Sunday, November 08, 2009

HHDD#29 Roasted Garlic Round-up

For this month's HHDD#29, it was all about the roasted garlic. When I’d been asked to host this month’s HHDD event I high-tailed to my still emerging donna hay magazine collection, plus a couple of her cookery books.  I wanted something I would like to eat, a recipe that was simple and crucially others would be inspired to cook and tuck into also.  And in the spirit of this event I was keen to find a recipe that I would follow slavishly and not just use as a springboard to my own creations.

 So in my case that means absolutely no tomato, no bananas nor every of the other black listed ingredients I normally swerve around. My donna hay magazines are full of little post-it note tabs, so inspiration was not a problem, it was more a matter of filtering the ‘I want to cook’ pile to manageable proportions.  To someone who hasn’t discovered Donna Hay yet it’s hard to define what is particularly unique about her style, but really that’s the word – ‘style’. Donna’s style is all the about the mouth-watering looking food enhanced with whiter than white, neutral palette accessories, photographed in a diffused light so the shadows are soft and the whiteness seems endless.  If the immaculate white bowls or un- crusty white casserole dish need adornment it’s most likely to be a crisp white folded tea towel acting as a tablemat or pot holder.  When I am channelling Donna, that’s exactly the route I try and go down and feel the urge to inhabit an entirely white place with a teetering tower of plain white crockery and a stack of crisp white tea-towels. 
So after all the consultation and pondering I settled on creamy pancetta and roasted garlic pasta.  I like pasta and this one is entirely devoid of tomato and is laced with sweet and juicy roasted garlic cloves and Donna hay’s recipe is:

roasted garlic
2 heads of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil

  Preheat oven to 180C/fan 160C/355F. Cut off the tops of the garlic heads so the cloves are just showing. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil and wrap in aluminium foil. Place on a baking tray and cook for 45 minutes or until soft. Set aside to cool slightly before peeling off the skins*.
   Place cloves in a bowl and mash with the back of a fork.
*The garlic will be so soft and jammy that you'll be able to press the flesh out by gently squeezing the cloves between your fingers, or gently lift each clove out with a skewer.
Then taking your caramelised garlic cloves and transform into a tasty pasta dish:

creamy pancetta and roasted garlic pasta
400g dried or fresh pappardelle pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
300g piece mild pancetta, chopped
1 head roasted garlic, mashed
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
125ml pouring cream
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
finely grated parmesan, to serve

  Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted, boiling water until al dente (10-12 minutes for dried or 3-5 minutes for fresh pasta). Drain and keep warm.
  Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 2-3 minutes or until browned. Remove from the heat and add garlic, chilli, cream, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the warm pasta* with the parsley and parmesan and toss to coat. Serves 4
*the heat from the pasta will thicken the sauce
- donna hay magazine issue 38  

I decided that as I hadn’t made some for a while I made some silky fresh pasta (for one) with 100g 00 Italian flour and 1 large egg.  After rolling out I cut the golden dough into fat strips with the fluted pastry wheel and left to dry over clean white tea-towels (how very Donna!) hung over the kitchen doors. 
I was happy with the recipe choice, the roasted garlic was unctuous, I am always partial to pancetta and wasn’t remotely drowned in cream, so clearly I normally use too much cream with my pasta.  As there was no specification of Parmesan quantity I finished off with another sprinkling.  Fortunately there were some other guests who also enjoyed this dish.

Zaira of La Cocina de Zaira has translated the recipe into vegetarian Spanish version and spiced hers up by using multicoloured shell pasta.  I’m not sure the garlic is roasted but is sautéed with lots of herbs and pine nuts.

Mardi of Eat, Live, Travel, Write did go the whole roasting the garlic route and used some delicious looking mushroom pasta.  It seems that someone feels the same as I do about pancetta and bacon, and home-cured as well, very impressive.

Homemades by Arfi opted for roasted smoked garlic and used a plump globe artichoke for the vehicle of the sauce instead of pasta.

Denise of Chez Us also whipped up a batch of creamy pancetta and roasted garlic pasta for her guests and I am loving the Donna-style whiteness of the bowl and background.
I had great fun planning this month’s homage to Donna and thank you to those who joined me in roasted garlic worship.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The question of cream

The recipe I chose for this month’s HHDD called for ‘pouring cream’ and it called up an interesting question about cream globally.  The differences between regions and the white stuff their cows produce is often the subject of heated debates.  On travels with my fork I have heard displaced Brits in France and other parts of Europe lament the local cream (even in creamy Normandy) where crème fraîche is de rigueur and dream of the cream from back home amongst the black and white dappled dairy cows (Friesians). 
To me cream is normally double cream, one this is thick, doesn’t split when added to hot sauces and can be whipped into airy peaks.  It used to always seem to be in the blue pot but I noticed Waitrose for one have gone all arty and just the words ‘double cream’ and the patterns on the cream jug are blue.
Alternatively we have the one in the red pot- single cream, one that I use less as I don’t drink coffee and the like nor do I like cream poured over my strawberries (balsamic vinegar every time for me).  For this recipe I have bought single cream however, as I believe this is equivalent to an Australian pouring cream and in the US – light cream.  Though I’ve also read that it is almost like the US half and half – except the butterfat content is a little higher. So if you’re still planning to shop for your cream to make your Donna pasta with the roasted garlic, I recommend pouring, light, or single if in Australia, the US or the UK.  If in Europe the struggle might be tougher, if all you can find is crème fraîche as that is a little sourer.  I seem to recall cartons of crème liquide and that seems to fit the bill better.
I am sure there are other complications in other parts of the world but I hope you can find a local equivalence to make a lovely cream sauce.  Hopefully see you tomorrow!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hay, hay it's Donna against vampires

Hay Hay its Donna 
Day This month I have the honour of hosting the 29th hay, hay it’s donna day.  I had all sort of worthy things I planned doing this weekend but I have instead been getting lost amongst the pages of the donna hay magazine.  I like many seem to have a plethora of fluorescent tabs marking the most ‘must cook’ of her recipes but what to choose, what to choose? I’ve decided that feeling full of mellow fruitfulness and nearly that time of year when the vampires are out in force (or is that just the little plastic fanged trick or treaters?) I’d go for roasted garlic.  Donna Hay seems to favour the roasting treatment for her garlic bulbs; I spotted these sweet nuggets of golden stickiness cropping up all over the place but the recipe I’ve chosen for HHDD #29 is creamy pancetta and roasted garlic pasta.  It may only be a few months since pasta appeared at this event but I make no apologies for another HHDD pasta recipe as last time it was more of a salad and featured peppers and tomatoes – as I’ve chosen this recipe, mine contains neither!  I think this pasta sounds delicious, is undeniably easy, quick to whip up and is adaptable for the non-meat eaters/bacon haters.  Despite the ‘pancetta’ in the title, this could be easily swapped for a bacon-like substitute or replaced entirely for a handful of woody autumnal field mushrooms.  The pasta is up to you, if you want to knead your own golden egg-yolked fresh strands please do or if you rather rely on an Italian artisan and their hand-cut dies, that’s also perfectly okay.  As long as the roasted garlic features amongst some creamy pasta, and the essence of Donna’s recipe is honoured, I think we have a HHDD dish. 
For the rules of the event click here, for previous entrants we are a little out of sync on the timings this month so please can I have your homage to Donna’s creamy pancetta and roasted garlic pasta post by the end of the month?  I will gather all your entries, summarise and post a roundup by 5th November.
If like me you like to leaf through your donna hay magazine stack to see the original recipe this is reproduce faithfully from issue No. 38.  But if you aren’t such a recipe pack-rat, the recipes you’ll need are below.  First – roast your garlic, this is how Donna does it:

