You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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A Beach and Some Books

I told you we had been totally jet set! Our final destination was Cyprus.

We have not had a family holiday (all of us traveling together) since before M was born. So when the Hubby said about 3 weeks ago he was totally free and off work for a week I was ecstatic. Then I panicked at the task of finding the perfect holiday for us at such short notice.

bfb_head_logo

My first stop was Baby Friendly Boltholes a site I have use previously and have mentioned before (see my post on herbs). Both of us were knackered after a year of me basically raising the kids alone and the poor hubby traveling around Europe every week for business. As horrible as it sounds we basically wanted someone to take the kids away and give us a break. Not knowing exactly what was possible, and not wanting to sound like the evil person I felt, I rang their hotline.

The lady who I spoke with, Juliet, quickly sent me back a list of options with everything from babysitters to hotels with crèche facilities. One hotel caught my eye called the Almyra in Cyprus. It looked amazing with creche facilities, baby concierge service, spa, numerous restaurants and generally very good reviews.

There was one problem: despite being able to see direct flights existing between Switzerland and Cyprus I couldn’t find any I could book (except some stupidly timed ones leaving at 3am and the like). So feeling disheartened and now desperately wanting the Almyra experience I started to look at Kuoni.ch.

The funny thing was that by searching through Kuoni for Cyprus I was offered a huge selection of flights which didn’t seem to exist elsewhere. We could leave and arrive at perfectly civilised times for a decent price and then I found the Almyra. So I did the sneaky thing and thanked Juliet for her help and booked with Kuoni. Yes, I feel guilty. If I lived in the UK with the flight possibilities available I would never have done it but this is Switzerland and we are very limited.

Next thing we knew we were flying that very weekend out to Larnaca, Cyprus on an Edelweiss charter flight.

It was an interesting flight over with the lads all heading over for a week of partying in Ayia Napa… We were surrounded by the party group who had come with their own supplies for the flight. One was violently sick and passed out before the end of the flight while another decided to offer him pills to give him enough of a pick me up so he could get off the plane. Thank goodness the kids didn’t understand what was going on. Needless to say I wasn’t very impressed at Edelweiss. I know they don’t choose the clientele but I was shocked at how they ignored the walking around the cabin with drinks and the blatant lies the boys fed them when they asked if they had been drinking.

Any who we were just excited to arrive and get off that plane. After an hour and a half taxi ride to the hotel we had made it. We asked for a couple of glasses of milk for the kids on arrival and they were presented with beautiful teddy shaped cookies to enjoy with their milk while we checked in by the wonderful Guest Services Officer Lefteris.

The hotel was beautiful but what made it was the friendliness staff. The restaurant, porter and guest services team were brilliant as were the kids’ club! Actually Cyprus was a pretty welcoming place. Despite us being unable to speak a word of Greek (we were in the Greek half) they were always very accommodating and mainly spoke english.

Dinner at the hotel was included under the half board and consisted of a buffet affair from 7 onwards. There was a kids’ buffet in a room where they showed films so the parent of older children could eat in peace while the kids had a movie night. One night there was a family BBQ which was run by the kids’ club. It was well done as each family had their own table and could socialise as much or as little as they fancied. The staff were also only really interested in the children and left the parents who didn’t wish to play alone.

The Kids’ Club was closed on Wednesdays but we didn’t mind as it was nice by that stage to have a full day with the kids. I did see some families taking advantage of the babysitters that day though which could be provided by the Kids’ Club whenever you needed one.

The whole hotel was fairly family centric (especially as it was school hols) and I probably would be wary of recommending it to non parents. There was a kids free spa area with horizon pool and its own bar/restaurant but this was often pretty full as all the parents who had put their kids in the clubs would flock to escape the family swimming pool and make the most of the peace and quiet. This was where I spent my days reading and trying to get a tan and not burn.

