Monday, 23 November 2015

My Fairyland

A little bit of a different post today as the photo's were all taken on multiple occasions.  I want to share somewhere quite special with you, somewhere I happen to love.

Just around the back of my house is a deserted paradise, filled with gently waving reeds that rustle in the late afternoon breeze.  There is rarely anyone else there and it is somewhere I can escape to when I need some peace and quiet.
It is just as beautiful in deepest, darkest winter when the sound is muffled by heavy snowfall and the light is that half awake dreamscape you get when the sky and earth mirror each other in shades of twilight blue.
I discovered it one day when I was out jogging and it quickly became my favourite circuit.  I must confess that I would often just sit on one of the hillsides, the fields stretching out below me and take in my surroundings, headphones playing a soundtrack to the landscape in my ears.  I love it so much, I even had my trash the dress shoot there when I got back from my honeymoon!
I think one of the reasons I love it so much is that you access it through a tunnel more suited to inner city London than rural Canterbury.  The juxtaposition between the gnarly, graffeti covered walls and ruined fences, twisted gates of stainless steel lying abandoned on the floor, all closed in by claustrophobic concrete and the sheer scale of the fresh open space beyond is something that appeals to the romantic in me.  It's like accessing paradise after passing through an apocalypse, or a mythical gateway to Narnia.
Whenever I dog-sit Jackson it is my favourite place to take him, looping through the fields and down to the derelict, long forgotten old barns with their roofs caved in and metal skeletons showing their nakedness to the elements, each one taken back gently into natures embrace.
Jackson loves it as much as I do, both of us running down the overgrown pathways, him chasing after large sticks that I lob as far as I can for him, and we walk for miles together with the freedom of being able to be off the leash, far from any roads or even other people.  In the height of summer he looks as though he is swimming through the fields, and I frequently lose sight of him altogether, golden body blending in with the golden sheaves of wheat.

Even when I am on my own though I will visit so that I can just walk and recharge, mentally unwinding and relaxing, getting rid of the stresses of the week. I will climb to the top of the chalk pits and sit there, drawing swirling designs on the rocks around me or find one of the old trees with jutting out branches that are perfect for sitting in and watching nature go by, or go and relax in one of the groves straight out of a fairy tale.  There are the foundations of long forgotten buildings that have been taken over by twisting walls of thorns, thicker than the ones in Sleeping Beauty.  It feels as though it was designed by man and nature in unintentional symbiosis with the sole purpose of allowing a child's imagination to run wild.
If fairy tales were real, I could believe that they came alive here.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Steak on a Board with Ratatouille

Have you ever craved a meal for so long that you finally caved and just made it?  Well, this is what kind of happened with me.  I had dreaming about a good ratatouille for ages and kept meaning to make one.  Ideally the same one that features in the film (I later found a recipe for that version and, quite honestly, for a simple quick rat, that seemed far too complicated!)

In our house as well, one cannot simply subsist on vegetables alone.  I am fairly sure that was incorporated into our marriage vows, so I needed to provide a suitable red meat accompaniment to the pile of courgette and tomato I was preparing to serve.
That's where the steak comes in. I must confess, steak and ratatouille is not an original concept- Jamie got there long before I did and I have no doubt that thousands more got there before him, but my rat is not the same one as his, although the steak part most definitely is. 

It is however quite quick (relatively speaking - you can't get the complex flavours of a good rat with only 30 minutes of cooking, no matter how many tricks and cheats you use) and easy. I cooked it as a mid-week supper for after work and it feels positively virtuous before the onslaught of Christmas decadence.  You can also cook the ratatouille a few days in advance and just warm it up when you want dinner - this actually makes it even better as the flavours have time to develop and it will save you even more time when you are stressed after a long day at work.

Now, the purists out there are going to argue with me and tell me that this is not a traditional rat as it does not involve cooking all the individual elements separately before bringing them together and I am not pan-frying the main veg element first.  I'm sure that creates an outstanding version that any French grandmother would be proud of, but frankly, when it is 5.30pm and I need dinner served by 7.30pm, who has the time?!

