autumnal herbs

When I wake in the morning I can no longer hear the dawn chorus, when I sit outside in the evening even I need a jumper and we lit the stove for the first time last night.  I can no longer pretend that summer isn’t coming towards its end.  I had never really thought of myself as a summer girl, but as I have got older I have become aware that summer is the time that I truly come alive.  I am more productive and my creativity ups several notches.  Getting dressed in the morning takes seconds and I live in my Birkenstocks all day and every day.  The garden is full to bursting and we have fresh flowers in every room of the house.

However the is a reason for every season and as autumn begins to take the upper hand I can start to gather in.  Our vegetable garden, along with much of the house, was being rebuilt this year so we didn’t have as big a harvest this year.  However, the winter veg are in, the greenhouse has brought forth a bumper offering and the herbs have been as abundant as ever.

I do have a dehydrator, but I prefer to use that for roots and fruits.  For leaves I leave them to hang in the boiler house.

2017-09-05 17.15.352017-09-05 17.15.292017-09-05 17.15.42

Parsley, lavender and marjaram.

The mint, lemon balm and sage have been hanging for a few weeks and are now ready to put away in jars.

2017-09-05 17.15.01

We have also made our own bacon, salt beef and lox.  Today I shall be picking the rosehips for syrup, shrub (sweet vinegar), jelly, ketchup and elderberry and reship tonic.

What are you drying and preserving this autumn?

love Gillie x

 

mango mango mango

P1020606

There is nothing like a mango, nothing that I can know.  With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II.  One of the many, many bonuses of being in SE Asia is the proliferance of mangoes.  Back home we usually only have two choices of mango (Kent and Keitt) both of which are relatively bland compared to the huge choice available across Asia.  Mango is sold on almost every street corner in Thailand, chopped up in little bags with convenient little wooded sticks to avoid getting your fingers sticky.  As the girls will confirm, any attempt to prevent my fingers getting sticky and dribbling food down my front is bound to fail.  I am the messiest eater I know.  As a result when travelling and needing a snack to keep me going I avoided the fresh variety and instead stocked up on dried mango.  The only problem was that I could eat an entire family sized bag in one sitting, and frequently did!

The good news is that it is now possible to get other varieties of Mango in the UK.  One option is to seek out your local specialist Indian supermarket or if you live in Durham the wonderful Robinsons Greengrocers on North Road, but if you are in a specialist shop desert you can find some delicious Pakistani and Indian mangoes in some of the larger supermarkets and I am reliably informed that Thai mangoes will be available this year too.  Get hunting mango lovers.

However, dried mango is readily available and to maintain my mango fix without dribbling down my front I made these yummy mango balls from Madeleine Shaw’s Ready Steady Glow

  • 200g dried mango
  • grated zest of one lime
  • 180g desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • sesame seeds for rolling

IMG_3952

Soak the mango in water for half an hour or so and drain.  I kept the water and put it in my water bottle for the next day.

Add the mango to the rest of the ingredients and blitz in a food processor.

IMG_3955

Mould into bite-size balls and roll in the sesame seeds.  Keep in the fridge for as long as you can!

Next time I may pass on the sesame seeds or perhaps toast them first as I didn’t think they added all that much and they kept sticking between my teeth.  But the wonderful thing about this kind of recipe is the total adaptability.  Swap mango for dried apricots, swap coconut for chopped nuts (I’ve tried apricot and pistachio – you can see the little green squares on the left of the top photo – they were delicious and as you can see there are only a few left!)

Enjoy.

Love Gillie x

the kimchi kick

There is nothing like the kick that you get from a good mouthful of kimchi first thing in the morning.  It is the mother of all wake up calls.  But unless you happen to  have a Korean chef living in the kitchen, or live above a Korean restaurant you are going to have to make it yourself.

I have had several goes at  making kimchi with varying success.  I trawled the internet for recipes but I struggled to get the balance right.  Some were too spicy, some not spicey enough.  Some seemed like a vegetable explosion with a shopping list as long as my arm.  Some looked rather sparse.

Then I went on a little cookery books shopping spree and one of my purchases was this

P1020591

And there on page 98 was Kimchi nirvana.  Just the right mix of vegetables and just the right balance of spice.

