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Bonfire, Diwali & Apple Dappies

For a Thursday it doesn't get better than that: singing with my nieces for Diwali, watching a fireworks display, sipping mulled wine around the bonfire and eating apple dappies in the back garden around the fire pit...in late October!
Diwali prayers are a small, family affair that involves lighting as many lamps and candles as you like.
And then, also making as much noise as  you like, singing (or rather humming) along to lively rhythms and keeping the beat with anything you can imagine; clapping, tapping and snapping your fingers all perfectly acceptable! 
I never thought that my nieces' musical instruments would come in so handy: bells, tambourines and a cute little tabla set, all so professional! 
It was actually stress relieving too; no matter what the song was, trying to keep up was a good focusing exercise! Isn't that what meditation is all about, after all? Finding ways to focus?
It is so wonderful when celebrations and traditions coincide; one of the reasons I love living in UK and being part of a multicultural family! 

My nieces' school Bonfire Night for Guy Fawkes coincided with Diwali. Perfect!

Wellies on, off we went to the school grounds. As much as I hate wearing heavy clothes in the winter, I do love Wellies, they make you feel indestructible! You can walk in mud and splash in paddles without a care in the world!

It was a bit daunting for my husband and I to be confronted with so many kids at once! But parents were happily mingling, mulled wine in hand, my nieces disappeared to curve pumpkins and see their friends, so kids old and young all very happy! 

After the spectacular firework display we came home and decided to light a fire in the back garden. The weather was so mild, who would have thought that we would be happily sitting outside at nine o'clock in the evening, chatting away and eating lovely Indian food? 
Hearty saag paneer (creamed spinach with cheese) and mooli, a fresh salad made of grated white daikon radishes, spiced with chillies, salt, lemon juice and tomato powder. So refreshing! There were plenty of Indian sweets around too, all syrupy and gooey.

I normally love chamchams (a Bengali sponge cake dipped in syrup) but I wasn't up for that... I had to try my apple dappies. They are served with clotted cream after all!
Its the first time I'm making them so please be kind. It was a steep learning curve because the dough can be quite soft and sticky, but the flavour is just right, with an unexpected ingredient!

Apple Dappy Recipe
(adjusted from a similar Waitrose recipe)
3 apples, peeled & diced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Rosemary (fresh is more potent but dry works just as well!)
100g unsalted butter, in room temperature
400g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g caster sugar
2 tablespoons clotted cream, plus extra for serving
220-250ml milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Place the diced apples in a pan with 2 tablespoons of cold water, lemon juice and rosemary. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat for 7-8 minutes. 
Let the apples cool down a bit and then strain the cooking liquid away, leaving the apple cubes as dry as possible.
In a food-processor mix the flour, salt, butter and sugar until the mixture resembles  breadcrumbs. Add the cream and then slowly keep adding the milk to make a soft, sticky dough. You might not need the full 250ml.
Cover and leave the dough in the fridge for half an hour to chill, it will be easier to handle when you will need roll it out later.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. You might need to mix in a handful of flour at this stage, if the dough is too sticky to handle. 
Split the dough in two batches, it will be easier to roll out. 
Roll out each batch of dough trying to create a biggish rectangle 1 centimetre thick. Don't worry about creating perfectly straight edges, this is not an "elegant" dessert, in the sense that it's supposed to look more rustic and comforting. 
With a spoon spread out the apple cubes all over each rectangle of dough.
Roll the rectangle up tightly from the longer edge and using a sharp knife cut into 6 or 7 even slices, roughly 2 inches long. 
Don't cut them too big, or once in the oven they will fall sideways (like mine did, but I already told you it was my first attempt, so no judging!)
Place the slices standing in a baking tray, lined with baking paper. Leave some space between them, because they will puff up to almost double in size.
Sprinkle over the granulated sugar, generously. 
Bake in the oven 220°C for 25 minutes or until golden. Watch them closely towards the end because the sugar might burn quite fast. 
Have them warm with a dollop of clotted cream! Heaven!

