A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Summer Rose Pavlova


Time comes when you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. 
Making a meringue is the way to do that, you ask. Well, you have to start from somewhere, don't underestimate the power of achieving stiff peaks!  
I can make a moussaka, a fish pie or a curry without second thought. I even used to make millefeuille for my mum’s dinner parties when I was 16.
But meringue has been that grown up dessert that I have never managed to get right. I have a feeling it’s got something to do with sticking to the recipe and applying the required patience - both skills I refuse to master when I cook. But they paid off! 

I have my two favourite baking bloggers to thank,  Gather and Feast for the impressive shape inspiration and Zoe Bakes for the technique - they both share way better tutorials than mine to how to get it right, so I encourage you to look at their pages. 


Summer Rose-Scented Pavlova

Ingredients

6 egg whites (at room temperature) 
    1&1/2 cups caster sugar
    tsp cornflour
    1 tsp white vinegar
    1/2 tsp rose-petals essence (the one I use is potent, adjust according to taste)

    100gr mascarpone
    Half a cup of heavy or double cream
    2tbsp icing sugar
    1tsp vanilla essence
    Strawberries and blueberries - you can use any berries you fancy

    Turn the oven on at 150C before you start with the meringue. Yes, I thought that was low too, but this is a low and slow process.

    Whip the egg whites, while slowly adding in the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time.
    Look for stiff peaks, if you take the whisk out, the meringue should stand on top - think of Tintin's hairstyle and you got it!
    Right before the end fold in the vinegar, cornflour and the rose essence.

    Set parchment paper on a flat baking tray and with the help of an upside down plate, draw a circle on the parchment paper, to help you shape the pavlova.

    Spoon the meringue within the circle you have drawn on the parchment paper.
    This is a marshmallow-ey meringue, so you need to allow enough height for the fluffiness to develop.
    With a flat spatula start from the bottom of the circle and swipe up, flat, against the walls of the meringue, to create that 'crown' shape.

    Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes at 150C.
    Strictly no opening the over door. The meringue will turn slightly beige, especially at the peaks, that's what you are after.

    After 1hour and 30 minutes turn off the oven but do not pen the door. The meringue needs to cool down in the over for at least 2 hours.

    This meringue does not usually collapse, the centre resembles structured fluff, it's soft but completely cooked and smells of rose petals!

    For the topping, whip the double cream with the powder sugar, until it becomes firmer.
    Then fold in the mascarpone and vanilla essence.

    When the meringue has had at least two hours to cool down in the over and another half an hour out, drizzle the mascarpone-cream mixture on top and scatter chopped strawberries and blueberries. 

    Enjoy!
     





A Lavender, Rose and Pomegranate-scented Summer Dinner Menu


Earl Grey Gin cocktail

The Menu:
Earl Grey & Lavender Gin cocktail
Sweet Pepper charred salad
Pork steaks with Pomegranate Molasses glaze
Smashed Potatoes
Rose-scented Meringue

This menu is all about the prep work - get it all done a couple of hours earlier and just griddle everything when you are ready to eat. Unlike last minute frying or blending, which is stressful and unsociable, in this case cooking takes place around the griddle (or BBQ, if you are lucky). People are always happy to stand around and absorb the sizzling sounds and smells, chatting and even helping out. Hence, there is no urgency  to get all the food on the table at the same time - the sweet pepper salad is best eaten warm but nor hot.  
 
The Prep
 
For the cocktail - this recipe is adapted from the Craft Gin Club.
Drop an Earl Grey teabag in 120ml of gin. Keep in an air-tight bottle or container for about an hour, or until you are ready to mix your cocktail. The longer you leave the teabag in the gin, the stronger the Earl Grey flavour.
 
The Pork Steaks -  mix the sherry vinegar and brown sugar (or palm sugar) in a wide, deep dish. 
Wash and towel-dry the steaks. Dip both stake sides in the vinegar-brown sugar marinade and place the steaks back in the marinade. Salt and pepper generously.
Pick the fresh oregano leaves off the stalks and sprinkle over the steaks. Cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until you are ready to griddle.
 
