A weekend in Lisbon

So I should start by saying that the title of this post is technically a lie! We weren’t in Lisbon for a weekend, but actually Monday-Wednesday. We spent the weekend in the Algarve at a wedding, and on Monday morning got the train to Lisbon. The trains were very easy (although we nearly messed up the tickets) on time, and strongly air conditioned!

We arrived in Lisbon around 12 and were very determined to use public transport to get around. We initially tried to get a bus but after totally failing to find the right stop for the bus that we wanted, we decided to go with the metro instead. The system was very easy to use and we never had to wait long for a train. This did, however, end up with us (well mostly Nick) dragging suitcases up a large hill in the midday sun as we walked to our Airbnb.

We decided to stay in Barrio Alto on the basis that we could walk to most places, and found a lovely Airbnb. We had loads of space, and it was a lovely cool place to come back to when we wanted to relax at the end of the day.

I was pretty determined to get us to our first stop – the Time Out Mercado di Ribiero. It’s essentially a food market, but with some very high end offerings, inside and all very civilised – you order your food and get buzzers so you can get a drink and a seat and go and collect what you’ve ordered when it’s ready. We had some amazing croquetas, cones of ham, delicious figs stuffed with ham, a little tin stuffed with egg – random but wonderful things. I actually spent most of the trip trying to persuade Nick that we should go back again, but never succeeded. P1020446.JPG

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Happily refuelled, we were ready for some sightseeing. It was pretty hot, but we were determined and spent the afternoon walking around the waterfront and then up to the castle, for some amazing views of the City. We were also particularly entertained by the peacocks at the castle – and their very slow way of getting up trees! We also managed to pick up a souvenir (because every holiday needs shopping).

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After a trip back to the flat to cool off, we were ready for the evening which naturally started with gin. We were staying very close to Park, a bar on the rooftop of a car park! This provided more beautiful views – and a nice breeze – as we watched the sunset.Through some determination, we got  a table by the edge with a wonderful view.

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After a failed attempt to get to a restaurant that was closed on Mondays, we ended up eating outside on a random street, where I enjoyed seafood rice. Finding somewhere was pretty tricky though – must remember to be better at checking opening times!

The next day we started with that Portuguese essential – custard tarts. I had done my research, and rather than going to Pasteis de Belem, where I’d read of long queues, we went to Mantegiara, which was nearby – and fantastic. I had a coffee with mine – and they were so good we shared a third tart between the two of us!

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Then it was off to Belem, where we started with the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a wonderfully cool break from the sun. It was beautiful inside, with a particularly impressive cathedral.

We then walked down to the Tour de Belem – the Tower – for more amazing views, but also queuing in the heat! We had lunch in Belem, before making our way back to town and getting amazing ice cream at Santini.

It was on the way back to our flat to change for the evening that I managed to slip and break my poor baby toe 😦 but I was determined to let it interfere with our food-based plans for the evening! We headed into the Barrio Alto, and had a drink outside in a little bar, before moving to The Old Pharmacy,  for wine and snacks. We actually ended up back there at the end of the night for port – we couldn’t leave without drinking any!

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On our final day, we decided to walk up to the Portuguese Parliament and saw some very impressive graffiti. We then went to the beautiful Jardim de Estrela where we saw an impressive combination of wildlife happily hanging out.

Then it was tram time!

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One of our final stops was peri peri chicken! Again, I had done my research and we went to Bonjardim, where we were lucky to get a table – and the chicken was amazing!

That just left us with time to head back to the apartment, pack up, and get to the airport (on the Metro – very easy to navigate). Lisbon was a great place to spend a few days or a weekend – I hope we’ll be back.

 

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Book Review: The Taming of the Queen

It’s a while since I last read a Philippa Gregory, but The Taming of the Queen came up as a Kindle de61ouvigqqnl-_sy344_bo1204203200_al last week, and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I’m reading loads at the moment – partly because Nick’s working such long hours – and I feel like I’m really racing through books. I know I’ve got a lot reviews to add.

Anyway, as a result, I bought and read the book fairly quickly, rather than adding it to a lengthy virtual stack of kindle reading. I loved it. Look, I don’t want to pretend that Gregory is highbrow, hard going reading, but she writes incredibly well, and this book, like so many of her others, was unputdownable. I raced through it.