Here it is, with thanks to Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo Classic Cabbage Kimchi (baechu kimchi)

  • 1 large airtight sterilised jar with lid

vegetables

  • I large Chinese cabbage (about 1kg)
  • 50g table salt
  • 70g sea salt
  • 450g daikon radish cut into fine julienne strips
  • 30g chives cut into 4cm lengths
  • 4 spring onions halved lengthways and cut into 4cm lengths

paste

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rice flour
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 20g grated ginger
  • 100g finely chopped onion
  • 1tbsp salted shrimp paste
  • 70g gochugaru red pepper powder (I substituted medium strength smoked paprika)
  • 100ml nam pla
  • 2tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tbsp coconut sugar (you can use unrefined sugar if you can’t get coconut sugar)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

First prepare the cabbage.  I misread the instructions and separated the leaves, this recipe actually asks you to cut the base off the cabbage and separate the leaves whilst keeping the cabbage intact.  Rinse well and sprinkle the sea salt on each leaf, focussing on the thick base and working up to the thinner peak then place in a bowl of saline made with 1 litre of water and the table salt.  Leave for four hours until the leaves are soft and limp.

Meanwhile make the paste.  This was new to me, I had never used rice flour before and this was a much thicker paste than I had made before.  Mix the flour with 2 tbsp of water with a fork until there are  no lumps and add a further 230ml of water and place in a pan.  Heat to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes stirring all the time until the paste is thick and glutenous.

IMG_3946

Remove from the heat and leave to cool, the paste will become thicker still as it does

IMG_3948

Combine all the rest of the paste ingredients in a food processor with the cooled paste.

IMG_3951

Transfer to a large bowl with the daikon, spring onions, and chives.  Mix well ensuring that all the vegetables are well combined with the paste.

IMG_3957

Now this is where I had to divert from the original instructions as I had separated my cabbage leaves.  I covered each leaf with the mixture and rolled it up.  If you have followed the instructions properly you spoon the mixture onto each cabbage half making sure to cover every leaf with the mixture and wrapping the outer leaf of each half around the cabbage to keep the mixture in.

Place in the jar leaving 3cm between the cabbage and the lid.  Seal tightly and keep at room temperature for two days.  By then it will have started to ferment and will smell a little sour and there will be plenty of juice.  Press the cabbage down into the juice, reseal and place in the fridge.  Start to taste it after a couple of weeks.  The longer you leave it the more sour it will become.  It should keep for about five to six months in an air tight container in the fridge.

IMG_3958

Enjoy

Love Gillie x

 

 

food glorious food

Family Smellie is very keen on its food and Thailand has not let us down once.  So we thought it was time that we did a little hands on cooking.   Rather than just stuffing our faces with the delicious food cooked by others, we would do some of the preliminary work ourselves.

Enter Toi, chef extraordinaire at Sea Dance.  She was chosen to bravely steer Family Smellie through the cooking process.  This is what awaited us when we arrived for our lesson.

 

Even if we didn’t cook it but just feasted with our eyes and noses that would have been a sensual journey in itself.  But Family Smellie needed to fill its bellies so onwards and upwards.

First up, as in any good project of any kind, is the preparation.  I was put on chopping duty and managed to impress Toi not only with my knowledge of nam pla but also my prowess with a mini machete!

IMG_7982

We began with seafood salad and followed with chicken green curry and chicken and ginger stir fry.  The Travellerwas not impressed by having to skin and scour the squid, but she did an excellent job.

IMG_0070

The seafood was left to marinade in soy sauce, nampla, chopped chilli, chopped garlic and palm sugar.  The Boss was in charge of chicken prep.

IMG_0074

First up was the green curry.  The curry paste was added to hot oil and the coconut cream added spoon by spoon.  I am used to chucking the tin in all at once, but this way the sauce remained thick and cooked more slowly, it was thinned with water or chicken stock later.

IMG_0083

Chicken first and finally vegetables.

 

The volunteer took notes.

IMG_0081

 

Stir fry was down to the Traveller and she was not convinced she could do the flip so expertly demonstrated by Toi, convinced that instead she would cover the Boss with a selection of chicken and vegetables.

IMG_0082

But she got the wrist action and managed a perfect stir fry flip with no stray veg at all.

 

And the finished products.

IMG_0092

And time to eat.

 

IMG_0093

A few days later I bumped into Toi in the gardens and she showed me around her kitchen garden.  Many of the vegetables used in the kitchen are grown on site and Toi is an excellent gardener as well as chef.  I also managed to impress her again with my knowledge of Holy Basil, there are hidden depths to me yet!  She not only grows a huge range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs for the kitchen but also a comprehensive range of herbs for the spa as well.  And I can testify that the spa is as good as the kitchen!

Love Gillie x

 

 

a train, a parade and a ferry

From markets to sleeper trains.  On the Sunday evening we headed back to Hualumphong to wait for our sleeper.  Despite all the street food we had eaten at JJ we were all still ravenous so we took it in turns to look for a bite to eat that looked a little more appetising than that on offer at the station food court.

