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Category: autumn

The Very Best of Paris

I spent my birthday doing what I love to do most: travelling, eating delicious food, discovering interesting places, and learning new things.

I learned that travelling solo is actually quite fun and liberating – you get to do what you want to do, when you want, and how you want. And eating alone in restaurants is delightfully entertaining and not scary at all, especially in little French bistros, where the tiny tables are perfect for one and their close proximity allows for spontaneous conversations with strangers. A facet that I uncovered about myself is that I am not as timid as I thought I was; maybe it has something to do with aging and losing a bit of vergüenza along the way. My grandmother used to say that as we grow older, we divest ourselves of our shyness… and I’ll admit I’m thoroughly enjoying embracing a more brazen and bolder me.

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Autumn in Florida {Pumpkin Pottage with Kale, MahiMahi and Bacon}

Florida vs London

The rain was coming down in torrential buckets after the stifling heat of the day, enticing my curiosity to go outside and observe nature in the tropics. In Florida the rain is different to that in London, where moments before I had been transported by the prologue of the book I’ve just started, Capital. Here at this latitude, it is almost always accompanied by a fanfare of thunder and cracking that makes one realise the heavens can be quite ferocious and nature has no friends (as we say in Spain).

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Flourless Chocolate ‘Cloud’ Cake, and Fair Trade Month

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

~ Nelson Mandela

It’s very hard to “walk in another man’s shoes”, to truly understand what it feels to grow up in poverty, without access to many things people in other countries take for granted, such as having food on the table for every meal, having shoes to wear or having more than one pair, having access to healthcare, modern infrastructure, the opportunity to go to school, the possibility to have real chances to change your life for the better…

I remember growing up in Spain during a time when ETA, the Basque terrorist group, was in its full apogee and bomb scares were happening almost every week at our school. Every time we were told that classes were postponed for later in the day or cancelled, I always felt a pang in my heart and remember thinking that I much preferred to have to go to school every single day of the year than getting time off because of bomb threats. I also remember many kids being ecstatic about not having to go to classes; in fact, some of these kids who are obviously now adults, have admitted to calling in many of the threats that resulted to be fake.

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Only Count the Happy Hours & Rustic Tomato Soup w/ Seared Scallops

A Particularly Nonfacetious Summer with Musical Houses

Summer has come and gone, and I’ve barely noticed. First, “just the beginning” of the scorching summer heat came upon us in Sevilla from one day to the next. Once that happens, it’s generally hot (by hot I mean 40s and 40+ Celsius) for the rest of the season until the end of September. But I left in June, so I guess that I was lucky to escape the torture. Then, the humid air, fetid odours and exciting rapid lifestyle of NYC I had forgotten about enveloped me on my daily journeys to New York Presbyterian Hospital, all of June and July. And lastly, the serene and peaceful breeze of the Southeastern Connecticut shore, where we have been graced with some gorgeous Indian Summer days in the past few weeks, has finally brought the summer of 2014 to an end.

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Roasted Pumpkin Vegetable Potage

We are currently travelling through parts of Europe. My husband has to be in Austria a few days and asked me to come along so we could visit family and friends and maybe squeese in a day of early-season skiing as well. (The snow conditions in Austria are supposed to be perfect for skiing… we’ll see.)

So, once again, we are on one of our crazy road-trips, which always turn out to be a lot of fun and which we love. We usually end up seeing a number of cities and sometimes even can fit in a visit to a museum or a tourist site. On this trip thus far, we visited family in Maasland and managed to see a lovely museum. Maasland is a village in the province of South Holland and it has a long history, since about 925AD. It was also an important area, where Willem van Oranje, in 1574, finally defeated the Spaniards with an interesting strategy of flooding the lands. Most of the Netherlands is below sea level, and this area in particular is very low. One can see the old dikes and polders, part of the engineering system of sea and water management for which the Netherlands is famous.

The museum in the center of town is an old farmer’s house with 19th century period furniture. The house has a storefront filled with replicas of lots of traditional stock of Dutch candies, cacao, cigarettes, pharmaceutical drugs, cleaning utensils, cooking oils, and canned foodstuffs. They still sell some varieties of sugary sweets by weight and there were a number of children lining up to get their few euros worth of treats. I remembered my youth in Sevilla with my cousins where we used to go the corner kiosk to buy a handful of candies and chewing gums for only 5 pesetas!

The house also has a cellar, where the original family made homemade butter, buttermilk and cheeses. It’s very interesting to see all of the wooden and iron equipment used for the process of making these dairy products. What a lot of work all that was, but how healthy to make it at home! There are still many farmers who make and sell their own dairy products. In fact, our family shared with us some farmer’s cheese they had purchased especially for our visit. The taste and texture are unique and so wonderful.

My favourite part of the house was the kitchen of course. It was stocked with all kinds of beautiful enamelware.. all of which I wanted to take home! There were the traditional Dutch ovens, which can be stacked on top of each other, ladles and spoons, pots and pans, a poffertjes pan (something like “full” pancakes), teapot, coffeepot…

As we continue our trip, we are having a short break today so my husband can visit his dentist and I’m taking advantage of this time to write this post and share the recipe with you.

On Friday, the day we left London, I made this soup with some leftover roasted pumpkin from this recipe, so we could have something warm in our tummies for lunch and to hold us over until we arrived in France for dinner. It’s very easy to make and is a nice soup to serve as a starter for a full meal. You can use other vegetables, depending on your taste and what you may have on hand.

Enjoy!

