Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

Whilst the wanderer is out making like a walrus and eating fish, something like that, it's been very quiet in Contrary Towers. As it's midweek and I'm working not a great deal is happening other than me endlessly swearing at the underground on a morning and then tourists on the evening as I march to Embankment.

The big news though is that owing to me a) forgetting to buy any bread and b) not being in the mood to make any I've c) finally rekindled a taste for porridge. This is good, right? Healthy and everything!

Especially when laden with nananas and honey.

Okay so maybe I've not quite got this one right. But at least it gives me an excuse to use the spurtle.

Things will get a little busier at the weekend as I have the offspring visiting for the bank holiday, fortunate really seeing as there might be a rail strike that would have caused me a bit of an issue if I'd headed to Norfolk. But before that I will continue to dodge the rain, forget to do things, and have very early though invariably sleepless nights.

I need a break.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Something Fishy...

The whole point of holidays, I feel, is to do things which you don't do at home. As everyone knows I love cooking but I've really neglected the culinary arts recently, so given the scope for wonderful fresh ingredients here I've been inventing. 

It's not easy and given my modest kitchen circumstances; it's been fun to challenge myself. I'm in possession of two square foot of hob and kitchen sink. There is a fridge, a dodgy grater, a broken garlic press, and various ancient pots and pans, one and a half electric hot plates; one is working fine but the other is hopeless, and gets only vaguely warm. But it's good for keeping a pan hot when you're finishing other things. 

I know a few people who would also relish this challenge - Pete I'm looking at you! Remember the fish? In the past couple of days, I've made pesto and asparagus pasta, fish in white wine, onion, tomato, and garlic sauce, and lemon garlic fish with courgette pasta. Not only this, but I've discovered that chopped fresh candied orange peel really lifts your morning strawberries; move over balsamic vinegar. 

Anyway I thought I'd jot down these simple dishes, as a reminder to over stimulated, sophisticated palates that simple is beyond good. 

Take a wobbly used-to-be-non-stick frying pan, pop on the good ring and heat a splash of olive oil. Slice an onion and fry til just soft. Fail to crush a few garlic cloves and with some salt, rub all over a sea-fresh fish. It doesn't matter if you don't know it's name, but I used one where, when eaten, the bones come out looking like a cartoon. Lay in the pan and sizzle with the onion. Add three-quarters of a chopped beef tomato. 

Eat the rest of it with a twist of salt. 

Splash some white wine over the fish and loads of fresh ground pepper. Stir. Pop an undersized lid over the pan and allow to cook - turn over once - for about ... er ... 20 minutes, depending on your cooker, the size of the fish, and how much white wine you've drunk. When it's done white flesh should come away easily from the bones. 

Remove the fish from the pan, let the sauce bubble for a bit so it's thickened. Pour over the fish and serve with lots of bread to mop up the sauce. 


The second fishy extravaganza involves lemon and courgette. Instead of onion, chop courgette, and fry with the garlic. Add the fish and allow to cook. Zest a lemon - pick out the rust if your grater is crap - and squeeze some juice over the fish. 

Remove the flesh from the cooked fish, and with the soft fragrant garlic and courgette, stir into cooked oiled pasta. The temperature was warm but not hot. In an ideal world I'd have added chopped parsley to garnish but, life is hard in this perfect paradise, so more ground pepper had to do. This was splendid with an icy white wine spritzer. 

Today I bought some kobasice and will demolish those with ajvar, and new potatoes finished in olive oil. Basically sausages with a spicy tomato, garlic, aubergine sauce. Given the asparagus need using up, I'll have those too. 

I've actually yet to eat out here in Orebić, but feel like I'm doing better food than the restaurants. It helps that it is all so cheap and incredibly tasty. I'm still hoping to lose weight on this holiday! 

Perfect Sunday

Sunday passed as if in a dream, as hazy as the ancient watery glass in the old Rectory Palace. It had started unnecessarily early with a 4.30am wake up by my ridiculous head wanting to see the sunrise over the sea. 

I indulged it and threw clothes over my nightie, and headed for the beach. I sat on the jetty in my own private world of blue monochrome; I had no idea that there were so many blues. From slate, to steel, to the palest woodpigeon feather streaks - the sun was inventing new shades all the while. Nothing was stirring when I got there but eventually gulls and swifts added movement to the colour. 

Once my head was satisfied that the sea was really there, I returned to collapse into bed. A few hours, it told me, and we could go jump into the water. Yay, I agreed sleepily, now shut up and sleep. So it did until it was bouncing up and down at about 8. 

Grabbing the bare minimum - costume and wrap - I headed to the sandy beach which was now drenched in yellows and greens; the sun had clearly stopped by the Windsor & Newton paint shop to replenish supplies, having overdosed on blue earlier. Apart from the odd local walking their dog, there was no one to admire my graceful entrance; like a reverse Botticelli's Venus, I sank into the sea. 