roasted garlic
2 heads of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil

  Preheat oven to 180C/fan 160C/355F. Cut off the tops of the garlic heads so the cloves are just showing. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil and wrap in aluminium foil. Place on a baking tray and cook for 45 minutes or until soft. Set aside to cool slightly before peeling off the skins*.
   Place cloves in a bowl and mash with the back of a fork.
*The garlic will be so soft and jammy that you'll be able to press the flesh out by gently squeezing the cloves between your fingers, or gently lift each clove out with a skewer.

Donna assures us we can make a batch of roasted garlic and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.  My experience of roasted garlic is the aromatic pungency that lingers, as lovely as it is I don’t really want it to pervade my breakfast, so make sure your pre-roasted garlic is tightly sealed – unless of course you do have a problem with vampires!     

Take your caramelised garlic cloves and transform into a tasty pasta dish:

creamy pancetta and roasted garlic pasta
400g dried or fresh pappardelle pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
300g piece mild pancetta, chopped
1 head roasted garlic, mashed
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
125ml pouring cream
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
finely grated parmesan, to serve

  Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted, boiling water until al dente (10-12 minutes for dried or 3-5 minutes for fresh pasta). Drain and keep warm.
  Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 2-3 minutes or until browned. Remove from the heat and add garlic, chilli, cream, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the warm pasta* with the parsley and parmesan and toss to coat. Serves 4
*the heat from the pasta will thicken the sauce

- donna hay magazine issue 38

Inspired by my garlic musings I thought I’d do a spot of amateur Donna Hay food styling for this post with the obligatory folded rough linen white cloth and a very J heart-shaped dish.  The simplicity of a single ingredient plus the white on white-ness vibe always makes me feel I’m channelling Donna!  Happy garlic roasting and pasta cooking everyone, I hope I’ll see your dish soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hay, hay, hay - Donna does chicken

“Hay Hay it's Donna day” is the first blogging event I stumbled across when I started my culinary ramblings and the whole concept of these random bloggers all over the world all emulating the signature white and clean stylised look of Donna's food really intrigued me.
I'd discovered Donna Hay and her inimitable food styling from her Marie Claire days and when confronted by stacks of white plates and bowls and that exquisite Vendee light back in October 2006 I was inspired to create a homage to Donna and attempt her quintessential appreciation of all that is pale and interesting.
Reading the other entrants of the HHDD blog event I realised that what was missing from my life was the donna hay bi-monthly magazine. My cookbook addiction is only slightly tempered by my obsession for cooking magazines. Over the years I’ve subscribed to some, dabbled with several and tracked down a few more.  My only problem is occasionally whittling down and recycling them when they threaten to overtake my home. 
The donna hay magazine is not a regular on the UK newsstands so I had to try a little harder to procure.  I found a newsagent in Knightsbridge that specialised in foreign magazines and that worked for a while but I wanted a more regular supply.  My local newsagent eventually managed to become my customary provider and has managed to pickup a couple more fans in the local area as his issues are always pounced on. 
I was only thinking recently that now I have amassed a small collection of said magazine I should try another go at the HHDD event.  And when I leapt into the world of tweeting and commenced trawling for mutual foodie tweets, I spotted a familiar twitter-er called HHDday and in the sometimes small world of food blogging learnt that this month’s host is Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness fameChez Us host the event but as Stephanie's interpretation of last month's HHDD challenge, she gets to choose this month's Donna recipe. Stephanie was the fabulous host of the monthly blogging parties but has taken a hiatus from these exertions so it was really great to see her back blogging and back at the head of the table again. 
Stephanie sensibly wasn’t taking any chances with us seizing her theme and twisting it in a non-Donna sty-le so she provided her choice of Donna Hay Parmesan and Polenta Chicken recipe.  I was determined to track down the original recipe only because I was fascinated to see Donna’s presentation.  I combed through my magazine hoard to no avail and even my donna hay chicken cookbook couldn’t help me.  But with a little digging I found another food blogger who’d been taken with the same recipe and had mentioned that she’d espied it in donna hay magazine #31, a couple of months before my collection started, that explains it.

Parmesan and Polenta Chicken
donna hay Magazine, Issue 31
2 cobs corn, husks and silks removed
olive oil for brushing
2 x 200g (7oz) chicken breasts
flour for dusting
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1/2 cup(100g/3 1/2 oz) polenta
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
100g (3 1/2 oz) baby spinach leaves
1/2 basil leaves
grated parmesan cheese, extra to serve
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
sea salt and cracked black pepper
To make the dressing, place the mustard, lemon juice, garlic, oil, honey, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 220 C (425 F. Brush the corn with oil, place in a baking dish and roast for 25 minutes or until golden. Slice the kernels from the corn and set aside.
Slice the chicken in half horizontally, dust with the flour, dip into the egg and press into the combined parmesan and polenta to coat. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Arrange the chicken, corn, spinach and basil on plates and spoon over the dressing and grated parmesan to serve. Serves 4 