ROASTED PUMPKIN VEGETABLE POTAGE

Ingredients, makes about 5 cups:

2 cups roasted pumpkin meat (I used butternut squash at roasted in the oven at 180C (350F) for about 40 minutes)
3 cups filtered water
2 leeks, finely sliced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 medium red onions, julienne or chopped
4 stalks celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
3-4 tablespoons duck fat
bacon bits or jamón serrano bits

Method:

In a pot over low heat, melt the duck fat and poach the onions until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables, excluding the pumpkin, and the spices. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Add one cup of the filtered water and the pumpkin meat and mix well. Add the remaining two cups of water, mix well, and season with sea salt and pepper, to taste. Warm and serve with pieces of bacon or jamón serrano.

*****

SOPA/POTAJE DE CALABAZA AL HORNO CON VERDURAS

Ingredientes, hace como 5 tazas de caldo :

2 tazas, como unos 500ml de carne de calabaza previamente hecha al horno (a 180C unos 40 minutos)
750ml de agua
2 puerros, cortados en rodajas finas
6-8 tomates cherry, cortados por la mitad
3 cebollas medianas, rojas, cortadas en juliana
4 pencas de apio, en rodajas finas
3 dientes de ajo, en rodajas a lo largo
1 cucharadita de hierbas de la Provenza
1/2 cucharadita de cúrcuma
salt y pimienta negra, a gusto
3-4 cucharadas grandes de grasa de pato
taquitos de beicon o jamón serrano, de guarnición

Como hacer la sopa:

En una olla sobre fuego lento, derrite la grasa de pato y pocha las cebollas, como unos 6-8 minutos, hasta que esten tiernas. Añade el resto de las verduras, excepto la calabaza, y las especias. Cuece hasta que esten las verduras tiernas. Agrega una taza de agua (250ml) y la calabaza y remueve bien. Ahora agregale el resto del agua, mezclando todo bien, y sazona a gusto con sal y pimienta negra. Calienta la sopa y sirve la con taquitos de beicon o jamón.

Lamb Roast with Pumpkin, Apple & Chestnut “Rough” Mash

I’m finding that taking food pictures of dinner in the Autumn and Winter in London is quite a challenge. By 15:45, it starts to get dark and by 16:30, it’s basically nighttime. The early darkness is annoying for our biological clocks, and alters our mood and sleeping habits.

For a food blogger, there’s the added issue of planning or trying to cook a meal around the small window of light hours. I am an awful planner and making dinner at lunch time during the week just to take a picture is not going to happen. However, during the week, many of my more elaborate meals are prepared at night.

Therefore, if I want to share these recipes with my readers, I have to make due with the poor lighting or create fake lighting… this last option, I’m still working on perfecting.

In the meantime, I’m sharing this recipe with pictures from breakfast. Yes, breakfast. I ate leftovers from dinner as my breakfast, something I love to do since going Paleo! It’s a quick and easy way to incorporate some healthy, saturated fats with which to start off my day.

The question today is, what do I make myself for lunch? 😉

LAMB ROAST WITH PUMPKIN, APPLE & CHESTNUT “ROUGH” MASH

Ingredients, for 2:

1 kg leg of lamb
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 800g)
3 medium apples, peeled and cubed
10-12 chestnuts, peeled and halved
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon ground rosemary
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
zest of 1-2 lemons

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200C (390F). Toss the cubed pumpkin, apples and chestnuts together. Place them on the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Rinse the leg of lamb and place on top of the pumpkin mixture. With a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic. Add the rosemary, sea salt, pepper, zest and olive oil and mix well. Coat the leg of lamb on both sides with the rosemary mixture. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes for medium done or about 15 minutes longer for less pink. About half way through, take the roast out of the oven, and remove the lamb, carefully to not burn yourself. With a spoon, toss the pumpkin mixture and replace the leg of lamb, with the un-cooked side up. Continue baking until done.

*****

PIERNA DE CORDERO AL HORNO CON BASE DE CALABAZA, MANZANAS Y CASTAÑAS

Ingredientes, para 2 comensales:

1 kg pierna de cordero
1/2 calabaza tipo “butternut squash”, como 800g, pelada y cortada a taquitos
3 manzanas medianas, peladas y cortadas a taquitos
10-12 castañas frescas, peladas y cortadas por la mitad
4 dientes de ajo, pelados
1 cucharada grande de romero molido
1 cucharada grande de sal gorda
1 cucharadita de pimienta negra
1/2 taza de aceite de oliva
ralladura de 1 o 2 limones

Como hacer el cordero al horno:

Precalienta el horno a 200C. Mezcla los trozos de calabaza, manzana y las castañas y pon todo en el fondo del recipiente que vaya a ir al horno. Enjuaga la pierna de cordero y coloca la encima de la calabaza. En un mortero, machaca los ajos. Añade el romero, la pimienta, la sal, la ralladura de limón y el aceite de oliva. Mezcla todo bien y embadurna ambos lados de la pierna de cordero con esta mezcla. Hornear como una hora y 15 minutos o una hora y media. A mitad de tiempo, saca el cordero del horno. Retira la pierna del recipiente, con cuidado para no quemarte y ponla en un plato. A continuación, con una cuchara de palo, dale la vuelta a la calabaza y demás. Vuelve a incorporar la pierna de cordero en el recipiente, pero esta vez del lado aún no hecho. Termina horneando.

Chicken with Plums

No, not the movie, but a real dish. It’s been a few days since I’ve posted a recipe and that’s due to the changes I’ve been making to the blog. It’s been quite an ordeal, but I hope this new format makes it nicer for all of you, and me too!

I’m sharing a dish, which I made last night for dinner and made a little extra for lunch for me today. Unfortunately, I ate rather late today and the sun is gone.. hence no natural light for pictures. It’s hard fitting in a time window with good lighting during the autumn and winter in London. It’s dark by about 16:30.