I was particularly interested as it focuses on Henry VIII’s last Queen, Katherine (or Kateryn) Parr, someone who I do not know much about. She, of course, was the Queen who survived. She turned out to be an absolutely fascinating character, who, according to Gregory’s retelling at least, was a key driver in the reformation of the Church, in restoring the Tudor princesses to their place, and in creating the idea that a woman could be regent – and therefore laying the scene for Mary and Elizabeth to rule.

Gregory really succeeds in bringing the period to life, and Kateryn comes off as a very sympathetic character. I also found her focus on the Church and her writing fascinating. I came away feeling more educated about this particular Tudor Queen.

In short, a book that I’d highly recommend. You know what you are getting with Philippa Gregory, and this is a great example of her writing.

 

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Book Review: Small Great Things

AsSmall Great Things promised, my first book review from the summer. Small Great Things is Jodi Picoult’s newest book and is actually not due out in the UK until November. I was fortunate enough to get a pre-release copy from NetGalley.

I read on my kindle, which is amazing for holidays for someone like me who can get through almost a book a day sometimes. But it is less good for glancing down to see what you are reading, or reading the book jacket before you start. So occasionally I start reading something without really knowing what it is, confident that I must have chosen it for a reason. This is particularly the case with some NetGalley books that don’t come up with all the details. And that was very much the case with this. It actually wasn’t until I finished the book that I realised who the author was. I am generally a fan of Jodi Picoult, but I say this to encourage those who don’t normally read her books to give this one a go.

I find that Picoult tends to broadly focus on relationships, particularly motherhood and babies. But she also deals with some really huge topics – the Holocaust, stem-cell research, disability etc. And this is no different. In Small Great Things, Picoult turns her pen to racism in contemporary America – and I mean very contemporary. There are a number of references to Obama and recent shootings of unarmed black men.

The book starts with a black nurse whose supervisor agrees to the request of a white supremacist and prevents Ruth from treating a baby on a maternity ward. When the baby goes into cardiac arrest and only Ruth is in the room, she hesistates before acting. The baby dies, and she ends up suspended and on trial. But her white lawyer wants to focus on the case, and not on racism.

The book deals with very obvious racism – the white supremacist and his family – but also more inherent racism, and the idea of white privilege. It questions how those who do not see themselves as racist deal with race, and looks at the idea of inbuilt racism in US society.

It’s hard to comment on American society as a Brit, even one who has lived there briefly. But for me, this was a fascinating insight into the race debate that we have seen some coverage of over here, particularly shootings and the Black Lives Matter protests. I wouldn’t want to say that it’s how race should be considered – that’t not my place – but it was a wonderful way to consider how racism presents itself and to look at the issue from a range of different perspectives.

In addition, being Jodi Picoult, it was a wonderfully well-written book, with interesting and complex characters and page-turning prose. I raced through it, as it was so good! It will be interesting to see how this is received in the US, written, as it is, from someone who has not experienced the racism described. But I would highly recommend it for someone who wants to get a better perspective on what’s going on.

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Recent reading

Nick discovered recently that Bill Gates claims to read at least 50 books per year. He certainly reviews a lot! Nick is trying to calculate how many he reads, but that got me thinking – I’m sure I can’t be too far off 50. Although mine are primarily fiction and probably shorter.

But regardless, I read a lot, and it’s hard to keep track. So I’m going to try to use this to keep track and to review at least some of the books that I’ve read recently. Think of this as an intermittent series. And if you’re interested, my current Amazon wish list – ALL kindle books – is here.

For starters, here is a list of books I read on our 10 day holiday in Spain. Short immediate comments now, full reviews to follow.

  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen – I found this quite hard work actually. I think the style is quite intense and that’s intentional.
  • We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas – one of my holiday highlights, totally unexpected but a very good read.
  • The Election Notebook, Nick Robinson – can’t believe I waited so long to read this. Wonderful book, great insights.
  • Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo – this was a free copy from NetGalley. It’s a wonderful book about life in Nigeria.
  • Small Great Things, Jodi Picault – another one from NetGalley. When I read this, I forgot it was Jodi Picault. I love her books, but this was something else. I’d highly recommend it when it’s published.
  • The Things We Wish Were True, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen – a lovely book about suburban American life. Relatively light reading with a darker undertone.
  • The Other Hand, Chris Cleave – oof, I have mixed feelings about this which need a longer review. Bits were very good, bits were very superficial!
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Upcoming posts

Coming up on the blog shortly…

  • What I’ve been reading (a sporadic series)
  • A weekend away in…
  • London restaurants (a sporadic series)
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Eating our way around Positano

Two weeks ago, we got married! It was the most incredible day, and I hope to write more on that later. But following that we spent a few days in Positano, Italy. It was the perfect place for a honeymoon, beautiful, not too busy, sunny, and full of beautiful food!