Unusually for me I followed the recipe to the letter, my only substitution was the spinach for lamb’s lettuce and pea tops that I already had in the fridge.  I’d never used Parmesan and polenta for a crispy jacket before and it definitely added a pleasing crunch to my 'happy' chicken breasts so will definitely do this again. I’m never shy to use Parmesan (or Grana Padana) and especially after absorbing Easy Tasty Italian from cover-to-cover I was even more convinced that was the way forward. 
Not seeing the original recipe I wasn’t entirely sure how to present the chicken so I thought I’d go for both constructed and slightly deconstructed version.  I suspect the corn kernels scattered over the plate is truer to the recipe and possibly looked the prettiest but the corn flavour was much punchier munching it off the cob – excuse the butter on the chin though!  Style over content, the choice is yours I think.
It’s wonderful to be back in the company of Stephanie again, and has been great fun channelling Donna again. Check back here for how my fellow HHDDers fared.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I read two separate tweets yesterday extolling the virtue of the new cookbook Easy Tasty Italian available in all good bookshops (and most likely those not so good) early next month. One of the tweets handily mentioned how a rampant cookbook-ophile such as me might feed their habit and procure a copy ahead of time and much to my delight a shiny copy of said cookbook was sat on the doormat awaiting my pleasure today. Who knew our post could be so efficient? And this is not just any cookbook this is a really good one! I feel I can speak from the vantage point of an expert of cookbooks, having managed to amass a veritable tower of them over the years and if there was an organisation called Cookbooks Anonymous I would be there taking the pledge.
The author of this delightful missive is the occasionally acerbic and always wise Mrs. Santini from Waitrose Food Illustrated. She’s thrown off her guise of culinary agony aunt and we get to meet the very elegant half Italian Laura Santtini (yes, in the transformation she’s gained a ‘t’!), daughter of the now retired proprietor of Frank Sinatra’s favourite restaurant Belgravia’s Santini.
So why does the world need another cookbook, Italian or otherwise? Well what Mrs Santinni is going to do is add a little va va vroom into your cooking. Her U.S.P. is the U-bomb or umami bomb, the little taste rockets she conjures up are flavoured butters, tasty pastes, salsas, marinades and most intriguingly - the potions and elixirs. The first section of Easy Tasty Italian is all about whipping up this wizardry. There is an artichoke, prosciutto, lemon & ricotta trifolata to juzz up a pasta dish. A rosemary, apple & lavender marinade to transform pork or veal, horseradish & rose butter with which to anoint red meat or oily fish. The glamorous sounding savoury enhancer wild mushroom & anchovy stardust or the secret weapon in many a risotto a Parmesan & prosciutto paste. And not forgetting the surely magical black chocolate elixir to provide that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to a beef dish. Laura Santtini defines umami as the "things that make you go 'mmmmm'" and as umami is the Japanese name for deliciousness she has christened her Italian version of this tongue tingling culinary alchemy as u-mamma! And where can you find this u-mamma in the larder? The answer is in some of those Italian stalwarts - Parmesan, prosciutto crudo, porcini mushrooms, white truffles, balsamic vinegar and salted anchovies. And though I can't bring myself to trumpet the tomato I'll concede their usefulness in Italian cooking, though frankly not in mine!
On top of the larder essentials she spices them up further with her alchemic pantry ingredients, a taster being - hibiscus flowers, pomegranate seeds, Amalfi lemon, pistachios, rose water, pink and green peppercorns, sumac, ginger and for that essential little bit of bling, edible gold and silver. Armed with this epicurean toolbox and a few grinding, cutting and cooking utensils this is where the magic happens. The rest of Easy Tasty Italian doesn't follow the usual formulaic cookbook format of chapters entitled spring, summer, autumn, winter or salads, meat, fish, vegetable accompaniments and desserts. Here in section two we have four poetically entitled chapters that are, Air ‘I was raw’, Water ‘I was cooked’, Fire ‘I was burned’ and Earth ‘I am tasty’. You’ve got to admit that’s a little different!
In Raw there’s prosciutto wrapped mozzarella balls with a soupçon of tapenade, scallops anointed with rose stardust and carpaccio and various ‘rich & thin’ alternatives. In Water the magic is applied to soups, pasta and risotti. I can’t wait to try the ‘cheeky lobster’ though the cherry tomatoes may accidently be forgotten. The creamy pesto with asparagus & crispy pancetta will be a must when asparagus comes back round again and the strawberry and balsamic with a few grinds of black pepper I already know I love but with risotto? I have to try that!
In Heat there’s the oxymoronic ‘hot carpaccios’, the beef tagliata with that ever so captivating black chocolate elixir, the strawberry and cucumber salsa’s swordfish (though I fear swordfish is now too endangered to enjoy) and veal Milanese with a variety of exotic twists. There’s a great bit headed 'roll, wrap & splash' which has all sorts of loveliness rolled in Parmesan gratings, wrapped in prosciutto and then doused in something suitably alcoholic or just extra-virgin olive oil if you must. The beef fillet with mascarpone & rose horseradish sounds truly inspirational.
And Earth is all about slow cooking so we have beautiful hunks of beef drowned in Barolo, the tongue-in-cheekily named Leg-over lamb (check out her reason for how this dish got its name), the infamous 36-clove spring chicken and a dozen twists on vegetables. I’ve always felt that mash potato is pretty tricky to beat but Mrs Santtini adds mascarpone and sweet roasted garlic to elevate it even further and she then suggests you could add an extra dimension to this mimosa with her wild mushroom and anchovy stardust.
If all this has still not whetted your appetite we round up with some charming take on desserts and if I need a licence to gather more table accoutrements Laura suggests ‘pimping your plate’ by procuring all sorts of random little glasses and cups in which to serve your accompaniments. For a final flourish the last recipe is a pink-hued Prosecco cocktail which has a sprig of rosemary as a verdant swizzle stick – sounds delicious!
I’ve been completely entranced by this book on first opening, I’ve already amassed some jazzed-up butter to slice a couple of rounds off to top steak or vegetables but after reading this I think I need to broaden my butter mountain further. I’ve been checking how my larder would pass muster as an alchemic kitbag and I fear it falls a little short, time I think to get out of a culinary rut, take a leaf out of Mrs Santtini’s enchanting book and drop a few U-bombs. They do say Italians do it better and this one may just might!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A little birdie told me

Despite being fully Twittered up for a few months yet unaccustomed to such brevity of thought I hadn't conjured up the appropriate bon mots with which to christen my account so it remained entirely bereft of tweets. I started to gather followers though and thinking how odd it was that Cheryl Cole would take time out of her busy life of mini skirt wearing and strutting her stuff in Girls Aloud to follow someone who hadn't even deigned to form a single little tweet was put straight by multi-brothered J. The excessively sibling'ed one also goes by the name of Wiki for his unparalleled knowledge on all that is www and he informed me that my so called followers were not loitering intent on hanging onto my every word should I ever get around to writing any but are probably just spamming me. But inspired by Giles Coren talking about how he has to get himself out there more - media speaking that is I thought I'd take another look at this twittering lark. Giles and I have another thing in common other than a love of writing about their epicurean tendencies though only one of us gets paid for it, but also we both work for 'the man'. Giles spoke of the live aspect of his restaurants reviews by submitting his thoughts via his phone on the repast en passant. This did intrigue me and i pondered following suit but read his column whilst I was I was holidaying in North Norfolk and seemingly entirely deprived of network connection in that far from isolated idyll I couldn't eat and tweet. Being back in the hub of unprotected wifi connections and a pretty reliable 02 such indulgence seems plausible but apart from a couple of tiny tweetettes under my new J with fork mantel I had mainly followed other more prolific scribes.
But today being my birthday initally I was inspired to tweet about yearning for chocolate cake then the joy of finding a dream cake of such substance on arrival to work. But when thoughts of an unplanned fabulous evening of dining out starting to enter my head I thought as well as consulting the usual suspects of restaurant guides I'd ask for advice on solo dining in London on Twitter. And sure enough I got a suggestion that seemed just perfect and headed forth in the direction of that tweeter's recommendation. And keeping on with the theme of giving the world a running commentary of every tiny musing I dutifully tweeted the experience in between appreciative forkfuls. It's a curious medium though, you really feel you have to be very immediate and unlike blogging where I invariably end up with a backlog of posts I guess if you can't say if there and then the moment has passed. And whether the online masses are intrigued and/or amused by your stream of consciousness can also be measured and critiqued in real time And of course by tweeting you are (possibly thankfully for any readers) curtailed in the act of scribing the more verbose of missives. If this post had been strapped into the confines of a 140 character tweet I'd been able to write as far as 'bon mots' maybe curiously prophetic but somewhat lacking in any sense at all I suspect.
If you are remotely inclined to follow a little trail of breadcrumbs of my random bursts of ruminations and nibblings, you'll find the link here or on the right under "eating & tweeting" tweet, tweet, tweet!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Baby one more time!

