Monday, 25 August 2014

Italian Adventures

Instagram followers will know that I spent two weeks in the south of Italy in June. And what an amazing holiday it was! There was time to read books (eight), cool down with ice-creams and relax in the sun - just what the doctor ordered after two months of exam stress!

I won't go into huge detail but I thought I'd share a few memories with you. 

Week One: Calabria. 
We stayed in a little town by the sea. We spent a few mornings on the pebbly beach and enjoyed wandering aimlessly around the town. It was a mixture of modern and old - but I know which part I liked the best.

There were some fabulous ruins in the nearby town of Locri. We spotted an ancient temple!  There were lots of other ruins but they were overgrown and we didn't want to venture too far into the wilderness for fear of snakes, which was a liiiiittle disappointing.  

One afternoon we decided to venture up into the town of Gerace. Villagers from Locri fled here in the ninth century after a Saracen attack - and we could see why! The road up to the town was full of twists and turns that any invaders would have been exhausted by the time they reached the top!
We 'oohed' at the old castle and paused on a bench to admire the gorgeous view. There was so much more of the town to explore but we didn't feel up to it, unfortunately. Maybe next time! 

Week Two: Cefal├╣, Sicily.
This was a tourist town but still incredibly beautiful. We stayed in a hotel by the sea - which had the added bonus of a private beach with sun loungers! Needless to say, we skipped the pricy beach clubs and often wandered down to the seaside to sunbathe and read. 

This was the first time I'd ever stayed in a hotel longer than a few days, but we certainly felt at home in the Hotel Tourist. (Though I wouldn't name my home 'tourist'...) The staff were friendly and willing to talk, and the range of food each evening was good - though not as pleasing for my sister, who isn't into fish! We tried traditional Sicilian dishes such as caponata as well as lovely little pastries and lots of vegetables.

The walk into the historical old centre took about twenty minutes, but in hot weather it felt like an age! Ice creams and granite were required.

We ate many ice-creams and granite over the course of our two-week stay. I can recommend in particular the forest fruit, melon and lemon flavoured granite. Almond milk is also a good call! All of the ice creams we tasted were heavenly and there was such a great variety of flavours that I don't think any of us had the same flavour twice. 
Cherry was particularly tasty. 

One sunny day we decided to drive up into the mountains to escape from the heat. A good plan, in theory - but it turned out that it was hotter in Castelbuono than at the coast! The  town was very picturesque, though (just look at that view!), and we refreshed ourselves by dipping our hands into cooling fountains. 

We also went for a walk up 'La Rocca', to find the ruins of an old town, Diana's temple and some stone battlements. We could have climbed higher to see the castle but to be honest, the views were stunning from only halfway up the rock. I'd never seen sea so blue before!  

I really enjoyed our trip to Italy. Whilst it was somewhat more relaxed than previous holidays (no bike rides involved), I embraced the slow style of life and spent some time reading and reflecting on the year so far. Our time in Calabria contrasted very much with Cefal├╣, but I think that it was good to experience both the local side of things as well as the more touristy aspect. 

Where have you been to recently? What was your highlight? 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Life Lately - July

July has been an interesting month for me. (Yes, I know it's now the middle of August, but let's just ignore that fact...)  We're often away for the first two weeks but this year we took our holiday in June and so were able to experience most of month seven at home.

So, in July I have....

... tried to curb my coconut addiction by eating this gloriously thick yoghurt.

... experimented in the kitchen, with Jamie O's chickpea falafels (tasty).

... visited the Ulster Museum and caught two current exhibitions - "The Age of Liberty" (fashion) and "The Art of the Troubles" (art). I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and the latter made me think a lot about NI's past. It's good to see that we're beginning to move on!
(Plus, entrance is totally FREE. Unless you want to buy a postcard...)

... found my new favourite blog, "My Name is Yeh". Wow. This girl is something else! Such an unusual style of writing - which I adore but could never do myself - and some gorgeous pictures. I'm in love.

... helped lead a camp for eleven year olds along with other Christian teenagers. Definitely the best part of my summer - it was so good to work as a team and see God at work!

... watched The Fault In Our Stars and, despite knowing how it would end, bawled my eyes out during the final scene. I'm a little bit embarrassed.

I have tried to fill my summer with as many interesting things as possible - and all for as cheaply as possible, of course. (Fellow NI teens take note - the Y link card is a good investment to reduce your bus/train fare!) 

What did you do in July?

P.s. No pics in this post because... well, why not?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A love of Literature

Have I ever told you how much I love reading? 

My house is filled with books. There are bookcases in all of the bedrooms, bookcases in the living room, a bookcase in the kitchen, a huge wall of books in Dad's study... I'd never thought about how many we had until a guest remarked on it one day! 

