Monday, 26 April 2010

The Perfect Singapore Gin Sling

A Taste of Summer

Many of you have probably had a Gin Sling. Some of you have probably had one from the horses mouth (so to speak) from Raffles, where it's called a Singapore Sling.

The recipe is Gin (2 measures), Cherry Brandy (1), Lemon Juice (1/2), Angostura Bitters (1 drop), and Soda Water to top up a tall glass filled with ice with a slice of lemon.

This is all well and good but not perfect.


This w/e was warm enough to sit outside in the garden and contemplate doing little else but enjoy the warmth and to desist from any pottering about. It was time to bring out the Sloe Gin made last Autumn and saved specifically for the first taste of summer.

Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn Tree. They blossom very early in spring, blossoming first in the woodlands even before they come into leaf. These fruit are extremely bitter and astringent - having the effect of drying your mouth out.

Making Sloe Gin is very easy. Collect 500gr of Sloes - some people wait until after the first frost, but I don't think this is necessary (You can prick the sloes with a cocktail stick if you want)- and place in a (sterilised) preserving jar with 500gr sugar and a litre of Gin. Seal the jar and wait about 6 weeks. Shaking from time to time. Strain the resultant ruby red liquid into clean bottles. Taste some at New Year beside a roaring fire and save the rest for summer.

The Perfect Singapore Gin Sling can then be made as follows:

Gin (2 measures)
Sloe Gin (1 measure)
Pink Grapefruit Juice (1/2 a measure) and
Tonic Water to top up a tall glass filled with ice and a slice of citrus.

This is the ideal accompaniment to a warm summer's day.


Monday, 19 April 2010

A Week in the UK

Helping Out in the Garden

I recently spent a week at my Mother's place in Kent, England. Most of the week was spent doing some spring jobs in the garden and clearing away some of the clutter that makes access to the garden difficult. The first job was clear away some lockers which were blocking light reaching into the conservatory. This was important as a month ago when I was last in the village my Mother and I sowed plenty of seeds in propagators and these now needed planting out and required the light!

The next job was to clear out the Greenhouse which had become cluttered with stuff over the last years. Everything inside was taken out and the benches inside cleaned up. Once this was done some of the potted seedlings good be placed in the Greenhouse and removed from the conservatory. In addition I sowed all the seeds necessary for what we shall grow in the greenhouse this summer. This will be all the usual suspects; Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peppers (Chilli and Capsicum), Courgettes, Peanut Squash and Aubergine. In addition we';ll be sowing plenty of Basil plants with the Tomatoes.

We also planted three varieties of beans in pots for transplanting out into the garden later.

The stuff that was piled up on the outside of the greenhouse on the lower side was also cleared away so that more light could get into the greenhouse. In the garden itself we planted some Shallots and two types of Onions. A month ago we had planted out Garlic and this was already coming on well. In another bed we planted Carrots, Parsnips and Leeks. We also planted out a small bed of Swiss Chard - neither of us has planted this before so we will have to see about it. Finally a small bed of Sprouting Broccoli was planted.

On Tuesday night ny cousins Maxine and Marcella came over to visit my Mother and brought over some Broccoli seedlings. I potted these on and put them in the greenhouse and made a bed for them to be planted out in.

Around the garden we cleared and cleaned all the pathways and made safe all the access around the garden. All the plants that were in pots were moved to where my dad used to grow the Potatoes and we will decide where and when these will go in later. All the unwanted water-butts were also removed, though the garden still has plenty of them scattered about. At least you are not tripping over them now.

For some fun we scattered flower seeds underneath the fruit trees after I'd prepared the ground a little. Hopefully these will give a bright show later in the summer. Finally I opened up the Raspberry cage (it only needs to be closed off to the birds when the fruit is ripening) and trimmed all the canes and put in a layer of compost. My Dad was using two old coal-bunkers for compost bins and these were full of very rich compost. I put some on the raspberries and some on the plots for the Beans and Broccoli too. I'll leave it to my brothers to dig it in.

All this activity didn't leave much time for anything else although on the first Saturday I went out to lunch in Elham with my Mother and her two Brothers; Ted and Max. Afterwards we walked down beside the Nailbourne stream to North Elham to have a look at the house they used to live in as children.


I'd already had a walk that morning when Annie and I walked to the church of St Cosmas and St Damian and around some farm tracks back to the village of Challock. Only three churches in the UK are dedicated to this pair of saints who were apparently both Doctors and brothers.