I took a tip from Felicity Cloake and made mine with a piperade on the bottom and balsamic vinegar to add a richness and depth of flavour which it could otherwise lack, especially if you are using vegetables out of season and this more than compensates for the cheats method of layering your veg without pre-cooking. 
So lets start with the ratatouille

3 courgettes, thinly sliced
8 plum tomato's, 4 peeled and diced, 4 thinly sliced
2 red peppers
1 aubergine , thinly sliced
1 medium onion, diced
3 tbsp garlic infused olive oil
3-4 fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp good balsamic vinegar
Pinch of sugar

Heat the oven to 140C,

Place the peppers over the open hob flame, or scorch them with a cook's torch, or halve them and place them cut side down on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 20 minutes.  You are looking to blister the skin so that you can remove it, so do this anyway that works for you.  Heck you could even put them on a slab of marble in your wood fire if you want!

Whilst your peppers are blistering, heat 2 tablespoons of the garlic infused olive oil over a low heat in a pan then cook the onions gently and slowly until translucent and soft (8 minutes or so should do it depending on how finely you chopped your onions).  Stir in the diced tomatoes and tablespoon of thyme and simmer gently for about 5 minutes.

Remove the skin from the blistered peppers and cut them into small dice, then add them to the tomato's and cook for another few minutes.  Add the balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Spread this tomato and pepper sauce (the piperade) over the bottom of a baking dish then arrange your sliced vegetables (tomato, courgette and aubergine) in alternating layers on top. Mix the remaining garlic olive oil with a teaspoon more thyme and drizzle over the top, then sprinkle the basil leaves.

Cover with foil or a lid and bake for 1.5 hours. Uncover for the last 30 minutes of cooking to crisp up the top layer of vegetables a bit.  Garnish with a few more fresh basil leaves and serve with the steak.

While the ratatouille is cooking uncovered for the last 30 minutes, you can get on with the steak.
2 x 250 g quality sirloin steaks, fat removed
1 teaspoon paprika 
1 tablespoon good (but not extra virgin) olive oil
½ bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Start by dressing your board.  Mix the mustard with the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and some salt and pepper and drizzle over the board.  Scatter the parsley over the top.

Get a griddle pan nice and hot and rub the steaks with the olive oil and paprika and some salt and pepper.  Always oil your steak, not the pan!

Sear the steak on one side and then turn until cooked to your liking.

Allow to rest for the same amount of time as you cooked it for (at least), then carve it into strips and place it on the board.

Serve the board with the ratatouille and allow people to dig in, wiping up the mustard dressing as they do.
There are no carbs in this meal, and to be honest it is filling enough that you don't need them.  If you feel an overwhelming desire for starch though, try with some fresh baked crusty bread - perfect for mopping up the the ratatouille and steak juices.

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Monday, 16 November 2015

Feeling Festive: The Best Kent Attractions This Christmas

I'm going to start sounding like a broken record soon, but when did Christmas suddenly appear around the corner?  It's always the same way; I finish the leftover Halloween sweets, spend a week in the theatre for the autumn production (ooh I need to tell you about this!), remember I've missed all the bonfire night displays because I'm in the theatre and suddenly realise with horror that Christmas is just a few weeks away.  I'm not ready at all, and have a huge to do list before the big day (buy a Christmas jumper, bake mince pies, write Christmas cards that I never remember to post, sort out the tree, oh and actually buy people some Christmas presents!).  However, round the corner it is, and so to start getting into the Christmas spirit I've teamed up with EventBrite - an event management platform - to bring you a little summary of all my favourite things to do in Kent this winter to really get you feeling festive!

Photography Credit: Visit Kent
Is there anything better than a Christmas market?  I love them, and have been known in the past to leave the country in search of a goodun'.  There are a host of them right here on the doorstep in Kent though, some small and intimate in local village halls and school playgrounds, others huge and sprawling in castle grounds, but every one of them guaranteed to get your toes tapping to carols whilst grasping that mug of hot chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Here are some of my favourite ones to get you started!