Who am I kidding? I dashed in like I usually do, with the finess of a large dog, or overenthusiastic walrus. It was blissful and I enjoyed every gulp of salt wash and splash. I lay back to admire the mountains above, and the greenery surrounding the beach. I resolved to do nothing but swim, read, eat, write, drink, stroll - a perfect holiday Sunday. 

Just Beetling About

This morning I had a visitor. He shot in as if being chased, his iridescent cloak underneath him as he crash-landed on the marble floor. I know my parties can be raucous but normally my guests lie on their back in the kitchen at the close of the night, not at 8am. I got the broom and gently swooshed him out the door; he was still prone with legs waving in the air, so being a kindhearted soul I flipped him over with a twig. Stunned at his treatment and lucky escape, he sat there thinking about the vissitudes of life. 

I returned to pick up my handbag and headed out to the bank. I'd mistakenly bought some euros thinking I'd need them for the Dubrovnik hotel so I wanted to change them into kuna. And then i had other fish to fry. 

Last night whilst chatting with a local I asked where I could buy some catch of the day. The harbour, or the fish market on the Main Street, apparently. He recommended I go early. What is it with this place and the incredibly early starts, do they not know I'm terrible in the morning? 

So after waking at my usual work time of 7.40, evicting my house bug, and going to the bank, I hot footed it to the market. I was quite excited about being an actual fishwife and had some choice vocabulary at the ready. The young catch winked up at me; the fish, however just lay there. There were three types of fish; long ones, flattish ones, or long flattish ones. I chose two of the ones which looked a bit surprised. Not as stunned as they will be later when I introduce them to garlic and hot olive oil. 

After wowing the man with my fluency, učim jezik, you know, he skillfully gutted, descaled and cleaned them. This took as much time as it usually takes me to construct a two word sentence in this language. He bagged them, and I left still boggling at the £1.20 for two massive fresh fish. That was main course sorted so went to see the lady across the road for side dishes of beef tomatoes, cucumber, cauliflower and courgette. The strawberries looked ravishing, so I invited them back for dinner too. 

I proudly walked home, after spending the princely sum of £2.50 or so on a couple of days food. Not only that but I'd shown I was capable of going to the bank, shopping for food pre-9am and pre-breakfast. I waved at the beetle who was still lurking, hastily scoffed my muesili, and legged it to the Korčula ferry with minutes to spare. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Whilst the cat's away...

Normally you'd expect this mouse to play, however this first week with just one Contrarian meant more sleepless nights and trying to make myself useful.

Which I singularly failed to do on Saturday.

Victoria Park
Instead I took myself up to Victoria Park to spend some time with my lovely friend Veep. This mostly involved walking around the park for a while before having a natter over wine. I mean that's kind of productive, right? And the park was oh so pretty at dusk with happy groups of people sitting around after a day in the sun.

And not napping as I had managed.

Sunday involved a trip to the Fortnum and Mason of E14 which was a delight to behold and something everyone should aspire to do.

If they are insane.

I really don't know what I was thinking, the worst place to be on a Sunday is the Burdett Road Lidl as the entire populace has clearly forgotten that they needed food and must rush out to get it now. Which would be okay if they didn't bring their entire family with them to share the moment.

After a soothing nanana milkshake (two nananas, remains of cornish ice cream, milk, blend, wince at ice cream headache) I tackled the uncharted territory of the downstairs loo. Now you have to understand that whilst we have this for guests we almost never use it as it's normally crammed with shoes, more shoes, bags, extra shoes, boots and a few more bags along with the evil vacuum cleaner, skittles, bits of artwork that have been forgotten about and my trusty zebra trolley bag.

In short, it's not our finest moment. Though it's also not the worse place in Contrary Towers.

After fevered activity and supported by a glass of chateau plonk from a Chez Lidl bag-in-box - I know, all of the class - I managed to somehow beat the room in to shape and empty all the remnants out of various handbags before finally finding a new home for goodness knows how many pairs of boots.

I imagine the room won't last long in this state...

The next job was the scary one... As we will need somewhere to store various bits and pieces of Clare's when she buggers off for her big adventure next year I really needed to do something about the tumult of the useless store cupboard.


You know the phrase it will get worse before it gets better? Yep, that. Just imagine chaos in cardboard. I wasn't totally mean though, I kept contacting the happy wanderer to see if she really wanted to keep X and then relocated whatever it was to the bins. Fortunately by this point Veep turned up and fortified by wine we made a number of trips to the recycling and waste bins to get rid of stuff, stuff and more stuff.

Ta da!
Very cathartic.

So now the cupboard is clear, reorganised and I even managed to not throw out everything! It'll never catch on.