Being a total bookworm I was horrified to figure out that I have not actually read a non-Baby book in over a year! Oh, I listen to audiobooks but its not the same. I had been given a few books that had been sitting on the side at home for months so I blew off the dust and brought them along on holiday.

books

My first book was Sharon Osbourne’s third autobiography: Unbreakable. I would never have chosen it for myself as I don’t really know the woman, not being an X-Factor fan or a major Ozzy Osbourne fan, but I felt obliged to give it a go. It was interesting but I put it down with a intense dislike for her character. She is a wonderfully loyal wife and a strong protective mother to her children but on the other hand she seems suffocating, interfering and completely thoughtless at times. In a way I admire those who say “I only care about myself and my own” but that is so far from my own character it rubs me the wrong way.

Feeling in need of some mental stimulation I picked up the book my father had given me called Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding. It was the story the Jewish investigator (Hanns Alexander) who pursued and captured one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious war criminals (Rudolf Höss – the Commandant of Auschwitz). My father had given it to me saying that it had been written by a cousin. This didn’t mean much to me though as most people seem to be “cousins” according to him – he seems to include cousins by marriage and right down to fourth removed sometimes – but I was surprised to recognise some names as I read it and it made it all even more real. The book drew me in and I was left sobbing at some of the descriptions of the atrocities however it was written in such a balanced way I felt sympathy for both sides. It was definitely one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read: filled with information that I didn’t know about that period and I thought myself a bit of a WW2 history buff. Its a sad one but really recommend reading it!

Feeling a wee bit fragile after the berating of Sharon Osbourne and the tales of Auschwitz I moved on to the American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. This was a book I had been given and recommended about three years ago but never got around to actually reading. I discovered that it was a fiction very loosely based on Laura Bush’s Autobiography and it was very gripping for the first half while you she laid the background information down and we rode the roller-coaster of teenage emotions but I found myself starting to wonder how much was left as I got to the middle of the tome. I couldn’t put it down unfinished though and I stuck it out through her difficult marriage and realisation of her mistakes. It was a good beach book but it did leave me rather wanting to read Laura Bush’s Spoken From the Heart to compare.

paphos collage

We did some exploring of Paphos but it all fairness it was too hot to go very far during the day and our holiday aim was to relax. It was amazing to see the amount of Roman ruins about though including the surviving roman habour wall.

padi

We also did some diving with an excellent diving school called Cydive which provoked us into doing a PADI refresher course and hubby finally got his Open Water Qualification. I must say I was impressed at how thorough they were after some of my previous experiences with dive schools. While there aren’t many fish (due to over fishing) there are plenty of wrecks to see and hubby even saw an old Roman anchor on one of his dives.

7 st. georges

One other this I feel I should mention was an amazing restaurant we visited while in Paphos called 7 St. Georges. We were hesitant as the name sounded less promising than the other authentic Cypriot restaurant Laona with good reviews but were pleasantly surprised. The food at the two places was probably on a par but the welcome and authentic atmosphere of the 7 St. Georges stole my heart. I loved the idea of it too: they give you local organc wine and bring you various meze until you say stop. We had to get a cab there but they were really easy to organise and it was a €20 round trip but considering the all you can eat meal including wine was excellent and only about €20 per person we were happy to pay that.

Leaving was tough as I would ideally have liked another few days but it was time to go. We had our only major unpleasant experience with the hotel on checkout too. Despite trying to negotiate the reception were being very tough on our checkout time and made us vacate the rooms a couple of hours before we were due to leave. On departure when we asked about our bags we were told that they would be brought up to the reception from our rooms meaning that our rooms had been sitting unmade and empty since we had been made to leave them and that we had been unable to shower properly before leaving for nothing. When we asked the reception they were apologetic and unable to explain why we had been forced to vacate the rooms early. Unfortunately I think the reception and their staff were the weak link at the hotel but not having to deal with them much it was generally ok. My word of advice would be to preorganise everything with Guest services to avoid having to deal with them. During our stay we mainly managed this by always going to Lefteris for restaurants or the Kids’ club directly.

Ah but it was so beautiful!

paphos


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London Baby!

This past year we have made a real effort to visit our family based in London regularly so that they can see the children growing up. They change so quickly at this age and I feel a little guilty that maybe we didn’t visit enough when E was very small.