I hope you give this a try and enjoy! By the way, it’s made with duck fat, my new favourite fat.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS

Ingredients, for 4:

2 kg chicken pieces (I used half legs, half thighs)
10 plums, halved and pitted
3 medium red onions, julienne
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4-5 sprigs thyme
1/3 heaping cup of Groningen, wholegrain mustard (the brand I used contains no sugar or additives)
1/3 cup duck fat, plus some extra for dabbing chicken pieces
1/3 cup white wine
1-2 tablespoons raw honey
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Season the chicken with sea salt and pepper. Use a dish for the stovetop that can go to the oven as well, or use a pan, for the following. Over medium heat, melt the duck fat and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Add the onions and garlic to the duck fat and poach until the onions are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the thyme, raw honey and mustard and mix well. Cook until the honey has become liquid, just a couple of minutes. Pour the mixture over the chicken pieces and mix to coat well. Place the chicken pieces into an ovenproof dish. Pour the wine over top. Place the halved plums around the chicken pieces. And add a few dabs of duck fat on top of the chicken. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the chicken is done, turning the chicken pieces over around half time, and coating with the sauce.

*****

POLLO CON CIRUELAS

Ingredientes, para 4 comensales:

2 kg de piezas de pollo (yo utilicé muslos y contra-muslos)
10 ciruelas frescas, cortadas por la mitad y sin hueso
3 cebollas medianas, rojas, cortadas en juliana
3 dientes de ajo, cortados
tomillo fresco, unas 4-5 ramitas
3-4 cucharadas grandes de mostaza con semillas de mostaza
3 cucharadas grandes de grasa de pato, y poco extra para poner por encima del pollo
1-2 cucharadas grandes de miel cruda
75ml de vino blanco
sal y pimienta, a gusto

Como hacer el pollo con ciruelas:

Precalienta el horno a 180C. Salpimienta el pollo. El siguiente paso lo puedes hacer en el mismo recipiente que vaya a ir al horno si sirve para la hornilla también, sino en una sartén grande. Derrite la grasa de pato, sobre fuego medio. Agrega las piezas de pollo y dora las por ambos lados. Retira el pollo de la sartén (sin grasa) y dejar a un lado en un bol o recipiente hondo. Pocha las cebollas y ajos en la misma sartén con la restante grasa de pato, unos 5-7 minutos. Añade el tomillo, la miel y la mostaza. Cuece unos minutos hasta que la miel se haga líquida. Vierte la mezcla de miel sobre las piezas de pollo y remueve hasta cubrir bien. Pasa el pollo y la salsa a un recipiente para el horno. Échale por encima el vino y  coloca las mitades de ciruela entre las piezas de pollo. Hornea durante unos 35-40 minutos o hasta que el pollo este bien hecho, dandole la vuelta a mitad de tiempo.

Sweet Potato & Zucchini Soup with Quatre-Epices

Since moving back to Europe, we make a point of doing an annual road trip to Sevilla, Spain usually in the summer or autumn. We have three important reasons for driving so many kilometers each year: one, we get to enjoy a lot of quality time together and see many beautiful things along the way, both in France and in Spain; and two, we have the opportunity of seeing family and friends, whom we wouldn’t see otherwise because of where they live, Bayonne and Vitoria; and three, we stock up on Spanish goodies, such as various 5-liter olive oil bottles, whole legs of jamon serrano, and other things we miss, that we couldn’t possibly pack into a suitcase. On the last trip, we even brought back some delicious salted cod!

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Now that we live in London, we are in France more often than when we lived in Germany. Now, we must cross the north of France every time we visit the Benelux and Germany. Consequently, we have gotten to know Calais and the surrounding region quite well. During the summer months when we arrive around lunchtime, our first stop in France is always for moules frites in Gravelines at Le 116. Gravelines is a rather sleepy little town on the River Aa; but it does have a beautiful beach, and the historical, hexagonal-shaped bastion, Grand Fort Philippe, is worth visiting. The area can be confusing for the first-time visitor as the culture, the landscape and even the names of towns are a mixture of French and Dutch. The area was part of Flanders and still has many similarities with Belgium and The Netherlands. (By the way, another very interesting and beautiful hexagonal fort town is Bourtange, near Groningen in The Netherlands.)

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Eating in France can be a hit or miss experience, we’ve discovered. Arguably one could say that can happen in every country; but when eating in France, we’ve come to expect top quality and cuisine, and it’s not always the case. Aside from our moules frites passion, we have stopped for every meal during one trip or another, and have had varying degrees of satisfaction. And some of the best meals have been when and where we least expected them.

We once had a delightful breakfast in Neufchâtel. We arrived in town just as the farmers’ market was opening; in fact, it was still slightly dark out and the morning air was quite brisk, adding a very pleasant atmosphere with which to start our day. At the market, we purchased some pungent local cheeses (Neufchâtel, of course!) from a very helpful cheesemonger and a large baguette at the nearby boulangerie (France and Spain are the only two countries in which I make an exception to eat bread, and only occasionally), which we consumed with a cafe au lait, before continuing our journey. I love visiting farmers’ markets, and I’ve found the best ones in France, The Netherlands and Germany. The only downside of travelling and visiting markets is not being able to purchase all the fresh seafood, meats and produce!

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Another memorable meal was our stop in Conty for dinner. The area is famous for le Tour de France going through it and the little restaurant at which we ate had a number of cycling memorabilia. But the best part of dinner was the cookery book, Cuisine d’Hiver, laying on a shelf behind me. I took a gazillion pictures of the recipes with my iPhone and later saved them on my computer to never look at them again. I do this a lot. In fact, I take pictures of menus with the intention of using the ideas for inspiration and later always forget to revisit them.