I had it all sorted, my bags are packed and I'm ready to go. For the first time the sun has barely got his hat on and the big blue sky has been overrun by great white fluffies. I guess it means it is time to get back to life and back to reality. I toyed with the idea of making a visit to Cley again with vague thoughts of securing one of those venison pies for later and then as I went to collect my bags to catch an early Coasthopper back to King's Lynn I caught sight of the lunch menu and I succumbed. Why not extend this idyllic stay at Titchwell Manor just for a little longer, there are plenty of trains, it will an age before I can see the sea and taste the salty air again. And really I'm not quite ready to get back to the world of dusty tubes, burgeoning inboxes and the general hullabaloo of London living and working... well not for a few more hours at least. And one final excuse, if I need it, is that I'd already decided that I'd get the just before 4 o'clock train home when I made plans yesterday, this extra indulgence just makes that a reality.
In the meantime I have more of that delicious smoked salmon, cream cheese & chive risotto to tuck into. And it's still as yummy but compact and bijou and oh so good.
The main on the fixed price (set) menu today is slow cooked pork belly, apple purée, potato & cream cheese rosti. D was gutted when the last of the pork belly and crackling was snaffled up at the Yurt on Friday night and she had to switch to chicken instead. I don't know what she would have made of this one. For one thing it was devoid of crackling which, I realise that once again I'm in the minority here, is not a massive loss on my part. But I know D and LLcT would have been bereft. However before you rush to condemn Eric and the Titchwell Manor restaurant I can confirm that there was indeed crackling, and I'm sure plenty of it, with the roast loin of Berkshire pork on the Sunday lunch menu yesterday. With that assurance out of the way I can tell you why this piece of porcine perfection was so wonderful. It was a nice compact size, it had a juicy, meaty melt-in-the-mouth texture and a little bite from the mustard seed glaze. The accompaniments were a pleasing dollop of fresh apple purée and more excitingly minute cubes of a punchy apple jelly. The cream cheese in the rosti (I might say potato cakes as the potato was sliced not grated) just added a general unctuousness to the whole proceedings. There is also a meaty slick and a few artistic drizzles of gravy crowning an attractive and delicious dish. There was a lavender panacotta, meringue and crystallised nuts to chase it all down with but even I thought this was one decadence too far.
I can while away the time until the next hopper... there's no rush in the little hideaway I discovered yesterday. As Titchwell Manor looks over the fields, the marshes that make up the RSPB bird sanctuary and then the beaches beyond I'd been hankering after a little extra height to inspire a drawing. My kindly waitress told me of a seating area upstairs furnished with both the view and a handy telescope to examine it all further. I could indeed spot lots of birds but without MC's handy guide I couldn't tell you what they were. Stately and very white, no not gulls,  something more marsh-waderish. Perhaps you can see why I don't do a 'twitching' blog. This little enclave was the perfect spot to draw, write some blog texts and rather randomly play a guitar hero-esque app on the iPhone. And, dare I say it, totally rock those riffs and yes, those dials were up to eleven! My Sweet Home Alabama was sweeeeet!
But I digress. After my delicious (extra) lunch I was chatting to Mark Dobby the Restaurant Manager about how much I thought they deserved Michelin star but he was concerned it would stifle Eric Snaith's creativity. Would the Michelin pendants appreciate you being able to select from a set menu, go more creatively a la carte or mix and match with the slightly simpler bar menu. Well whatever those rubber tired guys think I think Eric (and sous Ben) and Mark and all his team deserve to be showered with a multitude of accolades.
I've had just a wonderful stay at Titchwell Manor, a relaxing, chilled place with the finest of fresh, local food and really charming staff to ensure your stay is divine. If you're in the area drop in for lunch or dinner or both - I know I did.

PS - Yummy photos added now, how gorgeous does that pork look!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The coast is my oyster

Before I get too settled in my elegant room I have some missions along the coast and avail myself of the Coasthopper - the handy local little bus service. In my preparations for this trip I considered most contingencies, rain (I packed a raincoat and umbrella) lots of layers and devices to entertain during the inevitable wet and inclement weather. But I didn't count on the days of huge blue skies with the occasional little white fluffy. In fact I'd not considered North Norfolk skies at all and I've been bowled over by their vastness and majesty. I can so see why they refer to the 'big blue sky' here, it really is mesmerising and I taken reams of photographs. The beaches, the fields and the skies have even encouraged ne to capture them artistically (does drawing on the iPhone count?) I love the flatness here, that's why the sky seems endless - there are no towering tall buildings, hills and other impediments to vie for your attention and hinder the view. Despite being such a city girl I did spend many years in the shadow of the Pennines and had the Peak District almost on my doorstep. I'm used to more rugged terrain and the looming hills that often held onto their snow long after ours had melted away into our memories. On an expedition in search of suitable rocks to grace our new rockery I was so surprised to find them still snow capped when I couldn't recall when I'd last seen snow in our garden Here in Norfolk you feel that you've gained a vantage point if you're sat in a people carrier or indeed the Coasthopper. And it's a great way to explore all the local villages. My only niggle is they finish too early to avail of their transportation after dining out.

The hopper conveniently stops at all the places we've also found ourselves at in the last week - the Orange Tree in Thornham, the Jolly Sailors at Brancaster Staithe, Burnham Market, the Cley Smokehouse, the Victoria Inn at Hockham and Wells-next-the-Sea. There's even a stop near The Big Blue Sky which is one of my destinations today. The airy shop is full of objects made in Norfolk and has books about the history of the villages along the coast which I would if I could, pictures of those endless blue skies again, driftwood hewn serving board (also enormously tempting), wooden puffins that D has an eye on, intricate jewellery and one particular piece of shell art I've been hankering for and it's a heart shaped sculpture that will just be perfect for my bathroom. It seems to capture my falling in love with this patch of English countryside and coast and how it caught me unawares when I had a big hole to fill. And I do so adore heart-shaped things.

After my purchase I wonder off back in search of the bus stop but curiously can't find one on the opposite side of the road to where I got off and whilst I'm dithering I see the hopper approaching me and wonder how to make it stop knowing it's half an hour until the next. Almost as if the driver has read my mind he brakes to a stop next to me and asks if he can be of service explaining that there isn't always bustops in these parts. I'm very impressed, that doesn't happen where I come from!