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cable Car to Monte

Monday 23rd November 2009, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

We walked into town after breakfast and caught the Cable Car up to Monte and wandered around the Tropical Gardens for a couple of hours. after we found a cafe and ate grilled sardines and tuna for lunch sitting in the sunshine.


After that we tried to find the Imperator Gardens but had no luck it seems to be lost in a maze of small alleys! Instead we wander back to the Cable Car and return to town for some last minute shopping. Kristine gets some boots for her birthday. Back at the hotel we sit in the sun and consider a swim in the pool. On inspection however its full of bits and dead flies.


In the evening we go for a drink to a local pub and then find a restaurant close by. very nice too for our last night here.

later I phone home and speak to Mum. Dad's funeral will be a week today and Kristian will kindly pick us up at the airport tomorrow so we don't have to mess around with the trains.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Cloud and Rain in the Mountains

Sunday 22nd November 2009, Funchal, Madeira Portugal

We have breakfast in the round breakfast room which has views over the ocean. We couldn't see anything yesterday. Our taxi arrives and we drive up the coast to Sao Voncente enjoying the spectacular views before driving inland up the mountains to Encumeada. This is near where we started this holiday.

It's cold wet and windy up here and the clouds are down We decide not to do the walk and instead we will go straight to our hotel in Funchal. On the coast it's warm and sunny!

After checking in and checking the place out we stroll into town. We examine the port area and walk along the promenade. The restaurants along here have shouters out to entice you in and after exploring some more we return to one for some grilled sardines and squid with a pleasant bottle of wine.

Back at the hotel we while away the afternoon reading and relaxing. We use the hotel restaurant for dinner that evening and crash out early. a quite day all in all. We have all day tomorrow, our last day, to explore the town further.

Friday, 2 April 2010

A Hike to the Caldeiros Verde and Inferno

Saturday 21st November 2009, Sao Jorge, Madeira, Portugal

Happy Birthday Kristine, she is 50 today. Although this is of course tempered by by yesterday's events.

After a simple breakfast from which we manage to get enough material to fix some sandwiches for lunch we take our taxi up to the trail-head at Quesemada which is up in the hills. The weather is not great but we are looking forward to a hike along one of the wilder levadas.

Walk: 5hrs 22mins starting at 9.19
Low: 479m at 14.37
High: 903m at 12.19
Descent: 443m
Ascent: 39m

Today is our last walk along a levada. It's an old one too and all overgrown with mosses and ferns. It's cut right into the mountain-side and often has steep drop-offs into the valley below. For much of the way you have to balance along the side of the levada but at least they have fixed a railing in the hairiest places.


At first the trail was wide enough for two but pretty soon it narrowed and we had to walk single file. The green-ness was amazing and we sometimes walk alongside curtains of tiny waterfalls. Every now again we are forced to take a shower! Fairly soon the levada broke out of it's green tunnel to continue in a cleft cut into the rock-face. The fact that a railing had been built here was re-assuring. Eventually we came to our first tunnel which we had to creep through for fear of slipping or banging our heads. The views down the valley to the ocean and up into the spiky mountains was sensational.


We past a succession of 'caldeiros' which are a kind of green amphitheatre overgrown with ferns with a narrow and high waterfall as a centrepiece. soonn after this we reached a fork in the trail. From here it's a 2km hike to the Caldeiro verde and then 2km back again.


First of all we had to get through two tunnels (good job we've got our head torches). Both of them were curved so you couldn't see the exit for a while and they were both pretty low too. The first tunnel had a window half way through which proved an interesting view and in the second the levada was  running in a channel at waist height so their was no fear of falling in as is usually the case.

After that the walking was spectacular as you balanced on the edge of the levada and held onto the hand-rail. This really was a stunning walk with outstanding views. Though visibility wasn't great and it began to rain later. The plant life in and around the levada and on the walls was of an intense green and amazing in it's details.


Eventually we reached the Caldeiros Verde and it's 1000ft waterfall. It was now raining quite heavily and it was difficult to look up at the fall. Like standing under a huge shower. A bit further on we sheltered under a tree and sat beside the levada to have our lunch. from here you can walk a further 1 and a half hours to the Caldeiro Inferno. However we've been informed that the levada has been abandoned and not repaired for may years and has been damaged by rock falls in many places. We met a guide here who told us that only last year a couple had tried it and the man's wife had fallen to here death. We took the hint and returned the way we had come back to the junction. The walk was just as spectacular this way round too though now visibility was even worse and we couldn't see the ocean any more. Pretty soon we got back through the two curved tunnels and then took a left at the fork instead of returning to where we had started.

