Rick Stein’s Fish and Chips

On a recent family holiday to Cornwall, we decided to try out Rick Stein’s Fish & Chips in Falmouth. It’s pretty hard to get good fish and chips in London, so I was looking forward to it and it didn’t disappoint.

They don’t take bookings and luckily we didn’t have to wait. They fry all of their fish and chips in beef fat but luckily for me and Mum, they also have a vegetable oil fryer so they can fry in vegetable oil on request.

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Lots of oysters to start, and a pint of Chalky’s Bite – which is unfortunately a bit harder to get now as it’s made by Sharps, and with the popularity of Doom Bar they don’t have time to make Chalky’s Bite any more apparently. The second time we went they’d run out, which was disappointing as it was a really good beer.

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YUM.

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Kukkolaforsen

I finally have internet back, so I can tell you about my favourite day in Sweden. This is going to be an image-heavy post, but it was so beautiful I have to share it all.

After a long bus ride from Kiruna we arrived at Kattilakoski, on the Torne river. We had appetisers overlooking the river – salmon tartare with cucumber, and water from the river.

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The restaurant at Kattilakoski was beautiful too.

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As was the food:

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Mushrooms for me. Everyone else had reindeer. There had been rather a lot of reindeer by this point.

After a brief visit to a food factory, we then proceeded to Kukkolaforsen.

Kukkolaforsen (click the name for a Google map), is a place on the rapids of the Torne River. On the other side of the river you can see Finland; at least, when the morning mist rises you can.

At Kukkolaforsen they catch whitefish, still using the traditional methods. Every year a jetty is built out over the rapids, without using any nails or screws. The jetties have to be taken down and reassembled every year or they would wash away in the floods. The fish are caught off the end of the jetty in long-handled nets. The fishermen scoop them up from where they rest behind the rocks, on their slow progress up the rapids.

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The jetty in the misty morning…

The sun began to set as some of our group had a go at fishing. No one caught anything, but luckily there were still some fish from earlier in the day.

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Photo opportunity fish (here’s one I prepared earlier). Photo: Magnus Skoglöf/VisitSweden

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Me, a jetty, the river, and that’s Finland on the other side. (That hat I’m wearing? Pattern available now)

We were then ushered into a small wooden hut where they cook the whitefish. This was one of the oldest buildings in the settlement. The whitefish are speared onto pieces of wood and cooked above an open fire. They are then dunked in salt water and eaten with your fingers off the stick.

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One fish each – and this was just a snack. I picked the bones clean, it tasted so good. Never mind that dinner was still to come.

Later on we went to the VIP sauna. The main room contained a veritable feast – apparently a traditional Swedish sauna meal. This consisted of many different fish dishes – herring, whitefish, salmon, roe – prepared in various different ways – raw, cured, salad, pickled, etc. All absolutely delicious. And the sauna was lovely – there was a choice of a normal wood fired sauna or a Finnish smoke sauna, as well as a hot tub under the stars. And I did something I never thought I would do – I went from the sauna, then ran down into the icy cold river and back again. It was such an invigorating experience I did it twice!

I really hope I’ll do it again some day. Thank you to VisitSweden for such a lovely trip.

Reindeer

I was invited to go on a six-day culinary tour of Northern Sweden by Visit Sweden. Reading over the itinerary, a few words jumped out at me, words like “reindeer”, “bear”, “elk”, and “grouse”. I began to panic a little. Why had they invited me? I eat fish these days, but I hadn’t eaten meat from mammals or birds since I first went vegetarian about sixteen years ago.

Then I read a little further, and spotted words like “sustainable” and “organic”. That sounds a little more me, I thought. I’ve also recently been re-examining my views on vegetarianism. The whole issue is so much more complex than it appeared to my thirteen-year-old self. There are parts of the world where it is impossible to be vegetarian – vegetables just don’t necessarily exist. I recently read about the paradoxical Inuit diet – which consists mainly of seal meat, is high in fat and protein, and contains no vegetables, yet the Inuit are among the healthiest people in the world. Am I ethically opposed to the way they eat? No, I don’t think I am.

The diet of the Sami people in Lapland is not so different. The Sami have always lived in the far north of Scandinavia, where not much plant life grows and the main food is reindeer. The Sami were a nomadic people, following the reindeer migration. Nowadays they mainly live in villages and towns, but travel to their reindeer herds at least a couple of times a year first to mark the reindeer with the distinctive ear snips that mark ownership of every reindeer in Scandinavia, and second to slaughter the reindeer. The reindeer can depend on the Sami as much as the Sami depend on the reindeer – sometimes there is not enough food and the people must feed them with expensive pellets.

To me, it seemed that the reindeer and the people had evolved to live in perfect harmony with each other.

I learned all this at Nutti Sami Siida, near Kiruna, above the Arctic Circle in Northern Sweden. First we met the reindeer:

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Look him in the eye before you eat him.