Our 10 day visit was, however, packed this time with plenty of self indulgent activities. We arrived Friday as that Saturday I had been given tickets for Wimbledon. I love watching live sport and tennis has always been a favourite of mine even if I play pretty badly. We popped down to the local farmer’s market that morning with the kids and picked up supplies for a picnic. The farmers markets have increasingly more popular over the past few years and I love to visit when we are in town. To take part all the producers must come from within 100 miles of the M25 (not many farms in Central London) but they also sell products that you can not find anywhere else. Everything is seasonal and sometimes they do things as a one off. For instance that Saturday we found gorgeous Scotch Eggs (with the yolk still runny) but the following week this particular producer was doing Salt Beef instead.

We left the kids for the day with Grandpa and headed off to Southfields.  It was drizzling when we arrived and we headed straight for our seats. Typical British weather… We were actually lucky to have play that day as we were under centre court’s roof – it rained all day long! There was an amazing line up: our first match was Nadal followed by Sharapova and finishing with our home team star player: Federer. Yes, we brought our flags.

I also haven’t mentioned the fact that it was People’s Saturday meaning that the Royal Box was filled with sport’s stars rather than royalty. We jokingly took pictures of ourselves with the box in the background so we could say we had had our picture taken with Victoria Pendleton, Tom Daley, Beckham, Amy Williams or Sir Bobby Charlton (to name some of the biggest household names). Despite the bad weather we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and treated ourselves to a wee bottle of champagne before we started on our picnic.

Wimbledon

Play didn’t continue till very late that evening and we headed back to discover that the children had managed to amass a lifetime supply of sweets and chocolate as they had spent the day at a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Event which included a chocolate raisin river and candy trees. They had had had a lovely day and a very proud Grandpa informed me how M had been in heaven crawling along this chocolate raisin river eating them one by one… I can only say well done Grandpa and I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that sugar high! It is amazing some of the things that go on in London. Its another world compared to Switzerland sometimes.

fountains and birds

There are some pretty great days out in London for the kids. Sometimes we stay simple and just explore like when we went to the Duke of York Square and E played in the fountains or when we went for a picnic and M chased the birds.

funfair

A funfair in Battersea Park – the view from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

One day I took them to Battersea Park. Battersea Park is just south of the river and relatively small but it is a brilliant place to take kids. It often plays host to funfairs and has an enormous playground for all ages. There is also a zoo, bike rental and a duck pond with pedalos (paddle boat to the non-Brits) and rowing boats.

It was a beautiful day (sod’s law after the weekend) and we rented a bike from London Recumbents called a Nihola. It is a Scandinavian design bike with a seating area in front of the handle bars for two children. This is fab as it means you can keep an eye on them, unlike with the trailer system I have on my bike at home, and it certainly feels safer in traffic. The kids loved being peddled around and I enjoyed watching the world go by. We spotted a statue by Barbara Hepworth on the other side of the pond and signs that a funfair had recently been there but was sadly now packing up. I certainly got my exercise for the day!

bike ride

After our bike ride we went to Battersea Park Zoo. It is only a small one but I think it is better for it as it is never very crowded and its easy to keep an eye on the children meaning they can run wild. It is London prices though and cost us £6.50 for E and £8.75 for myself (M begin under 2 was free). We had our lunch in the café which does a great pick-and-mix lunch box offer for children and E even managed to somehow charm a free ice-cream off the girl working there. The staff are lovely there!

M is animal-obsessed at the moment and was running in all directions pointing and going “ooooh” while E was busy going in the other direction following the painted caterpillars or footprints on the floor. As I said: I’m glad it wasn’t crowded. It is actually a similar size to the zoo near us up in La Chaux-de-Fonds but much more interactive.