The Peppers & Tomatoes - chop the tops off the peppers and slice down the middle. Discard the white fleshy bit that holds the seeds together. Wash and drain. Keep aside. 
Wash the tomatoes and chop down the middle. Keep aside.
 
The Smashed Potatoes - boil the new potatoes. Keep aside and smash later - even better ask your most stressed-looking guest to do it for you, they'll enjoy it! Full recipe here.  
 
Rose-scented meringue - well, you don't prep it, you make it upfront, because it needs to stay in the over for at least 2 hours to cool down once it's cooked.  All you'll have to do before serving is to drizzle the cream cheese sauce and decorate with chopped strawberries.
Recipe coming soon. 


Pomegranate molasses glazed Pork Steaks
Sherry vinegar, brown sugar and fresh oregano marinade

Show time - aka when your guests arrive:

The Earl Grey Gin Cocktail - 4 glasses

Vigorously shake in a cocktail shaker:
120ml Earl-grey infused Gin
50ml simple syrup
5ml Monin Lavender syrup
40ml lemon juice - which is more or less two lemons, I like the zing so even if it's a bit more than 40 ml, that works.
2 egg whites

Add a handful of ice and shake again. Strain the cocktail out to four martini glasses.
Make sure to allow equal amounts of froth for all!

The Sweet Pepper Charred Salad - for 4 people

14 sweet peppers - of you are using the bigger ones, use 8-10.
4 tomatoes
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar reduction
Salt & Pepper

Fire up both burners under your griddle, on medium heat. Once the griddle is hot, place the half pepper and tomato slices, skin-side down, on the griddle. Cook for 5 minutes and turn over.
You might want to pat down any pepper pieces that are not too flat, to ensure that the whole pepper gets some heat. Cook on this side for another 5-7 minutes.

Place the peppers and tomatoes on a serving plate, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Crumble the feta over the top and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar reduction.

The Pomegranate-glazed Pork Steaks

4 Pork Steaks - usually shoulder cut
1/2 cup Sherry vinegar
2tbsp Brown sugar or 1tbsp Palm Sugar
1 bunch of fresh Oregano springs
4tbsp Pomegranate Molasses 
Salt & Pepper

You need your griddle on medium to high heat.
Place the marinated pork steaks on the griddle and cook on one side for 7-8 minutes. You'll see some caramelisation on the edges - good!
Flip over the other side and cook for another 7-8 minutes. Spoon the marinade over the stakes, as they cook, to keep moist. Make sure you cook the top side again, if you've spooned over any of the marinade - it contains uncooked juices that need to be cooked off. 

Place on a serving dish and drizzle generously with the pomegranate molasses and the remaining fresh oregano. You could cut each steak in long strips and serve like that, it's more elegant. I like piling them high so that all juices drizzle down.

Sweet pepper salad with balsamic reduction and feta
Griddle, griddle, griddle - make that caramelisation happen

Pile them - juicy, delicious pork steaks with colourful pomegranate molasses and fresh oregano
Rose-scented meringue

Get the look...



Boutique B&B - Swain House, Watchet, Somerset

If you are on the lookout for an intimate, smart boutique hotel, for a weekend on the coast, Swain House is a great choice.
 
I love this "Boutique B&B" concept. What does that mean? There is no reception and no room service. But you are essentially in a four-bedroom townhouse, with scandi interiors, a stone's throw from the marina, with clean and crisp rooms and delicious breakfast.
 
Swain: A young lover or countryside youth - in case you were wondering. 
 
Where: Watchet, a small natural port on the north coast of Somerset.
 
Parking: Not on site. However, Watchet has three carparks - Swain Street Car Park is about 1 minute walk away from the B&B and costs around £5 per day. Download the carpark app and you don't even have to get out of bed early the next day, to top the meter up. 
 

https://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/swain-house.en.html?aid=907046&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2&room1=A%2CA
Reading nook, by the big window, for peaking at local life.

