A day in Zurich…airport

A single day somewhere new can rush by in the blink of an eye. When you travel it can sometimes feel like you’ve barely set foot in a place before you are whisked away to your next destination. In Zurich, this was not the case. Ok, I claim Zurich. In face my “day” in Zurich was 12 hours in Zurich airport. Lucky for me they were separated into two different six hour stints either side of my current trip. For me travelling can be one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences, but all too often, it can involve a hell of a lot of waiting around. I can’t help but wonder whether seasoned travelers have tips and tricks for dealing with long waits; no matter how good a book, it can only sustain me for so long.

So what are your tips for long periods of travel? Let’s see whether I can make my next visit to Zurich airport slightly more productive!

Here’s a little preview for my posts to come on my current trip!

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Earlybird’s Tastemade box

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I like to think I’m pretty tolerant but today I found myself getting annoyed at the enthusiasm of my course mates while queuing to talk to a lecturer. As soon as I finally got an answer for my question, I rushed straight off to a lecture in the next building. I had 3 lectures in a row over lunch time and by the end of the third, I my stomach was grumbling very loudly and I wasn’t taking in much information.This isn’t exactly ideal, particularly given I struggle to focus the whole way through a lecture anyway, but it isn’t unusual. I try to carry snacks with me but fruit gets easily squashed when I also have a laptop and books. That really leaves me with the vending machines on campus, which can be pricey and pretty unhealthy habits.

Subscription boxes of goodies are becoming a big thing and as a foodie blog, reviewing a snack box seems appropriate.  Graze seems to be gaining popularity but I recently discovered a Tastemade boxes by EarlyBird.

DSC_0044Each box comes with 5 little sachets of healthy snacks, one pot of dip and a tea bag. A leaflet gives the nutritional information for each snack and each is under 200 calories.

My box had “Marmighty” – tamari and blanched almonds;  “Thai sweet chilli” chili corn, goji berries and coconut flakes; honey roast sunflower and pumpkin seeds; gluten free pretzels to dip in the smoked chlli jam; and “berry balls” – dates, almonds, and dried fruit. It also came with a Tea Pigs, peppermint tea bag, which was quite a treat.

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I was a little surprised that a flavour so controversial as Marmite was included in my first box. Lucky for me, I’ve recently converted from a marmite-hater to -lover and the almonds were delicious and addictive.

The snack-bag sizes were really good and it was nice to see they were all under 200 calories, which makes it easy for someone calories concious (though truth be told, I actively avoid looking at calories).

My least favourite was the “thai sweet chilli” bag: a mix of chilli roast corn kernels, goji berries and dessicated coconut flakes. The combination of sweet and savoury felt all wrong and the corn kernals felt a little too crunchy for something edible…DSC_0050

That said, I loved everything else, particularly the honey roast nuts and the berry balls (I do have a desperate sweet tooth after all) and I thought the tea bag was a lovely touch.

In my opinion, there are positives and negatives to subscription snack boxes. The Earlybird box is a little more expensive than Graze, unless you get a weekly box at £3.95. Alternatively, it is £4.95 fortnightly or £5.95 monthly. However, the EarlyBird box did seem to me to contain a little more.

Subscription boxes are a pricey way to get food but they usually come with unusual treats and expensive ingredients such as nuts and seeds that you wouldn’t be able to buy any cheaper from a supermarket.  They also mean you get much more of a range to your snaking since anything supermarket-bought will tend to come in larger packages. I also love the added element of surprise! For me that’s half the treat of the box. But returning to the marmite bag, there is an added risk that you might not like something from the box. Personally, I was delighted with my first box. The snack are perfect for me to carry onto campus. EarlyBird has just started up and I’m excited to see where they’re headed next.