At one stage we crawled through a tiny tunnel to find ourselves peering through a bubble in the middle of a Meerkat enclosure. Once we had seen all the animals we found ourselves in the zoo’s playground. The playground there is kiddie paradise. There is a giant sandpit with mechanical toys, playhouse, trampolines, tractor, firetruck (complete with helmets) and the usual playground paraphernalia. Needless to say that evening they slept well.

zoo playground

By the time the weekend rolled around again it was time for another parent treat as we had tickets for the Monty Python Live (mostly) show. It was great to get to see the old boys (and gal – Carol Cleveland). For the most part it was old sketches but some new bits had been added in especially to the “penis song” which had two extra verses about vaginas and bottoms added which they put up the lyrics for so we could all join in. There was also a rather glitzy dance element added to the show to give it some extra energy – it was these men and women who, for example, performed the “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch as Cleese is, unsurprisingly, no longer able to do it. I am glad I got to see the Python (minus one) and albeit not in their heyday. It is definitely something I will be proud to tell the children when they are old enough to know what Monty Python is!

monty python

It was a lovely week for all of us and I do sometimes miss London despite being happy to live here.


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Pretty Puglia

I apologise for my long absence but it is holiday season and we have been rather jet set this past month visiting family and with the wedding season kicking off. It has been packed and pretty amazing but I am happy we are home again and settling back in for the summer.

It all started with a wedding of a dear school friend back at the end of June. She shipped us all off to Puglia in Italy for an amazing weekend. The wedding was beautiful thanks to the gorgeous setting they chose, some organisational wizardry and the extremely impressive creativity on their part. I won’t go on about it but I have never been to a wedding like it and it was probably made by the fact we got to go and visit a new place we were unfamiliar with. The bride and groom had left us with some suggestions of places to visit while we were in Puglia. Despite being limited by how far we could travel by the kids we managed to see some lovely places.

Our first day there we decided to go to a beautiful hilltop town called Ostuni. The whole of the old town is white-washed and gleams in the sunshine topped by a cathedral. Being mad Brits we were probably the only people out in the midday sun by the time we got there and soon we went in search of some shade for lunch. As we were in Italy I was keen to find a nice restaurant for lunch and saw there was one close by on my tripadvisor app. After arriving there and discovering the place was empty and looked pretty dingy with no view we left. Unfortunately in Italy it is rare to find someone serving lunch before 3pm and it was only 1pm. By this time the family were dying of heat and we ended up walking completely by chance into a small beer specialists called La Gilda which had a very basic looking snack menu but the man was so welcoming we decided to stay there for a while and have a quick bite before we continued. In fact, we ended up sharing a couple of mixed meat and cheese tagliere (platters) and having a beer each.  The meat and the cheese was so fresh and local, it was absolutely delicious, and was actually the perfect lunch. Looking it up on our return I was not surprised to see it is now the highest rated restaurant in Ostuni.

ostuni

On our way back to the car we came across an exhibition of beautiful classic cars in the street. They were stunning and we spent a good while inspecting them and posing in front of them pretending they were ours.

That evening we had a welcome drinks for the wedding party but it was not a late one as we knew the main party would be the Saturday night so the next morning we were very fresh when we headed out to Grottaglie. Grottaglie is a town known for its ceramics quarter. Just waking around we saw beautiful ceramic mosaics.

ceramic mosaic

Also as we arrived at the “wrong” time again we got to see the artists at work drying their wares out in the street.

grottaglie

Unfortunately much was closing for the siesta hours by the time we had wandered around but we did get to see a few shops including one where we could peer into the work room and watch one of the ladies busy painting.

workshop

That afternoon we explored the town we were staying in called Manduria. It always amazed me how many churches there are in Italy. Manduria seemed to have one on every corner. This was highlighted to us by the religious procession which went on that weekend linked with Midsummer: all the churches had their doors open and hundreds of people chanted and held up banners to represent their group from boy scouts, to those children dressed in white going for their communion, to the nuns from the local convent. It seemed disrespectful to photograph them but here are some pictures of some of the churches and cathedrals we visited.

churches

Manduria was actually a very pretty town with the traditional narrow streets you often find in Italian towns and that I remembered from my travels to Tuscany. I was tickled by the number of old fiats around the place. They are the Italian equivalent to a British mini and I love the old dears just as much.

towns

While walking around Manduria we came across the amazing Il Calvario (the Calvary). To those who were unaware as to what a Calvary is: it is set of religious edifices imitating Jerusalem. It functions as a sanctuary of the Passion of Christ where plays are held before Easter.

calvario

The Sunday was the final day for the wedding activities and we all headed to the beach for the afternoon. It was a lovely end to the weekend and especially enthralling for the kids who had never been to a sandy beach. We drank slush puppies, danced and swam until the sun started setting and it was time to take everyone home to bed.

beachIt takes a bit of a shift in rhythm to get used to Southern Italy with children but I would really recommend a trip. The people are so lovely to children and we never had a bad meal. We will definitely be back over the next few years.

