The second lockdown is coming to an end! This one felt much longer than a month, but I managed to keep myself busy – I crossed off everything off my November list and some more..
Oh did I watch Christmas movies! I saw Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Sweater, Deliver Before Christmas, Christmas in Vienna, On The 12th Date of Christmas and Happiest Season. It was especially fascinating seeing how Hallmark made it work while filming during COVID. Christmas in Vienna made surprisingly good use of the city locations and local food – I can’t wait to go back to Vienna.
I cooked and baked! Including those delicious cinnamon, ginger and cloves filled Dutch kruidnoten I talked about here. I also supplemented my batch of the tomatillo-based Mexican salsa verde, which I could write a whole post on how amazing it is. But my favourite dish this month has to be the Japanese Katsu Curry that went great with the gyozas I made last month (which defrosted perfectly).
I also did an online Tea Tasting with Bird & Blend that was organised by the events team of my office building. Not only did this workshop have my name written all over it, but as it was Bird & Blend, I was very excited for this one. During the tasting we learned to look at things like leaf types, liquor and aroma and I discovered new flavours that I want to get next time I’m in Angel, where they have a shop. If you’re still looking for gifts or stocking fillers for tea lovers I can highly recommend. They have a wide selection of unique tea blends that make great gifts no matter what the season. You can also order a kit that will give you access to an online tasting. My top tea tips are the Gingerbread Chai, Campfires and Vampires and Fireside Snuggles varieties.
I usually save my Cheese fondue for December, but why wait in these unprecedented times? The Cheese Bar does a mouthwatering one that comes with everything you need to make the actual fondue and potatoes and bread to go with it. If you want to add some extra things to your cheese experience, I can suggest steamed Brussels sprouts, meatballs from the Vegetarian Butcher (though I’m sure any would work) and tenderstem broccoli, which all go perfectly.
On my initial to-do list I had folding my Ghibli origami, but instead I ended up doing origami during a workshop with Traverse & Paperboyo for the Korea Tourism Board. I can imagine how hard it is to come up with blogger events for tourism destinations, but they did an amazing job with making it relevant and practical. In addition to the classic crane bird, we also learned how to fold a Christmas tree and a star. I have some Christmas paper leftovers from previous years and am looking forward to transforming them into some festive star ornaments.
The day before lockdown I went out to go sweet chestnut hunting in the woods. Then I got a roasting pan, some wood and roasted a batch every Sunday. There’s just something about starting a fire, roasting and peeling those golden goodies that really warms my heart.
Walks around the block were a bit hit-and-miss this month. The one big park near my house was packed with joggers and cyclists, but thankfully other routes made up for it. The most surreal thing I saw was a fox that was chilling around, not intimidated by people until they came across a dog who was not a fan and they ran off rather quickly!
How have you been handling lockdowns and restrictions where you are?
Happy Friday! Hope you all had a great week. Many moons ago I used to share some of my favourite blog posts I’d read elsewhere. And since we’re all about sharing is caring these days I thought I’d share my top five reads from this week.
1. Now I can’t visit dusty country houses and manors I’m always happy to see when someone else posts about one I haven’t been to yet. Amanda visited and stayed at Layer Marney Tower, a historic Tudor building in Essex and shared lots and lots of lovely photos on Rhymes and Ribbons.
2. I’m an avid follower of R29’s Money Diaries and it’s always a long wait for another eagerly awaited one. Luckily for me there’s always bloggers who share their spend overviews on their blogs. This week I stumbled upon Ghenet from Ghenetactually’s insightful money diaries.
3. Margaret from M Gets Dressed has put together a great post about types of statement collars and how to wear them. I’ve often passed on a dress or shirt because I was intimidated by the very 70s or 80s collar, but in the last few years they’ve grown on me and I’m happy they’ve become mainstream now.
I know this isn’t a Food/Recipe Blog, but I wanted to share my love of a particular Autumn/Winter treat – the humble sweet chestnut and how you too can enjoy and cook them! And of course, you can’t be a proper food/recipe blogger without giving 500 words on your life story, so here we go…
Collecting chestnuts with my dad and then roasting them are some of my favourite childhood memories. In October, my dad would take me to our forest to check on the chestnut trees and once they were ready we’d pack our woven baskets, a mini one for me and a big one for my dad, and we’d pick and pick and pick. Once they dried, we’d get together with neighbours and roast kilos of them above the fire. During roasting, I was put on peeling duty along with the other kids, and we ate until our stomachs were full and then our peeling jobs were taken over by the moms as we were getting too slow. The chestnuts were then frozen and lasted us all winter.
Nowadays I occasionally buy a pack at my local market or at the shop and roast them in the oven, but it just doesn’t taste the same without all the hard labour and hot flames.
