Friday, July 22

Short trip to Southwold

This was actually now more than a week ago, and a very short trip at that, but I thought I'd share a few things with you.

I just went for two nights to stay with my folks who were there for a week. They have been going for quite a few years now, and always rented the same bungalow which was accessible for my granny. She loved to sit on the seats on the sea front and watch the world go by, and it was relatively easy to get her to the local pubs and cafes too. They had already booked the cottage for this year when granny got sick, and by the time it was clear she wasn't going to be here, the agency couldn't get another booking, so my mum and dad went anyway. I like to think she was with us in spirit - we certainly laughed when we saw the gaudy new bedding in what used to be her bedroom, and considered what she would have had to say about it!

The Friday was glorious weather, and we enjoyed a good walk across to Walberswick, up and over the heathland, down through the marshes and back towards the beach before beer and sandwiches in the Bell Inn.

Before I drove home, on the wettest Saturday for some time, I stopped off at the Sole Bay Fisheries and filled the car with smoked fish - haddock, kippers and this beautiful hot-smoked mackerel.

There was plenty of succulent smokey flesh on it, which I stripped off, mixed with soft cheese, soured cream, lemon juice and black pepper to make a delicious smoked mackerel pate.

Tuesday, July 19

Pickled garlic

Despite being rather overworked of late, I've still found time to fit in some of my favourite pastimes, such as pickling for example.

Last weekend was time to lift the garlic from the mum-in-law's garden. It's been happily growing away there since I planted it last October, with very little intervention required. I wasn't really sure how well it would do - the soil is very dense and has a high clay content - but took my usual attitude of 'what's the worst that can happen?' and planted it anyway.

When I first started digging it up I was a bit disappointed, the bulbs seemed rather small. But not all of them were the same size - I had planted two different varieties - and some were very respectable. Seen here next to the beetroot, I'll just point out that this is a MONSTROUS beetroot, to help you better appreciate the scale!

My aim in growing garlic was a singular one - to replicate the wonderful jar of pickled garlic cloves I bought a couple of years back from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm. These particular cloves were pickled in a classic vinegar, sugar and spices mix but with curry powder added. Crunchy and sweet they were incredibly moreish, eaten straight from the jar, perfect with a cold beer or even a cup of tea (yes I know perhaps I'm a bit weird...).

I'd already had a practice run with a couple of bulbs I dug up prematurely about a month ago. They were way too small but I peeled and pickled them, learning a few useful things on the way (eg you still need to take the skin off the green cloves, even though it's still fleshy and moist. Otherwise it will just come off when you pour the hot vinegar over it! Also that some cloves turn blue when pickled - absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of taste, although they do look a bit strange.)

Pickling garlic is very easy, it's the peeling that takes the time. And makes your fingers smell for several days afterwards!

I adapted a recipe out of the River Cottage Preserves book by Pam Corbin.

Approximately 20 bulbs of fresh garlic, cloves separated and peeled (apparently plunging them briefly in boiling water makes the peeling easier)
400ml cider or apple vinegar
200g of sugar
Fennel seeds
Black peppercorns
Curry powder

Sterilise your jars then pack them with the peeled garlic cloves, throw a few of the spices and bayleafs in between the layers.

Heat the vinegar and sugar, stir in a spoonful or so of curry powder. I guess you could add a bit of chilli if you like.

When all the sugar is dissolved, pour into the jars so that the cloves are covered.

You can eat them within a few days, but I would suggest leaving them for a month or so to let the flavours really improve.

Wednesday, July 13

Wroclaw cycle culture

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind, mostly of work, but as part of that, it's good to be able to get out of the office and visit other places in Europe from time to time.

This was my first visit to Poland, to the small city of Wroclaw (pronounced Vrot-swarv) and I found it a very welcoming, friendly and interesting city. The market square is very pretty, although most of the buildings are replicas - it was flattened in the second world war and has been rebuilt since then.

Wroclaw has very young population, as the city has two big universities; the area is flat and there are lots of canals and waterways, and cycling is extremely popular with all ages.

There are a lot of cycle paths, but it's also acceptable to cycle on the pavements, and it seems to work very well. On the whole, cyclists go slowly and respect pedestrians, you don't get the feeling that you are putting your life at risk when walking along the pavement.

The city has its own bike rental scheme 'nextbike' a la Boris Bikes, which seems to be pretty new, and the Scandic hotel, where I stayed, had bikes that could be borrowed for free by guests.

They have lots of bike racks for locking up your own bike - including some rather beautiful ones such as these shown here.

Naturally, being Europe, there are also plenty of trams and buses for those preferring to use public transport.