 


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Herbs?

I am aware that many people don’t use herbs in cooking or are unsure with what to use and why they are using them. So after my last post I thought I might give you a little introduction to cooking with herbs and to those that I chose to plant in my kitchen garden.

What’s so great about herbs?

While herbs are great for adding an extra dimension to your dishes they also are great for your health. Herbs and spices have long been used in remedies and for preserving food. It is only now that we are starting to understand the full health benefits that they hold and how they can help with many of the most common diseases we suffer from today such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.

Why use fresh herbs over dried?

Quite simply because you get more nutrients from them (as with fresh vegetables) and often get more flavour. In making tea with fresh Lemon Verbena leaves I find the taste to be much more citrusy. One thing I love about having fresh herbs is that they can lift any salad. Most people know about adding basil to tomato salad or mint with yoghurt and cucumber salads, but I also like to chop any herbs I have lying about into everyday salads to give them a lift. Have an experiment.

Should I cook with fresh herbs in the same way that I cook with dried herbs?

Yes and no. You can add the same herbs to the same dishes but while dried herbs and fresh woody herbs (sage, thyme and bay leaves) should be added at the start of the cooking process, fresh tender leaf herbs (such as basil, chives, coriander, dill, and  parsley) should only be added at the end. 1 teaspoon of dried herbs generally is the same as 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.

aromatic herbs

Curly leaf and flat leaf parsley are the most common forms of parsley out there. Flat leaf has a bit more flavour and is more peppery than the curly variety but the texture of curly leaf parsley is sometimes more desirable in certain dishes.

I often use parsley to neutralise the garlic I add to dishes. In fact parsley is a great breath freshener if you chew on some after a meal. Parsley is also good for cutting through rich dishes with lots of cream or egg. Parsley pretty much goes with everything and it’s great for decorating dishes. Heston Blumenthal has even paired Banana and Parsley check out his recipe here.

It is not only the leaves that are useful but also the stalks which you can use to make a bouquet garni for flavouring casseroles, stocks, sauces and soups. A bouquet garni is a little bundle of herbs that you tie together (or put in a little muslin bag) – think Bridget Jones and the blue string incident – and it acts a little bit like a tea bag in that you use it to infuse the dish and remove it at the end of cooking. It often includes parsley, thyme and a bay leaf although there is no set recipe and vegetables and pepper corns are sometimes added .

Coriander (Cilantro)

While it looks quite like parsley and is sometimes termed “chinese parsley” it is not. Coriander is a herb which does not keep and doesn’t freeze very well (unlike parsley) tending to lose its taste.

I use it mostly with Indian cooking where you tend to add it as a garnish at the last minute as it loses its flavour when cooked. There is nothing better than a lamb curry, daal (lentil stew) and raita (yoghurt based sauce) with plenty of coriander.

It also goes really well with Mexican cooking as coriander pairs excellently with avocado, chicken, fish and shellfish, peppers and salsa.

Coriander is also linked with many health benefits like most fresh herbs ranging from antioxidant properties to being useful in treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Dill

Dill has a fairly distinctive taste being a mix of fennel, anise and celery. It is most commonly added to fish or pickles. I mainly associate it with Scandinavian cooking where it is added to almost everything you eat: soups, grilled and boiled fish, gravlax, potatoes and vinegars. However it is not only the Scandinavians who love Dill: in Eastern Europe it is often added to hot and cold (creamy) borsht. They use it in salads (much like I describes above) or in creamy dressings and sandwich spreads. Dill sauce is also used for poultry, eggs and potatoes.