Then we were ushered into a tent where smoked reindeer souvas were being cooked over an open fire.

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The tables were beautifully set with lingonberry jam, lingonberry juice and flatbread.

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The idea was to eat the smoked reindeer with some bread and a dollop of lingonberry jam. The moment of truth arrived. I still didn’t know whether I would try the reindeer or not. But already having established that I had no ethical objection to it, I felt it was something I should do, out of respect to our hosts to whom the reindeer mean everything. I only had a little bit, and it was fairly slathered with lingonberry jam, but it did taste good.

Afterwards we had Sami coffee, brewed on the fire:

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And cloudberries with cream, in traditional Sami cups:

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Liverpool

A couple of weeks ago I visited my friend Dan and his girlfriend Jovi in Liverpool. Only now I think I should say “my friends Dan and Jovi” – although I’ve known Dan for donkeys years and Jovi only a year (since they visited me in London this time last year) I feel like I got to know Jovi a lot better this time and poor Dan was possibly feeling a little ganged-up-on by the end of the weekend.

There was another reason for my trip to Liverpool too – I wanted to go to Make, Do and Knit to see the giant knitted poem that I worked so hard on last year. Make, Do and Knit was a new knitting show with a vintage vibe. It was very busy when I arrived – hopefully the show was a success and will run in future years.

I wanted to see the poem because the last time I saw it, I spent some time fixing up a wonky corner to make the poem (hopefully) perfectly square. However the room we were working in wasn’t big enough to lay it out flat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t laid out flat in Liverpool either – it was draped over the pews of the chapel at the venue.

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It was still nice to see it.

That evening Jovi cooked an amazing vegetarian lasagne, and then whipped a pavlova out of the fridge. Amazingly, since she’s never eaten a pavlova made by anyone else before, this was pavlova perfection:

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The next day we did the obligatory ferry trip on the Mersey:

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saw a WWII German U-Boat:

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and wandered around. Liverpool is quite small so it’s very walkable. There’s a lot of public art, much of it left over from Liverpool’s year as the Capital of Culture in 2008. Just around from Dan and Jovi’s flat is the rotating wall, possibly the coolest piece of public art I have ever seen. Liverpool is also full of strange creatures called lambananas. Yes, they are a cross between a lamb and a banana. That link takes you to the explanation of the original lambanana, but now they have multiplied and Liverpool is full of hundreds of multicoloured lambananas. It’s absurd and slightly freaky and very, very cool.

This was my favourite though:

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All the suitcases have (or had – bad vandals!) name tags representing famous Liverpudlians.

It was a great place to visit. Dan and Jovi may not be in Liverpool for much longer, so I’m looking forward to going to see them wherever they end up next!

Mirissa Beach

Finally it was time to hit the beach. We actually went to two beaches, first Mirissa Beach and then Unawatuna, but by the time we got to Unawatuna I was in full-on holiday mode and didn’t take any photos! Also, swimming and cameras don’t really mix.

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Sitting at breakfast, we saw this guy quickly scramble up a coconut palm, hack some coconuts down and climb down again. It happened very quickly but luckily I had my camera on me.
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The waves on this part of the beach were a bit dangerous. Some of our group went in for a swim though. The guys were all on a crazy adrenaline buzz afterwards.

I preferred to stick to the more gentle waters on the other side of the beach. Gentle, but there were submerged rocks – doh! So now I have a scar on my foot to remind me of my wonderful holiday!
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Unawatuna was incredible, but you’ll just have to imagine it. There was hardly any beach to speak of – the sand was very narrow – but our hotel was right next to the water. I tried to sit on the beach and read but occasionally a big wave would swamp the entire beach! The water was amazing though. I lay on my back and bobbed on the waves until the current floated me down the beach, then I swam back to the hotel and floated again.

I considered taking a cooking class that was on offer down the road. Marissa has taught me a lot about Sri Lankan cooking but I’m sure I could have learned a lot more in the class. Then I thought:
– do I really want to spend hours in a hot sticky kitchen in this kind of climate?
– how often do I find myself on a tropical beach?
… I stuck to the beach and bought a cookbook at the airport.

Polonnaruwa to Sri Pada

I think when my story last left off, we had just encountered an elephant in the middle of the road. By the time we got to Polonnaruwa it was time for dinner. Our hotel was right by the lake, which was actually a man-made reservoir built in ancient times. Behind our hotel lay an ancient ruined city, with a massive palace, and many temples and administrative buildings. It really looked like something out of Indiana Jones.

The place was full of monkeys. These two were babies:

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In the ruins, a queue was forming at the monkey spa:

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This was earlier in the day, when I still thought the monkeys were cute. Near the end of the day one tried to mug me. I changed my mind a little bit after that!

