Thursday, April 28, 2016

Limoncello recipe

Our friend Christine makes an excellent limoncello, not too sweet. This is her recipe:

  • 500 ml alcohol
  • 5 lemons (unwaxed)
  • 500 ml water
  • 80 gm sugar
  • Remove the zest from the lemons
  • Put the zest in a jar with the alcohol
  • Leave in the dark for 15 days
  • Strain out the zest
  • Dissolve the sugar in the water
  • Combine the sugar syrup with the alcohol
  • Leave in the dark for one month
  • Drink
Not being sure of the lemons in the market we stole five lemons from Chris's tree (with her permission). Guaranteed unwaxed and pesticide free.

One unusual feature of Italian supermarkets compared to the UK is that you can buy pure alcohol (95%) for culinary purposes in just about any store. Some recipes suggest using vodka, if neat alcohol is not available, but that will be 30% water so you would only need about 300 ml of the sugar syrup to keep the ratio of alcohol to water correct.

Then all you need is a jar or two and a zester. You could use a knife but a zester allows you to precision de-rind the lemon without any bitter pith.

Two weeks later and the alcohol has leached out the oils and flavours from the zest.

Chris's recipe only uses 80 gm of sugar but some I found on the internet that used nearly 10 times that amount! If it is too tart you can always add more sugar later but you cannot take it out if there is too much.

The combination of the water and the oils makes limoncello turn the typically cloudy appearance.

Now all I have to do is let it mature in the dark ready for our next visit.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Trullo Azzurro flooring

When we originally bought the Trullo Azzurro and had it done up we told the architect to leave the flagstones (chianchi in Italian) because we figured that if they lifted them they would never be able to get them back down in the right place again.

Recently we had some plumbing work done in the bathroom and they did a good job of lifting and re-laying the tiles. We also discovered that the flagstones were laid directly onto the clay - no wonder the building was always a bit cool and damp over the winter.

So we asked Saverio our builder to quote for installing under-floor heating and a second boiler. That turned out to be very expensive. Also the flagstones are too thick for under-floor heating so would have had to be taken away to the quarry for slicing in half with risk of breakages.

In the end we arrived at a compromise: lift the floor, dig down and prepare the ground with damp-proof course and an insulating layer, then re-lay the original floor. Whilst this was being done we paid to have pipes put in place for normal radiators so if we changed our mind later and put in a second boiler we wouldn’t have to re-dig up the floor.

The room with flagstones lifted…

… and all neatly stacked in the courtyard

Then they dug down 30-40cm

Pipework for a possible future heating system.

Insulating expanded foam “igloos”. They also allow for some air circulation.

Flagstones re-laid

Floor re-grouted

Furniture back in place as if nothing had happened.

It was quite a logistics exercise because, before they could lift the flagstones, they had to clear out all the furniture including the wood-burning stove then put it all back when they were done.

It turns out that this under-floor layer is what a number of fellow Trulli owners have done. Now they tell us! We should find the place drier, warmer and easier to heat.

Whilst the builder was there we got him to improve the lane up to the Trullo as the winter rains had eroded some of the surface.

So all is looking spick and span for our first guests which will be my sister Jane and second cousin Effie next week.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Easter in Puglia 2016

Carovigno (BR), Italy. Tuesday 29-March-2016.

Men in Tights and Girl Groups.

As it is Easter weekend and Italy is a good Catholic country each village has the usual marches and parading statues of the Madonna. This is in the nearby town of Carovigno where there is an unusual flag twirling ceremony called “Nzenga” – the local dialect for flag.

The local legend is that a mediaeval lord had a vision in which he was told to go seek a shrine to the Madonna to cure his ailment. In his search he met a cowherd whose heifer had gone missing. The cowherd found the cow in a cave kneeling to a stature of the Madonna. He was so overjoyed he ran out blowing his whistle and throwing his multi-coloured headscarf into the air. The lord followed into the cave and was cured of his illness.

In celebration of this the locals have, since the 12th century, been dressing up in mediaeval costumes and twirling multi-coloured flags accompanied by fife and drum bands.This has now turned into a major competition between the locals to see who can be the best and highest flag twirler, both between individuals and teams.

After mass in the church they parade the Christ and Madonna into the main square preceded by girls and boys dressed up as lords and ladies, the bands and the flag twirlers. Because all the local lads take part in the flag twirling it is left primarily to the girls to form the pipe and drum bands.

Banners and statue of Christ being carried into the square

Ditto for Madonna del Belvedere

Then it is the flag waving competition. The man in the white shirt in the centre has just thrown his flag up. You can just see the flag level with the top of the dome of the bandstand.

Here they do some low level moves with the flags around and between the legs.

Finally they all parade through the town. Local lads waving flags.

More men in tights twirling flags.

All followed by a delightful lunch down at the seaside with our friends who live nearby.

PS. for videos of flag waving and band marching see previous post: Pasqua in Puglia 2010: Carovigno Easter parade

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit

Monday, March 21, 2016

Unwined in Tooting

Tooting Market. Sunday 20-March-2016

Not sure how we discovered this small entrepreneurial wine and food outlet (possibly through Time Out Love London awards). Anyhow Mary booked us in for a "Bottomless" Sunday lunch.