Last month on a walk in Petts Wood I stumbled upon its ‘Chestnut Avenue’ and cried from excitement from what I had found there. See, usually Chestnut Road/Avenue/Grove only means that chestnut trees were there long ago – so I wasn’t expecting to actually find over 30 trees and paths filled with the sweet gems.
I picked some, and then some more. And when we walked onto another path full of them I picked some more. Back home I dried them and initially wanted to oven roast one batch and boil the other batch. But I settled for getting a chestnut pan, some wood and roasting them on fire as I wanted the flavour to come through and that is only achievable via and open flame. The added benefit of roasting it on fire is that it makes peeling of the hard shell and fury coating so much easier.
Anyway…now you’ve read my whole life story (as is the custom for recipes online nowadays right?), it’s time for the easy recipe on how to roast your chestnuts in three easy steps.
sweet chestnuts – you’re too late to pick them yourself now, but most shops and farmer markets stock them now
chestnut roasting pan – looks like your regular pan, but it has holes and a bit of a longer handle
fire – make sure it’s a safe environment
pan with lid – a box that closes off works as well
Once you’ve got the fire going, place the chestnuts in the roasting pan and hold it close above the flames, so fire gets through the holes on the pan.
2. When the chestnuts have started to go black, about five minutes in, shake the pan regularly for another 5-10 minutes until they’ve burned on both sides and have started to split.
Tea’s Top Tip I: Make sure you don’t wear your favourite outfit as it can get messy, and you can’t easily get the smoke smell out of your clothes.
3. Once they’re done on both sides, put them in a pot (or box), close the lid and shake them well – the better you shake them, the less you have to crack open by hand later. Take out the chestnuts and enjoy!
Tea’s Top Tip II: You can use them in a stir-fry, turn them into glacé macron or just eat them as a tasty healthy snack.
And before you ask: No, you can’t substitute sweet chestnuts with horse chestnuts (those are for horses and conkers games only). And yes, you can freeze your chestnuts to enjoy over winter.
What better time for another travels through the years post? I’ve recently had a lot of reminders of October and November travels on my phone and decided to use it as inspiration to put together all my favourite travel experiences from these two months over the years. I’ve always had a soft spot for October and November, back in university it was because we had those months off, and nowadays they’re rather desirable as it’s cheaper to travel during them.
So what have I been up to in the previous months of October and November?
Last year, I was in Lanzarote where I rented a house that came with a pool. In my head I was either at the pool, the beach or the supermarket. But looking back through the images I’m also seeing I did a lot, including visiting a cacti garden, the National Park and caves. Not that many photos of tapas sadly though …
In 2018, I embarked upon a family-filled trip to Croatia and the heart-shaped country that is Bosnia. Looking at photos makes me homesick and here is an image of fairytale village Rastoke, because I can’t bring myself to look at the other photos or I’ll get all weepy.
In 2017, I went to Amsterdam and from there I flew to Mexico with two friends. The route – Cancun, Vallodidad, Tulum and back to Cancun – also known as ‘Mexico for beginners’ was one of the most bizarre trips I’ve been on. In between visiting Chichen Itza, swimming in cave lakes and eating all the food we got questioned by the police at 4 AM, got lost in the time difference between the two different states and saw a school practice their Christmas show in the Valladolid city square.
In 2015, I spent a week in Reykjavík, Iceland where I managed to cram in a lot, from a Golden Circle tour, to visiting various museums, going on a street art hunt in the city and taking a day trip to the lovely little island of Videy, and I still don’t think I’ve ever had a fresher tomato juice than the one in the greenhouse complex I got to sample.
In 2012, I did one of those last trips you only do as a student. I flew to Sofia, took a bus to Istanbul, a night bus to Thessaloniki and then to Athens before flying back to the Netherlands. All of this in 6 days. Like how did I even manage to get anything done? I don’t remember that much of Sofia and Thessaloniki, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
My highlights in Istanbul were visiting the Blue Mosque, going to the Asian side and making my way through the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar, plus having a random search for a Subway branch for my fellow traveller. In Athens, I explored every temple on the Acropolis, walked around the Temple of Zeus and spent a day relaxing on the beach just outside the city. Later in the month I went to Prague where I went up and down the longest metro escalator in Europe, visited the Museum of Communism and finally climbed the Old Town Hall tower. I also have vague memories of a very random Halloween party with Dutch expats.
In 2011, I was in Melbourne, where I did an internship at an online music magazine. I arrived with a friend in August and there we met with a coursemate of ours. Initially we tried to find a place for all three of us to live, but it turned out it was harder to find a place together as we all had different ideas and budgets in mind, which was a timewaster. Until … October and November (and the following months): I had settled in my new room, made friends and I got to spend Halloween filming a gig in one of the most amazing theatres, The Forum Theatre.