Pea and tahini soup

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Summer has well and truly passed. When I woke up this morning, the world outside was a shifting haze of white. I’ve been looking through some photos from late summer and dreaming of the past warmth.DSC_0077

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The morning mists, though lovely are harbinger of cold and flu. All my house mates seem to have succumb to “fresher’s flu” and campus is a-ring with coughing. This recipe is my absolute favourite for a quick and easy meal at the moment. It’s deliciously warm and comforting and packed full of all the goodies you need to fight off the winter ills. The tahini takes it to the next level with an underlying warmth. Enjoy! ~

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Pea and tahini soup (serves 4)

1 onion, finely chopped
Splash of olive oil
400 grams frozen peas
2 sprigs mint
600 ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp tahini
Black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook until slightly soft and translucent. Add the peas and stock and remove the mint leaves from the stems and add these. Bring everything to the boil, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the tahini. Blend until smooth and add a good grind of black pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste.
This is definitely best served with a good chunk of toasted and buttered rye bread: it’s like a hug for your belly.

Tranquil Bath

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I was lucky enough to be invited to Bath to celebrate with the family this weekend. So at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, I found myself sitting in York station in anticipation of a 5 1/2 hour journey ahead. Long train journeys are something I’m becoming very accustomed to but there isn’t much that can prepared you for a very loud phone conversation being had just across the aisle, for the majority of the journey.

Our day ended in the stunning Tasbourgh House Hotel. Despite our late arrival, the owner greeted us full of smiles and showed us to our rooms at the top of the house. The hotel sits atop a steep hill. This is not ideal when you are on foot, heading back and desperate for the loo, as I discovered to my cost. But the positive it that from our windows are some truly spectacular views of the City.

The following morning, we awoke to the smell of freshly baked pastry and a wonderful breakfast spread including homemade granola, toast, and croissants. After a lazy breakfast, we were ready to face whatever the day had to throw at us. Of course, we headed straight for the spa.

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At Bath Thermae Spa I had my first massage. I’ll admit it was a little odd at first, particularly when I sat down with the masseuse to have a talk about my general health what I wanted from the massage (to relax?), and then she left me to get (almost) naked. I’m not the sort of person who’s all too comfortable with being exposed to strangers. Though I’ll admit I’m not as bad as my friend who claims she can’t even look in the mirror naked…

Back to the massage. I hadn’t expected to find it so strange, someone touching my back, but a couple of minutes in and it stopped feeling odd and started just to be lovely. I’m sure my brain slowed down and 50 minutes were up in a flash. Then we were onto the actual spa. By this time it was somewhat busier and the gorgeous roof-top swimming pool was a little packed. Each pool there seems to have currents and if, like mine, your muscle have decided to take a break by that time, you can find yourself awkwardly close to some bathing-costume-enrobed strangers. Overall, a morning at the spa was a gorgeous treat, though I wouldn’t have wanted to stay longer than our allotted two hours.

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In fact, by that time, our oh so long and tiring morning had left our stomachs rumbling and we headed out to Lunch. The Great Bath Feast is on all this month and the foodie in me desperately wanted to make the most of it, but sadly, the rest of that day had to be devoted to work, since my uni term has just started again, and at full throttle.

Possibly the loveliest part of the weekend was the following morning. The hotel, set up on a hill, has a beautiful garden leading down toward the canal, so we followed the dewy grey-green grass down toward the town. The walk had an element of the fairytale to it. We past a stenny of bee hives and crunched over late-fallen apples until we reached the train line, at which point the scenery became less brother’s Grimm, more steam punk. I’m a rambler at heart and an early morning, late autumn walk does more good to my heart than any spa day.

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But all too soon, the serenity of my morning was punctured by the clock and I was headed back to the station. My train took me northward into an all together bleaker landscape, though one with it’s own kind of beauty.

I hope your weekend was as lovely!

Beetroot, caramelised onion and watercress pizza (vegan)

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Today, I retraced the familiar paths I hadn’t seen since early summer. Returning to university is lovely; our campus is full of trees. All around me was the leaves rustled. Where they were still on the trees, their gold was dappled with red and orange berries. Autumn is beautiful but brings with it a chill. On top of this, work is starting again in earnest. The cold can really drain your energy and after a long day of work, all you really want is to tuck into something warming and delicious, preferably something you can eat with friends around a movie. Pizza sounding good to you?