Ever since I was born, reading has been a huge part of my life. Mum and Dad would take us on the weekly trip to the library where my sister and I would stock up on our favourite picture books. Apparently we sometimes had to be dragged away!

I can remember eagerly awaiting bedtime because Mum would read another chapter of 'The Faraway Tree' to us. We'd gasp when the Tree became sick, lick our lips at tales of tasty treats and laugh out loud when the Saucepan Man threw all of his saucepans away. (Don't judge. I was five years old.)

Saturday mornings had a routine. Gymnastics at 9:30 for an hour, then off to the library to pick out eight books that had to do us for the week. I'd spend the rest of the day curled up in an armchair, reading at least one of my new books from beginning to end, and sometimes finishing a second one too. 

I can vividly remember bringing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix into class when I was seven years old, and sneaking it under the desk to read whenever I'd finished all of my work. I admired Hermione, the clever witch who didn't let a head of uncontrollable hair stop her (something I try to remember) and I had my favourites in the form of Sirius, Fred and Dumbledore. 
(Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have picked favourites....)
Harry Potter was the book of my childhood. I whizzed through the first three books several times and then waited for Mum to read each new book before I could get my hands on it. I actually remember sneaking into my parents' room after I'd gone to bed, removing the Goblet of Fire and reading it under torchlight, hurriedly replacing it back by their bed when I heard they were coming upstairs. 

As I grew up I began to read more classic novels. Northanger Abbey on holidays in France. The Three Musketeers when I was eleven, Tess of the D'Urbervilles at twelve. And my love for classics has continued up until this day! Recently I've become more interested in modern classics as well, and have been slowly working my way through American novels such as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath and On the Road

I will read anything. A bit of romance here, some crime there, sprinkled with dystopian fiction and topped with an historical novel or two. I'm so grateful that I've had the opportunity to immerse myself in books; that I am able to escape into the fantasy world of Middle Earth when I've had a bad day; that I can fall in love with beautiful boys without going through the turmoil of heartbreak myself. I am forever indebted to the P1 teacher who taught me my letters, and, of course, to my parents and grandparents who taxied us to the library faithfully each week. 

After this rather long-winded post, it will come as no surprise to you to say that I intend to write several book reviews about what I've been reading each month. I would really love to hear what you've been reading as well - and whether or not you agree with my opinions! Stay tuned for my first review...

All pics from this board.

Friday, 8 August 2014

New beginnings

Okay,  I couldn't keep myself away from Blogger any longer. 

The past month has allowed me to think about lots of things, bake several cakes and read many books. And I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to stop blogging. I think I just need a change of direction! 

I really love writing articles/essays/stories; and initially that's what this blog was - somewhere to share my thoughts and write about what I'd been up to. But somewhere along the line, the photos of food became the focus of each post. I don't mind photography, but it's not something I'm passionate about (unlike writing) and so blogging began to feel like a chore. 

I began to feel boxed in, only writing about food or restaurants when in reality I wanted to tell you all about the latest book I'd read, the newest TV programme I'd watched or my most recent CD purchases. I was only expressing one side of me - and whilst that was fine for a while, I didn't feel like I was being totally honest. 

It's funny, isn't it, how a blog started purely for personal pleasure can morph into something undertaken to please others. I was afraid to write about other things close to my heart in case I 'lost followers', or received some snide comments down below. But this part of the Internet is mine! (Or at least partly mine.)  I shouldn't feel pressurised to write about something because I think others will enjoy it; I need to write it for me. It's only when I truly start writing from the heart that I will feel comfortable with CIC. I was inspired by my friend Sarah, who has recently started a blog 'to write something besides English essays for school.'  Her blog, though new, is totally her own - and that's something I really admire. 

So, from now on, Cooking In Cashmere is going to change. That may mean a new header (testing my creativity skills to the limit). It may mean a new layout. But it will mean a change of content. From now on I'm going to write about what is on my mind, whether it be about food, music, books, fashion... anything and everything! 

It's a new step for me, but I can't wait to see how it turns out! 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Farewell for now

This is a post that has been on my mind for some time. Recently I've been questioning the meaning of blogging, and the point of it all. It seems like everyone has a blog nowadays and so it's hard to 'stand out', as it were.

It's not that I want to achieve international fame. But realistically, where do I see this blog going? A book deal? A cooking program? None of those things really excite me. In fact, I can't think of anything worse than blogging as a living. I admire those who do so for their courage and determination - running a blog is hard work! - but it's not for me. 