The hidden rosemary flavour in this hearty dappy will make you a very happy bunny!

Lunch at Oblix, The Shard

Approaching the Shard at street level is exciting. 
This spear shoots straight up reflecting all blues, greys and whites from the clouds and the ever changing London sky; if you take a minute to discover nature even in this completely built up part of the city, you won't be disappointed.
Mind you, there isn't much parking around, so try to use the Tube or a cab. Oblix has its' own entrance on street level and a lift takes you straight up to floor 32, in the Shard.
If you have booked a table you can go straight into the lift, alternatively there is always a bit of a queue. 

On level 32 turn right for Aqua, the popular bar with spectacular views over the City and left for Oblix.
The entrance to Oblix is almost mystic... low lightning, floor to ceiling stone walls and a long corridor with a fire burning at the end...it's leaves you want to explore more! 

Walk between the kitchen and the bar, stop at the fridge to peek at all of the cured meats on offer and try not to be too loud when the view finally hits you! 
It's spectacular! Just like a classic painting in a modern frame. 
All the way from Battersea Power Station and the London Eye to St Paul's and Herron Tower, the city is there, shdowing off for you.

When we visited it was a rainy day so everything looked grey, the buildings, the landscape, even the river. But grey suits this place, it's not disheartening or sad, it's just sombre. Down around Borough Market, people were running around, the trains in and out of London Bridge station non-stop. Life.

At that moment I thought of Bridget Jones movie, why? No idea. Maybe because it was all too real! Maybe because there is rarely a moment to just sit back and let it all sink in.
Living in London never fails to inspire me, it's always like a childhood dream come true and even after having spent half of my life here, I still need to pinch myself sometimes. 

The restaurant is as sleek as you would expect, with a fake library background that makes the place a bit more approachable and a good mixture of couples and groups of friends happily enjoying their Saturday lunch;  it was refreshingly easy going. 

The food was pleasantly filling.
My duck was just right. Succulent but not rare, with a sweet mango chutney for balance. Mash with roasted garlic was so comforting and velvety, with a hint of spice, perfect for this rainy day!  
The  pork belly cubes looked rather small initially, but  after having all the trimmings they proved quite filling too. Not to mention they were so soft, they were falling apart!
My husband even proclaimed that the chips were the best he's ever had!  It's the little things in life, huh? 
Lunch at the Oblix was a birthday treat and a good one too!
It's great to be pampered once in a while but even greater to find the time to give yourself the chance to appreciate this moment in time and life! x

Myconos in Autumn

Life has taken us to Myconos this autumn.
We hadn't really taken any time off work during the summer and when an invitation for a wedding in Athens came through the post, we immediately thought of squeezing a weekend in Myconos in there too.
Myconos is all about beach parties, fabulous people, vibrant nightlife and summer sunshine...well yes, but!

We always visit Greece in September, the hoards of tourists are gone and the weather is usually pleasant enough to swim and walk around in your lovely summer dresses and shorts but not so hot that you just want to stay inside locked up, next to the AC.
Believe it or not, we hadn't been to Myconos before, we've always been a bit sceptical about it.
So, what does one do in Myconos in autumn?

We stayed at Ostraco Suites, in Drafaki.
We were pleasantly surprised when the hotel car picked us up at 6 in the morning from the airport and the driver said...
"don't worry about checking in, we have a room waiting for you to rest in. Give reception a call when you are up and we'll transfer your bags to your actual room then." 
That was music to our ears since we had been up for 24 hours, first to go to the office and then catch a flight to Athens with a subsequent one to Myconos.
By the way, for intra-greece flights check out Aegean Air, they're quite good and give you sweeties before taking off, so that your ears won't pop! 