Cooked breakfast and chat with the owner - what to do, where to go, where to eat...
View from our room over Swain Street
https://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/swain-house.en.html?aid=907046&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2&room1=A%2CA
Did your parents have one of those milk pots back in 80s?

Rooms: The first thing you notice is the whole wall covered in a blown up, National Gallery print. The rest of the room is furnished in crisp greys and whites. A lovely balance.
We had the room overlooking Swain Street - the main street leading down to the port - very generous in size and full of natural light, just remember to pull the blinds down if you are lying in bed. The street can get busy during the day, but that's when you are out anyway. In the evenings it's all very quiet.
 
Bathroom: Sparkling clean and roomy. Free-standing bathtub and a separate walk-in shower, with Ren products. Believe it or not, we exchanged bathroom cleaning tips with the owner because we were so impressed.
 
Nice touch: fresh flapjacks, left at the coffee & tea tray, to have with your morning tea in bed … or as a midnight snack.
 
Breakfast: Served at the long, shabby chic table, in the lounge, overlooking Swain Street.
Lovely choice of baked croissants, pain au chocolat and even hot cross buns (we visited around Easter), fresh bread with home-made jams and a choice of cooked breakfast (vegetarian sausages available too), fresh juice and lovely coffee.

https://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/swain-house.en.html?aid=907046&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2&room1=A%2CA
Light, glorious light.
https://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/swain-house.en.html?aid=907046&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2&room1=A%2CA
Clean and crisp bathroom with Ren products.
https://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/swain-house.en.html?aid=907046&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2&room1=A%2CA
A night cuppa and a fresh flapjack - bliss.


Postcards from Watchet - Somerset

 
Where - Watchet, Somerset
When - Easter Bank holiday weekend
How Far - 2.5h from London (can go up to 4h in traffic)
See - Mineral Line Docks, Yankee  Jack, Jurassic Coast, Kilve beach for fossil hunting.
Watering Hole - Pebbles Tavern …they are so nice that although they don't serve food, they are very happy for you to bring in Fish & Chips from next door (oh yes we did...twice!)
The end of the old Mineral Line - a railway connecting Brendon Hills iron mines with Watchet's docks. The iron then found its way to Wales, to be processed.
Cottages around town
Fuel for happy tummies - our breakfast at Swain House.
When the tide is out you can access the Jurassic Coast from Watchet's beach on the left of the harbour. Put your wellies on and bring your inquisitive attitude along, it's fun!
Pebbles tavern - a quirky, little mingling hotspot. On the evening we visited, there were 28 European musicians performing folk songs - brilliant atmosphere.
Morning walk around the harbour, following the tide on its way out.

Watchet - seafront cottages
 A good start to the day - breakfast at Swain House

Fossil hunting - allow yourself to be immersed and you mind to focus, breath!
 


Connecting


If you popped your head through the door of a certain coffee shop on the Chiltern Hills last Saturday morning, you'd see a bunch of ladies gathered around the bar, sharing coffees and a chat.

If you looked closer, you'd spot that other than all of them being in their yoga gear, they were all very different. A range of ages, attitudes, accents and levels of make up! Yet, over lattes and freshly brewed tea, the chat was relaxed, heads were leaning in from time to time to share little pieces of private information and then back to smiles, seemingly not a care in the world. Perfect, Nancy-Meyers- movie-worthy moment, really.

How did we get here? Let me tell you a little story about making space and connecting.

About nine months ago, I decided to make space for yoga again in my life.
I found this yoga class that suits me. I like the teacher, she's got a sharp sense of humour and doesn't take herself too seriously. I like the studio, it has two skylights that look straight up into the sky when you lie down for shavasana. And most importantly, I like the class, it's hard enough and forces me to concentrate if I want to keep my balance.  
 
