An unfortunate incident with a fish kebab


072So there we were on a beach in Crete on a blazing hot day. At lunch time we sought refuge at a busy shaded beachside taverna. There was plenty of choice in the chilled cabinets but the fish kebabs looked particularly good so that’s what I ordered.

We relaxed with our drinks while we awaited our food, and enjoyed watching the ubiquitous cats scavenging for scraps. We were also amused by a small French girl crawling under chairs while exclaiming “Oh! Le petit chat!”.

Before long our food arrived and we set to eating it. Or rather the huge wasps that appeared from nowhere set to my fish kebab. Instinctively I picked up my kebab stick and tried to wave the wasps (or maybe they were hornets) away, to absolutely no effect. Then the top piece of fish flew off in the paperback of a man nearby (a Wilbur Smith…

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An unfortunate incident with a fish kebab

072So there we were on a beach in Crete on a blazing hot day. At lunch time we sought refuge at a busy shaded beachside taverna. There was plenty of choice in the chilled cabinets but the fish kebabs looked particularly good so that’s what I ordered.

We relaxed with our drinks while we awaited our food, and enjoyed watching the ubiquitous cats scavenging for scraps. We were also amused by a small French girl crawling under chairs while exclaiming “Oh! Le petit chat!”.

Before long our food arrived and we set to eating it. Or rather the huge wasps that appeared from nowhere set to my fish kebab. Instinctively I picked up my kebab stick and tried to wave the wasps (or maybe they were hornets) away, to absolutely no effect. Then the top piece of fish flew off in the paperback of a man nearby (a Wilbur Smith if I remember correctly after all these years); he was remarkably sanguine about it.

Now I understood why nobody else was ordering the fish kebabs.

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A trip to Ecuador and Galapagos

This is the blog I would have written contemporaneously, had I not been so overwhelmed by an extraordinary experience! Revisiting it exactly year later seems like a good way of reviving and reflecting on my memories.

Day 1 – Easter Sunday 20th April

We arrived at the Pacific port city of Guyaquil in the mid-evening of Easter Sunday, to be hit by a wall of heat and humidity. Our transfer took us past some fascinating sculptures and modern buildings then along a cobbled lane in the recently restored historic area of Las Penas, below Santa Ana hill, a mass of brightly coloured buildings, to Mansion del Rio. The house was built in 1926 by a British businessman, father of the ballet dancer and choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton. It is a fabulous house with high ceilings, elaborate furnishings and decoration, and paintings in gilded frames.

Day 2 – Easter Monday 21st April 2014

We awoke to find views of the very wide river, and of birds and butterflies. A guide and driver collected us for a tour of the city, firstly taking us over one of the rivers to the Parque Historico. Unfortunately the endangered animals section is closed on Mondays but we were able to see the architecture area of rebuilt houses and the traditions section with interesting plants and demonstration gardens with coffee, cacao (whose flowers grow straight from the tree trunks and branches) and sugar, among other crops. I spotted an iguana as it rushed off then stopped at the base of a tree, as if posing for photos.

Next we were taken into the city centre and the Cathedral with some fine stained glass. Across the road was the Plaza Bolivar or “Park of the Iguanas”; a few years ago some boys brought back some iguanas from the mountains, and when they grew too big their parents made them dump them. There are now huge numbers in quite a small square, and they didn’t seem to mind being among so many people.Finally we returned to our “home” area where we were shown the 400+ steps up Santa Ana hill. In a nice little market/gallery we were particularly taken with some superb small works by a well-known artist, particularly focusing on the hands. Then we walked along the lane and went in a government building to see the interior and the views.  We stopped for a refreshing tamarind drink from a street vendor and continued to a new built area on the river of shops and houses with a fantastic wavy office block. Silos behind the riverfront had been converted from brewery use to flats! Our guide left us here and we strolled back along the lane and across the main road to the Malecon 2000, a regeneration project which created an attractive riverside promenade. We enjoyed tea and ice cream watching ducks and geese in a lake, and a tabby cat hunting and catching small prey! Further on we watched herons feeding on the shore of the river, then on the way back another heron trying to swallow a huge fish. Keith decided to climb the 400 steps and I decided not to!

That everything we went to Artur’s Cafe just over the road, where we enjoyed sea bass while watching the torrential rain.

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Cooking from my books: part 1 in an occasional series.

Cooking books 1Some time ago I was thinking about the number of cookbooks that food fans and keen cooks often accumulate. I’m sure I’m not alone in sticking to one or two favourites from each book and I often cook them from memory, tweaking them along the way to suit personal preferences and the ingredients to hand. Other everyday and special occasion cookery comes from my own invention, the internet, newspapers and magazines, plus Mum’s good old shepherd’s pie, more or less as she made it!

This lead me to conceive the idea of setting myself an exercise: to cook a new recipe from each of my existing books, and blog about it. A caveat: I invariably tweak a recipe, as mentioned above. And if nothing appeals from a book it’s probably time we parted company!