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So, when my duck fat arrived in the mail the other day, for some reason I thought of France. And no, I still haven’t used any of the recipes from the cookery book in Conty, although I’ve placed them all in a folder to have them printed. That’s a step in the right direction, I think. In the meantime, I came up with this French-inspired soup recipe to use up the sweet potatoes I had on hand.

I went to grab some quatre-épices and found out I was out of the spice mix. This is another food item I tend to purchase when travelling through France, that and herbes de Provence. The spice mix usually includes pepper (white, black or both), ginger, nutmeg and cloves. For the soup, I created my own combination by using equal parts of black pepper, nutmeg and cloves and adding some freshly grated ginger.

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To add some kick, which my husband tends to appreciate, I included some chili powder, as well. And I added turmeric for the health benefits and for a more intense colour.

As the duck fat was not enough fat for my interpretation of a healthy meal, I garnished the soup with some chopped, hard-boiled eggs and pieces of jamon serrano, along with some chopped chives for additional flavour. You can omit these, but if you want a more well-balanced dish, I wouldn’t. (Of course, bacon or ham can be substituted for the jamon serrano.)

The sweet potato and zucchini soup is my homage to our trips through France… if I can’t be in France on a daily basis, I can bring a little bit of France to me by way of the very healthy and delicious duck fat and quatre-épices. I hope you will also enjoy!

Bon Appétit!

Sweet Potato & Zucchini Soup with Quatre-Epices
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Makes about 10 servings.
Ingredients
  • 900g (just shy of 2lbs) sweet potato, peeled and roughly cubed
  • 2 medium zucchini, partially peeled and roughly cubed
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 cup duck fat
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 7-8 cups filtered water, or if you have chicken or duck broth, much better
  • 3 teaspoons coarse sea salt (adjust salt if you use broth and/or to taste, of course)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, optional
  • For garnish, if desired:
  • hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • jamon serrano or bacon pieces
  • chopped chives
Instructions
  1. Place the duck fat, onion and leek in a large pot. Poach over low heat, about 8 minutes until the onion is almost translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, zucchini pieces, and the spices and stir well.
  3. Cook about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes and 4 cups of filtered water or stock.
  5. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool, enough to handle safely.
  7. With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
  8. Add 3-4 cups of additional filtered water.
  9. Add sea salt, adjusting to taste.
  10. Add chili powder, if desired.
  11. Stir well.
  12. Heat through over low heat to warm enough to serve, about 5-7 minutes.
  13. Garnish with hard-boiled egg, jamon serrano and chives, if desired.
  14. (The soup freezes well for later use.)

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Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes

I woke up this morning with a mission in mind: to finally recreate the pumpkin fudge brownie recipe I have promised my readers. So, the first thing I did was cut up one of my gorgeous and rather large butternut squash and bake it, while I organised things a bit. I used to be one of those people who had to immediately eat breakfast after getting up, especially when I was working in NYC. But since going Paleo, I actually prefer to wait about an hour or more before eating anything. Most days, I first prepare and drink my warm water with freshly squeesed lemon juice, and then after that’s settled, I start thinking about what to make for breakfast.

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As I’m working from home now (I am a freelance graphic designer), I tend to catch up on news during this time and settle in to tackle work after I’ve eaten.

Today, since I knew I would have too much pumpkin meat leftover after making the fudge brownies, a thought came to mind: why not have pumpkin pancakes or waffles for breakfast too?! I’m not really crazy about sweet things for breakfast, much preferring savoury dishes with lots of healthy fats to keep me going for hours on end.

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But as it’s Sunday, I made an exception. I was planning to use one of my own recipes as guidance, but my computer decided it needed a software update today and I couldn’t access the internet until that update was installed. Frustration was about to set in, when I decided to simply invent a new recipe…

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I’m embarrassed to “toot my own horn”, but these are quite good, fluffly, light and delicious. Plus the flavours make it a perfect treat for an Autumn morning. And if you eat them as I did, with some melt-in-your-mouth Kerrygold butter and maple syrup, all the better. 😉

Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes
Author: The Saffron Girl
Serves: 10
Makes about 10 pancakes, 2 1/2-in diameter
Ingredients
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cooked pumpkin meat
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 tablespoon coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a food processor, blend until smooth the egg, pumpkin meat, spices, sea salt and baking soda.
  2. Add the almond flour and pulse to mix well.
  3. Add the coconut flour and pulse again to mix well.
  4. Add the maple syrup, if desired and blend well.
  5. Heat a frying pan over low heat and grease with some coconut oil.
  6. Pour the pancake batter by spoonfuls onto the pan. I poured 2 spoonfuls per pancake.
  7. Allow to cook through until the batter starts to bubble. Immediately turn over and cook on other side.
  8. Serve with butter and maple syrup, if desired.

 

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Sweet Potato, Apple & Fennel Hash – Guest Post by Cinnamon Eats – And Notes on Being an Expat

Being an expat can provide the perfect platform for “once in a lifetime” experiences that are interesting, educational, exciting and fun. It’s a privilege that many of us are lucky to have. I mean, who doesn’t want to be in a foreign country, enjoying it with a tourist mentality (you know that eventually you’ll get to go home, whatever that turns out to be, so anything that goes wrong is only temporary, right?), yet living there as a local and taking advantage of things that tourists can never dream of being able to do? And there’s the added bonus to be able to complain about all the idiosyncrasies of the locals, always a humorous conversation starter with like-minded expats. It’s a great combination, the best of both worlds. But it’s not always an easy one to transition into. In fact, it can be for many people quite daunting.