So I made a start and I am looking forward to my yoga classes. They provide me with space away from my daily routine of 'train into London, work, train out of London'. The move to the suburbs was meant to lead to this perfect balance between suburban bliss and buzzing London professionalism. Ha! It worked for a while, but lately this routine was just turning to a rat race. I simply had taken too much on. Once I finished a paper I was working on - on top of work and commute and all that - I promised myself to start taking it easy. Enough with the glorification of being busy.
 
So, I made space for coffee in my post-yoga Saturday morning routine!
Ground breaking? It was for me, at the time! 
I look forward to my yoga classes and my Saturday morning café routine. I started exploring the different cafes around the Chilterns... Twelve Twenty in Old Amersham, The Grocer at No5 in Gerrard's Cross, the Yurt at the Wild Strawberry Café in Great Missenden... cosy little spots with great coffee and brunch. 
 
You'd be surprised how easy it is to foolishly guilt yourself to rushing back home to do the chores, go to the supermarket, cook a decent meal and ultimately spend precious time with your partner. All worthy tasks, but so is making space for yourself. An hour is not going to break your day or let anybody down!
And then, what about sitting there for a coffee by yourself? We have these images of French and Italian women, dressed to the nines, having a coffee alone and we deem as daring and mysterious creatures ... I am not French nor Italian but I'm the kind of person who goes for a coffee alone if the sun is shining and no one is available to join. Are you?
 
The ladies in my yoga class have always been chatty and friendly. I eventually, decided to ask two of them, who I'd been chatting with the most, if they wanted to join me for a coffee on a Saturday morning. I couldn't help trying to sound chilled and you know, 'whatever', whilst I was rolling my mat away.  They couldn't that day but they said they'd love to next week. To my amazement they kept their word and next week, they came up to me after class and off we went!
 
Long story short, the word spread and we started inviting the whole class along. 
We made a choice to connect.
To my amazement - still - even some of the ladies who are normally quieter, or too well-put together, or might initially look out of place in a yoga class and you wouldn't think they'd stick around, have been keen to join in our little café routine. Last Saturday was the first time that one of the mums, who normally has to run back home, came up to me and said, 'do you have time for a coffee'?
I can't tell you how flattered I felt. That made me happy.

Don't underestimate the power of asking someone for a coffee.
Even if they turn you down, you've put the signal out there. Chances are, they won't leave you hanging for too long.
I made a choice... and then we made a choice together... and I've now met this bunch of powerhouse, accomplished women, who'd otherwise go about their day quietly, trying to cram it all in. It's a privilege that they all choose to spend some of their precious time chatting over strategic marketing and teenage behaviour, time management and commuting, yoga styles and relationships and sharing thoughts, concerns and (yes) favourite restaurants.
 
There is no major preaching moment here. When I drive back home, my day feels a bit lifted.  
 

Happy Soul Brunch - Red Rooster - Harlem

After a fun weekend in New York, Mondays can feel a bit deflated.
When you are only visiting for a couple of days though - not to mention it’s taken you thirty something years to visit - you want to make the most of it, even on a Monday. 
 
So, hop on the tube, oh wait they call it subway here, up to 125th St.
Destination is the Harlem-based, happy soul kitchen at Red Rooster
It’s buzzing...the bar, the restaurant, the kitchen, all up and at it, even on a Monday!
 
Fried chicken and waffle, with maple syrup; then look further for Marcus's Cornbread.
When your mum says 'eat your greens',ask for Red Rooster's Mac & Greens, delicious! 

The setup...
70's cool funk-don't-give-a-damn. Fun, colourful and easy-going in other words!

The food...
feels like someone is giving you a hug.
The sides are most interesting - Grits, Mac & Greens, Cornbread, all mostly covered in stringy cheddar. The cheddar in this country is a bit different, it's gooey and when melted it doesn't turn to a cold mess.