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I have a slight problem with pizza. It’s too homogeneous. The first few bites are heavenly but it can quickly start to feel as though you’re chewing through mouthful after mouthful of the same stodge. Delicious stodge, but stodge nonetheless. So I made it my mission to create something with a little more texture. Something a little lighter. Comforting, delicious and good for the soul.

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I offer beetroot. I love beetroot. It is the richest of autumn colours: like blood or mahogany, it has an intensity your rarely see outside the heart of a flower.. It doesn’t have a strong taste but it gives an earthy, warming undertone.

I offer onion. Caramelised with a splash of balsamic vinegar. These are sweet, sticky and delicious.

I offer watercress. These crunchy, spicy leaves transform the whole dish. They are light and packed with nutrients and flavour in equal measure.

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170g plain flour

a pinch salt

1 tbsp dried active yeast

1 tsp sugar

150ml warm water (50ml boiling + 100ml cold)

1 small beetroot, cooked

1 clove garlic

1 onion

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

oil for frying

2 handfuls watercress leaves

Activate the yeast by dissolving the sugar in the water and sprinkling the yeast over the top. Mix it in well and leave in a warm place until it is frothy (about 15 minutes).

Add your flour and salt to a large bowl and pour in about half of the yeast-water mix. Stir with a spoon until it comes together. Keep mixing with your hands, adding any more water of necessary, until it all comes together into a slightly sticky dough. Tip this onto a work surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic. Place dough back into bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature for about an hour.

For the pizza sauce, puree the beet and garlic in a blender until smooth.

About half an hour after you have left your dough, start the onions. Fry them in the oil over a low heat until they start to brown. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan regularly so nothing burns and you keep all the lovely caramelised stickyness on the onions. After about 20 minutes, add the vinegar and stir in well. Let it cook off until there is none at the bottom of the pan and the onions are lovely and sticky, then take off the heat.

Preheat your oven to its highest setting. Once your dough has risen, tip it out on to a work surface and knead it for a minute or so until smooth. Roll it out into a circle about 10 inches. Spoon over the beet then top with the onion. Cook on a high shelf for 10-12 minutes.

Once cooked, scatter the leaves on top and enjoy!

Pear and ginger cake with apple butter, cardamom quark cream and cobnut brittle

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The taste of coffee still on my tongue, I head upstairs , pull an over-sized jumper from over my head and step into the shower, arms outstretched. As my hands hit the water, a fine, icy spray makes goosebumps across my arms and stomach. I stand as far as I can from my hands given they are attached to the ends of my arms, waiting for them to warm up. I know the year has officially turned when my hands and feet get so cold they turn steaming water into this cold mist.

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To my utter delight, while walking the other day, I looked down to see two perfect spheres clinging together, claw-like leaves cradling them: “Cobnuts!” I’ve never seen them growing wild before and was beyond delighted by the tree. After straining, we managed to find a few nestled in the branched just above our heads. We collected just enough for me to use here but if you can’t get hold of them, macadamia nuts are the closest.

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Today is my papa’s birthday. Yesterday was the autumn equinox. So many celebrations! There must be cake. The pear and rose hip cupcake recipe I posted here is possibly one of my favourite cake recipes all time so I used it as inspiration. On a note, I just love the way nut brittle looks. The rich umber glows in the sunlight.

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Recipe:

For cake…

  • 100 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp ginger syrup
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 pears, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp stem ginger pieces, roughly chopped.
  • 240 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

For the filling and icing…

  • Apple butter (recipe or use apple purée/apple sauce)
  • 250g natural quark cheese
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

For the nut brittle…

  • 40g sugar
  • 1 tsp chopped cobnuts (can substitute macadamia)
  • 1/2 tsp chopped crystallised ginger

Method…

First make the nut brittle. Roughly chop the nuts. Place them in a dry frying pan over a low heat and toast until they colour slightly.