The rooms in Ostraco Suites are all whitewashed and fresh.
Even the smaller room, where we just rested at until our actual room was ready, had marble floors with intricate details and the shower had real pebble floor and polished concrete walls. It came with its' own little courtyard, complete with stone bench and bougainvilleas, I love bougainvilleas so even at 6 in the morning when we arrived, I just had to sit outside, waiting for sunrise...

Our suite was a one bedroom flat really.
The lounge area had wrap-around windows with views over the bay and the little village, a kitchenette and a traditional Cycladic curved bathroom. Two massive built-in sofas could have easily accommodated another two adults.  

Cold Coffee around the hotel pool is part of life, embrace it! 
Ostraco Suites comes with its' own two chapels too! Such a peaceful place to just sit at and gaze into the bay...

Breakfast is served outside, overlooking the pool and comprises of a lovely variety of ham and cheese, numerous freshly baked cakes, breads, fruit and a different traditional pie makes its' appearance every day, too. 

The whole hotel is spread over the side of a hill, with lovely nesting areas for lounging,  yoga and watching the sunset, around every corner!
Keep in mind that they are all outdoors though. They are cosy and offer the perfect spot for relaxation, especially around the pool,  but you might need an alternative spend-time in case you are caught in the one rainy weekend of September, like we did.

For seafood...
try "Kounelas" tavern down in the old part of Myconos town.
It's right behind the Scandinavian Bar, but the fastest way is to be dropped off at the old port, walk along the promenade and turn left into the little streets. It is full of tourists off course, but the staff are polite and helpful and prices not so bad. The main sitting area is up the stairs, with a glass floor looking straight down into the old part of the building.  

Try Prawn Saganaki, it's a great starter because it comes in a red sauce made of peppers and crumbled feta so it's the perfect excuse for bread dipping.
I was also very happy to finally find swordfish again, I just cannot seem to find it either in the shops back in UK, nor in restaurants any more.
On our way out, we saw the wood-burning oven/barbecue, built into the building, almost squished in the narrow street. Who would have imagined that a whole restaurant is fed on time, by such a simple structure?

For a more sophisticated palette...
try Kallita restaurant, in Fresh Hotel.
We discovered it simply by wandering around Kalogera Street.
It's built around a sleek courtyard  with palm trees overlooking your dinner table and even though it was raining when we were there, the two tiny spaces inside were made to feel very cosy and well...fresh! There will be a difficulty when it comes to picking your food though, everything looks great on the menu...from lamb chops to pork belly, to Greek fusion pasta dishes, you won't be disappointed!

On rainy days...
brave the wind that always comes with the rain on the aegean islands and find refuge in one of the cafes in little Venice.
They have an amazing view of the windmills and when the sea is rough the whole landscape is somehow wild, nothing to do with your picture-perfect summer photos of spit-spot celebrities and wannabes. Very raw and real!
There are little balconies and galleried seafront yards, where people were just quietly reading books, gazing occasionally at the windmills when the wind was loud enough to attract their attention...

Petros the Pelican is a local celebrity, wanders around the old port and causes a stir with every appearance! 

We also stumbled across a wonderful art gallery as we were walking down Kalogera Street. A girl seemed to be sitting on the floor of the whitewashed house with her hands extended up...is she real? We had to look twice! That was Rarity Gallery,  where we unexpectedly spent a good 45 minutes chatting to the gallery curator. Every piece of art in this simple Cycladic space was handpicked with the intention to enhance the senses and the perception of space. It felt like having our own little art session, very thankful for the lady's time and dedication!

The boat back to Rafina stops in Andros, maybe we'll spend some time here next time!

We made our way back to Athens on the boat because we couldn't get a flight in time to be back for the wedding. It's a four hour boat ride with two stops first at Tinos island and then at Andros.
I know we all prefer the plane, it's faster and more convenient. But I always get more of a holiday feeling when I visit the Cycladic islands by boat, the sea makes me focus somehow... x

A surprise daytrip to Troizonia!