Canterbury Tales Magic Medieval Christmas, 19th and 20th December:
Photography Credit:  Visit Kent
Ever wondered what a Christmas market would be like if it featured bawdy songs and spiced mead? Well now you need wonder no longer as the Canterbury Tales is transformed into a festive wonderland for you to explore!   Santa's elf can be found by the fire in the Tabard Inn where you can sing your heart out with the other pilgrims, then venture off through the snow-filled streets of Ye Olde London Town in search of the traditional medieval Christmas tree decorated with fruits and animals and the whole family can dress up for a photo! In Santa's Grotto every child get a gift while the adults get to try some of the sweet honey mead and try to read what the little ones are writing to Santa!  For more information, visit the Canterbury Tales website

Times - 10am - 4.30pm
Cost - £10 per child (aged 2+, includes gift), and £7 per adult 

Leeds Castle Christmas Market, 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 19th-23rd December
Photography Credit: Visit Kent
Where can be more magical than a Christmas market in the grounds of one of the most breathtaking castles in Kent?   There is a vast array of gift ideas, toys, decorations food and drink and you can just wander around to your hearts content taking in all the sights, sounds and smells, hands clasped around hot mulled wine.  There are nostalgic fairground rides and the Leeds Castle reindeer and birds of prey are also on hand to meet!  Every day has a host of musical entertainment at the band stand.  Your ticket price is included in the price of admission to the castle so this is a truly wonderful day out for the whole family.

Times - 10.30 - 5pm (last admission 3pm)
Cost -  £24 adults, £21 concessions, £16 children (up to 15), infants under 4 free.  All tickets include access to the usual Leeds Castle attractions and the Notes of Christmas Attraction and last for 1 year's worth of repeat visits.  See website for details.

Rochester Dickensian Christmas Market, 5th-6th December
Photography Credit: Visit Kent
A market you can get into full fancy dress for and no one will bat an eyelid?  Now that is something I can get on board with!  The Rochester Dickensian Christmas Market makes the magic of Victorian England a reality, with lamp-lit, parades, street entertainers, live music, Father Christmas and a guaranteed snowfall against the backdrop of the beautiful Cathedral, surrounded by some of Charles Dickens most beloved characters bought to life before your eyes, all alongside artisan stands, gifts, food and drink and traditional Victorian activities.   Don't miss the Seven Poor Travellers Procession, the Grand Parade or the Open Air Carol Concert! 
Times 10am-6pm
Cost - Free entry (it is entirely up to you how much you want to spend at the stalls though!)

In the unlikely event that you have had enough of markets, how about something a little different?

Howletts Wild Animal Park and Santa's Grotto
Photography Credit Dave Rolfe via Visit Kent
Christmas came early for Howletts this year with the arrival of the first baby black rhino born there on the 1st October in 40 years!  This little cutie is well worth a visit just to see him but if you need more excuses, then Howletts is a wonderful winters day out for the family, and the animals are always a bit livelier this time of year, away from the heat of the summer!  Check out the lions and tigers, be awed by the UK's largest herd of African elephants and don't forget the world famous family of gorillas! Walk with the lemurs and when you are done laughing at the antics of the monkeys, take your little monkeys to see Santa in his grotto for a day out to remember.

What's not to love?!

Times: 9.30am-5pm.  Last admission 2.30pm.  Christmas Eve 9.30am-2pm with last admission at 12.30pm
Cost: Adults £20.95, Children (3-15) £16.95.  Passports are £10 more and give you free access all year.

Chilham Village and Kentish Down Walks 
Want something a bit more sedate and away from people?  Kent has a huge number of beautiful walks through the Downs which, at this time of year in the crisp winter air, are particularly breathtaking.  If you want somewhere to start, try the Chilham East Walk, making sure you stop off in the charming and historic Chilham village to buy one of a kind Christmas gifts in the Tudor Gift Shop.  If you are a bit chilly from the brisk Kentish air, warm up with a proper cream tea in Shelley's Tea Rooms or settle with the dogs by the huge inglenook fireplace in the 600 year old Woolpack Inn.  On second thought, you don't really want to do the walking part at all, do you!