So all in all an unexpectedly productive weekend. I even created a new dictionary definition for a word...

Declare: to make your kitchen spotless whilst your flatmate is on holiday.

Well it made me giggle...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Gorging on Colour

You may be pleased to know that there wil be no nostalgiafest today. For reasons known only to my parents, they decided to give the Samaria Gorge a miss. Given my brother was only 6 and the gorge 16km long, perhaps they were wiser than I knew. Anyway years later their idiot daughter found herself getting up at 4.30 to go for a gentle stroll in the mountains. Not just that but persuading a pre teen and a mad saffa to do similar. 

I don't often see sun rise and here it is a visual delight, a light show to rival any I've seen; the black-white limestone screen of mountains with a rainbow projection. As we hit the Askifou plateau we had reached the yellow/green stage and the cornfields waved in coloured empathy. As the coach doors opened it seemed that the fragrance also coloured the air. Mint green as invigorating as the breeze. 

We needed to go higher and the greens turned to blue; likewise mint turned to pine. We had clearly reached the Cretan alps. The White Mountains stretched high above us, dizzying in aspect, but our path led down. The entrance to the gorge gaped and we disappeared one by one, carefully, slowly, into the resinous gloom.   

The going was hard underfoot but looking up was breathtaking. Between the black green Calabrian pines and bright blue, the sheer sharp white mountains soared.

Still, down we went and the trees oddly started to thin until the rocks showed through, a dry, dessicated white. In parody of the tumbling froth, the stones sat in mid movement on the river bed. Many hands had created works of art from these pebbles, piling them up from large to small. Even the tree branches were covered in pebble 'moss'. It seemed that these sculptures were the only way to reduce the magnificence of the mountains to human scale.

Further down the gorge and we found the rainbow's end. The endlessly high walls were golden; liquid gold flowed over the pebble nuggets. Criss-crossing the pure stuff, the burbling echoed our giggles. By the eighth kilometre the laughing was more hysterical but, still, we laughed. The prize was the iron gates, where the ravine was a mere three metres wide. The rickety wooden path bridge carried us through the gap.

However, despite all that had gone before, the best was yet to come. The geological story that the rocks were telling us, and everyone who listens, is endless. They relate the power of the earth, the compressing heat, the lives of the fossilising creatures within - everything both in its place and transforming into something else. Like the piled pebbles and wobbly people, balance is sweet. 

And so, what about the end of our journey? We had traversed the longest gorge in Europe, lost most of our dignity and anticipated the muscle pains. But I salute the sanity of my parents for allowing me to find this gorge, myself, the hard way. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Holiday Pinks

It's that time of year again; when London and I spend time apart to 'find ourselves' or 'take a break' for the good of my health and sanity. Recent trips away have revolved around significant birthdays - not the one on Decenber though, that was just bloody minded contrariness - so it was nice just to book and not worry about being another year closer to mandatory tummy control bikini bottoms. 

Crete was the choice of the youngest travelling companion. A dour doom merchant of drama queen proportions.  Or a pre teen Yorkshire Saffa ... Middle name 'caaaan I have a saaaaandwich?'. For as long as I've known him he has been obsessed with Greek gods so I was determined to bring him to the place where history, myth, civilisation combined to change my life at the same age. 

It was also my first time on a plane, first time not on a windy tent holiday and the first time I experienced the sea as a gentle warm blue bath. It was also where I had my first holiday romance. So it was a pretty momentous holiday by anyone's standards. 

My dad had worked some legalistic miracle for the hotel owner - or indeed had his own romance - but we somehow got invited to a family christening way up in the fragrant spiky island interior. This solemn ceremony in a tiny ancient chapel led to an explosively festive affair which carried on way into the night. A group of kids welcomed me and my younger brother, as we giggled at the ridiculous dancing adults. Music filled the air as thickly as the scents of the rosemary roasting lamb over the fire. 

In this atmosphere the beautiful young man and I kissed, and we held hands for the rest of the evening. When ever we saw one another in the hotel kitchen we would smile shyly and I imagined a life in permanent sunshine with him. At 12 the hopeless dreamer could hopelessly dream. 

So when I heard the voices and traditional music last night - as well as seeing grown adults dancing with red faces, I was transported to another time and place. Where holidays experienced as a child were actually life changing and inspirational. 

Still, even now, the child in me imagines the sea and rocky inlets sheltering ancient traders and fishermen, the purple mountain crags jangled with goats bells...whilst the lithe young men practice bull fighting and the bare breasted women waved snakes. 

I don't know what this young chap will take away from this holiday. Already his swimming confidence has grown, apparently the food is divine, and today he will walk the longest gorge in Europe. But nothing is more important than the opportunity to learn, travel and be inspired.