The Boss and I found a lovely street cafe, a few chairs and a small stall.  A selection of pork, rice, half a hard-boiled egg and endless iced tea.  The girls went in the other direction and found an apparently excellent noodle bar.  All in all the food choices around the market are not great.  There are several stalls selling fruit bags, banana rice and waffles and we later found a small noodle bar by the station itself but that was about it.  To be fair it was a Sunday and we were in the middle of the business district and there did seem to be more on offer when we were there on Thursday but if you have time to kill and an appetite, eat before you arrive.

On the subject of food.  We were in first class, which costs only a little more than second but sells out very fast.  Tickets go on sale 3 months before departure so if you know your itinerary, book asap.  In first they offer you food.  Don’t bother.  We got caught out by a steward offering us glasses of orange juice before we departed.  How lovely we thought – how pricey we thought when we were offered the bill.  We made the mistake of ordering breakfast and went for the sandwiches.  The Thais like sugar.  I have never tasted sweet mayonnaise before.  Suffice to say one mouthful was enough.  Apparently the fruit juice that came with it was even sweeter.

Fortunately we had stocked up beforehand with fruit bags, banana rice, seaweed (me only!) cremos (the girls – exactly like oreos but half the price), dried fruit and nuts. I suggest you do the same.  There is a small store in the station and two 7/11 stores about 5 minutes walk away via the metro subway.

We had a connecting cabin with the girls – who insisted it was kept closed!  The steward came to make up the beds around 8.30.  They were excellent, larger and more comfortable than the Highland sleeper and the top bunk has a barrier put up so no falling off in the night.

A word about the air con.  It is wonderful – but VERY powerful (apparently the top bunk is warmer – I’m having that one next time). We never found the controls so I had rather an icy night, however the girls worked out they were controlled manually on each air vent.  Failing that bag the top bunk and let the cold air sink to the person in the bunk below!

We were woken with the aforementioned breakfast and a welcome cup of tea at 6am and pulled into Surat Thani at about 7am.  Pretty much on time.

IMG_3599

All very efficient, our ferry vouchers were exchanged for tickets.  The Boss and the chap in charge of the buses to the ferry waxed lyrical over Phuket and Ko Samui 30 years ago and I went to investigate the parade.

This was one of the smartest parades I had seen for a long time, albeit with a rather incongruous bride like young woman at the front.  Apparently it was National Health Day and health workers across Thailand were parading and being appreciated.  Perhaps something the NHS should think about, it needs some love.

The bus ride from Surat Thani to the ferry is a lot longer than any of us expected – at least an hour, an hour and 15 minutes.  But the bus is air conditioned – even if some of the signs are redundant.  There are no seat belts!

 

We took the catamaran to Ko Samui, which is a lot faster than the regular ferry.  If you manage to blag a seat on the top deck (where the views are amazing) do take lots of sun cream in your hand luggage, all cases (though not back packs) are put in the hold.  Failing that there is a very pleasant air-conditioned room downstairs.

IMG_7891

On arrival it is mayhem.  We had a hire car ordered so it was a bit easier for us.  There are hotel pick ups, taxi touts, everyone!

On the car hire front we were recommended to take photographs of all the scratches and dents on the car even if they had been written down.  Just in case!

Then off to Sea Dance.

The roads are good until you turn off the main drag.  Turnings can be very small and what you think is a dirt track may well be your road so keep your eyes open.

The oasis that awaited was stunning.  We had a two roomed hut with private pool.

The main pool was pretty stunning too.

The food outstanding (more about our cookery lesson later).  We were hungry.  Margarita and lunch.

 

This is breakfast.  I usually start with yoghurt and fruit salad.

IMG_3680

The Boss prefers honey on his.  My favourite juices are watermelon or carrot but there are all the usual suspects.  I usually follow with dim sum and banana pancakes, I know, but it’s my breakfast and I like it.  However if you feel the urge, there is pad Thai, Tom Gha, bacon, sausages, eggs cooked to order…

And endless pastries, croissants, toast and home-made preserves all in an airy dining room with a stunning view.

 

But most important the staff, they are out of this world, nothing is too much and they are friendly and helpful and just gorgeous.  Faith is a star and can organise anything, I am sure she could arrange for Pink Floyd to play at dinner if we asked nicely enough!

Love Gillie

in which the geographer gets lost

IMG_3586

I learned a new trick this week – how to get the seats with extra legroom when flying cattle.

Emirates, and I presume most other airlines, keep back the bulkhead and emergency exit seats when booking online.  However, if you arrive early at baggage drop and ask if you can be moved – hey presto!  So from Newcastle to Dubai we had bulkhead seats and from Dubai to Bangkok we faced the emergency exit and could stretch our legs practically into the next cabin.  Thank me later.