To the manor borne

On waking up from our final night in the cottage we break up the cleaning tasks by a final foray to the Yurt. When we had dinner last night we asked to reserve a table and 'our' table is duly waiting for us. Despite MC's obvious leaning towards his full English we all plump for their ever so excellent sausage sandwiches. We already know that with D and MC with their foresight of bringing their fridge can stock up on these Arthur Howell sausages in Wells. They have also decided to purchase two dozen bottles of Coxes Orange Pippin apple juice that I'm jealously chasing my sandwich down with. After years of normally finding apple juice just above acceptable it was a joy to find one that I loved so much. There is a small fear however that LLcT wouldn't appreciate the finest of this juice and consume it rapidly in a few thirst quenching guzzlings. I can't consider adding further to my already burgeoning luggage by indulging in some bottles to go for the train journey home, that could push me over the edge!

With the cottage all suitably ship-shape again we grab our luggage and part ways. D and MC are off for a couple of nights at the Neptune where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner on our last visit. Then they are booked in for a couple more nights at an Alastair Sawday recommended B&B in Wells-next-the-sea. Feeling that I've gate-crashed their holiday long enough I've booked two nights in 'Basil' at Titchwell Manor. I'm specific about the room as this a major part of Titchwell Manor's charms; they have the original rooms in the main building with panoramic views across the marshes. They also have thirteen new rooms built around their gardens and I was completely taken with the idea of living in Basil for the next two nights. They suggested coriander but not actually liking coriander I thought this could taint my stay so settled on the way more acceptable Basil. And it is very acceptable with a lovely room of wonderful textures and muted natural tones. There are rich stripy rugs on a flagstone floor, a mohair throw here a stack of corded cushions there and luxury - real fuchsias. There are comfy leather armchairs, stone based lamps, a driftwood mirror and even a flat screen TV. The bathroom is gorgeous also with stone tiles of chocolate and biscuit colours, fluffy robes and towels and all manner of yummy White Company toiletries. There's an intriguing crescent shaped window that if you are bothered by the light you can stop with a suitable crescent shaped cushion - how thoughtful! You even get a little trowel attached to your key; though I don't think I'm expected to earn my keep amongst the rosemary and lavender beds outside my window.
For those little home comforts they have provided a tray of bottled water, fair trade Earl Grey teabags, hot chocolate, espresso coffee, a chic Villeroy & Boch teapot and cups and even little home made biscuits in a jar. I think I'm going to enjoy it here!

The only tiny thing I'd like is for their wifi to be extended to their rooms, and that's only because I've been so Internet deprived this week. My work BlackBerry was sadly pretty well connected but Apple on it's O2 network had small brief flickers of connectivity but most of the time was bereft of outside contact. I was shocked really, it's not as if really we're in the wilds or totally cut off from civilisation but O2 can't drum up a decent phone mast or two. And yes I appreciate that many would dream of being cut off from phones and the www but I've realised how many times you use them to make life a little easier. Ringing to make a restaurant reservation, the handy locator if you get separated whilst exploring the higgledy piggledy shops, the obligatory 'happy birthday' text message and then when I have to think about going home, checking train timetables and tube connections at the other end. Maybe I don't normally holiday in places that are remote enough but the only time I can recall being mobile phone-less was whilst out to sea on the Northern cities of Europe cruise M and I did two years ago. All is well though because at least the Internet lack can be sated by retiring to the comfortable lounge or bar in the manor house and I will be able to sort out travel arrangements there but still no phone, it's eerily quiet!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fish and chip supper

After the exertions of the day – browsing art galleries, mooching around boutique-y shops and languishing in a comfy hotel salon is just so exhausting!  Well to be fair D and MC have been rambling for hours so two out three have been exerting themselves, and so we reconvene and plan tonight’s meal.  Last night turned out to be a bit of a disappointment and we’ve got plans for tomorrow night as it’s our first dinner at the Yurt. So tonight we go old school and go back to Hunstanton for good old fish and chips.  There’s nothing quite like the sea-salt in the air and the sound of persistent seagulls crying to enhance the flavour of fish and chips. We did consider walking down to the beach and getting the full fish and chips at the seaside experience but it a little nippy for such machinations so we stayed in the chippy and organised our ever so necessary chip shop accoutrements. D and MC just had to have mushy peas, which I cannot abide and spent many a childhood chippy-visit dodging as the thought of the original D’s mushy peas spilling and tainting my beloved meat and potato pie on the car journey home was terrifying. But whereas in those days some buttered white bread would be awaiting my return here a buttered bap is my vehicle of choice.  The lure of a chip buttie is really too much to resist and with the chips lavishly doused with malt vinegar and salt it’s a fine fish and chip supper. Oh I do like to be beside the sea!       

The hostly charms of the Hoste Arms

D and MC are keen to walk off some of the meals we’ve enjoyed this week and me being as usual unsuitably shod for any given occasion I opted to explore Burnham Market instead.  I want to have a look round the shops, now they’re open and also visit the art gallery to view the Jeremy Barlow exhibition.  I’d picked up his catalogue at the Jolly Sailor as was taken by his obvious love of the local landscape which I’d also been inspired by and also some lovely Parisian, Provencal and Venetian scenes.
The shops are those lovely little ‘tardis’ style boutiques which seem to have room after room crammed with intriguing objects to browse amongst for hours.  I was very restrained, I could have easily added even more wonderful little accoutrements for the table but bearing in mind both my limited luggage space and perhaps more importantly the getting full to bursting crockery cabinet at home I resisted.
When the sky bruised alarmingly and the much anticipated rain finally fell it seemed only fitting to seek refuge in the warmth and Moroccan styling of the Hoste Arms.  It was conveniently lunchtime, the menu looked very alluring and joy of joys I could also avail myself of their wifi.  I realised how deprived I had felt, my ambitious plans to blog as I go around North Norfolk was entirely thwarted when I realised I could rarely get a flicker out of my O2 network and there seemed a dearth of open wifi connections I could piggy back off.
The menu just looked so wonderful, how I wished we’d eaten here last night instead of the disappointing Lifeboat.  I don’t know whether the after effects of aiming to think French last night when ordering had lingered but I was immediately drawn to both Gruyere cheese & leek tart, truffled baby spinach and the Truffled chicken liver parfait, fig & grape compote, toasted brioche.  Both are available as a main course but how much more indulgent to have one of each as a starter portion.  That duly organised I settled down in my big comfy settee, with a stack of reading materials, a finally happy iPhone and a glass of local cider.  Rain, what rain?
I wasn’t disappointed with my choice, the parfait was gloriously smooth and tasty, the sticky figgy compote moreish and the sweet brioche just the perfect vehicle for all that creamy unctuousness.  The tart hidden under a carpet of verdant spinach was cheesy and yummy and exceedingly good also.  I was very happy!  I was luckily just at the end of their lunch and I could luxuriate in their Moroccan themed lounge watching the awfully attractive families that frequent this village pour in and order bulging stands of afternoon tea sandwiches and pots and pots of tea, whilst uploading a few blog posts and downloading a few new apps.  And I have to give props for the very impressive toilet facilities.  It was an enormous room fully armed with all the usual necessities but also hairdryers and lots of lovely delicious smelling lotions and potions.
It seemed wrong to leave so I rounded off my meal with a decadent warm dark chocolate fondant, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.  It came embellished with a shard of sugar work and was rich and melty and very fine. I’ve really enjoyed my respite (and connectivity) at the Hoste Arms and hope to avail myself on their fine hospitality on another day – maybe even take a room there!  Two forks for the food and a couple of tines for the wifi – clearly I need to be plugged in more than I ever realised!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lifeboat Inn - Out!