Place a piece of baking parchment out on one side. Heat the sugar in a pan. Don’t stir but give the pan a shake now and then to make sure the sugar doesn’t burn. Once all of the sugar has melted, tip in the nuts and ginger. Stir to coat everything evenly and pour mix onto parchment. Spread out and leave to cool and solidify. Any caramel solidified on the pan can be removed with boiling water.

Next grease and line a deep, 9 inch cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, (356F).

Cream together the butter and sugar until very light. Beat in the egg, honey and syrup.
Gently fold in the pear and stem ginger pieces with a metal spoon.
Sift in the flour, baking powder, bicarb and ground ginger and fold in gently.

Spoon into the prepared tin and cover with tinfoil to stop the top browning too quickly. Bake on a middle shelf for about an hour.

Leave to cool and use a bread knife to slice in half so you can fill it.

For the cardamon quark filling, beat together quark, cardamom and icing sugar.

Once the cake has cooled completely, spread half of the cream on the lower half of the cake. Top this with all of the apple butter. Place the other half of the cake on top and top this half with the remaining cream. Top with shards of nut brittle.

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Lovely lentil and courgette salad

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It’s not unusual here for September weather to be better than August. In fact I enjoyed an ice cream in the park today: not something I could imagine mid-August and mid-deluge. Weather wise, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy salad but this one is a little heartier than I’d make mid-summer. Courgettes are in season and i just adore them. All over the web I see recipes where they are sliced into delicate slithers. Beautiful as they look like this, I don’t think you can beat sweet and tender chunks that you can really get your teeth into.

N.B. for those in the US, rocket = arugula, courgette = zucchini

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)

  • courgettes2 large courgettes
  • Glug of olive oil
  • pinch on salt
  • 250g green lentils (about 550g when cooked)
  • 3 large handfuls mixed rocket and baby beet greens

For the vinagrette

  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • tsp dried parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (about 390 degrees F). Cut courgettes into even chunks about the length of your little finger. Toss these in salt and oil. Place in an oven proof dish and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Leave to cool.

Cook lentils according to packet instructions, drain and allow to cool.

Toss together courgette, lentils and salad leaves.

Add all the vinaigrette ingredients and shake well. Taste and season.

Pour vinaigrette oven salad and toss together.

Serve.

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Some delicious recipes from around the web using these delicious and seasonal ingredients…

Rocket:
fig and arugula wheat berry salad
Arugula goat cheese pesto with fava beans and prociutto

Courgette:
Yellow zucchini tarte fine
Wholewheat ravioli with courgette flowers
Carrot, apple and courgette cake
Sauteed zucchini

Pear and rose hip cupcakes with hazelnut buttercream

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Rosehip syrup

The warm days of summer are not quite over, yet the dark is unmistakably drawing in. If there is any time of year that I become particularly aware of the passing of time, it is now. These days when the sun is still warm but all the richness and sweetness of autumn is around fly by so quickly.

This time is a forager’s dream. So much delicious food is in season. Everywhere you look, the intense red of berries peaks around the dark green, late summer leaves. I’ve wanted to have a go at making my own rose hip syrup for such a long time but this is the first time I’ve come up with a recipe to use as an excuse. The syrup is fantastically tangy and the pear adds such a summery lightness.

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Ingredients: (Makes 10)

      • 120 g plain flour
      • 1/2 tsp baking powder
      • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
      • 50 g unsalted butter
      • 100 g caster sugar
      • 1 egg
      • 2 1/2 tbsp rosehip syrup
      • 1 large pear, finely chopped

For the icing

      • 30 g butter
      • 30 g brown sugar
      • 15g icing sugar
      • 40 g chopped hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Cream together the butter and sugar until very light. Beat in the egg and syrup.
Fold in the chopped pear.
Add the flour, baking powder and bicarb and fold in gently. Spoon into 10 cupcake cases.Bake for 25 minutes.
For the icing, beat together the butter and sugar. Fold in the hazelnuts. Top the cupcakes with a blob of icing when they have cooled completely.

Autumn pear rose hip cupcakes