So we arrived, tired bu in one piece.  We found our hotel.  Which is more than the PT volunteer, Geography student daughter did.  Our hotel is at 73 Sukhumvit 13.  The Geographer took the skyrail to the bottom of Sukhumvit 13 and rang us to ask where we were (more about the phone later).  At that point the Boss and I had left sleeping daughter at the hotel and were having a cold drink in a bar opposite a building site on what I later learned was Sukhumvit 11.  I described the building site but we decided our cranes were not the same ones (it later transpired they were).  So I gave the Geographer our hotel adress (again) and she decided to get a taxi.  An hour or so later she rang again, describing her surroundings it did not sound as if she was anywhere near us.  “Where did you get the taxi to take you?” I asked.  “13 Sukhumvit 73” she replied.  This, I remind you is the girl who is going to read Geography next year!

P1020328

She made it at last and yesterday she took us out to visit her school and meet her colleagues.  The train was interesting.  We were a feature of interest.  Some Europeans do take the train to visit Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand,.  But very few venture further to Tha Rua!

P1020335

We were taken out to lunch by Bea’s colleagues to a wonderful fish restaurant.

P1020306

I don’t think I have eaten so well and so much in a long time (though we managed another massive meal that evening at a streetfood cafe!).  And then a quick visit to her school and new home.

P1020323

It was lovely to see both how happy she was and how much her colleague and pupils loved her.

 

Oh and the phone?  I got a mysterious call on Thursday afternoon from an unknown Thai number.  It took several attempts for a connection to be made – it was the Geographer.  She had left her English phone at Tha Rua station and was using her Thai phone!  Fortunately her fellow volunteer picked it up later in the day and it will  make its way back to its owner this evening.  For how long however remains to be seen!

Love Gillie x

 

Comfrey

When the goldenrod starts to flower then summer is igoin out and autumn is icumen in.  I am sure we will have lots more lovely sunny and warm days like today, in fact my birthday in early October has been a sunny day for as long as I can remember.  However, now is the time to start preserving and drying to ensure the natural medicine cabinet can see us through until next summer. Today I have been out in the garden harvesting comfrey, lavender, rosehips and chamomile

Let’s start with the comfrey.  Comfrey goes by many names Knitbone, Boneset, Bruise wort.  You get the gist, it’s a healer.  There is much discussion about the safety of comfrey due to its very high content of hepatotoxic pyrrolizideine alkaloids (PAs) wh rapich as you can guess from the name can lead to liver disease in high doses and it has been implicated in one death.  Consequently I only use it topically, in a salve, tincture or fresh compress.  See here to see it in action.

First collect your comfrey.  This is remarkably easy around us as the Boss planted it some 10 years ago and it is very hardy!  I collect both leaves and the root, there is a higher level of allantoin, which stimulates cell growth (and thus healing) and reduces inflammation in the root, but also a higher level of PAs.  Again I only use comfrey products externally and would caution anyone who wishes to take it internally to seek the advice of a professional herbalist first.

I made two types of salve and a tincture.

Salve one was  made using the oldest and most traditional  method.  Chop up your leaves and add them melted lard.  I used 125g lard and four handfuls of leaves.  Bring to a simmer, cover and leave to seep for a couple of hours and pour into a sterilised jar (you may need to warm it slightly to melt it sufficiently to pour into the jar.

IMG_3009Looks a bit poisonous doesn’t it?!

Salve two is the process I first learned when making salves.  Instead of using lard I used coconut oil and cold pressed rapeseed oil.  The first stage is the same as making salve one.  125ml of rapeseed oil and three tablespoons of coconut oil, four handfuls of leaves, chopped.  Bring to simmer, leave to seep.  What you have now is comfrey oil and you can leave it like that.  It is a good massage oil for those broken bones that cannot be set (such as toes and shoulders).  If you want to make a m ore solid salve you will need approximately 30g of beeswax (the amount you use will determine the solidity of your salve).  Grate the wax and place with the comfrey oil in a bowl over a pan of boiling water and heat gently until the wax and oil are combined.  Pour into sterilised jars.

Comfrey Tincture is the easiest recipe of all.  Wash and chop 100g of comfrey root and place in a clean jar with 150ml of vodka (the highest proof you can find, I am kicking myself for not buying the 96% vodka I saw on sale in Romania for about £15/litre!)  Leave it for 2-3 weeks and transfer to clean amber dropper bottles.

IMG_3020

 

Finally I put the leftover root in the dehydrator and will grind it up to make tincture or salve later on in the year if we run out.

IMG_3011

Next up rosehips.

Love Gillie x