Posts Tagged With: history

Avocados – Friend of Foe! (plus all you need know)



Avocado on toast.  Who saw that craze coming?!  It has swept the UK and has placed the humble avo at the forefront of healthy eating and dairy alternatives.  But many are still a little sceptical about eating it regularly.  Surely one of our favourite exotic fruits in the BHK, avocados are a vegans dream when looking for a healthy dose of richness and a convenient spoonful of heaven.   Avocado is considered a ‘complete food’ due to its amazing nutritional profile.  We love them so much, we felt compelled to write a whole post about them where the glorious AVO takes centre stage…..

Finding a good, consistent supply of avocados in Britain is like the holy grail for a cook.  They can be so hit or miss.  Some are overly ripe, but generally they are as hard as bullets and sometimes never seem to soften up.  Its the avocado lottery and you’re never sure until you cut into one just what you’re going to get.  This makes sense, they are fragile guys, easily bruised and oxidised.  They’ve also come a long way and when we are in Wales (and not Spain, or somewhere else wandering the world) we treat them like rare and precious jewels.  Enjoying them accordingly.

My favourite avocadoes are in Mexico.  I camped in the Michoacan region, actually in a avocado farm and had memorable breakfasts, avocado feasts, sitting happily under a tree with a big spoon and smile.  I find it incredible that we’ve come up with a way to get them all the way to Wales, in tact and generally (most of the time) edible.


Avocadoes are actually classed as a berry, a tree in the same family as cinnamon and bay and are sometimes interestingly called an ‘Alligator Pear’.  They have been used by humans since as early as 10,000BC and are indigenous to Mexico and Central America, although are now grown all around the world; from Spain to Vietnam, the Philippines to Rwanda.  In Britain we only became aware of the avo in the 60’s when Sainsbury’s began stocking avocado pears.  This could explain the sudden rush from avocado coloured bathroom suites (which are actually coming back into fashion).

The avocado tree needs a climate without frost and little wind, although the Hass variety can put up with temperatures below zero.  The ‘Hass’ is now the most popular tree in cultivation, accounting for 80% overall, and each one is related to a single Mother tree, grown by a mail carrier named Rudolph Hass in California, 1935.  It is a very productive type and is known as a hybrid Guatemalan. Other varities include Monroe, Bacon, Zutano and Lula.  The word ‘Avocado’ comes from the Spanish ‘Aguacate’ which in turn comes from the Nahuatl ‘Ahuactl’ which was also used to describe testicles.  You can see why!

One of the largest avocado trees in Veracruz, Mexico

One of the largest avocado trees in Veracruz, Mexico


Avocado is a fruit, sporting one of the proudest pips going!  We get 75% of the energy from avo’s via fats.  They are also full of protein and dietary fibre.  Its a brilliant source of vitamins A, some B’s, C, E and K.  It also boasts a load of minerals; potassium, copper, zinc, iron and manganese.

Avo is a fatty fruit, something you don’t see very often.  These fats have put some people of avo, but I think awareness about good fats is spreading far and wide and avo’s are a brilliant source of health giving monounsaturated fats.  These account for around 63% of the overall fat content and our bodies love them.  Polyunsaturated and saturated fats account for the other 20 and 17 percent respectively.

Avocado oil also helps to fight harmful free radicals and assists in the absorption of several essential healthy nutrients like lycopene and beta-carotene.  Folates and Omega 3 Fatty Acids in avocado help to keep the brain healthy and help to combat Alzheimer’s.   Folates also help to reduce the risk of strokes.  Folic acid can also help during pregnancy, aiding the development of a healthy foetus.  Avocadoes also contain anti-oxidants that support the immune system and help revert premature aging as well as enzymes and nutrients that aid digestion by reducing inflammation.


The monounsaturated fats in avo’s contain oleic and linoleic acids.  These are fats that take care of our hearts, regulating cholesterol and helping to fight LDL (lower density lipoprotein) cholesterol and increasing HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol.   This is great news, as LDL leads to furry arteries, which inhibit blood flow increasing the risk of strokes and cardiovascular disease.  HDL is our friend and promotes a healthy cardiovascular system.

Avo’s also contain something called beta-sitosterol, a plant based fat that reduces LDL cholesterol by blocking absorption from the intestines.  This improves the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol in our blood.  Omega 3 fatty acids are also present in the mighty avocado, which help to regulate blood pressure.  These polyunsaturated fats assist our heart in beating normally, reducing the risk of strokes and cardiovascular disease.



These friendly monounsaturated fats also speed up our basal metabolic rate (BMR).  This is the rate at which we burn calories when at rest.  Calories keep us ticking over, repairing cells, keeping our body temperature regular, pumping blood.  Eating avocado regularly can actually help us lose weight, contrary to what many people think.  These fats make us less fat.

Avocadoes can be mashed and made into a soothing face or hair mask, as well as a skin scrub.  Avocado oil has all kinds of magical properties, they are high in vitamin E which helps to eradicate free radicals and combat aging, promotes collagen growth and skin elasticity and hydrates the skin.  It can be used as a make up remover and is increasingly being used as a natural alternative in the beauty industry.

Beautifully rich avo's

Beautifully rich avo’s


There are the obvious ones.  Mash them up with a fork and make your favourite guacamole style salad.  Spread them on toast (all the rage in trendy city cafes at the moment).  Add them to smoothies, make ice cream out of them, chop into salads and they are great added as a soup garnish (like they do in Mexico).  Try a Indonesian style avocado smoothie, coconut milk plus avocadoes, blended and then drizzled with chocolate sauce.  Wow!  I’ve even heard of someone baking them, but I am yet to get around to this.  Will we see a baked avocado in this years Great British Bake Off (a tv program to those reading outside of Great Britain).  I doubt it, although would be intrigued to hear Mary’s comments.  In Glasgow, I am sure someone has battered and deep fried one (how did that go btw?)