Times - Up to you.  Shelley's is open 10am-6pm at weekends. 
Cost - It's free to walk!  The rest is up to you. 

Macknades Fine Foods, Faversham
Photography Credit:  We Love Food It's All We Eat
If, like me, the thought of the Christmas Food Shop fills you with dread, I have just the place to make your shopping experience not only a breeze, but actually enjoyable!  Not possible?  It is at Macknades.  I absolutely love this fine foods market and have frequently been known to pop in, just for a looksee and come out laden with goodies. It's hard not to be tempted when you visit the impressive cheese and charcuterie counter, the local ales and wines and juices and when items such as white truffle honey, pineapple jam or vats of olive oil straight from Italy are staring at you from shelves bulging with tempting treats. The last time I was there I had to physically drag Stephen away from the fudge display (courtesy of Fudge Kitchen). The whole place is a foodies paradise!  Top tip - eat in the rather wonderful cafe BEFORE doing your shopping.  Otherwise you will just want to buy everything in sight.
If you are ever stuck for a gift for someone, then why not make a 'Build Your Own Hamper' from their huge variety of goodies (and impressive selection of wicker baskets).  It is always a crowd pleaser and you can tailor it specifically for the luck recipient.

Just remember - the whole point is that you are supposed to gift the hamper to someone.  Not keep it for yourself.

Times - 9am - 6pm
Cost - completely up to you!

Canterbury Christmas Light Switch On - 19th November
Photography Credit:  Uh that would be me
To kick start your festive spirit, head down to Canterbury high street on the 19th November from 5pm onward to see the Christmas lights being turned on, with the honours being done by EastEnders star Rita Simons.  You will also be able to see the cast of the Marlowe Theatre pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and there will be live music and a snow machine!

Times - 5pm-7pm, with the switch on taking place between 6.30-6.45pm
Cost - Free

Ice In The Park, Royal Tunbridge Wells, 20th November - 3rd January
Photography Credit:  Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
If you have more grace than I have been blessed with, this next one is most definitely for you!  Ever looked at the Christmas skating in Central Park in New York in all those Christmas movies and thought, 'now THAT is Christmassy?'.  Well now you can make all your Big Apple Christmas Fairytale dreams come true at the outdoor skating rink in Royal Tunbridge Wells.  For the fifth year in a row, this popular attraction returns to Calverley Grounds for skating with a spectacular view of the park.  Those of you with little ones who are worried about them getting knocked over on the ice, have no fear.  Special parent and toddler sessions are available so that you can enjoy your time without speed demons hurtling past you.  Or in my case, desperately clinging to the side as my legs go shooting out in opposite directions. 

When you have had enough fun on the ice, go and see Santa in his cosy and warm log cabin, and then visit the gorgeous Christmas chalets set up rink side which host a huge variety of charities and organisations so you can pay it forward and help someone who may be desperately in need this Christmas.

Times -  11am - 8pm for the main rink sessions, parent and toddler times vary
Cost - Varies depending on when you go, but range from £9.50 adult ticket off peak - £40.50 for a family pack peak ticket.  Check the website for details

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Marlowe Theatre, 27th November - 10th January
I can't remember a Christmas from my childhood (or, ahem, my early twenties) that didn't involve me going to the theatre to see the pantomime.  As children my cousins, sister and I would head to our local theatre with our grandmother and give her the shock of her life as we all shrieked 'He's Behind You!', yelled 'Oh No He Didn't' and jumped up and down to catch the sweets that were thrown on us from the stage and tried to avoid getting hit by the bucket of water that was thrown on stage (that inevitably turned out to be a cloud of glitter).  A pantomime is such a classic British tradition and one that it is celebrated up and down the country and is guaranteed to leave children grinning from ear to ear.  This year's panto at the Marlowe is the classic story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, starring Rita Simons ( EastEnders), Phil Gallagher (CBeebies Mister Maker), Ben Roddy, and Lloyd Hollett and will most definitely get you into the Christmas spirit.