Unwined sell wine (clue in the name!) and do events and all sorts of other stuff but they also have a permanent base in the unlikely setting of Tooting Market where they do tastings and sell wines with a theme of the month. They pair with pop-up chefs for the full dining out experience. This week the partner was Vinn Goute, serving Seychelles inspired street food.

Here our hostess, Kiki, is pouring an interesting rose prosecco from a small independent producer. That was the wine theme for this month: one of a kind, so we got interesting and unusual, one-off wines from small producers.

Starters were just that little bit different: a tuna samosa served with spicy sweet and sour sauce and lentil fritters with a chilli mayonnaise. The main course was fish which turned out to be red snapper with rice, peppers and salad and a fierce Scotch Bonnet salsa. That was paired with a Spanish white, Marques de Alella 'Sepo'.

The deal was unlimited wine (well for an hour and a half) so we started on the second bottle of white. Then Mary had the cheese board with a glass of negroamaro made using traditional methods and I had flambéed banana with ice cream and a New Zealand noble rot riesling which was absolutely superb. We had walked over to the market but after a long, leisurely and boozy lunch we let the 219 bus carry us home. Definitely up for a return visit; Mary says this could become a regular.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Robbie McIntosh at the Half Moon

Putney, London. Saturday 19-March-2016

Another gig with our visiting US friend Delton. We knew nothing of Robbie but his CV lists some well known names. He was with The Pretenders for five years and has played with Roger Daltry, Paul McCartney and Norah Jones.

Robbie played some fine rockin' blues music. He makes it looks so effortless. Whenever you see someone who can do that you know they are a master of their art. I can see why he is in demand as a session musician.

An enjoyable meal before at Alquimia Spanish Restaurant & Tapas Bar then a full two-set gig at the Half Moon. It continues to amaze me that you can see superb musicians up close in small venues for the price of a couple of pints.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hogsmill Restoration Day 02

West Ewell, Surrey. Saturday 19-March-2016.

More restoration but this time on the site of a former weir. An earlier project by South East Rivers Trust had seen various weirs removed and this section had some "hard" edging to prevent erosion alongside a footpath. If you look in the first picture the dark line on the far right hand bank marks the previous water level when the weir was in place.

In order to soften the edges a series of large coir "sausages", pre-seeded with river plants, had been placed in the river earlier in the week. Our mission was to stabilise this arrangement. Who would have thought that there is sufficient demand that are specialist companies out there making these things, all pre-seeded with watery plants.

Half way down this stretch is what may look to you like a bit of old brick wall. In fact it is remnants of one of the gun-powder mills for which this river was renowned.

First step: the sausages were pulled out from the bank.

Then reseated back in the exact placement required.

Stakes positioned to hold the sausages in place, then driven in part way.

Finally wired in place and the stakes driven home to tighten the wires.

Finally a bit of river-bank gardening: transplanting reeds from the opposite bank to add vegetation to the coir rolls.

Another day of most satisfactory work.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Hogsmill Restoration Day 01

West Ewell Friday 18-March-2016

A day of habitat improvement on the Hogsmill River organised by the South East Rivers Trust. "The Hogsmill River in Surrey, England, is one of the tributaries of the River Thames. It rises in Ewell and flows into the Thames at Kingston upon Thames on the reach above Kingston road bridge. The river is 6 miles (9.9 km) in length and has a catchment area (water basin) of 73 km²" [1]

And it is a very arty river: "It was along the banks of the Hogsmill that Milais painted his famous 'Ophelia'. Hunt's painting 'The Light of the World' in which he depicts Jesus knocking at a door, was set against one of the disused huts of the Gunpowder Mills." [2]

I missed the first day due to a prior engagement. That day was spent on creating meanders to slow the flow and create whirls and eddies to scour the riverbed in places and create suitable spawning areas and also provide banks for flora to establish itself. This day was continuing that work.

The first step is to create an obstruction using a log to constrict the flow and create the basis of the meander.

The log is fixed in place with stakes.

Wires are fixed to the stakes and through grooves chainsawed across the log. Banging the stakes further in secures the log to the river bed.

Next we need some "brash" - brash wood is brittle sticks or twigs. To generate more of that Toby felled a tree and then trimmed off a load of branches.

The branches are laid in wedges both upstream and downstream of the log to create a lozenge of bank-to-be.

Using a similar technique to the main log the branches are staked, wired and tightened in place. These will eventually trap silt, be populated by plants and create a meandering river bank.

Work in progress.

Time for a well deserved lunch break - with cake.

Back into the river for meander number two.

By the end of the day we had create three meanders.

Now we let nature take its course to scour away the silt to expose the original river bed by the logs and move it along to where it can create fresh banks.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Snowboy and The Latin Section at Ronnie Scott's

Soho, London. Thursday 17-March-2016.

Mary's membership of Ronnie's includes one free, standard price gig. We went for this one and treated ourselves to an upgrade to premier seating. Not sure what to expect musically, we don't really know Cuban music, but you can never go wrong at Ronnie's. It turned out to be most excellent funky Latin jazz delivered with energy and enthusiasm.