Usually the couple or family moves because of the job of one of the spouses. So that leaves the other spouse at home without a job, and if they don’t have children or pets, quite alone. Many of us find ourselves in a tough situation to get used to. From the most ordinary and routine chores, such as going grocery shopping, to finding a new doctor, a new hairdresser, where to buy an eraser perhaps?, to getting the children into new schools, finding the right house to live in, purchasing a new car or learning to drive on the wrong side of the car and road, to maybe even having to learn a new language will of course all be very interesting, but will most certainly also be very stressful and frustrating at times.

For the working spouse, who gets to go to the office and maintain a structure and relatively organised schedule, the transition is always easier. Our company prepared us for the first move by putting us in an expat course. And they clearly told us that if the at home spouse was not happy, it could make or break the work experience. So, they (and we) want happy at-home-spouses of course. Talk about pressure!

When we moved to Germany, I didn’t exactly consider myself an expat. I actually felt like I was coming home, back to Europe after several years in the US. And although that was true and I have German ancestry, Germany is not Spain, nor do they speak Spanish natürlich, and I only knew a few basic words and phrases in German that I remembered from my lessons as a child. And although most people can speak some English if they are hard-pressed or want to be nice, it’s a good idea to learn the language.  Therefore, to conquer my first fear and try to integrate, I immediately starting German lessons. (I oftentimes pondered about what life had been like for the immigrants from Spain during the 50s-60s, many without university education, no knowledge of foreign languages, and coming from a precarious economic situation. They were not really expats. Many ended up staying in Germany and made a life there for their children and grandchildren; others returned to Spain because the experience was too much of a hardship and being away from family weighed more than any economic or social opportunities. It’s sadly happening all over again in Spain now; but the difference is that most people today have a higher education and some knowledge of English, which helps. Plus, today we have the internet and Facebook with which to keep in touch. Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily an easier experience than it was for the generation after WWII. I have friends who after 3 years in Bavaria just returned home because they missed their families and Spain too much!)

During my German lessons, I met a lot of interesting people from all around the world, from Afghanistan, Russia, Rumania, Mexico, Bosnia, Czech Republic, the US, and South Korea (most of the Koreans were in Germany to attend classical music training, how cool is that? And one of them was even a well-known opera singer back in South Korea!). Many of those that I met became my friends and we still have contact today, although we have moved away from Frankfurt.

But when my year-long classes ended and I had passed my Mittestuffe Prüfung, I found myself without a daily routine and not knowing many people, especially people with whom I could speak without having to think or get a headache after our conversation in German, which was our common ground. That’s when joining the AWCT (American Women’s Club of the Taunus) came to the rescue. (I did seek some Spanish groups and ironically found none.)

(By the way, if you’re interested, there’s a very witty and accurate article written by Mark Twain about that awful German language. Mark Twain spent about three months in Heidelberg, during which time he also tried to learn the language. It’s hilarious to read, especially if you know German or have ever tried learning it.)

Meeting new people as an expat can prove to be one of the hardest obstacles to overcome to create a healthy and happy expat experience… remember no pressure, right?! Therefore, when we learned we were being transferred to London, I joined the AWCL (American Women’s Club of London) before arriving. The knowledge that this transition was going to be different from the previous one helped me begin meeting people much sooner. For starters, I didn’t have to learn a language (although sometimes it seems like the Brits are speaking something completely foreign), but I also didn’t have the advantage of meeting people via classes. Since my participation in the group in Frankfurt had proven to be so positive, I figured it was a good way to start in this new country that I had visited as a tourist and for work long ago, but was moving to as an expat this time. I have later also joined two Spanish groups, with whom I have a lot of fun and get to converse in Spanish.

The other day at a meeting of the AWCL, one of the speakers said that the Club’s activities gave us reasons to not stay home in our pjs until midday. The whole room giggled, yes, giggled, at this comment because it rang true to most I think…

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So when I discovered that Naz from Cinnamon Eats is also an expat here in the UK, without even knowing her, we already had some common ground. And things got better when we learned that we are both Paleo bloggers. (Why is it that we always want to find people who think alike? I guess it makes life easier, no?)

Blogging has become an essential part of my daily life. I love what I do and love to share my stories and recipes with my readers. And I have found that this is true for most other food bloggers; in many cases it has changed our lives, even leading to different career paths. For me, it has also enhanced my expat experience in the UK, even though I think it has encouraged an ever growing habit of sitting in front of my computer in my pjs until midday. 😉 (Shhhh… don’t tell my husband.)

As bloggers, we take great care and pride in how we present all of this information to you. Naz just recently did a major overhaul of her blog, and I’m in the midst of doing the same to mine. Today, I have the pleasure of not only reciprocating with Naz after my experience as a first time guest poster on her site, but also bringing to you Naz’s first guest post after her new site has gone live!

I hope you will become a fan of Cinnamon Eats and enjoy reading her stories and cooking with her recipes, like I do. In the meantime, I leave you with this wonderful seasonal dish, which can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yum!

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Hello to all The Saffron Girl readers! First of I want to say how excited I am to be here sharing my recipe with you all! I met Debra online a couple of months back via Instagram and since then we have connected through our common passions of cooking and eating healthy and delicious paleo foods. We also both live in England so I’m hoping that one of these days we can also meet up in person! Debra also recently shared a guest post over on my blog Cinnamon Eats, you can check out that post here. Thank you Debra for having me!

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Since connecting with Debra I have come to enjoy her recipes and the attention to detail she gives to her blog and the message she shares with her readers and followers. Her recipes prove that eating healthy doesn’t mean eating boring and bland foods, quiet the opposite actually!