For my first post I cooked Rick Stein’s Baked sea bass with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, anchovies and potatoes, on page 148 of his Seafood book from the 2001 BBC TV series. I chose this for a variety of reasons:

  • I had a beautiful sea bass from Catchbox, a new scheme being trialled here in Chichester and in Brighton (more details below).
  • Rick Stein is one of my food heroes, and appropriately he coined or at least popularised that term in another BBC TV series, during the filming of which I spotted him at the West Dean Chilli Fiesta. Or rather I spotted his dog Chalky and then RS himself at the other end of the lead – RIP Chalky, a great character! I’ve also been lucky enough to eat at RS’s St. Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow. I love his easy presentational style and the way he can deliver what seems like a 5-minute rant about food issues to screen, but in a nice way. And I love fish and his style of food!
  • I neaded a reasonably straightforward recipe as I was getting over a bad chest infection and was tiring easily!

The recipe involved parboiling sliced potatoes and then placing them down the centre of a roasting tin to form a bed for the fish. Plum tomatoes were cut up and placed over the spuds, but reader, I did not peel them for I was unwell, and anyway, life’s too short! And I could have sworn I had some anchovies but apparently not, so I used capers instead for the necessary salty bite to the flavour. Then I added red peppers from a jar – I said I was ill! In my defence, all my shortcuts remained in the spirit of the recipe. I then added previously soaked saffron, home-made chicken stock, home-grown garlic and oregano, salt and pepper and a fair glug of olive oil. It went into the oven to start cooking and I set about the seabass to gut, descale, and attempt that pretty criss-cross pattern along the side of the fish. Things didn’t turn out so pretty as the photo shows!

Finally the fish was placed over the potatoes, seasoned and applied with more oil, and returned to the oven, with timings adjusted using the time-honoured mental arithmetic and finger-in-the-air method because Rick’s fish was far bigger than mine! It was clearly cooked in that time but failed to brown much even after being flashed under the grill.

Never mind, it tasted GOOD! The fish was delicious and the other ingreadients melted together beautifully. I also roasted some cauliflower to make extra use of the oven, which made a good accompaniment.

Footnote about Catchbox: I’m a big fan of local food and sustainability and have been following the development of Catchbox for some time. We all know about local vegetable box schemes; well this is the same concept but with fish. I was pleased when Jack from Catchbox visited the local Transition Chichester group, to which I belong, then held a launch party (with fish nibbles!) a few weeks later, and I was delighted to sign up for a regular box myself. The Chichester fish is caught by “Pete the Fish” who fishes from a day boat and also supplies my social media client Stansted Park Farm Shop. He had a slow start to the year because of adverse weather conditions, but the fish is coming in thick and fast now, with the bass and scallops two weeks ago, and red mullet and mackerel this week. This is a trial scheme but I hope and expect it to continue!

Posted in Chichester, Cookery, Environment, Food, Recipe, Reviews, Sea bass, Sustainability, Sustainable fish, Transition Chichester | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Georgian Food and Wine Supper Club

A guest post from Cathy Warnock (newly arrived on Twitter as @CathyWarnock!).
Following a tip from our friend Diana Morgan who found out about it via Twitter, six of us enjoyed Georgian food and wine at the Large Glass Gallery, Caledonian Road along with small group of other diners.  [That’s Georgia as in Caucasus, not USA!]
Natural wines from Georgia and elsewhere, supplied by Isabelle Legeron (@isabellelegeron), complemented Kerstin Rodgers’ flow of new food such as beetroot and walnut balls covered in pomegranate seeds, Georgian cheese and egg bread – khachapuri, Georgian egg salad, amazing aubergine rolls stuffed with spinach and walnut, yoghurt with sumak, and much more – all accompanied by large plates of fresh herbs. Kersten is @MsMarmiteLover, the legendary supper club host/food blogger and now we see why. She was ably assisted by Helen Graves, @FoodStories, and another food blogger Sarah Lohan (@Sass47).  Other guests included our host, gallery director Charlotte Schepke, another well-known food blogger Niamh Shields (@eatlikeagirl), whose photo accompanies this blog post, and Radio 1 DJ Gemma Cairney.
On Sunday 20th and Monday 21st May the natural wine continues to flow at Isabelle’s event RAW, The Artisan Wine Fair at the old Trumans Brewery, Brick Lane, London E1.
Thanks Diana (@DMinTransition) for heads-up on this event. Great night. Four of the six of us already intended to travel to Georgia in October (as recommended by the other two) and now we’re looking forward to it even more!
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Saira Khan speaks at social media event

Last week I attended the excellent event Social Media Magic, organised by Work Your Way magazine for working mums and the Londonmums network. I’m not a mum myself but I am a social media marketer and the event looked fun and interesting!

The keynote speaker was Saira Khan, whose talk was a tour de force of social media hints and tips. She came to prominence during the first series of The Apprentice, in which she was runner up, but her authority as a speaker comes from knowing her stuff (based on her own experience) rather than standing on ceremony as a “celebrity”. Her style on the night was of quickfire points backed up by examples, with a great willingness to be interactive and to ask the audience (including me!) in the few cases where she wasn’t sure of the answer.

