Friday, 29 July 2011

Fabulously Full on Falafel

I’ve got some news; it’s almost August.

I know! I was just settling into July and then I looked at the calendar. I haven’t even remotely reached that goal weight; saved that money or done all the cool stuff I’d planned to have done by the end of July. And after August there’s September and we’re seriously getting into autumn territory by then so my planned summer bikini-body, might have to go up a size. Shucks.

Well, faced with that sort of reality I suppose there would be nothing wrong now with having a little bit of that whole almond, dark chocolate I squirreled away in the fridge earlier. Dark chocolates good for you, we all know that.

Yesterdays lunch was very healthy too, even though we all ate too much of it and felt like sleeping for the rest of the day. Falafel is a huge crowd pleaser, requires many tasty, fun and easy-to-do side dishes and is great for the budget.

So there we go; healthy food for that bikini-body (or tankini-body, up to you), saving money and cool fun to do… see! All my goals for August right there in a Pitta bread.

I’m trying to think positively.

Falafel is a vegetarian meatball made with chic-peas. And as George Clooney said in that episode of ‘Friends’; ‘God bless the chic-pea’.

They are the tastiest little dumplings, truly very easy to make and versatile enough that you can play with the ingredients to suit what’s in your fridge. You could add spinach, extra chilli, grated courgette, some chopped apricots etc.

And most importantly the crew love them. Even the, ‘where’s-the-meat?’ types love falafel. You can’t lose. Even if you haven’t achieved your monthly goals, everyone’s stomachs are happy.

To make enough falafel for 8 people you will need;

2 small onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
800g chickpeas from a can or jar, washed and drained
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 bunch of coriander, tender stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 large egg, beaten
Salt and pepper


  • Sauté the onion in a frying pan with a tsp of sugar till softened then add the garlic and finely chopped coriander stalks. Sauté for a few more minutes then tip into a large bowl that will hold all of the above ingredients.

  • Add the chick peas and a good pinch of salt and grinding of black pepper and all of the spices and using a potato masher or fork, mash the chickpeas up as much or as little as you wish. I gave them a fairly good mash but kept some texture.

  • Mix in the beaten egg and if you think its too dry, beat another egg and add a little of that at a time till the consistency is just right. It needs to be moist enough to hold together but not wet.

  • Take small portions of the mixture and shape into little dumplings, giving them a bit of a squeeze to flatten them ever-so-slightly. They should be slightly smaller than walnut size.

  • Heat 3 tbsp of sunflower oil in a frying pan and when the pan is hot add the falafel and brown on both sides. Do this in batches setting the browned falafel aside in an oven dish. When all of the falafel are cooked pop them in a hot oven for 5 minutes.

  • Serve the falafel with a bowl-full of Greek yoghurt mixed with 1 tbsp of tahini paste, 1 tbsp mint sauce and a good squeeze of lemon juice and its zest. Warm some pitta breads and arrange a platter of extra fillings. I did some grilled courgettes with cumin seeds and lemon juice but roasted cumin carrots or stir-fried cauliflower with spices can all be piled well into falafel-filled pitta bread.

Yummy.  The above amount made about 4 falafel each. Any more and you will need to plan a siesta into your afternoon. I think we should all do that anyway. Someone recently told me that people who have regular siestas live longer. I believe that. Mind you; could mean even less time getting those monthly goals achieved.

I guess I’ll see you in August then if not before. Enjoy the rest of your July.

Thanks for reading and Cheers!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Sightseeing and Sushi

A small section of view from the rooftop bar at the Hotel Majestic. Gaudi's Casa Batlló on the right.

I’m staying in this week. For the sake of my wallet and my health I’m eating home cooked food and will not consume any alcohol or junk and I will be going to bed every night at an extraordinarily reasonable hour.

How about that then.

I might also be kidding myself because my friend Robyn has agreed to show me some very cool and exciting things like a cupcake shop, the best place to drink tea and the best bakers here in Barcelona. But then, that all sounds like fairly wholesome stuff.