In Asian cooking Dill is also commonly used and in India they believe it has good digestive properties and is also often given to mothers after childbirth.

The Greeks also use Dill pairing it with yoghurt and cucumber in Tzatziki – Yum!

Feeling a bit braver with Dill yet? Next time you are preparing poultry, fish, eggs, salad or a creamy sauce add a bit and see what you think.

Basil

I reckon basil is the most used herb in western cooking thanks to the popularity of Italian food although the plant originally comes from Asia and plays a major role in their cuisine too.

The Italian basil I chose is the most commonly sold in the supermarkets and is known as sweet basil while the Greek basil is much more peppery and has a stronger flavour. I’d use the Greek for salads but the Italian one more for cooking or pesto.

One tip I learnt off an Italian ex was to never cut basil with a knife but rather tear it to release the aromas. Obviously this isn’t practical when making pesto but I try to stick to it when making salads.

Basil pairs excellently with tomato and most vegetables, as you probably know, but it also goes great with other fruit such as pineapple or strawberries.

Another basil tip to be aware of is when picking your basil never pick the tips of the shoots but select the larger leaves from below allowing further regrowth.

Basil is another well noted antioxidant and various studies have been done linking it with cancer preventative properties. Basil is also good for high blood pressure.

Verbena

I planted Lemon Verbena as I love using it to make teas, you just pop a few leaves in some boiling water and drink it as is. Lemon Verbena is also great to use in cooking as it adds a lovely citrus taste to dishes without the acidity.  You can add it to marinades, dressing or sauces and it pairs great with fish and poultry. I’ve also seen it being used in jams to add a freshness or summery aspect.

Verbena is galactagogue (which means it promotes lactation) so it is great for breastfeeding mums. I tend to drink it as a tea in the evenings after dinner as it aids digestion and has certain sedative effect. I’ve also heard that it has antibacterial properties and is effective against yeast infections. It is also good for menstrual cramps making it a good standard for any woman’s garden.

Camomile

Another soothing tea which tastes so much better fresh and helps with digestion. German chamomile, which I planted, produces daisy like flower which you should trim and make the tea out of. This one is not recommended for nursing or pregnant woman, however, as it can cause contractions. The flowers can also be added to salads or can be made into an herbal beer.

Chives

Funnily enough I’m not a big onion fan but I love chives as its much more of a delicate taste which cuts nicely through rich dishes with eggs or cream, for example, I’ll add lots of chives to my scrambled eggs. You can add chives to any dishes which you would normally put raw onion into such as salads. They are also great for decoration or even snipped into mash or soups.

Like other allium family members, chives possess thio-sulfinites anti-oxidants. Thio-sufinites breaks down to allicin when chives are processed. Studies show that allicin reduces cholesterol production and has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. Allicin is also a vasodilator compound which is great for those with high blood pressure.

Thyme (silver leaf and lemon)

Thyme is a lovely fragrant herb which I associate mainly with Provençal dishes. It goes great with with Mediterranean vegetables, pork, lamb, fish and game. I love thyme with eggs in omelettes or in mushrooms dishes.

You can use it in stews, stuffings, marinades, omelettes or even in scrambled eggs.

Lemon Thyme adds a citrus dimension to dishes which is especially nice with fish and can be lovely sprinkled into salads.

Thyme goes excellently in quinoa or rice dishes. Lemon thyme and mushroom risotto is gorgeous and very easy to make. I don’t generally follow exact quantities when I make risotto but I’ll try and write it down for you. For 3/4 people I tend to sweat down one onion and a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep pan and then add a clove of crushed garlic.  Once all of that is mixed and soft I add a tea cup of risotto rice and coat it with the mixture. Then add about 250g of chopped mushrooms and a tablespoon of chopped thyme and cook the mushrooms down. Risotto is a dish which once you start you have to stick with until it is ready as it needs to be constantly stirred. Keep the pan on the Next add about a ladle of stock and stir until the stock is absorbed then add another (I often add a slosh of white wine instead of one of the ladles at some point during the process). Continue in this way until the rice is cooked (it should be firm but with no hard bits remaining) and then add some grated parmesan (about 2 tablespoons) and stir through. You can add anything to risottos which is great for using up leftovers. If you have any left over vegetables or meat you can also stir it through at the end.