Times - Vary
Prices - Vary depending on show, but range from £10.50 - £34.50

Carols in the Cathedral, Canterbury, Christmas Eve
Photography Credit: Visit Kent
For the fifth successive year, the open air ice rink is returning to Royal Tunbridge Wells. It will be open seven days a week from Friday 20 Nov '15 – Sunday 3 Jan '16 (closed Christmas Day).
The outdoor ice rink situated within the natural amphitheatre of Calverley Grounds offers spectacular views of the park and really is a unique and special festive experience.
This year we are delighted to announce that the rink is going to be even bigger – with capacity for 250 skaters, and due to popular demand we have added an extra morning parent & toddler session.
Get your skates on!
- See more at:
For the fifth successive year, the open air ice rink is returning to Royal Tunbridge Wells. It will be open seven days a week from Friday 20 Nov '15 – Sunday 3 Jan '16 (closed Christmas Day).
The outdoor ice rink situated within the natural amphitheatre of Calverley Grounds offers spectacular views of the park and really is a unique and special festive experience.
This year we are delighted to announce that the rink is going to be even bigger – with capacity for 250 skaters, and due to popular demand we have added an extra morning parent & toddler session.
Get your skates on!
- See more at:
I personally think I have saved the best for last.  There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that says Christmas to me as much as carol singing does.  If you were lucky enough to get your paws on a ticket (they are like gold dust and are already sold out) then the 3pm Carol Service in the Cathedral is simply magical.  For those of us less lucky, there is always the Lord Mayor's Carol Service in the high street at 6pm on Christmas Eve.  Hundreds of people, all raising their (surprisingly not too bad) voices in unison, led by the Arch Bish bopping along on the open air double decker bus.  Follow it up with a meal in one of Canterbury's restaurants with your friends and family, followed by a leisurely walk and candlelit midnight mass, then warming up at home with a thick and creamy hot chocolate.  It simply cannot be beaten.

Times - 6pm onwards in the High Street
Cost - Free, although a charity donation for the song sheet to the Lord Mayor Of Canterbury's Christmas Gift Fund, which raises money for grocery parcels for people in need in the Canterbury district, is appreciated.

 Happy Christmas.
Photography Credit.  Me. Again. Boring I know.
For more inspiration on things to see and do in Kent this season, go to the Visit Kent website

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Friday, 18 September 2015


At the end of our first week in Kalkan, we drove Mum and Dad to the airport, and then decided to stop off for a bite to eat in Fethiya on the way back.
Fethiya is a fishing town that definitely feels like it has recently had a tourism hike, although, like Kalkan, it is in no way as touristy as Mediterranean centers in Spain and Portugal.  Dad had recommended that we head to the fish market where he promised that they would allow us to choose our fish and then seat us at a table while it was cooked up before us.  This sounded like a wonderful idea, so we came up with the simple plan to drop my folks off at the airport at about 8pm ready for their flight back to the UK and then drive to Fethiya for a simple supper.

It would have worked too, if we hadn't gotten hopelessly lost trying to get to Fethiya (the signs just stopped and we ended up guessing which direction we needed to head in) and ending up miles away.  By the time we made it, the market had closed for the day so instead we (un)graciously admitted defeat and went for a stroll to stretch our legs along the harbour front, admiring the boats and the sunset.
Fethiya is a very pretty area, and you got the feeling that later on it would become very lively as the locals clocked off and rocked up to unwind in the bars and restaurants that littered the harbour front.  Neon colours blazed out over the bay and many of the restaurants featured little rivers or pools looping around the front.
In one bar a bunch of young local boys and girls were cheering on the Turkish football team in front of a giant screen set up outside whilst in others couples sat outside smoking shisha pipes and talking quietly.  There were also children's parties set up in the many restaurants facing out over the bay.
The boardwalk was packed full of local Turkish people enjoying the early evening breeze and there were a multitude of places to stop and indulge in a cocktail or three, turning your back on the world and gazing out over the water.
We didn't linger too long as we knew we still had a good couple of hours of getting lost in front of us (we didn't get back until midnight, at which point we ordered a pizza).  Next time we return though, we will make sure we get to Fethiya in time for the fish market restaurants.
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