One of the starters was Yep Fried Chicken and Waffle, yes, I've had it before, I've even made fried chicken. This whole dish though was balanced out nicely. Crunchy, slightly spicy - just to tickle your tongue - fried chicken, versus fluffy waffle. Hint of chilli versus sweet and oaky maple syrup. Balance people! It works in life and in food.
 
'Gritts!'  
'Come again?'
Oats darling, cooked down to a smooth cream covered in cheese! Good stuff!
 
Then more fried chicken, this time alongside southern delicacies. Miss B's Biscuits & Gravy. Oh my! Wow!  I tried making biscuits once...didn't go very well, so I did appreciate being able to try the real ones, fluffy and light, as they are meant to be.
 
Make sure to include this happy place in your food tour of New York, if you are after an easy, satisfying morning spot of brunch.  

Harlem townhouses
Gorgeous Miss B's Biscuits and Gravy

Quirky restroom...strictly no selfies please!  

Grits, Miss B's Biscuits & Gravy and Mac & Greens, a happy, soulful spread 




Romantic Loire - Chateau Villandry

 
Visiting the Loire valley in spring is pure heaven.
You'd think that after a couple of visits to the chateaux, everything starts looking alike and once you've seen one of them, you've seen them all.
Not quite!

Chateau de Chambord is the big, impressive, decadent one.
Chateau de Chenonceau is the historic one, stretching over river Cher. 
Chateau De Langeais is a family, military fortress.

And after all that, Chateau Villandry felt like the romantic home - the relatable one.
























The difference between Chateau de Villandry and all other chateaux in the area  is that this one is approachable.

There is no long driveway to get up to it, no moats, rivers or extended grounds to walk through.
It is right there, down the main road from the centre of the town and a row of gorgeous restaurants. You look out of the windows, across the manicured gardens and you are still part of the village, part of life.

It's a honey-coloured building that feels like a large home, a very large home but a home nevertheless. The interiors are dotted with black and white floors, smoothed over the years, with dips and small slopes to show that people have used this space.

This is why Chateau Villandry is relatable.  



Andalusian-style Love Gardens
The Kitchen Garden

 
The Andalusian Love Gardens...
Tender Love {top right}- hearts surrounded by masks that used to be worn at balls to conceal the face, enabling potential lovers to engage in conversation.

Passionate Love {bottom right} - hearts broken out of passion, entangled to form a maze, further evoking the dance and whirlwind of passion.

Tragic Love {top left} - blades of daggers and swords used in duels caused by amorous rivalry.

Flighty Love {bottom left} - fans symbolise the fickleness of the sentiments, amongst them horns represent betrayed love and in the centre love letters and sweet notes exchanged by lovers.
 
The UNESCO-protected view...
Once you climb up to the third floor of the chateau and follow the tiny staircase that leads up the tower, you find yourself amongst the spikey rooftops. That in itself is a beautiful feeling, a sense of freedom, surrounded by architectural art.
 
The view in front of the chateau is endless green on various levels, you don't immediately spot the rivers that meet straight ahead: the Loire and the Cher. The bloodline of the Loire Valley that travels all the way to the Atlantic. The whole stretch of the two rivers is protected by UNESCO, hence nothing can obstruct it. We stood on this rooftop taking in the green surroundings, the cheerful village and the gorgeous, manicured gardens. What a spot.

When we left the chateau we used the map to follow the road along river Cher.
It's a cobbled-stoned path and if you've ever read Hector Malot's 'Sans Famille' as a child, the story will come flooding back, about oxen carts dragging river boats upstream - hence the wide cobbled roads on he sides of the river. And while you daydream and carry on along the quiet river Cher, there is the Loire, the two rivers joining up in a wide, noisy expansion.

Smiles, sunglasses, hugs, strolling in the gardens, "ooohs" and "aaaahs" all around - a good day in the Loire!
 

View from the chateau rooftops - you cannot really spot the two rivers running in parallel, which is why you must follow along river Cher by car or on bike.
`The village surrounds the gardens - one of my favourite pictures
© Life Love London

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