Tea can also be made from thyme by immersing a sprig in water.

Another herb with a lot of health benefits, Thyme has often been used throughout history to preserve food and to disinfect, the ancient Egyptians even used it in embalming. Thyme had also been linked with various anti-aging properties.

Oregano

Often know as the “Pizza Herb” I only discovered it relatively recently. The British recipes I grew up with always just substituted parsley and oregano was not readily available in supermarkets. This is one of the few herbs which actually has a stronger flavour when dried. Oregano is a sweet herb with some spiciness that adds warmth to any dish. It pairs particularly well with tomatoes, aubergine and lamb.

Oregano is a great barbecue herb and goes great with grilled meat or fish and vegetables. It goes well on Greek salads and Turkish cuisine you often find it as an extra seasoning next to the salt and pepper. You can even use a large bunch as a bed on which to roast a joint. Saying that oregano is generally added just at the end of cooking, so that it retains its pungency.

In Greece and the Philippines oregano is used to treat sore throat and coughs when brewed in teas. It is another herb with antimicrobial properties I have heard it is good for fungal infections.

Mint

English mint, which I planted is apparently less invasive than other mints although those roots are sprouting out all over the place and trying to take over already. It is a sweet, spearmint type rather than a peppermint mint and is very versatile.

Mint is a common ingredient in Thai food like rolls, as well as in Middle Eastern dishes such as tabbouleh, and in traditional mint tea from North Africa. It goes well with lamb, aubergine, desserts (such as chocolate), salads, vegetables, and fruit.

It’s not unusual to see mint used in jellies, sauces and cocktails. I planted my mint thinking mainly about the cocktails. I will be watching Wimbledon and making Pimms (a traditional English gin-based drink) this summer although I seem to be drinking it mainly in tea on a daily basis (keeping it cut back so that it doesn’t take over).

Mint is a calming and soothing herb that has been used for thousands of years to aid with upset stomach or indigestion it is thought to help to speed and ease digestion. Mint also contains menthol, which is a natural decongestant and it can also be effective in tea for relieving sore throats. One health benefit which I didn’t know about previously linked with the fact that mint contain an antioxidant called rosmarinic acid. Because of rosmarinic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties it has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of hay fever.

Sage

When I think of sage I remember one of our first holidays with E where we went to a lovely little place in Tuscany, Italy called Villa Pia. We found it through a site called Baby Friendly Boltholes when we where desperate to get away to somewhere child friendly which wasn’t a resort hotel. Villa Pia was a lovely communal setting, they really looked after us and even provided babysitters to keep the children while we could take an on site cookery class. During this class we made everything from meatballs to various sorts of pasta. One of these dishes was a gnocchi with a fried sage butter sauce. Never had I known something so simple could be so delicious.

Sage has a lovely strong flavour which is a good herb to pair with foods traditionally considered heavy, rich, and creamy. It goes great with poultry, sausages (or stuffing), pasta, beans and certain dairy products such as cheese and cream (ravioli with sage cream sauce), as well as sweet and savoury breads.

The botanical name Salvia is from the Latin for “to feel well and healthy, health, heal” referring to the herb’s healing properties. It has a long history of medicinal use and the Arabs associated sage with immortality. The praise for sage is not unfounded: It is often used as an herbal remedy for afflictions including gas, bloating, poor appetite and excessive sweating. Sage has also been seen to be effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Leafy Herbs

So there you have it: my reasoning behind buying quite so many herbs and why I am so keep to buy more. I hope you find this post useful and I have convinced some of use to use more herbs if not for the flavour then for the added health benefits.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your weekends!


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Sun, Snow and Skiing (and a little sadness)

Hello, we are finally back after a couple of weeks in the Alps.

We were very lucky with the weather as it was mainly sunny for our whole stay and I was able to do a fair bit of ski touring up on the glaciers in between getting E comfortable on skis.