The dish I’m sharing with you today is one I made a couple of weeks back and it contains some of my favourite ingredients to cook with… sweet potatoes, apples and fennel, along with warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg make this a great dish for these ever increasingly cold Autumn days.

Sweet Potato, Apple & Fennel Hash – Guest Post by Cinnamon Eats
Author: The Saffron Girl
Ingredients
  • 500gm/1.1lbs grass-fed ground beef
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 3 small-med apples diced. (I used Jonagold apples)
  • 2-3 small fennel bulbs, cored and diced
  • 1 small red onion diced
  • 2 Tbsp grass-fed butter/ghee, divided
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • Sea salt
Instructions
  1. Place a pan on medium heat and add in 1 Tbsp of butter/ghee. Once melted add in your sweet potato. Stir to cook for about 5 mins then sprinkle in some sea salt (the salt will help the sweet potato cook faster). After about 10 minutes check the sweet potato for doneness by pricking a fork into one of the sweet potatoes, you want it to be just cooked through but not so much that it falls apart when you touch it.
  2. Remove the sweet potato to a clean dish and set aside. Heat the other Tbsp of butter/ghee in the pan and add in the onion, sauté until soft and transclucent then add in the ground-beef. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat as it cooks.
  3. When the meat is just about cooked through, season with some sea salt. Add in the diced fennel and stir through, cook for about 5 minutes or so before adding in the apples. Cook on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes then add in your already cooked sweet potato.
  4. Add in the rest of your seasonings (cinnamon, allspice, ground clove, ground nutmeg and ground ginger). Stir everything together, turn the heat to low and let everything cook for another few minutes or until the apples, fennel and sweet potato are tender and the meat is cooked through.
  5. Serve as is and enjoy!

A little about Naz:

nazNazanin or Naz as her friends and family like to call her is an Australian expat living in England. She left Australia in 2011 with her husband Joe to move to Michigan, U.S.A where they stayed for just under 2 years, before they moved to England. Naz started her journey to Paleo eating in 2011 and now runs her own Paleo based food blog at cinnamoneats.com. She loves to create delicious Paleo recipes to share with others. You can also connect with Naz via her Facebook Page, her Instagram or her Twitter.

Limoncello Pumpkin Soup

I love it when the lack of ingredients provokes a stroke of creativity. This happened to me when making this soup. I was looking for my white wine, of which I didn’t have any left, and saw the limoncello. And it just seemed like a cool flavour to add to this soup. Some friends of ours, who used to live in Italy, brought over a couple of bottles of limoncello when they visited us in Germany. We obviously are not drinkers (since that was over two years ago), and much less of liquors, so both bottles are almost intact.

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We keep the pretty bottles in the fridge, as it’s supposed to be served chilled. I sort of see them every day, and they are almost like a decoration inside my fridge. The limoncello is made from lemons and has a beautiful, sunny yellow colour that seems unreal. When opened, the aroma that permeates from the liqour is both refreshing and delicate; but don’t be fooled, it has quite a punch when you drink it straight.

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However, in the soup is was undetectable, although I think it may have enhanced the overall flavour, since it turned out delicious. Of course, you can substitute with a white wine, which was my original idea.

It’s very easy to make, especially if you’re in a hurry. Just make sure you either roast the pumpkin first; or I guess canned pumpkin could also work. I garnished it with some finely sliced spring onions and crumbled Stilton cheese; however a little bit of lemon zest would probably bring out the limoncello flavours and be a nice contrast to the pumpkin.

Limoncello Pumpkin Soup
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 3-4
Serves 3-4.
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin meat
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, butter or fat of preference
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup limoncello, or white wine
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • spring onions, finely sliced, for garnishing
  • Stilton cheese, crumbled, for garnishing and extra flavour (optional, but very tasty)
Instructions
  1. Roast your pumpkin in the oven for about 45 minutes at 180C (350F). I split mine in half and place them in an ovenproof dish. Facing up or down really doesn’t matter much.
  2. In a pot over low heat, poach the onions, garlic and celery with the olive oil or fat of choice, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the limoncello or white wine and reduce, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the pumpkin meat, giving it a good stir.
  5. Pour in the filtered water, and cook about 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, and with an immersion blender, very roughly blend to puree a bit, but leaving chunks of the celery and other vegetables.
  7. (Alternatively you could puree the pumpkin with the water first and leave the rest of the vegetables whole.)
  8. Return to the stove and heat until warm to eat.
  9. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste.
  10. To serve, garnish with spring onions, Stitlon cheese or whatever you desire. The cheese, if you do dairy, adds a delicious flavour, as does the spring onion.

 

Stratford-upon-Avon and Some English Lessons, The Cotswolds Part I

It’s been a while since I’ve written an entry in my Travel Logs. And although we travel frequently, I generally don’t have the time to indulge in doing a proper write-up about many of our trips, which was one of my original intentions with this blog. But a few weekends ago, we made an excursion that deserves a break in my routine so I may share with you a little bit about what we saw, experienced, and most importantly discovered.

For me, one of the most interesting facets about travelling is what I learn, things that I probably would never retain otherwise or would not affect me in the same manner, had I not experienced them first-hand and in person. And since we are living in England, it would be a crime to not visit the Cotswolds or the birthplace of who is considered the most influential and important writer in the history of the English language, Shakespeare.

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William Shakespeare

The weekend had a few highlights for us, aside from the trip and landscape themselves. One, we had a fantastic, well-informed guide at the Anne Hathaway cottage in Straford-upon-Avon, from whom we learned where a few ordinary English language terms originated; two, driving through this beautiful part of the countryside made us experience what is simply quintessentially English – the thatched roofed cottages, the lovely country roads large enough only for one car, the pretty English gardens filled with roses, and tearoom after tearoom; and last, we were once again educated by an extremely entertaining and well-informed guide, Tabitha, at the Roman Baths in the city of Bath.