In addition, blogging is really difficult. Of course, it all depends on the author, but for me, one post requires a lot of work. Thinking about a recipe, making it, taking photos before my family had eaten the food (and I'm not a natural photographer), uploading photos, writing a post, writing the recipe, any links, formatting the post.... One blog post alone could consist of three hours of work. And realistically, I don't have that time. I want to focus on baking and cooking without worrying about what it will look like on a camera lens; without panicking when a recipe goes wrong because I have no back-up posts; without the pressure that comes with blogging. 

It's been a hard decision but I've been thinking over it for the past two months and I think it's time to call it quits.

I'm not saying that I will never blog again (my enthusiasm for writing is too much for that). I'm simply going to take a little break over the summer and see where my path takes me. I may return in the autumn - and I could be writing about anything and everything from food to clothes to books. As Fitzgerald famously said, "Life was beginning over again with the summer" - 
and this summer is a time for me to explore where my passions really lie.

Thank you for taking this journey of exploration with me! You can still see what I'm up to via my Instagram page or see what inspires me via Pinterest

Monday, 30 June 2014

June Favourites

I have to admit, I really enjoyed doing a favourites post last month. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I think I'll make it a regular thing here on CIC! It's a great way for you to get to know me a little bit and it also means I get to go on Pinterest specifically for 'research' purposes...

Anyway, here's a little collection of things that have inspired me and brought me joy this month. 

The Great Gatsby. A standard summer read, perhaps, but one that you shouldn't miss. I still haven't seen the film (!) but I've read the book a few times and each time I open it I am sucked into Gatsby's world of glamour. Fitzgerald's descriptions are fantastic and he conjures up a brilliant image of a stifling hot summer, where tension and suspicion rear their ugly heads. 

I can't wait to study this next year! 
Image here.

Tigers about the House on BBC 2. It's a three-part series documenting the journey of two tiger cubs over their first four months... whilst living in their keeper's house! I love tigers and I don't know how many times I uttered "cuuuuuuuute!" as I watched this! Just look at that face.... 

There is also an important message with the series - if we don't act soon, Sumatran tigers will die out. We can all do a little something to ensure the survival of the species. Find out more here and here!

This fresh and natural beauty look. Whilst I love a strong lip as much as anyone, it can be a bit of a hassle having to reapply lipstick after every meal. Whether you're lying on the beach or exploring a city, you'll want to look chic yet natural. It's better for your skin too - so lay off the foundation and let your skin breathe!

Quiche. I think it's a love-it-or-hate-it thing. You can guess which side I'm on! Perfect hot or cold, with a green side salad. This goats cheese and tomato version sounds divine.

Cold drinks like this Watermelon and Raspberry Lemonade. Definitely on the to-do list when I next see a watermelon - it looks so refreshing. 

What have you been enjoying this month?

Monday, 23 June 2014

Apricot and Almond Tart

Do you ever go through phases of wanting to bake a certain cake? You'll either bake it as soon as possible, or keep putting it off until, by the time you're free, you'll have set your sights on another recipe.

This was one of those moments. I had a sudden longing for an apricot tart, filled with moist and fragrant frangipane and juicy apricots. The season for stone fruits is short here so I knew I had to make the most of it whilst I could!

This tart is very easy to prepare. Halve the apricots and leave them to soak in a little sugar and the tiniest bit of sherry. (Don't worry, you can't taste it!) Bake the tart case - either make your own pastry, use ready-made or (if you're really short on time) buy one of those nifty pre-baked cases. Then all you have to do is whip up the frangipane, pour into the tart and add the apricots!

I baked this on Saturday night for Father's Day and it went down a treat. We served it cold, with mascarpone because it needed using up, but it would go equally as well with vanilla ice-cream, cream or plain yogurt. Hold off on any sauces, though - you want the delicate flavour to shine through. 

Apricot and Almond Tart (serves 8)
175g shortcrust pastry (i.e made with 125g plain flour and 55g butter)

6 apricots
1 tbsp caster sugar
Splash of sherry 

100g caster sugar
75g butter, softened
3 medium eggs 
150g ground almonds

Flaked almonds, to decorate

1. Heat the oven to 190°C and roll the pastry out until thin. Press the pastry into a 23cm (9 inch) flan tin. Prick the base with a fork and cut any overhanging edges off - but not too much because the pastry will shrink. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and bake for another 10 minutes until crisp. Leave to cool.

2. Prepare the apricots by cutting them in half, removing the stone and placing them in a bowl. Mix with the sherry and sugar. Leave for at least 30 minutes.

3. Beat the butter with the sugar until pale and creamy. Stir in the almonds and beat in the eggs. Pour into the cooled tart case. Place the apricots on top of the almond mixture. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake at 170°C for 45 minutes to an hour, until it is golden brown with minimal wobble. 

4. Cool on a wire rack before decorating with more flaked almonds. Store in the fridge if not eating immediately.