This post is going to be more of a photo gallery as I thought I’d share with you some of the beautiful sights we saw along the way.

The first photos you can see here were taken on my outing up the Glacier de Gébroulaz in the Vanoise National Park. That day was seriously windy and so they shut the chairlift which normally takes you to near the top of Glacier leaving you an hour’s skinning up to start of your run. This meant that we had to walk up the piste too in order to get there. The wind kept us cool during the climb and deterred many others from joining us so we had a beautifully clear run down.

Glacier de Gébroulaz decente

I loved looking at the spectacular ice pleats on the glacier. I had a Guide with me to make sure that we are safe and stayed well away from the crevasses but even in this image you can sense some of respect we had to treat the glacier with.

Glacier de Gébroulaz views

On our way down to our next climb: After the Gébroulaz we headed across to climb back up to 3153m and go down the Glacier du Borgne which you can see just the top of right in the middle.

View from the Glacier de Gébroulaz

That was my biggest hiking day but we did spend most of the time as high as we could as the valley was starting to look distinctly green.

La Masse

Here is the Bouquetin statue up at the top of La Masse. The Bouquetin is a type of Ibex and is the logo of Les Menuires.

Les Menuires Bouquetin (La Masse 2804m)

We went on another off piste adventure along the corniche by the Pointe de La Masse in order to do a descent down the Vallon du Lou.

Pointe de la Masse Pointe de la Masse corniche

Many people forget how stunning the mountains are in the summer too and most are pretty well sign posted for hiking. It always feels a bit odd though coming across a sign post up at the top of a mountain.

Walk in La Masse?

We came across a little Cairn (a man made pile of stones to guide travellers) before we did our final climb.Cairn at the top of La Masse Cairn and the valley

The snow was starting to melt fast towards the end of our stay and little streams started to spring up out of the rocks.

Melting snow

Rivers forming

E’s confidence on skis grew as the week progressed and she very excitedly came on trips to restaurants in different valleys. We are very much gourmet skiers in Les 3 Vallées and lunch is as much a part of the experience as the skiing. My favourite restaurant in the world is based in Saint Marcel in the Belleville Valley. It is called La Bouitte and we have been going there for over 20 years. Originally it was a very simple but excellent Savoyard family restaurant but over the past 10 years or so the father and son duo have been working on more innovative and creative dishes. The little restaurant has been expanded and a hotel built and they now have 2 Michelin stars. They have kept the relaxed mountain charm though: the dress code is mountain wear and slippers and even my mad little girl was made very welcome.

Towards the end of the week the skies clouded but I did snap the giant Bulldog at the top of Courchevel for you before we left.

Top of Saulire (2700m)

Unfortunately our week had to end on a sad note as we headed off to Haute Savoie. If you haven’t guessed my family is into skiing in a fairly major way. My grandparents were skiers and took my father and his little sister skiing from young age. My aunt passed away very suddenly at the end of last year and her wish was that her ashes be scattered at the top of Les Grands Montets in the Chamonix Valley.

It looked to be a miserable day for a sad task but as we got to the top the clouds parted and we found ourselves on a beautiful sea of cloud.

Aiguille des Grands Montets (3295m) Grands Montets

View from Les Grands Montets

Once again we had a qualified mountain guide (also a family friend) to take us onto the Argentière Glacier to remain safe. The glacier changes daily and snow bridges formed can be deceptive.

The clouds opening

 

I understand completely why she would want to be scattered in such a beautiful place.

Glacier d'Argentière

So we left my aunt to complete her final descent of the mountain and continued on to complete ours.sea of snow

The ice is stunning but frightening as you ski past huge cracks, pleats and shards.

ice shards

The glaciers in Chamonix are a different league to the 3 vallées ones.Ice crumpling under the weight of the glacier

Here you can see the foot of the glacier crumbled under its own weight.The foot of the glacier

 

It was a holiday filled with experiences and moments I will never forget.

I hope you have made yourselves some happy memories over the holidays and I look forward to our next adventures.