There is so much to do and experience here. However I’m coming to the conclusion that if I neglect to see every good restaurant, museum and cocktail bar then I have a very good excuse to keep returning in the future. If I try to do it all now, I could possibly do myself an injury. Three banana daiquiris, though delicious and a fun new experience, were more than likely the root of my Sunday morning unproductiveness

And before you start to wonder if my idea of culture is limited to food and drink, never fear. I visited Gaudi’s extraordinary Casa Batlló at the weekend. Antoni Gaudi, Spain’s most famous architect remodelled the building, owned by Joseph Batlló, between the years of 1904-06. It is known locally as the ‘Casa dels Ossos’, the House of Bones because of its skeletal quality.

Inside it is hard to find a straight line and even though the woman speaking to you through your hand-held 'speaking guide' tells you there are few, if any straight lines; if you’re like me then the challenge is on and you will be seeking straight lines in every nook and cranny. So if you get to go then at least you can relax and enjoy the tour because apart from things like furniture and stair treads, there really are no straight lines. I've done it for you. Phew. 

 It is truly stunning and a pleasure to visit and even George, my boyfriend enjoyed it a lot and he’s not great at sight-seeing.
This was the day after the sushi night. Our second visit to the ‘Matsuri’, Southeast Asia restaurant in the Barri Gotic region of Barcelona.

It really is the best sushi I have ever eaten. It’s the rice more than anything. If you’ve made a lot of sushi you will know that getting the rice perfect makes the biggest of differences to the final result. The sushi at Matsuri has a creamy, melt in the mouth effect and is neither heavy nor compact. The rice is on the light side of the ingredients and the filling shines through as a fresh and exciting little revelation. Like the mango in the spicy tuna sushi and the prawn tempura in the Tokyo. The California special is a must and if you’ve never eaten your own body weight in sushi before let me advise you that it is totally possible if you eat it here. Matt Barker, the owner and Captain of The Blue Peter, has admitted to eating there ‘practically’ every night so far. But then he’s allowed. He’s about to run in the New York Triathlon. I would seriously consider entering it too if it meant eating sushi every night. Hey, its healthy stuff!

The restaurant is very chic and pretty ‘zen’ so works well for crew and ‘guest/owner’ nights out alike.

After our visit to the Casa Batlló the next day (conveniently around lunch time…), we decided that since we were just down the road from the Hotel Majestic, we may as well pop-on-up to the tenth floor to visit ‘The Gourmet Bar’. It is a very elegant rooftop bar that has panoramic views over the city. Comfortable chairs too, Philippe Starke you know. 

So of course because we were up there it felt rude just to look at the view and leave giving nothing but our ‘oohs’ and ‘aaghs’; so we sat down to a few glasses of Cava and a little light lunch.

Then I think that day might have evolved into what was the banana Daiquiri night…

And here I am now, glad to be on the boat with a mug of tea and a cooling fan and no where to go for a while. Lovely. Well, we’ve still got a little time left here for a few more Barcelona adventures so one would be wise to pace oneself I reckon.

Thanks for reading! Hope you tried out the Pimms and Paella party idea?! Let me know.

I have a great little recipe for you next. Good, easy, cheap and very tasty little lunch idea.

Join me then. Cheers!

Skateboarding is where it's at in Barcelona

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Paella Performance and Cocktails.

Do you know, I don’t think I’ve made paella since (long pause) crikey, cookery school, 10 years ago. And how much better is a freshly made paella then those stodgy, hours old, tourist grabbing, yellow glowing paellas that practically have a bottle of factor 30 in hand, they’ve been sitting in the sun that long.

I’m sure there are some jolly nice paella restaurants out there (in fact there is one here that specializes in them, don’t worry I’ll try it out). It’s just that it is such a great dish that should be served and enjoyed uber fresh and hot off the stove.

I could have bought a huge paella pan to make mine in. Oh the temptation! There they were, from small to about 1 meter across, hanging off the wall of a lovely kitchen shop in town. I was busy justifying the expenditure and locating secret hiding places in the bilges or the lazerette that could house a massive paella pan, disguised maybe as a vital bit of boaty equipment. Give it a rollick and an oar and you could probably row some considerable distance in it; who would question it? But before I got too excited I had to remember that firstly I would have to cycle back to the boat with the thing possibly balanced on my head and most importantly my cooker is less then 2 ft square and I have no room at the inn for any more pans or fun equipment and certainly not the budget.