Here are some of the points she made:

  • She certainly uses Twitter (@iamSairaKhan) but her opinion is that Twitter does zilch (her word) for generating sales, although it can drive awareness (a bit)
  • She believes in Facebook as a commercial tool. Many brands are very underexposed on Facebook and traditional business is still in the old marketing mindset
  • It’s cheaper to run a Facebook business Page than a website
  • Likes for Facebook business Page can be driven via Facebook advertising. This doesn’t cost a lot but is absolutely key to accelerating a build-up of followers and buyers.  Advertising appears on FB users’ timelines according to their interests etc. on their profile, so keywords are key to understanding who to advertise to. The picture shown in the ad is very small so it’s vital to choose one with impact, and to test which ones are most effective: the better your click-through rate the lower the cost you pay per visitor.  Apparently pictures of women are the most successful!  Saira herself doesn’t spend a penny on advertising her miamoo product line and quoted Aga as no longer doing offline advertising as online is getting better results
  • The new Timeline business page format requires a cover photo (a good long banner image) but Facebook does not allow this to include a call to action or request for Likes.  Default Welcome pages will no longer work (as I pointed out!) but Pinning a post (for up to 7 days) to the top of the timeline should serve just as well for requesting likes and highlighting special offers, events, etc.
  • The photostrip at the top of the Wall should be made up of five 98×68 custom images to look its best
  • Use competitions to build a contacts database. There needn’t be big prizes.  It’s essential to use a 3rd party app to create a comp page, or Facebook will take it down – or simply ask for Likes to the page via Twitter.
  • Use additional pages with meaningful titles to drive people in (e.g. Saira’s “Tommys Awards 2012” or “Follow Saira on Twitter”)
  • Saira finished by pointing out that social media for businesses does work, but it takes time and patience to see results.  Don’t be scared by people posting bad things about your brand as it doesn’t happen (someone in the audience said yes they do, but it encourages support for you from other followers!)

One hint for Saira – put a link to miamoo’s Facebook site from the website home page!

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Review of the Trooper Inn of Froxfield near Petersfield

I have grown to like Middle Eastern food more and more in recent years, dabbling in tagine cookery for want of any such eateries in my neck of the West Sussex woods. So when the Trooper Inn of Froxfield near Petersfield, just over the border from my West Sussex home, tweeted via @TheTrooperInn that they were doing a Persian dish special, Khorest-e Zereshk, I sat up and took notice, especially as I had thoroughly enjoyed eating at Simurgh, a Persian restaurant I discovered in Covent Garden. I had been following the Trooper Inn on Twitter for a short while but had not picked up on them offering anything other than standard pub/restaurant fare.

I tweeted to ask if the special was available at lunch as well as in the evening and was very pleased to receive a swift reply – I am a social media marketer specialising in the food sector and it can be so frustrating to see businesses not using social media correctly! And I was even more pleased to find that they were prepared to offer the Khorest-e Zereshk at lunch even though it was originally to be only available in the evening. So I booked (via Twitter of course!) and off we drove the following Sunday on a beautifully sunny day.

Once through Petersfield the Trooper Inn was easily found via brown signposts, beautifully situated on a hillside with great views. However the chill swiftly drove us inside, where we were very impressed with the warm welcome and the light, airy bar with huge windows letting in all the sunshine. We were shown into the restaurant by Hassan Matini, the landlord (now the Persian menu made sense …) who quickly established that the Khorest-e Zereshk had been saved for us, as it had otherwise sold out the previous night. Hassan’s wife Sarah Matini is the chef and also the tweeter of the Inn!

Our starters were a rich, thick, well-flavoured roasted root vegetable soup for MrM, which he loved, and a delicious Duck, Venison & Caramelized Kumquat Paté with the Hampshire Chutney Company’s Nicely Spicy Orange & Apricot Chutney for me. I don’t normally order paté as it can be too filling, but I was keen to try a Hampshire Chutney Company product after reading so many compliments about them (@HantsChutney) on Twitter. I’m a mean amateur chutney maker myself (with many compliments for my Ohio Chutney) and this certainly didn’t disappoint. The overall portion size was generous enough without being overwhelming.

Of course we both had the Khorest-e Zereshk, which came with a generous bowl of rice. Perhaps we should have ordered something green to brighten up the colour, but the dish was delightful, a lamb, barberry & almond stew, slow cooked to perfection with the barberries, which I’ve never had before, adding a pleasant touch of sourness. We enjoyed a glass of Merlot (him) and a glass of Shiraz (me).

Dessert was a chocolate cheesecake for MrM and a Bakewell tart for me (and yes I tried them both!).  The cheesecake was good even though I’m a chocolate lover but not always a chocolate cheesecake lover, and the Bakewell tart very enjoyable and served as requested with just a little custard. Lunch was rounded off with good coffee. Since we went the Inn has received specialist Latte Art training with Mozzo Coffee (@mozzocoffee)!

The Trooper makes a point of specifying on the menu the local provenance of much of the food, something that certainly pushes my buttons on a personal and professional level.

The pub now features in the Good Pub Guide 2012 and Hassan has the distinction of being named one the top 10 landlords across the country.  It’s well-deserved on the basis of this visit!

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