Being such a lover of French food it’s never difficult to think of an excuse to whip out the white fluted-edged plates and bee tumblers and rustle up some French bistro delight or indulge in the finer culinary artistry of a soupçon of haute cuisine.  And generally on August 19th I find an excuse to go French.  Perhaps others would plump for Bastille Day or hide a little china king in a cake for Epiphany but being singular I go come over all French on this day and get out the pearls to celebrate Coco Chanel’s birthday. And being here with the ever wonderful D and MC I thought they’d like to join me in this fête.  I have no idea what Coco thought about food, French or otherwise but she did utter some marvellous statements, my favourite being - “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”  And on top of all that wisdom I am a huge fan of her camellias, the quilted leather and that indefinable “je ne sais quois”.
In the quest for our own ‘classy and fabulous’ dinner we decided on the restaurant at The Lifeboat Inn in Thornham.  D and MC have eaten here on previous occasions and we have a choice of the unbookable bistro part or the restaurant and seeing some of the restaurants tables around these parts get snapped up quick so we go for more ornate restaurant menu. The Lifeboat Inn prides itself on the view out to sea but I can't see the sea from the window next to our table as there are fields full of those round hay bales stretching as far as the eye can see. Perhaps I need to be peering out of one of their bedrooms above to see beyond the golden fields.
Being in that French frame of mind I'd been pondering the chicken liver pâté and melba toast on the chalkboard from the bistro part of the pub, but it seemed cheating when we were sat in the restaurant with the ‘finer’ tale d’hôte menu so plumped for the chicken, ham and chorizo terrine with a spiced tomato chutney.  I did mention my concern about the tomato chutney and the said they would leave it off.  What they did instead which was much nicer was to drizzle my plate with a fruity Cumberland sauce instead.  Which complemented the terrine very well and dare I say would work way better than the chutney would have done.  Biased moi?
For my main course I was able to be a little more Gallic and ordered prime fillet of beef with a wholegrain mustard mash and a wild mushroom brandy and peppercorn sauce.  In reply to the waitress’ usual question when ordering a steak, I replied rare – seeing I love both steak tartar and carpaccio I clearly don’t have a problem with how little my beef is cooked.  But when it arrived after a curiously long wait I was disappointed to see that someone had either overruled my choice or just messed up their timings as it was well into the ‘medium’ spectrum possibly nudging ‘medium to well’. I know one of the best ways to fall foul of a kitchen is to diss their ability to judge steak doneness so I let it pass as I suspected such a mention would have also put me to back of the queue for tickets and we’d already been there a while. 
D and MC fared better with their Baked lemon sole with duchess potatoes and a lemon and caper butter and an Oven roasted rack of English lamb with Lyonnaise potatoes and a minted gravy.
 An observant reader might spot the theme on theme in the main courses and that was chives, not super finely snipped chives to ass a little mild onion bite to the dish but long stalks of chives.  I guess I’m in favour of an insistence on edible garnishes.  When chives are presented as thus I’m not entirely sure if I shouldn’t painstakingly slice the chives into more acceptable rings, place between by two thumbs and blow to see if I can make that squealing noise a blade of grass would or just push to the side of the plate.     
For dessert I wanted something clean and fresh and no tarte citron was to be had so a trio of fruity sorbets were procured to cleanse my palette.
I wasn’t overwhelmed by The Lifeboat Inn, we had an unbelievably long wait for drinks on sitting down, we spotted other diners going to the bar and coming back to their tables armed with their beverages are wondered if we should also.  The request for a jug of water was studiously ignored and as the sun set and the restaurant plunged into gloominess it was even harder to attract the eye of the slightly harassed looking waiting staff.  I think it would be too harsh to hint that the Lifeboat needed a life belt or was sinking more that they have some great competition around here who are trouncing them in the food and service stakes.  Perhaps they could be accused of resting of their laurels of past years, as they seemed popular but it lacked so much lustre.  It was certainly not bad but if my taste buds need rescuing I’d call many of the other tastier options along the coast.

Next-the-Sea or even In-the-Sea

MC feels the need to catch a few more waves before we go out to dinner but it seems a bit of a palaver heading back to Hunstanton beach so instead as we are staying next-the-sea we go and check out the sea closest to our cottage. The beach is accessed via the local golf course – fore! – and the links turn into dunes which turn into the beach. The soft dunes are very difficult to traverse; apparently it’s good for the calves though!
The beach is easier to walk on as the sand is more compact. We meander over to the sea’s edge and at least I can say I did dabble my toes in it and as I always suspected, it was chilly! But as we marvel at how fast the tide is coming in we turn around to see we are being cut off by the rapidly advancing tide flowing in behind us also. We grab our bags immediately and wade across the fairly fast flowing water. It was barely ankle deep but surprisingly speedy but finds its level quite quickly. A small boy and his father had in anticipation painstakingly built a sand island to stand on top of and try a spot of King Canut impersonating. I’m not sure if they were entirely successful.
We enjoyed the impromptu paddle but I wonder how many unsuspecting visitors who venture here to admire the sunset are suddenly surprised to find their possessions being whisked off further down the beach whilst they’re taking the plunge.

In search of crab

With our minds firmly on thoughts of crab sandwiches our only consideration is where to partake in such crustacean consumption. We immediately leave Hunstanton as we know they do good fish but Sunny Hunny doesn't conjure up images of spanking fresh crab.
Instead we headed further along the coast and perhaps a little excessively all the way to Brancaster Staithe Harbour. Well we know there’s a hut dispensing the crabs that only a few hours ago have been sidestepping their way all the shoreline. Letzers Crab Hut supplies us with fat baguettes crammed full of crabby goodness which we consume sat dangling our legs over the wall watching the boats in the mud. The tide seems so very far away, we can hardly see it on the horizon. I am learning that this is another unique feature of this coastline, for much of the day the sea is very far away and the incredible flatness means that huge tracts of land disappear when the tide rushing in unimpeded. We vow to check out high tide later before dinner.