Hey-ho. My stainless steel saucepan would have to do. It’s best not to use non-stick pans and use the frying pan with the biggest flat base that you have. It shouldn’t be too heavy or cast iron because they retain their heat too much which will mean that when your resting your paella, once you have finished cooking it, the rice will still be cooking on the bottom. So it needs to be a pan that cools quite quickly. Either that or stick the base of the pan into a sink full of cold water. The important bit of the paella is the crust stuck on the bottom where the rice has toasted onto the bottom of the pan. So non-stick pans are not helpful for that.

Making paella is fun. It’s a dish you can be as traditional or as simple or as experimental as you dare and it always tastes lovely. Looks pretty good too. A feast for the eyes.  I stuck with a fairly traditional recipe using pork, chicken and seafood, peas and parsley and lots of lemon zest. They can be vegetarian too. And I made mine a little bit spicy but then I knew my audience.

Have a party! It’s summer and the evenings are long. Paella is best cooked on the barbeque or a grill where the heat will cover the entire base of the pan so that’s your perfect excuse to get some mates round for some paella and sangria in the garden. Actually I’m thinking Paella and Pimms evening, loaded with fresh mint…The old salad and crusty bread accompaniment and what a lovely evening.

I would if I were you.

For traditional (I think!) Paella for 6 people you will need;

2 medium brown onions finely chopped
1 large red pepper finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 small red chili (optional)
3 large tomatoes deseeded and roughly chopped (and skinned if you can be bothered)
2 chicken thighs, 2 drumsticks and 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces.
8 rashers of bacon or a chorizo sausage or 2 pork chops, roughly chopped
400g paella rice (most supermarkets stock Spanish paella rice)
large pinch of saffron (optional, it’s expensive)
2 tsp sweet paprika
about 2pts, 1.2 litres of vege stock
12 fresh mussels all cleaned of beards and barnacles                     
1 small pack of cooked peeled shrimp
12 raw prawns with their shell
1 cup of peas
any other fish or shell fish that you fancy that’s in season


  • Begin by sautéing the chicken pieces in some oil until lightly browned all over and then set aside.

  • Using the same oil, fry the pork/bacon pieces until lightly browned and set aside.

  • In another pan, steam open the mussels and discard any that remain closed and set aside.

  • Back to the paella pan using the bacon fat, sauté the onions with a tsp of sugar until softened but not too coloured. Add the red pepper slices and chopped tomatoes and continue to sauté for a few minutes.

  • I finely chopped the tender parsley stalks and added a good tbsp. Then stir in the paprika, and chorizo if using.

  • Now pour in the rice and stir well to combine with all the lovely ingredients over the heat and sauté like this for 3-4 minutes. Then pour in the hot stock and add the pinch of saffron.

  • Return the chicken and bacon or pork to the paella and bring to the boil. Give it all a little seasoning with salt and black pepper. Then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and stirring occasionally let the stock be absorbed by the rice. This will take about 20 minutes.

  • Before the 20 minutes is up, add the raw prawns and peas to the paella so that they have a good 6-8 minutes cooking time and have gone a nice pink colour. Once they have gone pink and the rice is almost cooked add the chopped parsley, lemon zest and cooked prawns and mussels to the paella giving it a brief and gentle stir, kind of more of an incorporating wiggle.

  • Serve with lemon wedges and salad.

So apparently the first paellas were made with Water vole meat, eels and snails. Probably wise to stick to chicken and/or fish I reckon. Not sure where to get Water vole. Saying that you can get some ‘out-there’ things at the markets here. They have a fair amount of offal for sale. Any part of any animal you’d like to munch on is available…

Like I said; I’ll stick to the chicken and fish.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have that garden party with paella and Pimms. Let me know how it goes. Don’t forget the fresh mint.