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This was one of the temples. There were over 6km of ruins, and we had to hire bicycles just to see them all. Now, I hadn’t written a bike in well over half my life (if you live on a dirt road, you can’t cycle – the cars kick up far too much dust), so I was a bit wobbly at first but soon we were tossing our heads from side to side and singing “Do, a deer”. There was even talk of turning curtains into play clothes.

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By the end of 6km of temples, I really was suffering from temple fatigue, and a rather sore bum (recent weight loss + potholes + no suspension = ouch). “Just like riding a bike” really is one of the most misleading idioms.

The evening was spent rather pleasantly, drinking arrack and eating cake by the lake in celebration of James’ 27th birthday.

In the morning, it was back on the bus again, for the longest ride of the trip. First we headed back towards Kandy, where we rendezvous-ed with the luggage van outside the Botanical Gardens. On the way we stopped at a lookout point and I snapped this lovely photo of the happy couple looking happy:

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We eventually arrived in Dalhousie Town, where we had what was possibly the second best meal of the entire trip. The guest house we stayed at put on a lovely spread, starting off with a delicious pumpkin soup that is quite hard to describe. It was quite thin, but full of flavour and contained some coconut, I think. The onion soup in Sri Lanka is also delicious. It was important to fortify ourselves for the challenge ahead:

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Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak. The mountain is sacred to Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, and Buddhists in particular undertake pilgrimages to the temple at the top. Even though we were in the mountains, it was still quite warm, so the idea is that you climb the mountain at night, getting to the top in time for the sunrise. The sunrise actually causes a mysterious effect, casting a shadow of the mountain that is perfectly triangular, even though the mountain is irregularly shaped. Spooky! There’s a bell at the top that you need to ring for every time you have climbed the mountain, but you can only ring it from the second time you climb onwards. So a few mental individuals in our group decided to climb it twice. Most of us, however, went to bed and tried to get as much rest as we could!

We spent the next day in Dalhousie Town, relaxing, exploring and making friends with the local children. Some people went white water rafting, on the river where they filmed The Bridge Over The River Kwai. We had hoped to go to Nuwara Eliya, a colonial tea town, but unfortunately the road was out. It was nice to have a quiet day anyway.

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Then at night (after an unsuccessful attempt to get some sleep) it was time to climb. The mountain is lit all the way up, and lined with tea shops for rest breaks. The only way up is by foot, so food and drink gets more expensive the higher you climb. Halfway up, the lights went out. Florenci and I were in the middle of an interesting discussion about minority languages (Catalan, Maori, and Welsh) but when the lights didn’t come on straight away, we joined the others in a nearby tea house:

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It was an hour before we were on our way again. Eventually, we made it to the top, just in time for the sunrise:

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I won’t deny it was a difficult climb for me. It was steps all the way up, and I was still recovering from bronchitis. The lack of sleep was the real kicker. We got a bit caught up in some kind of ceremony at the top including the parading of some kind of relic followed by lots of chanting. I can’t say I had a particularly religious experience though. I have always admired Buddhist values. 90% of the population of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and I think this was reflected in the friendly and gentle way we were generally treated by the locals, but I don’t really get the point of climbing a lot of steps and chanting – what does it prove exactly? Still, there’s no denying the view from the top was breathtaking.

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I don’t think I’ll ever be ringing that bell though.

These vagabond shoes

Oh no! Sean has caught up with and overtaken my Sri Lanka blogging. See his post about Dambulla, Sigiriya and Pollunaruwa for an excellent recounting of events.

I’d almost forgotten about my shoe, which was really one of my favourite things that happened on the trip. When I show you my favourite shoes, I think you will be a little surprised…

You see, I have Difficult Feet. They are flat, and I have hypermobile joints, which both contribute to very sore Achilles tendons, and sometimes knee or hip pain too. When I’m travelling I might be on my feet walking around for over 12 hours, so I need Sensible Shoes to do it in. Enter the Clarks School Sandals:

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The very first shoes I remember wearing were a pair just like this, but blue (and a lot smaller). I loved them. So when Clarks did a reissue of the original 70s design, I had to have them.

These shoes have done a lot of travelling. Tokyo, San Francisco, New Zealand, all around Italy, the South of France (I didn’t dare wear them in Paris), Spain, Switzerland (twice), Prague, Bruges, Wales (twice), the Lake District, Hadrian’s Wall (twice), and various other British locations. They’ve dealt with music festivals, mountains, rivers, seawater, and mud (lots). And finally they were falling apart.

I didn’t think they would come back from Sri Lanka with me, but I hate throwing anything away if it can be fixed. I managed to find a cobbler in Pollonaruwa. He put a few stitches through the bit that was coming apart, and charged me 20 rupees (a pittance – perhaps he thought I was really poor, taking such a battered pair of shoes to be fixed!). I’m still kicking myself for not giving him a massive tip, because being able to wear my shoes again was worth so much more to me than 20 rupees.

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Now they’re coming apart again, and I think they’re beyond fixing this time. It’s probably just as well I’m staying put for a while!