A few highlights and photos:

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We arrived late on Tuesday night and after checking in went straight to the champagne and oyster bar at the Sireneuse Hotel, which was helpfully just a few minutes from our hotel. Beautiful view, lovely drinks, and the oysters were fabulous.

On Wednesday we got up to get the last boat over to Capri – at 10.30! We spent quite a bit of the day on buses in the end, but the plan was to have lunch at the beach club belonging to Il Riccio. The beach club was lovely, with amazing views, wonderful service, and everything beautifully plated.

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Two menu highlights; the fish soup and the sea urchin vermicelli.P1000046 And a beautiful setting!

The tasting room – their dessert buffet – was incredible!

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The beautiful view on the way home

Thursday we spent relaxing by the pool at our hotel, and enjoying the wine tasting that they offered.

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On Friday we managed to eat a huge amount of food! Lunch was at Buca di Bacco, where the starters were amazing – swordfish carpaccio and a grilled squid and mozarella.

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We had dinner at the one of the most beautiful places, Zass at Il San Pietro. Zass is built into the rocks and looks out over the water and both Positano and Priano. The view was incredible!

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Dinner was also incredible – and a lot of food! We started with drinks and nibbles, olives etc, on the beautiful terrace, and then moved to restaurant, where our table was also looking out over the sea. We were given focaccia – and a slice of pizza while we were ordering, so already we’d had quite a lot of food!

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Highlights were the bread soup (second picture) and chocolate dessert (last picture), but really the food was excellent, one of the best meals we’ve had.

Saturday we spent at Da Adolfo, a beach club just past Il San Pietro. They run a boat service to and from Positano, and we spent the day reading on the beach, and eating at the excellent restaurant. It was a lot of fun – they obviously like everyone to eat at the same time, and there was a lot of running around and excitement. It was full of Italian families. The grilled mozarella was superb!

IMG_3148P1000154 But then it was time to get back on the boat, back to the hotel, ready for the airport and home to married life!

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A weekend of cooking

This weekend involved quite a lot of cooking, although we managed to fit in dinner at one of the Congolese restaurants in Brussels – curry goat and plantains – and lots of lovely cheese from the market as well.

Friday night we had N’s manager and husband over for dinner. As she is Jewish and he converted, we thought it would be fun to make a traditional Friday night dinner. I went to the butcher and bought liver to make chopped liver to go with egg mayonnaise and a challah provided by mum. Then I marinated a whole chicken in a spicy mix and roasted it to go with roast sweet and normal potatoes, mashed squash, and creamed leeks. Followed by crumble, it was a relatively traditional Jewish meal – heavy but tasty!

Sunday night we made our favourite ‘Obama’ soup – a Mexican soup, which apparently Obama is particularly fond of. It’s relatively simple, really. In one pan you make effectively a spicy tomato sauce – onion, garlic, chilli, fresh or tinned toms (we’ve used either and both) and then blend if you want. You can also add sweet corn, black beans, and chorizo to that if you want. In another pan, you boil cubed chicken in stock, and when cooked, you add it all together and season. The fun is really in the eating. Put on the table tortilla chips, cubed feta, spring onion, cubed avocado, sour cream and lime wedges. Make up your bowl with the tortilla chips, feta, avo and onion, then add the soup mix. Top with sour cream and a squeeze of lime!

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Tonight I’m back in London on my own and decided to make something inspired by Joanne’s blog, which I have long been a fan of. When I wrote my own recipe blog, I looked at hers a lot. Joanne makes her thai green curry into burritos, but I decided to stay slightly more traditional. I followed her directions on roasting the tofu – really good – and the coriander rice, which was excellent, but kept my curry a little more wet and ate it in a bowl. But it was great. Now I need to think of more things to do with tofu to use up the leftovers!image

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