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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Low Barns Wildlife Reserve... What a Lovely find!

We've been to Low Barns a couple of times in the last few weeks. It belongs to the Durham Wildlife Trust and it is a great renovation of an old industrial site. There is a lake surrounded by a path and green growth is thriving beyond belief.
We took the camper the second time and parked it under the trees. It looks quite cute peeking out there. The picnic site has a "hide" where you can watch the cheekier birds. All the tits and lots of finches and a robin and a wren call by. The blue tits have a blue head and are small and fly away before you can point your camera. The coal tits have a striped black and white head and are too fast to photograph well, but I tried.
And the great tits are bigger and more common...usually.

Because of the mild and moist weather everything is growing well.
This is an enormous patch of "weeds". But what is a weed? I've always considered it an unwanted plant. These aren't really unwanted even though they are nettles and such. They are all an important part of this environment
Behind them are the trees that create the ecosystems that suit all the birds.

Behind all these trees is a billabong or oxbow lake. This is a part of the river's path, left stranded when the river changed course in a flood. The river in question is the Wear, shown below, which skirts the northern edge of the reserve.
The blossoms have been fabulous...
...and there will be lots of conkers later this year if these horse chestnut candles are anything to go by...
...and the may and hawthorn blossoms are everywhere.
Wherever you provide an environment which is food rich you get these two...
The reserve makes some revenue from parking, from a cafe, from the sale of charcoal which they make on site and from memberships.
If you live in the north-east this place is very well worth a visit. It is a mile and a half, on a dry, gravel path, around the lake. There are a few hides to stop in on the way and people are friendly and very informative. I'm too impatient to be a twitcher myself but they were patient enough to tell me that the tall birds in the trees that looked like cormorants with a white chest were in fact juvenile cormorants and their chests would turn black next year...
We shall return
Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Mallorca All Inclusive Food and Rest After We Got There

We made the mistake of flying to Mallorca on a Thursday. That's when all the Hens and Bucks go for their four day weekends. Our fellow passengers had been drinking since they got to the airport at 7am. They continued until we got to Palma later that day!!!
We set off across the island to the Calas/Coves on the eastern side of the island.
This is the view from our balcony overlooking the Calas de Mallorca.
And this is the view looking up from the beach.
Most of the days were sunny and we sunbathed on the grassed terraces or at the poolside. Sunday was Market day at Felanitx and we caught the bus over to see the market...
...which winds through the streets to the marketplace at the top of the hill. On our way we visited the grand church of San Miguel....
...easily identified by the statue of the archangel over the door...
...The church was full of splendid statues and frescoes. Further along we found the "Lace-makers and Embroiderers" of Mallorca. They had set themselves up at long tables under gazebos and were stitching and pinning away. Each table had the name of the town they were from. It seemed to be an annual trip.
It started to rain and we headed off to catch the bus back. The rest of the day was very wet but we settled down on our balcony to read "I Am Pilgrim" by Terry Hayes and "A Delicate Truth" by John Le Carre. 
Another day out was to The Caves of Drach. Well worth it. Chamber Music played live from a boat rowed across the smooth underground lake was such a novelty.
The caves were full of stalactites and stalagmites, pillars, curtains and deep pools.
The weather became sunny again but the wind kept the waves up and prevented us from taking a catamaran ride to PortoChristo.This pic shows the small landing jutting out from the cliff which the landing gangplank must rest on.
They didn't stand a chance!!!
And gave up and went away. We took the bus up the coast to PortoChristo. A lovely town and harbour. We had grilled sardines for lunch and picked out a grand, old but friendly hotel for the next visit. 
We spent some time watching the surfers take advantage of the waves which were rolling in from the east, and of course we ate. Lots of salads, fish and desserts. DJ is well tanned but I am less so. Plenty more time yet.

Cheers Gillian

Baking More Bread and other Meals

I continue to use the breadmaker on a regular basis. I now also use it to make dough and free-form it into loaves. One to use and one to freeze. These are half and half ( white and brown flour) with some extra wheat germ and some seeds.
They are our staple at the moment.
 That same day DJ fancied some date and walnut cake. He followed the recipe exactly and the cake was great but half of  to stuck to the tin. Some of the remains were dug out and balanced on top and then glued down with some coffee icing. It was even better.
The last bits were thrown in a basin, splashed with Baileys and covered with caramel sauce from a holiday in Brittany! Specially delicious.
 The next day we fancied a Cataplana. This is a fish stew from Portugal and we emptied the freezer of fish portions and went on to make fish pie too. There is still one in the freezer.
Since these endeavours we have been away to Mallorca and I have just sorted those pics so that it will be posted next.
Our lives are closely connected to our food. The planning, the shopping, the prepping, the cooking and then the eating. Tonight it is a large pot of curry which will be divided into a couple of meals and some left over cooked potatoes will be saved to fry with tomorrow's steaks.
If there was more freezer space we would probably be able to bunker down for WWIII. Maybe not much to come out for  later though!
Cheers for now Gillian

Thursday, 8 May 2014


Billy was glad to see us when we went to pick him up at the cattery. He came home and examined every corner of the place doing shouting noises and loud cat barks (stuff he must have learnt from the other cats at the cattery) and eventually settled down, ate a lot of food and followed us to bed.

