets any food. It was amazing seeing them so close and in such natural, beautiful surroundings.

Have you ever been badger watching or horse riding?

Life: Boscombe beach and lazing by a pool

I love visiting Caz at her home town of Ringwood, Hampshire.

It really is such a stunning area – it’s like going on a mini holiday every time I go to see her.

I come from Warwickshire and often forget how much there is to do there. My visits home are so full of visiting family that I forget that Martin might like to visit Warwick Castle or do an open top bus tour of Stratford-Upon-Avon. Caz is the same about where she lives. She lives very close to Bournemoth and I’m always amazed at how infrequently she visits the beach as it just never occurs to her to go.

However, this time we were determined to play at being tourists and so a visit to the beach was definitely in order.

We started by visiting Boscombe beach. It’s a very lovely coastline round these parts – gentle promenades, easily accessible beaches and a sea which is nice and close. I love going to Cornwall but boy is it a trek to the sea when the tide’s out!

Although it was a warm day, the sea was still so cold. Caz wouldn’t go in, but I ventured out as far as my waist. It was freeeeeeeeeezing!

‘Yes, it’s cold, very cold indeed’

reluctant photo subject

We walked along the promenade for a bit and I couldn’t resist taking some snaps of the beach huts.

How cute was this one?

We decided to have lunch at Urban Reef overlooking the beach.

We started with their speciality lemonades based on a recommendation from the waiter – I chose seasonal berry, while Caz had a strawberry one. The strawberry one was particularly good.

I ate pulled pork with spiced apple chutney in a ciabatta. They were a bit stingy with the pork and it definitely wasn’t pulled, more small chunks of pork, but it was yummy all the same.

Sorry it’s already been partly eaten. I’m so greedy that I often dive in straightaway and only remember to take a photo when it’s half eaten!

Caz enjoyed a beef and horseradish ciabatta. I wish I could like horseradish but I really dislike strong mustardy/wasabi type flavours.

Urban Reef is a great place to eat lunch – a stunning view and I really like the local produce it sells.

In the afternoon we went to visit one of Caz’s friends and spent the afternoon swimming in their pool. The house was nestled in the New Forest and it was incredibly quiet and private. Absolute bliss.

view from the pool

Which is your favourite British beach? Have you ever visited the New Forest?