The night lights of Barcelona

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Storm

I found this piece of English homework I wrote when I was 14 or 15 years old. You could say that my working on a classic yacht now is no huge shock really. Sailing and boats definately become a part of you and I clearly had a vivid picture in my mind of the scene I was writing about. I also quite clearly was enjoying thumbing through my thesaurus at the time of writing. Some big words to impress my English teacher. Mrs Gibbs was her name. She was lovely, I wonder where she is now.

It is Sunday and we the crew are absolutely shattered. Some precentage of that is from having had 5 days classic yacht sailing and I think another huge percentage is from having such a great time of it in Barcelona. It was a brilliant regatta. We came second overall. Moonbeam 3 came first and well done to them. Yesterday the wind really blew and we wore harnesses and life jackets and reefed our huge mainsail. It was no storm but my staysail team and I were hauling on the jigger up to our waists in water for alot of the race. Awsome. We had our one win and a first over the line so we were very happy with our performance this week.

Drying out the foulies and shoes after a pretty strong day on the water.

3 Regattas down, 5 to go. But for the mean time we will stay in Barcelona and rest our weary bodies and take care of our very old but beautiful boat. 

Mariquita heading downwind

The Storm
The dark blue universe of sea was a reflection of the clear blue dome of sky above it. The lustrous dazzling of the sun's rays beat down upon the silently calm, mirror-like water, increasing the resplendent glow.
In the midst of this mysterious world, enveloped in the remote and solitary haze of this huge expansion of water, a small wooden yacht leisurely made its way across the slack waters, heading for the misty horizon. The sails slightly yellow in colour from years of hard use, storms and strong winds, flapped lazily in the now idle and reluctant breeze. The rigging tapped rhythmically against the mast and the tame water lapped against the boats glossy hull which moved with sluggish apathy towards its destination.
Aboard the yacht, sitting in the cockpit of the boat, was an old man, tanned and worn like the sails from endless years at sea. Wearing only a pair of shorts tired with overuse, his naked flesh, brown and drained of its youth was covered with salt, encrusted in the crevasses and folds of his old skin. Beads of sweat were emerging from his brow in the sweltering heat and the pungent smell of old tobacco lingered in the air around him. His white hair and beard were matted and salty from neglect. With skill his experienced hand held the wooden tiller. His bloodshot eyes, full of wisdom and knowledge of the oceans, looked on in anxiety towards the distant horizon.
As the sultry day advanced, the glaring sun eventually began to descend from the sky, its brightness steadily altering to a soft orange glow which discoloured the sea beneath with its reflection. The orange globe looked down at its destined journey, unknown to anyone but the sun itself. It pondered as if in thought before reluctantly diminishing behind a wall of black which hung over the horizon, dark and oppressive. As the sun disappeared the wind awoke and a harsh breeze crept silently upon the small boat, filling its sails. The boat reacted swiftly to this newly found power and was aroused into acceleration.
Whispery clouds began to form in the darkening atmosphere above and the man knew that behind their mask of innocence these clouds were the worrying sign of an ever advancing enemy. And this battle was to be the hardest of battles at sea.
The man adjusted the sails and began to prepare for what was to come. For as the power of the wind became stronger, so did the forebodings of a storm.

P.S Better tell you about the best sushi restaurant I have ever eaten in Thanks to my mate Robyn from the classic yacht, Halloween; and it is right here in Barcelona. Just for you guys I will return there to take photos and sample more of the menu so that I can blog about it. Now don't let me hear you say I never do anything for you.

Thanks for reading. I'll be back soon with recipes and restaurant reviews! It's a tough life at 33 degrees...


Saturday, 16 July 2011

A First Over all for Mariquita Today!

It’s not easy to put into words how it can make you feel when you’re lolling about in an area of sea barely off the coast, lined with glittering skyscrapers, amongst many other beautiful classic yachts, waiting for the start sequence to your race. It’s a moment of clarity following a busy, sometimes stressful morning doing breakfast, making sandwiches, stowing the boat, sorting crew’s uniform, planning dinner; and then there you are, quite possibly the luckiest person in the world. I always have an inward little bubble of pride that in my life I have managed to get myself into the position where I can be a part of this scene. Adrenaline pumping; in pre-start positions on the staysail sheet with my staysail team, watching the most beautiful yachts in the world sail by, ready to seriously vie with you for that perfect position on the start line.