Sunny Hunny

As this is supposed to be the sunniest day of the week we've designated it 'beach day'. D had the foresight to pack beach towels (whereas I would never have believed they’d be necessary!), we grab sunglasses, hats and reading material and head forth for Hunstanton. This is the first time I've been to 'sunny Hunny' and it hasn't rained but that thought doesn't seem to jinx the day and a veritable stream of sun worshippers snake down the short sandy descent to the beach beneath the dunes and cliffs. It is certainly a popular spot, everywhere we look families are eagerly erecting all manner of constructions designed to enhance their beach experience. As I said previously we didn't really do English seaside 'en famille' whilst I was growing up but I do remember white sands on a Greek island, golden sands and possible shark spotting in Perth, Australia and brief bursts of baking on Pensacola sands but what I don't recall is this vast batterie of accoutrements accompanying us on these forays. I'm sure there was a bucket and spade occasionally and I know for sure we had a polystyrene board for 'pretend' surfing in Perth but definitely not all this paraphernalia. I will concede that the most popular item is pretty useful, a windbreak. From every unclaimed patch on the beach you can hear the tap, tap, tap of generally frustrated fathers trying to hammer the windbreaker supports in the stony sand with mallets, hammer and more desperately shoes. Though I am beginning to understand the necessity it would be better if there were quieter, once they’ve been erected you would think they’ll just their job protecting you from the wind whipping down the beach but whereas a canvas breaker would probably just do that sadly the majority are gaudily striped plastic that flap, flap, flap in the persistent breezes which makes it sound like they’re huddled beneath a giant crisp packet. And then next to these windbreaks little tents were mushrooming up everywhere, more tapping and banging in of tent pegs. I certainly don’t remember tents when I was last on a beach but I was assured that this was another device to both shelter and aid sun enjoyment.
Maybe to be fair as our rare seaside excursions were very far from home so such excessive accessorising wasn't entirely possible even if we'd been so inclined. I guess that pesky little wind on this beach does require a little curtailing and I guess the only good thing about this excessive territory bordering is that we are protected marginally from the wind's unbroken path even, I suppose, with all the noise it was worth it.
MC was valiant enough, or crazy enough, to brave the sea. Being much wiser about sea temperature in England even in August I opted to corral the abundant pebbles into more pleasing shapes instead. As rare as this uninterrupted sun-worshipping is we are now feeling the urge to abandon our plot and go foraging.
There's an awful moment whilst we hear a mother has lost her little 5-year old girl on this now very crowded beach. It's a heart-stopping time, the anguish on the mother's face as she yells herself hoarse crying desperately for her daughter drives all thought of food from our minds as we wonder what we can possibly do to help. The best we can do is hold our collective breath and join the many others is scanning the beach, dunes and beyond for the purple swim suited escapee. After what seems like and eternity a cry of joy is issued across the sands and an ecstatic and tearful mother appears clutching her daughter close to her possibly for ever more. We are all hugely relieved the drama is over and we can vanquish the dreadful fear of those stark front page headlines tomorrow and go back to thinking of crab sandwiches. At least all we have to do is shake off the sand from our towels and grab our bags, another reason I am glad we didn’t come fully loaded!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I spy Cley

Studying one of the handy guidebooks we picked up in Sheringham we decide that a trip to Cley-next-the-Sea might be in order to procure some provisions for a table picnic back in the cottage tonight.
Cley is unusual on two counts, one - it is pronounced ‘cly’ not ‘clay’ as non-local visitors often mispronounce it and two – it is no longer ‘next-the-sea’ as land reclamation has rearranged the landscape somewhat to cut it off from the coast. And there's a third thing, instead of a typical self-catering cottage you can stay in a seven roomed windmill here.
On our journey we spot a wonderful nod to the local vernacular with a couple of unique road signs around Wiverton (home of the ‘bonkers’ café) to encourage motorists to calm down their speed on the winding lanes and probably raise a smile or two in the process also!
There’s some lovely local pottery and jewellery on show but the main point of our excursion is smoked goodies and pie and other stuff.
Cley Smokehouse is packed with freshly smoked delights and soon our shopping bag is bulging with smoked Barbary duck, kiln roasted hot smoked salmon, potted shrimps, venison pâté and a new taste for us – smoked mussels. D isn’t as fond of smoked comestibles as MC and I but agrees that the mussels are very fine. The smoked haddock looks alluring also but we can’t really incorporate it tonight’s meal and it doesn’t keep particularly. But if we were planning a fish pie it would certainly find its way in there.
Next it’s across the road to Picnic Fayre, a fabulous cornucopia of a multitude of the usual deli delights plus their own unique delights. MC samples their spice paste and peruses the shelves whilst D and I complete our haul. First in the bag is a wonderful plump lavender loaf which we are assured will go with all our savoury bits, roasted broad beans, artichokes in oil, the last two of their special venison pies, herby crisps, Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue for the resident mouse and a rather scrummy soft Cheddar which sadly I cannot recall the name of.
There are some enticing deserts, syrupy treacle tarts, gooey chocolate cakes and voluptuous apple pies but we decide that should there be any room left after all this we have the standbys of chocolate truffles and rather a lot of ginger bears.
We return with our wares and lay it on glass plates on the extravagantly decorated table, I didn’t think until afterwards that it would have looked nicer on the bare wood but at least if there had been any mess, it would have been easier to deal with. You can tell we don’t live here because there is not a cheese board nor cheese knife to be found amongst the copious cupboards and drawers. Our collective kitchens back home are awash with a multitude of cheesy accoutrements but this won’t hamper the cheese consumption it is just duly noted.
As we dine in style we ponder the highlights of our ‘foraged in’ Cley banquet. MC and I agree that the smoked duck, sliced ever so finely atop the wonderful lavender bread and the venison pies win – the guide book listed these pies as one of the top ten things to do whilst in North Norfolk and they are seriously good – worth the trip alone! The venison is gloriously moist and meaty with a light pastry and adorned with a pastry ‘V’. The venison pâté from the smokery and the soft, tangy Cheddar from the deli are both very tasty also. The smoked mussels are considered a success but in small quantities. MC, our resident mouse, has no issue lavishing the local Binham Blue on his bread and we all declare it a fine spread washed down with Drove Orchards Cox’s Orange Pippin apple juice. There’s even a little left for lunch tomorrow should we want, though I suspect that fresh-from-the-sea crab sandwiches will somehow win the day.