In 2010, I went on a quick trip to London! It was the first time taking the Eurotunnel and it was quite the experience being in your car on a train in a rather long underground tunnel. In London we did a Sandeman Tour, explored Central London and the Southbank and visited a few record studios.
In 2009, I took the bus from (South) of the Netherlands to Paris with a friend! It left at midnight and got us there for 6 AM. And the idea was to eat a croissant for breakfast while watching the sun rise over the Eiffel Tower. It took longer than expected to find all of those at 6 AM, but we managed it. I did my first Sandeman Tour there, wandered around Pere Lachaise and explored Montmartre.
In 2008, I was working at a holiday camp park near Trier in Germany, working my last season behind the front desk and writing programmes and things to do for the animation/entertainment team. In October I had the important task to prepare for the big winter shutdown, as the park closes during that season.
I also went to Sarajevo to visit my cousin. I would usually stay with my cousin, but opted for a hostel where I met people all over the world and explored Sarajevo with them. I took them for cevape at Zeljko, we drank traditional shots and heard lots of stories of people who were in Sarajevo during the war. Then I took the bus to my hometown hill in Bosnia to visit my Grandma and afterwards I spent a few days in Zagreb before flying back to Germany.
In 2007, it was my second year working at the holiday park near Trier in Germany where I had done my internship the year before. The park closed during the winter season and in October I was sent to another park in Travemunde, north of Germany to cover holidays for the receptions there. I got to stay in a super deluxe house that had a sauna, whirlpool and solarium in it. There wasn’t much else to do as most of the tourist attractions had closed for the season, so it was a nice change of pace.
Early November I flew to Austria for a season on the slopes in Katschberg. I was so lucky to live in the park next to a ski lift and able to enjoy snowboarding on my lunch breaks. Another benefit of working front desk at a holiday park was that you got to try out all the fun things so you could tell the guests about it. From dining in the fanciest restaurant to sledging races and a ride to the top of the hill for a traditional fondue. The last had to be my favourite!
In 2006, I was in London for my internship. I was not expecting to go abroad twice (I had been in Germany for the Summer) and was so excited that I got to live with two classmates in London … well in Croydon, but who cares? I was also lucky that my hotel was only 20 minutes away by bus, while my classmates had to travel all the way to Chelsea and Islington for their 7 AM shift. In November I made my first trip to Central London and did the usual round of touristy things. I remember just being in awe seeing all the landmarks in real life. And how confusing the Underground system was. Little did I know I’d be returning for another visit 4 years later, and then a permanent stop a few years after that!
What favourite travel memory have you been feeding off lately?
While there’s a lot of nice walking routes that are accessible by public transport, ones that you can get to on just one train are rather scarce from my station. In previous years, I’ve walked most of the sections of the Green Chain Route in Greater London, so with those out of the way, I’ve started to look further afield, on areas between the Blackfriars and Sevenoaks Thameslink/Southeastern Train Line, which runs from central London south-east out towards Kent.
So far I’ve been to three different areas along the Blackfriars-Sevenoaks line and am hoping to get to explore more especially next spring, when the paths are drier, there’s a little more sun and the trees have leaves again.
Shoreham to Otford Walk
Shoreham to Otford – or vice versa – is perfect for a bit of meandering. Not far from London, but it does give you the feeling of being in the countryside. It has hills, cottages and lots of dogs. You can also make a stop at the Hop Farm year-round for some fresh produce and cute little gifts. In summer, you’ll find a famous lavender field here and in autumn you can pick apples in a special orchard. Speaking of fruit, there’s also lots of blackberry bushes along the way. You can also visit the historic Lullingstone Castle & Gardens, the even older Lullingstone Roman Villa and gaze in awe at the rather incredible Eynsford Viaduct. Trainstop: Shoreham or Otford
A Walk Around Petts Wood and Hawkwood
You can’t go wrong with taking a stroll through the varied landscape of Petts Wood and Hawkwood, with heather, farmland and woodland all on offer. And the best thing is that all of this can be found just in Zone 5! In late summer you can enjoy the heather in bloom, while later in autumn you return to see the colours change. And most importantly, in October and November, you’ll find chestnuts, lots of chestnuts! What’s nice is that it’s not too busy, so you can get a bit lost! Trainstop: St. Mary Cray or Bickley (or Petts Wood on another line)
Nunhead Cemetery Walk
Take a wander through one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London with its impressive church ruins and hidden walking paths and trails. You can keep it to a walk around the cemetery, but can also go a bit further checking out nearby Camberwell Old Cemetery, or instead by joining the Green Chain Walk route to Crystal Palace Park via The Horniman Museum and Gardens, which is one of my all-time favourite routes on that major walking network. Trainstop: Nunhead
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