Billy is darkening with age and looking more "blue" (dark grey really). He is still only 9 months old.
He has been more settled today but later on we realised that although we had brought back the duck called "chicken" and "easter bunny" the  finger puppet, the hair elastics had got lost and so he had to be given a new one. He usually only gets the old ones he steals from the dressing table in the bedroom.
All these possessions are kept, by him, close to his food bowl.
As you can see "easter bunny" is the present favourite and it and the new hair elastic have been put safely in the biscuit bowl.
Duck/chicken is kept close but is not so in favour at the moment.
Sadly Billy must return to the cattery later on whilst we while away more time elsewhere.
But the toys will go with him.
Cheers Gillian

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Eating Italian in Smithfield, London and Pub Grub at The Flask in Highgate

I didn't bother to take the camera's battery charger on holiday. I might have made it if I hadn't left the camera on and then held it by touching the screen. The touch screen took a continuous photo of the palm of my hand and then ran out of power, so the links on this post will lead you to some lovely illustrations and background info.

The property we stayed in at Smithfield, was above an Italian Restaurant so we very happily trotted downstairs on our first evening to have an "Italian". It was called Amico Bio and was rustic, warm and friendly and could fit us in on a Friday night. It was only after we had perused the menu for a while that we realised it specialised in vegetarian, organic, ... and if wanted...vegan and gluten free. DJ had wanted some chicken and I had fancied a pizza with pepperoni and stuff on it. So a complete re-think produced broccoli and cauliflower fritters, followed by cheese and spinach stuffed ravioli in a tomato and basil sauce. All absolutely delicious and pics of the ravioli are on their website on the link above. But I do still think that I greatly prefer real Parmesan cheese rather than the soy version

The next night we went to Carluccio's. There, we did get some chicken. Chicken schnitzels with green salad. They were delicious, freshly prepared and tasty. This is a modern, high ceilinged, well lit place but comfy and friendly too. Plenty of real, tasty parmesan on this meal

The third night, still not having had the pizza that I yearned for, we went to Attila's on the Farringdon Station side of Smithfield Market. We had nearly been lured in before by their spruiker but he was hard to resist when we were so hungry. We snuggled into the corner at the far end and buried ourselves in the menu. Once again the pizza lost out and I plumped for the Spaghetti Carbonara and DJ for the Fettucine and Meatballs.
Absolutely wonderful and a bowl of parmesan just for me. These were followed by espressos and limoncellos and smiles all round. There is no website but the reviews here do just as good a link.

On the Monday we caught a No.4 bus from the Barbican to Archway and then climbed slowly up Highgate Hill through Waterlow Park and then the High Street shops until we reached The Flask. It was a gloriously sunny day again and the pub garden was full but we had reserved a window table just inside and were joined by more family for a big lunch and lots of natter.
Our last day started early...not only had the smoke alarm started to beep at 5.15am...but we had decided to visit the Smithfield Meat Market before we caught the train home. We therefore travelled up to Darlington with a couple of fillet steaks for our tea!

I suppose it will have to be back to the diet now. If we stick to it, the 5:2 diet seems to work well. Two days of fasting/controlled intake, somewhere in the week seems little effort to have to make for the benefit it gives.
That is until about 5pm. Something often happens about then that melts the resolve so easily set earlier in the day. Oh for more days in the week...

Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Bank Holiday Break in London...Cloth Fair near Smithfield

We have rented a Landmark Trust  property in Cloth Fair which is across the road from Smithfield market and a short walk from St Paul's Cathedral.
It is the old home of John Betjeman and has been maintained in the style he might have left it.
Together with no TV, radio, music, wifi etc. But  plenty of books. So it is a truly peaceful haven in the City of London. The building was one of the only houses to remain after the Great Fire in 1665, but has of course been changed a bit since then.
St Bartholomew the Greats church is over the road and strikes the hour to rouse us now and then. Its churchyard contains two of the largest trees I have seen on such a small site. There don't appear to be any birds and we don't hear any birdsong but there are squirrels and the wisteria is beautiful.

This afternoon, wedding bells rang and we went out to watch the wedding parade and all the guests pour out of the church. The bride and groom were the last to leave in a wonderful RR with glasses of champagne in hand. We exchanged a wave. Others left in convertible Bentleys, Audis and beamers and the rest took up at least three vintage Routemaster buses. Good luck to them all. Being a nosey biddy I checked them out on the internet. They had a traditional Nigerian wedding in March and the traditional English one today.This is a link to the Nigerian one.
It was Friday when we arrived and after settling in we walked around for a couple of hours noting St.Pauls, Barts Hospital, lovely back streets, the Holborn Viaduct, The Old Bailey and the lovely old Routemaster buses which still operate on the routes 9 and 15.
At the end of the day it is customary for the city workers to hang around at a local pub, drinking with their mates. They don't all fit into the small corner pubs of the city and so this is a common sight.
More news soon.
Cheers Gillian