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Speaking of those narrow English country roads, I kept imagining myself in a vintage British convertible, with a scarf wrapped around my head flowing in the wind, and some romantic music playing in the background, while we slowly but steadily made our way from village to village….sometimes, I could also imagine myself riding in an old Land Rover, my most favourite car, driving up to my Georgian manor surrounded by acres of farm land scattered with sheep, and my adorable Rufus waiting to greet me…

It’s so easy to create dreams when visiting the Cotswolds.

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Rufus was our Saint Bernard, when I was growing up in Spain. He and Fritzy, our crazy German Shepherd, loved to jump into the back of my father’s Land Rover and head to the beach. Rufus was such a big, loving dog (and I was such a little girl), that sometimes I rode him like a horse. The Cotswolds brought back a longing for living on a farm and having animals around me that I had thought was not possible anymore. I’ll have to work on that dream becoming real!

Anyway, back to the reality of the trip…

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Shakespeare’s Birthplace, as seen from the Gardens

The Cotswolds can be done in two days, as we did; however, I would suggest either more days to really linger, or going back frequently, as we intend to do.

We started off our journey in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, home to his family, and later where he died. There are five houses connected to his life and death and they all belong to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which has renovated and preserved them for all of us to be able to experience this exciting part of English (and world) history.

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Views of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language; he was a poet, playwright and dramatist; and stepping into the past and walking “in his footsteps” is somewhat magical.

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The first house we visited was Shakespeare’s birthplace, which is located in the center of town, on Henley Street. His father, John, was a successful businessman and glover, who also served as town mayor. His mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer, and her house is part of the Shakespeare’s Houses & Gardens, which we however did not visit and plan to return to see. The tickets allow for re-entry within a year, like many of the National Trust properties do as well. So, if you’re a local or live close enough like us, it’s a great deal of which to take advantage.

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John’s business afforded the family an affluent upbringing and William had a “good life” and later through his line of work, met and befriended very influential people, and expanded his fortune enough to finance several properties, including the second largest house in Stratford during his time, New Place. The birthplace is somewhat of a higgledy-piggledy set of rooms, which shows how the house was expanded upon throughout the life of its occupants into what is visible today and is an attractive timbered house from the outside. On the inside, you can visit the ground and first floors, the kitchen and gardens. It’s a must-see to understand how life was during the Middle Ages in England. It must have been quite dark with only candles creating some light and the windows being so small. Outside in the garden, costumed actors were performing excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays. It’s definitely worth taking a seat on one of the benches, enjoying their art and being transported into another era…and maybe start dreaming again.

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Nash’s House

The next house on our tour was Nash’s House & New Place. Shakespeare bought New Place in 1597 and this was the second largest home in Stratford during his time. He lived in it with his family when he was not in London, and this is where he died in 1616. New Place is no longer standing; only the foundations are visible on the grounds, which is now the garden part of   Nash’s House. Nash’s House was named after Thomas Nash, the first husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, and a wealthy landowner. It’s a well-preserved Tudor building with a beautiful, traditional knot garden in the back. Don’t miss out on visiting the garden and the green expanse behind it, as it’s actually quite impressive to see how large it is for a property in the center of town. Apple trees line part of the knot garden, which must be even lovelier to see during the summer when the flowers are in bloom.

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From Nash’s House, we walked down Church Street towards Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall, the town’s wealthy doctor. The house has features, which show off their wealth, such as stone flooring, large stone fireplaces, and beautiful exposed timber beams facing the street (so people walking by could be witness to their economic status). It’s a grand house by 16th century (and even today’s) standards. The gardens are very pretty and include a variety of herbs that were most likely used by Susanna’s husband in his medicinal potions. (Personally, I would love a garden like this for my culinary needs, as I keep killing off my herbs on the windowsill.)

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Hall’s Croft, house, interior, and gardens

A short walk from Hall’s Croft is Holy Trinity Church, which is where Shakespeare was baptised and later interred. At the feet of the high altar, you can see the graves of William, his wife, and his daughters as well as as that of John Hall, his son-in-law. Shakespeare and Anne had three children. Susanna was born only about six months after they were rapidly married, when Anne was 26 and William only 18! And then they had twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at age 11 of unknown causes. Back then the cause of death was not recorded unless it was part of a coroner’s report. But as the plague was still rampant, it’s quite possible that could’ve been the cause… but we’ll never know for sure. Shakespeare himself survived the plague as an infant, but his death at the approximate age of 52 was also due to unknown causes, very possibly due to some infection or disease for which medicine back then had no cure. As Shakespeare did not want his body to be examined or exhumed, he supposedly placed a curse, which can be read on the epitaph of his gravestone, on anyone trying to remove his bones from this location. So we will probably never know for sure what caused his death; on the positive side and for tourism in Stratford-upon-Avon, this curse most likely saved us from seeing his grave site transferred to Westminster Abbey in London.

(By the way, we learned that there are no direct descendants of William and Anne alive today. However, Anne Hathaway’s family flourished and one of her brother’s descendants lived in her house until 1899.)