As you can see, I struggle to do it any justice at all with words and will never be able to come close with my hastily taken photos either. And I hope you don’t think that I’m gloating, it’s just that so much passion and skill goes into preparing for exactly these moments. The  leather work, led by our leather guru and bosun Nikki, that covers the wooden blocks, the perfectly administered varnish, the splicing of lines, stitching of sails, the heartfelt dedication to skills that have kept these boats sailing as they were one hundred years ago. Not to mention the team work.

Jim at the helm

The bow 'talks' to the helm constantly about sail trim.

And it’s great team work that gave us our first place today! We fought hard, like Trojans and as the race progressed the wind strength grew and it was our day. First place for Mariquita! You should have heard us cheer as we crossed the finish. To be honest it was all getting a bit much for the boat with the Jack Yard up. My team and I were up to our waists in gushing sea water on the leeward side trimming the staysail in on the jigger, harnessed on and loving every minute of it.

My photos will never capture the power or the speed or the effort involved in sailing a classic yacht the way we do; with no modern-day power winches, simply as it was back then. We pull on everything by hand, grit and sheer determination and the odd shanty. We love it. We live for it.

Thats me tailing the topping lift

 I will leave you with the words of someone more qualified then me to speak on our behalf. Our Captain Jim Thom, loves to read this to us, the crew, every now and then; and usually at the beginning of the season. I think he has good reason. This piece really says it all. Ladies and Gentlemen, the words of Joseph Conrad;

Of course, yacht racing is an organised pastime,…but for a great number of people it is a means of livelihood that is, an industry. Now, the moral side of an industry, productive or unproductive, the redeeming and ideal aspect of this bread winning, is the attainment and preservation of the highest possible skill on the part of the craftsmen. Such skill, the skill of technique, is more than honesty; it is something wider, embracing honesty and grace and rule in an elevated and clear sentiment, not altogether utilitarian, which may be called the honour of labour. It is made up of accumulated tradition, kept alive by individual pride, rendered exact by professional opinion and, like the higher art, it is spurred on and sustained by discriminating praise.

That is why the attainment of proficiency, the pushing of your skill with attention to the most delicate shades of excellence, is a matter of vital concern. Efficiency of a practically flawless kind may be reached naturally in the struggle for bread. But there is something beyond – a higher point, a subtle and unmistakable touch of love and pride beyond mere skill; almost an inspiration which gives to all work that finish which is almost art – which is art.

It is the striving for victory that has elevated the sailing of pleasure craft to the dignity of a fine art in that special sense”
                                                                                   Joseph Conrad,
                                                                 The Mirror of the Sea

Thanks Joseph. Nice one. I’m in my bunk now waiting for sleep to come. It’ll be another early morning, another day of adrenaline, good strong wind (or so I’ve heard on the grapevine) and we are determined to get another first place. On Sunday I shall probably sleep a lot so I hope to see you again on Monday for another little catch up.

Thank you for reading my excited little blog today. It feels good to work so hard and get an official first place. How often does that happen in life really?...

Wish us luck, Cheers!

Believe it or not, my bunk is behind the lashed up wooden hatch at the back there. Home Sweet Home.

Tidying lines after a great day out racing.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Spanish Highs and Salt 'n' Papper Squid

I can say with the upmost certainty that we are absolutely loving Barcelona already and we’ve not even been here a week. It’s a whole new world of food inspiration and food exploration. The city is alive and kicking everyday, all day and well into the night. The pace slows slightly during the hours of siesta but not enough to stop any necessary shopping or eating. Tapas and Catalan restaurants abound; some great, some touristy and not so great, but you soon get the hang of spotting the good, locals-filled places, inviting you in with their thirst quenching mojitos, sangrias and Cava; and most importantly their tasty little morsels of mouth watering tapas. The new modern twists on old fashion-styled tapas are so far my favourites. They are inventive bursts of flavour on the end of a cocktail stick or in bite-sized portions. Perfect on a hot summer evening with a glass of something cold and clinking with ice as you people-watch under an umbrella, serenaded by a spot of live jazz. Music, food and shopping; we’ve been spoilt so far.