Eggs, wood, pigeons and flint

Today we are off to Holt again. On our last trip to Norfolk Holt became the shopping mecca of our trip and MC is concerned D and I will run amok and binge ourselves in their lovely shops like we (apparently) did last time. But he needn’t fear we are perfectly capable of restraint! As it turned out we ended up with one a mere couple of household fripperies between us. D had a bowl made from a wood called purple heart with a silver ball set into the rim from Lapwing Woodturning whilst MC discussed all things shiny wood and woodturning tools. He’s thinking of ‘turning’ his hand to some curvy wood projects and was looking for advice on lathes etcetera. It is amazing what things of beauty are realised from all this little bits of wood and refreshingly we are encouraged to touch to entice us to make purchases. We taste some delicious wines again from Adham’s and I resist (just) the urge to add another picnic hamper to my collection. D acquires a vibrant pink spoon which as lovely as it is I am very allergic to. That last few years it has been astonishing how many items of kitchen paraphernalia has been ‘enhanced’ by the addition of silicon and to a lesser extent latex. I am sure it has wonderful non-slip and non-scratch properties but as it irritates me so much I try and limit contact. I love my silicon whisk but only because the handle is metal, and my oven gloves only have the rubbery stuff on the outside so my hands are safe but rubber washing up gloves, a pan with silicon hiding underneath the handle or an all silicon spoon would be way beyond my tolerance.
We ponder the Thornback & peel pigeon wallpaper in Ginger Rose and are intrigued by the suggestion for its deployment in a boy bedroom, at that moment coincidentally LLcT calls D so we can scare him with such musings. It may actually go with his new charcoal and silver curtains but he needn’t fear. I was hoping they’d have the pigeon and raspberry jelly bag that I still hanker for but they only had the rabbit and lettuce.
But staying on the raspberry theme the only purchase I actually make is an Orrefor Swedish crystal tea-light holder in the shape of a raspberry. And wonderfully tactile and weighted it is. I’m tempted to consider another use so it can retain its tactilability which lighting a tea-light would inevitably dissuade.
We stop for refreshments at Byfords which claims to be a café, deli and posh B&B. Well we don’t need a bed but sustenance is definitely in order and MC and D share an impressive meat platter whereas I am drawn to the Eggs Benedict which are two words on a menu always to fill me with joy. And these are an excellent component of the dark art of Eggs Benedict making with an unctuous herby hollandaise and the yolks just that perfect level of golden ooziness. The cakes enticingly arranged in their windows look good also if we were in the mood for something sweet. They soon get moved however, the wasp-tastic explosion North Norfolk is suffering from is making such an enticements way too risky.
As we wander around Holt I am drawn yet again to the unusual construction of many of the cottages – the white Norfolk flint and bricks.
The rounded flint pebbles appear to be set in a strong mortar and then bordered by bricks. Normally the bricks are red matching the tiled roofs but occasionally they are painted white. It gives the walls a very neat appearance and clearly some of the newer builds are continuing the tradition.
Even the cottage where we are staying in Holme-next-the-Sea has a similar style but after further research it appears that this is slightly different as it’s a form of hard chalk called clunch, hence the less pronounced texture on many of this village’s walls compared to those in Holt above.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wish you were here?

Feeling all nautical after our pizzas we swing by Wells-next-the-Sea so we could have a little stroll along the sand. It looks like a busy day of sun worshipping has occurred here but the beachcombers have all but left in search of restorative fish and chips and probably a couple of glasses of the very good local dry cider. All that remains are a few dog walkers and hardier souls.
Somehow it looks all very far away; maybe the quintessential beach huts in their pastel coats belie the fact that we are on more exotic shores.
But there’s no denying this is a picture postcard place especially when the sun graces us with such bounty.
The tinges of red sky again as the sun set bodes well for tomorrow, I am having to put my scepticism on hold; apparently we do know how to do summer here.
As a matter of random local knowledge - the ever erudite Stephen Fry stars in a TV drama called Kingdom set in the fictional Norfolk town of Market Shipborough. Market Shipborough is actually a melange of several locations around this parts, the harbour piece being supplied by Wells-next-the Sea.

Hot stuff!

The day starts with another little meander Yurt-wards. MC has declared that he couldn’t possibly have a full English breakfast ‘every’ day but after D and I order the haddock with tomatoes and the entirely tomato-free sausage sandwich respectively he relents. He figures that we might have other plans for tomorrow so he better get another full English in!
I wash my sausage sandwich down with the tastiest apple juice I’ve ever had – no acidity, metallic taste or gassiness of some others just – you won’t believe this – lots of apples! And Cox’s Orange Pippin to be exact; a damn fine juice and incredibly moreish!
Due to two (what turns out to be entirely mistaken) beliefs that a) there is a dearth of Lloyd’s banks around this here parts and a sudden urgent need for one and b) the weather will be a bit iffy we sally forth for Norwich. We locate the bank, no thanks to my google maps which bizarrely believes I’m currently strolling around Bury St Edmunds and persists in trying to direct me there and as it’s about 40 miles away and it thinks I’ll make the journey on foot it recommend a handy 13 hour itinerary. Maybe the satellites were busy that morning!
Whilst in Norwich it seems appropriate to seek out one of their famous exports (Delia Smith being the other) and go in search of the mustard shop. Colman’s have been producing their hot golden elixir since 1814 and the factory is just outside Norwich. The mustard shop is, as one would expect, dedicated to all things mustard, there are powders and ready made mustard, some with even more added kick, mustard pots and spoons and a whole host of mustard-abilia in cabinets. It didn’t seem to be like the mustard shop in Dijon where you could take along your favourite mustard receptacle and pump (in the style of a beer tap) your mustard of choice directly into it, but it certainly the condiment available in every form possible. Coincidentally I surprised ‘new’ S with a little hamper full of mustards and a little chilli for his birthday which he would have spotted on his chair today on his return from New York (jealous, moi?) and couldn’t resist the urge to add another one squeezy bottle of Colman’s English to the collection. Well he always said he liked mustard!
After a little explore around Norwich’s lanes we stop for a cup of tea and a bit of refreshment, I go for the rather random garlic mushroom and Parmesan quiche, MC a pork pie, D a ham sandwich not realising that these were served up which a large and some would say extremely eclectic salad. A single sliver of radish okay, a single shaving of kiwi fruit – a little odder! The quiche was tasty though, quite unusual by not having the mushrooms distributed throughout the custardy mixture but just buried in the middle like some dark fungal treasure. MC was defeated by his pork pie, though at least he had plenty of mustard to accompany it with.
On the journey back the sky is still gloriously blue and I find I am curiously drawn to the fields and especially the round hay bales. Bearing in mind I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever considered a hay bale of any shape previously I believe I haven’t come across one of these before. They are rather striking and I do spend quite a lot of the journey trying to capture a field of a few in all their majesty. Not really being in a position where I can easily get right in there with the bales I am struggling to find a suitable vantage point in all this flatness but it’s fun, and dare I say, slightly perilous trying. Those cars can whiz along the pavement-less winding lanes. I guess being such a city girl the countryside is holding a certain new allure. The more mundane cuboid bales seem very pedestrian now I only want round ones!
I was also rather taken with a windmill which is also rather glorious!
At we get back to our little stretch of the North Norfolk coast we’ve read about the pizzas at the Jolly Sailors in Bradcaster and think it will be worth a try. They have one of those wood burning ovens and everything smells very promising. Unusually I find something on a pizza menu that I can order unadulterated and so without really thinking I ask for a Letzer’s Fish Calzone – garlic base, smoked salmon, smoked haddock, prawns, peas and mozzarella. It turns out to be a bit like a fish pie encapsulated in a pasty and as promising as it started off it just became all a little stodgy. The pizza base seems pleasingly thin but the whole calzone thing was mistake, just too much dough I think. If I could have started from the beginning and just forget the whole pizza pasty malarkey I think I would had continued with the garlic base, then perhaps a simple ham and cheese. D and MC loved their pizzas mine was sadly a bit cloying and defeated me quite early on. But I will conclude that it was my poor ordering and not the fault of the calzone per se – I just now realise that I don’t like calzones. Well at least I know for next time!