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Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

A walk behind the church takes you to the banks of the River Avon, which is lined with beautifully trimmed weeping willows. A number of locations offer boat rides along the river…something we’ll try to enjoy on our next visit. Again, it was so easy to imagine sitting on a boat, with my husband wearing a stripped jacket and straw hat and rowing away, as I coquettishly hold my parasol to protect me against the rays of the afternoon sun…

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River Avon

Our last stop in Stratford was Anne Hathaway’s cottage. The house and 90-some-acre property were first leased by Anne’s grandfather and later purchased and passed down to family members until the late 1800s, when the property was purchased by the Trust. The cottage started off as a two-room house with very high ceilings and a fireplace in the middle of the main room. It was later expanded by Anne’s eldest brother and is a lovely example of a thatched Tudor cottage, with somewhat messy, but enchanting English grass gardens, an apple orchard and a vegetable plot. It’s truly a romantic sight!

And it was here that we learned a few things about how some English words came into being and how life transpired during Tudor times. In the main room of the house, what today would be considered the sitting/dining room all together, there’s a fine example of a dining table, commissioned by Anne’s grandfather and used until the house was handed over to the Trust in 1899. The table may not seem like much to us today, but it’s a beautifully crafted piece of furniture, which has a table top or board that is “convertible” or which can be flipped around. The practical reason for this feature is that Tudor people were messy and dirty eaters, eating with their hands and allowing things to drop off of their “tranches” or plates, therefore not only getting the floors (and their clothes) dirty, but also scratching and getting the table top dirty and greasy. However, this same table would serve as a place to play card games with the family and guests, so by flipping it over to the “prettier” side for that purpose, it was always kept presentable. The man of the house sat at the head of the table in a chair with arms, whilst the women and children sat on armless chairs or stools. Since the man sat at the head of the table, then called board, he was considered the “chairman of the board”…and this is how this term originated! Isn’t that cool or what? And wait there’s more… when playing cards, it was considered foul play to place your hands below the board/table since that way one could cheat. Hence, the term “above the board” was coined meaning that everything, hands included, and especially morals, were to be kept above the board and visible to all.

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Anne’s cottage may not seem today like it was the home of a well-to-do family, but if you look closely, you will see signs of Anne’s family’s affluence and wealth, such as the stone floors, large stone fireplaces and the bedrooms, which included guest beds. Beds were reserved for the wealthier folk and for guests, and were made of straw “mattresses”, which were not often cleaned or replaced and included the ubiquitous little bed mites. The mattress lay upon a criss-cross stringed bed slate that had to be tightened every so often. So, therefore the other phrase: “sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite” came into being.

We learned a few other intriguing pieces of historical information, which were of particular interest for me, since I obviously love to cook. Food was served on “tranches” or wooden plates. Tranche comes from the French word “piece”, as referred to a piece of wood or even further back in history, a piece of bread, upon which food was served. The tranches were being constantly carved out of wood by the family’s on-staff carpenter and when a tranche got particularly greasy and full of grime, it was simply tossed into the fire and replaced with a new, clean one. The tranche is square in shape, with a small little indentation in the upper corner, where salt was placed to condiment one’s food. The lady of the house was the keeper of the rock salt, as it was a very valuable condiment during those times. The eldest son was mostly likely the child in charge of grinding up some salt every day, which he later gave to his mother, and who in turn shared with the family and guests, allocating an amount of salt that fit in her pinched fingers, called a “pinch of salt,” to each diner.

The stove was literally kept running all day and night with a pot constantly cooking. This dish, if we can call it as such, was called potage, from the French word as well meaning stew, porridge or a thick soup. Remember back then, those who could read and write mostly spoke French, which was the language of the conquering Normans. These words dwindled down into the regular folk as well. The potage could include any type of meat and vegetables and as it was constantly cooking and not often cleaned out, another phrase “piss pot in, piss pot out” was coined meaning “garbage in, garbage out.”

Chicken, by the way, was considered a very special treat and quite expensive. The animals were kept primarily for laying eggs, and therefore eating a chicken was translated into the loss of a valuable source of eggs.

Nothing was wasted in those times, including the ashes from the oven and fireplaces, which was used to make toothpaste and soap. Of course, back then they didn’t clean their teeth, which they did with their fingers as no toothbrushes existed, on a daily basis as we do, nor did they bathe but about once a year. When bathing day came around, usually when Spring arrived and a new set of clothes was freshly put out, a big bathtub was filled with water and the man of the house went in first, followed by the lady of the house and the children, with the youngest one being last. By the time the youngest or the baby was put into the bath, the water was so full of grime from the rest of the family, that is was dark…so, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” takes on a real meaning. 😉

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It sounds kind of yucky if you really envision it! I prefer to keep it on the romantic level, rather than think about how this particular English phrase came about. The thing is Anne’s family was not poor and they did enjoy a number of luxuries, as well as were very well fed and healthy for their time. In fact, since Anne’s family was affluent, they would have given their food scraps to the poor, after scrapping it off their tranches with some bread. The bread and all went to these less lucky souls.

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They had a working farm, which supplied them with all their necessities and land for their sheep, making them successful in the wool trade through which most likely Anne’s father and William’s father met creating a family and business bond. Their farm was planted with all of the seasonal, local vegetables and fruits they required… but there’s one vegetable they would’ve not eaten, and that is the potato! When the potato was introduced into England in the 16th century, it took some time before it was considered an article of food. As it grows underground, it became associated with the Devil. In fact, young men would try to show their virility by wearing a potato on a string around their necks, thereby demonstrating to the world (and especially young women) that they were not afraid of the Devil. However, they rather became the laughing stock of people, and Shakespeare makes reference to this his play, “Merry Wives of Windsor”.

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As you see, our visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was quite fruitful in terms of English terminology, which seems quite fitting given this is the birthplace of Shakespeare, and learning a few things about living and eating during Tudor times.

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Our trip continued on to the lovely, honey-coloured villages of the Cotswolds and onto the Unesco World Heritage Site of the city of Bath… but I’ll leave all that for my next travel log.

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