This trail followed a smaller levada which had also been abandoned and we followed this narrow route in the direction of Ilha After an hour or so the trail widened into a track and eventually into a dirt road that meandered steeply towards the village. It was raining again now and this last bit of the walk was a bit dull and quite heavy going as our boots clogged up with mud.

Fortunately  our driver had anticipated our predicament and had driven up to meet us instead of waiting in the village below. after washing our boots off in a convenient gully we clambered in and enjoyed the ride to our hotel in Sao Jorge.

It's a pretty weird place as all the rooms are in separate cabins which seem to be modelled on the traditional thatched buildings of the island. They are conical and our room is round! In fact every room in the building is round. After changing where scuttle off to the bar and sit by a log fire with beer, sandwiches and cake.

In the evening we come back for a game or two of pool before dinner in the large dining room. The meal itself is a bit disappointing but we celebrate with a decent wine.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A Breathtaking Cliff Walk

Friday 20th November 2009, Santana, Madeira, Portugal

It's my Dad's 76th birthday today. At 7am I got a call from Keith telling me the expected news that my Dad had passed away a few minutes earlier. We didn't speak much. He said he'd call back in half an hour. Even then there's not a lot to say. I had a brief word with almost everyone who had stayed through the night at his hospital bed. Kristine and I finish here in Madeira on Tuesday and fly back home then. In a daze I get myself for a day's hiking. We are doing a cliff walk today rather than following a levada.

Walk: 4hrs 24mins starting at 8.55
Low: 4m at 13.24
High: 342m at 10.31
Descent: 377m
Ascent: 359m

At breakfast we meet two English guys who are delivering a boat to Florida. They've been sailing for two weeks already. They joke about the guy who's bought the boat and who is on board as they cross the ocean. The weather is very dark and foreboding but decide to walk anyway. The cliff path is supposed to be quite dangerous if it's windy and wet and in one place you have to help yourself along a ridge using a chain. We decide we;ll see how it goes and if it turns out to be too much then we'll simply turn back and get a bus or something.

Our first objective is to climb out of the town and rejoin the levada we walked along yesterday. It's unfortunate that we have to retrace our steps but it only takes about 45 mins to get to the point where we leave the levada and cross over a pass to the cliffs beyond.

It's a steady and easy climb past the allotments and up through the woods. We can see that a bush fire has raged through fairly recently but the new growth is already taking shape. At the pass we the ocean and the cliffs in both directions. They look spectacular and gloomy under the dark clouds and through the drizzled light. Too our left we can see that the  path is cut into the cliff about 2/3rds of the way up.

We stop here for a little while and admire the views and take some shots whilst we debate whether we should continue or not. We go for it.


The path is narrow and wet in places and the path goes out to many points with superb views. sometimes the view straight down to the ocean is a bit disturbing but generally the trail feels safe enough The section with the cable to help you along is actually very short and doesn't present much of a problem as long as you don't look down.

After a couple of hours the trail leaves the cliffs and passes through woodlands reminiscent of the Under cliff at Lyme Regis. Here we sit in the sun on a fallen log and have some lunch. KLater the trail starts to enter ciclisation and opens out into a track. We pass a cabbage patch and some abandoned vines and what seems to be a mechanism for getting stuff up and down the cliffs.

Eventually the track turns into a road and meanders down a steep hill towards the small town of Porto Cruz. Towards the bottom we leave the road to follow a tiny levada whch takes us down to a rocky beach. from here we walk the short distance to the tiny port town.

We find a small cafe and have some coffee and cake before walking up to the church square to pick up our Taxi. It's not there and so I call. apparently I should have called earlier to arrange a time but this is not apparent from our trip notes. In any case our Taxi will be here in an hour or so so we just have another wander around the town.

It's only a short, but dramatic, drive to the hotel on the outskirts of Santana. It's a strange place, in two parts, but we are given a decent roum overlooking the sea which is far below.

I'm on the phone home before dinner. It leaves me a bit numb and a bit queasy. I'm glad I did the walk today though; the fresh air and the wind and rain in your face gave me some time to think and plenty of time not to think too.

Dinner in the hotel was fine. I think it was only the two of us n the dining room.