Doors Open for: Snowboy at the Latin Section 'New York Afternoon' Album Launch. Garnering rave reviews for the album, “...
Posted by Official Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club & Ronnie's Bar on Thursday, 17 March 2016

There were various dignitaries in the audience who Snowboy introduced and was kind enough to photograph afterwards: Jazz FM broadcaster and Snarky Puppy manager, Mike Chadwick, broadcaster Tony Minvielle, Professor Robert Farris Thompson, Tobias Tak, Nico and Davide.

The joy of a weekday show is that you get two sets from the band so you really get a full quota of music. We treated ourself to the vinyl of Snowboy's new album. It seems that Ronnie's is a becoming regular source of additions to our shiny black disc collection.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day in Dublin 2016

Dublin's Fair City 12-February-2016

This is our fourth Valentine's weekend in Dublin. Mary worked here on and off for three years and sometimes I would go out there for the weekend instead of her coming home. Last month RyanAir were doing cheap flights. Yes I know they are always cheap but some are cheaper than others. And sometimes they have been more expensive than scheduled airlines, believe it or not. Anyhoo we booked a long weekend.

Sometimes my posts seem like a concatenation of Mary's FaceBook check-in's so here we go...

We stayed very central in the Harrington Hall Hotel - a lovely Georgian building within easy walking distance of the centre of Dublin and the restaurants we had booked for Saturday and Sunday.

First priority, after checking in to the hotel, was to go out and sample some Guinness:
  • FaceBook: Mary Galashan was drinking Guinness with Mark McLellan at The Bleeding Horse Pub.
  • FaceBook: Mary Galashan drinking Guinness with Mark McLellan at Cassidys Pub Camden Street.
For Friday evening's meal we went with the hotel's recommendation: Restaurant 1900 where we also got a discount as it is a sister hotel. A bit ho-hum but we saved some money.

Mary used to live in Malahide and we had a number of wine glasses from Gibney's Pub which had got broken over the years so it was time to go there, have a pub lunch, drink Guinness, watch the Rugby and stock up on glasses for her and her sister.
  • FaceBook: Mary Galashan was watching France vs Ireland with Mark McLellan at Gibneys Malahide.
Back to the hotel for a quick snooze and then out for the next meal which was superb, so much so that Mary was moved to write a review on Trip Advisor.
  • FaceBook: Mary Galashan with Mark McLellan at Bloom Brasserie.
"The food was excellent - a 4 course set meal for Valentine's weekend. A tasty crab tian starter was followed by scallops for me and duck for husband, then steaks for both of us; all cooked perfectly and scrumptious. [...] Excellent wine list with a range of prices and a good selection of wines by the glass. The service from all staff was first rate and it was a joy to watch the team working together. [...]" Full review...


Despite many trips to Dublin we had never done a historical walking tour so that was Sunday morning's outing sorted. A seriously educational history lesson enlivened with a dry wit and some bad jokes.

Then it was time for lunch.
Recommended by the man in the department store where I bought a jacket to replace the one I left at home. Well it was probably about time to refresh the wardrobe anyway.

The food was good and the decor very smart. They've not been open long so all very fresh.

The evening meal was meant to be in the restaurant where we had a very extravagant meal some years ago but it turned out that Mary had booked in to the Bistro rather than the main restaurant. No matter, it was fine.
  • FaceBook: Mary Galashan eating dinner with Mark McLellan at Citron Restaurant, Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin.
Saturday and Sunday we went for a pre-dinner cocktails across the road from the hotel at The Dean where, apparently, the roof top Italian restaurant is excellent, and fully booked :-( One for the next visit to Dublin.

It was drink, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat - a kind of gastronomic Groundhog Day. Excellent.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

North Downs Way 04 - Oxted to Otford

Surrey / Kent. Sunday 07-February-2016

Continuing our relentless if sporadic march across the English countryside with episode four of the long distance path that is the North Downs way with friends Kate and John.

The recent rain made for some very muddy paths. Chalk-land mud is different to clay soil mud but it still sticks to the boots and weighs you down. Trying to go round the margins bring you in conflict with branches and brambles as John here illustrates.

I have a soft spot for the Greenwich Meridian partly through being born nearby in Greenwich Memorial Hospital and, like many small boys, going through an astronomy phase. So it was nice to come across this plaque.

Perfect walking weather i.e. not raining. The sun shone and it was all rather lovely.

Our route did not provide any convenient hostelries so we had our contingency packed lunch on a log.

There is a huge discrepancy between our mileage as recorded by my Garmin Montana 300 and this milepost. I'm going with the Garmin on this one.

It was a good walk for flora. First up some lovely Turkey Tail fungus.

Then keen-eyed John spotted some Daldinia concentrica, better known as King Alfred's Cake.

Spring flowers are out early: wild Primrose.

Then snowdrops:

Not just the odd bunch of snowdrops but a full carpet under the trees.

As with previous legs, we had a brisk last mile to catch a train from Otford thus avoiding a half hour cooling our heels in the station waiting room.

This leg gets us out of Surrey and we are now in Kent.

This leg: 14 miles
Total so far: 61 miles