Funny how I thought that I was now becoming an early-to-bed sort of a girl; being 30-something, you know how it goes. However as luck would have it, it appears that I am still more than capable of dancing till 3:30 in the morning. And Oh how I danced! (a bit like no one was watching in fact – except they were watching apparently, all of them. Watch and learn people, watch and learn).

My next bit of news is that I have experienced my first Spanish market. You know what’s next by now – a plethora of market photos to patiently scroll through. Forgive me. Hey, you would too if you were there. It was ace. And it has coffee shops and bars and if you like, as the man next to Sian and I having a coffee at 9 30 in the morning, plainly did feel like, you can happily sit and eat tapas and drink beer or wine too.

‘Colourful’ seems a reasonably dull word to describe it. Inspirational it definitely was. I came back to the boat armed with the freshest squid and tortilla ingredients for the final crew lunch before we embark on our regatta sandwich diet. (The roof of my mouth is shuddering with the memories. A week of eating baguettes everyday deteriorates the hardest of gums. But from years of regatta baguette eating, I have learned the essential trick; turn the baguette upside-down. The softest side of the baguette then will not slice open the roof of your mouth on an everyday basis).

Salt ‘n’ pepper squid. That’s also Ace. And easy to make and the crew think you’re a genius. I never discourage that kind of thinking. Smile bashfully and soak it up. You never know when it’s going to stop.

This isn’t too painful in the mid-day heat either if you are as lucky as us not to have air conditioning – oh no hang on…

For salt ‘n’ Pepper squid you will need;

Fresh squid. For 12 people I bought 10 squid but that was as a side dish so you could eek that up to 15 or so if you would like bigger portions.
Sunflower or vegetable oil for deep frying
½ cup plain flour
½ cup of corn flour
1 tbsp rock/big salt
1 tbsp peppercorns


·        You can easily ask your fishmonger to clean the squid so all you have to do is slice the squid into rings or open it up and slice into 1 cm wide strips. Make sure you get the tentacles too – my favourite bit. If however you get your squid fully intact with ink, guts and skin then all you do is pull off the head which will be attached to the tentacles and pull out the insides of the squid including the funny plastic looking, lolly-pop stick-thing that goes all the way up inside it. Then peel off the purple skin, it comes off quite easily. Give everything a little rinse and hey presto, slice into strips as I mentioned above. The tentacle bit has the head and ink attached. Cut the head bit off which may contain the ink sack so that you are left with the tentacles. Make sure you can stick a finger through the skirt of the tentacles which will mean you’ve taken all the bits out that you need to. Easy. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen roll.

  •       In a large bowl add the flours and mix well. Then in a pestle and mortar, bash the peppercorns and   salt up together into a rough powder. Add this to the flours and mix.
  •         The squid might still feel a bit gooey but that’s ok, just bung it all into the flour mixture and with your hands toss well so that it is all well coated.

  •         Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan. When the oil is hot enough to brown a small cube of bread in 30 seconds then it is time to fry the squid. I did small handfuls of squid at a time. It will take a few batch-fulls.
  •         After 3-4 minutes frying time, place the golden, crispy squid on a kitchen roll lined plate until you have got through the whole lot. Make sure the oil is fully re-heated after each batch before putting the next lot in.
  •         Serve with sweet chilli sauce, garlic mayo or a fresh chilli, coriander, lime and fish sauce dipping sauce like I did.

Our regatta starts on Thursday; the regatta crew is turning up as I type. We will be training with them tomorrow and Wednesday and then racing till Saturday. A short but sweet regatta.  The bit I worry about is the heat. It’s as hot as the sun here. Really that’s no exaggeration. And if there is no breeze out there when we’re ‘trying’ to sail, we’ll be doomed. There’s no shade or escape from the heat on a sailing yacht during a race. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Wish us luck. Thanks for reading and Adios Amigos!!


Ready-to-go Sangria