It's really nice when you think you know everything about an area and then something or somebody comes along, to show you something completely knew, you never knew existed. 
In our case, during our recent trip to Greece (have you checked out the pictures on Instagram?), my mum insisted that she'd take us on a "surprise day trip".
I love having other people organise trips; normally I'm the one who has to sort everything out and sometimes I feel that a new place looses part of its charm because I've researched the heck out of it and very little is left to discover, once we actually get there.
So it turns out, there is this little island called Troizonia, in the channel splitting Peloponnese from the mainland,  where none of us had ever set foot on before, and it's only an hour away from Patras, where I grew up, who knew?

So we got in the car to cross the futuristic Rio-Antirio Bridge and off we went.
It's spectacular! The bridge I mean. It's one of these things that makes you realise how mankind has tamed nature and is very capable of moving forwards, should it decide to work together harmoniously. It took a French-German-Greek collaboration to built this bridge, so no excuses!
This is the biggest suspension bridge built over an active seismic fault too.
Oh, it get's shaky around here!  it's part of everyday life though in this part of Greece, so fear not!
Leaving Peloponnese behind, we crossed over to the mainland and drove along the coast of Fokis for half an hour. A lot of the sea bream in your local supermarket in UK actually comes from fish farms, in this part of the world. When you look down, on the side of the cliff, you can spot the big enclosures in the seawaters.

Right there, down a dirt road lied a seaside village (Chania, in Fokis) with houses sporadically appearing here and there, lazily gazing across this tiny island of Troizonia, our final destination. The waters here are always deep blue and the sun was making everything look so crisp and clear. Best of all, there was hardly anybody there.

As soon as we arrived next to the whitewashed dock, the little boat was ready to leave and we signalled them to wait. We were rushing and trying to get cameras, hats, bags and all the usual paraphernalia in order, huffing and puffing; when the boat turned towards the island though, we were just taken aback by this wonderful little village, nested in a natural port, with bougainvilleas covering most fences and colourful shutters giving the two storey houses vibrant appearance. Then we just went quite and couldn't care less about our bags and cameras. Who's going to steal them anyway? 

At the island the skipper helped us off the boat and when we asked how much the fare was he simply said...pay me when I take you back! Well, ok then.
The village was quite. It was lunchtime and Greeks avoid the heat at the midst of the day. Don't be fooled, it might be October but it's still very much high 20Cs in terms of temperature.
We walked around between some houses and realised that right behind the front row of houses there is another natural port, full of yachts and sailing boats.
We wondered around and spoke to some of the owners, one chap said he has been mooring his "wooden natural beauty" of a sailboat here for the last 14 years and he always flies over from Germany in the summer to sail around. Not a bad life!

Three restaurants remain open in the port till October and open again in April, depending on the weather. We sat by the sea and ordered sardines and calamari. As soon as the food came a whole gang of kittens appeared out of nowhere and just sat there staring at us, waiting to be fed. We resisted for a while, but they were so cute that we eventually gave in. Big mistake, they were coming closer and closer for more food. As we were chatting away, I saw my mum jumping on her chair as she turned around and saw a kitty on the chair next to hers, staring right at her. The whole promenade laughed and so did we.

The waters were so warm, that you could swim if you wanted to.
Watch for the sea urchins though, you can see them stuck on the rocks through the crystal clear waters.
We wondered around the village a bit more and met a group of hunters that had just come back from the little hill behind the village. They are allowed to hunt for wild hogs, apparently! I don't know if they caught any but they seemed to have had a jolly good day, in the sunshine. Guess what, so did we!

On the way back we took the ferry, in order to have a better look at the bridge.
Patraikos Bay was so calm, shining in the last rays of the sunshine; not a breath of wind, even when we were right at the middle of the channel splitting Peloponnese from the mainland...deep sigh, thanks mum for the little surprise! x
© Life Love London

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