Toasted Corn, Avocado and Basil Salad

Raw Courgette Lasagne with Avocado and Lemon Ricotta

Avocado, Apple and Coconut Breakfast Pudding

Avocado and Basil Cheese

Chard, Coriander and Avocado Smoothie


Avocados are best eaten when they have just a little give to them when pressed, although sometime a very ripe avocado is a thing of sheer beauty, this can be a gamble as they can turn very quickly into an over-ripe, blackened mush.  Do not buy avocados with blemishes or black dots on their skins.  They will ripen quicker when kept with apples and bananas, due to ethylene gas.  Some large producers and supermarkets use ‘ethylene rooms’ in order to ripen avocados quickly.

Once cut into, avocados can be kept in a fridge for a few days, best to either squeeze some lemon juice over them and store in a sealable container or wrap tightly in cling film.  Exposure to air is an avocadoes worst nightmare.  Avocadoes turn blackish brown due to their iron content.

The easiest way to peel a ripe avocado is to take out the stone and cut into quarters lengthways, then simply peel off the skin like a banana.  You can also scoop out the lovely fruit with a spoon.

Warning – avocado skins and pips can be dangerous to animals like dogs and cats, cattle, horses, goats and rabbits.  Be careful not to leave them hanging around or pop them into their feeding bucket.


You know the answer after all of that!  It’s highly conclusive, avocados are our supreme amigo!  Friend to the heart, brain, skin, eyes and tastebuds.  They help us maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure and make our skin shine.  They are a meal in themselves and surely one of the finest fruits to be found.  Love thy good fats and eat an avocado a day (keeps the grim reaper at bay).

PS – You have to try that Indonesian Avocado Smoothie.  Its sensational!!!!!

~ If you created the ‘Friend or Foe’ image, or know who did, please let us know and we’ll credit you.  Can’t find you online ~

Categories: Healing foods, Healthy Eating, Nutrition, Recipes, Superfoods | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Taste of Goan Cuisine and Papaya Paradise


Papaya Paradise - Papaya, cashews and a drop of coconut milk.  A fruity delight.

Papaya Paradise – Papaya, cashews and a drop of coconut milk. A tropical tickle.

Paradise for me involves papaya, cashews and coconut. Maybe a beach and a few palm trees lolling in the background. Put all those in a bowl (minus the salt water, sand and chewy leaves) you are approaching my idea of a fruit-based nirvana.  We are in Goa and all of these things are plentiful, there are stalls that enforce coconuts on you with each passing, men gifting papayas to you on a regular basis and cashews, the size of small curved chipolatas, are sold for peanuts.  Also, it is not mango season in India, so there is no fruity conflict for me, the papaya reigns supreme.

Peter (the wonderful man who looks after the apartment we are staying in) gifted us the largest and ripest papaya I have ever clapped eyes on yesterday. Carving it is something like hollowing out a canoe from a large orange tree trunk. Peter obviously has a secret local supplier, I’ve never seen a papaya like this is the stalls by the side of the road. It would take up half the stall!

I am not sure if you’re going to be able to get a decent papaya in Europe and beyond. Maybe try a Caribbean or Asian shop, you know the one, the Aladdin’s cave of interesting ingredients from all corners of the world. The little space that transports you to Africa, Jamaica, Thailand and Pakistan just by the power of the brands they stock, the occasional aroma and random, unknown, packet of semi-illicit looking spice that just has to be experimented with.

Se Cathedral - the largest cathedral in Asia (with the largest bell also)

Se Cathedral – dedicated to Saint Catherine, the largest cathedral in Asia (with the largest bell also)

Goa is a magical land, totally different from the rest of India, the cuisine is very interesting, a mixture of many things, Indian and Portugese especially. Each dish changes from region to region and this is not a huge state by Indian standards.
I have been reticent to cook much in the apartment, not wanting to stock up on loads of spices and ingredients, we are only here a short time and whenever I travel I always end up with kilos of half used packets and sachets lurking in the depths of my backpack. This time, I’m trying not to waste a thing.

Tonight I will try something like a Goan Curry, which normally has a good tang to it, created by adding toddy vinegar or tamarind. Adding vinegar to food was the main influence of the Portugese who were here for hundreds of years, in fact, Vasco de Gama landed in 1498 and they hung around until well into the 17th century.  Old Goa had population larger than Lisbon or London at that time. The Portugese also brought some other quite important staples across the waves; namely, chilies and potato, along with some very common spices, especially nutmeg, which the Goans love to use liberally in savoury dishes.  The Portugese also influenced the Goan desserts, many resemble the flans and tortas of the Iberian Peninsula.  Most of our local friends, living around the apartment have Portugese ancestory and could actually emigrate to Portugal if they wished. Interestingly, most of them have the last name ‘De Souza’, there are a few ‘Courtinho’s’, ‘Perrera’s’ and so on.

Dad does an Abbey Road Impression - in front of the Bom Jesus Cathedral, Old Goa

Dad does an Abbey Road Impression – in front of the Bom Jesus Cathedral, Old Goa (‘Bom’ means ‘good’ in Portugese.

Goa is mainly divided between Christian and Hindu (with a small population of Muslims), they have lived in harmony since the beginning and even share some festival days. Religious background affects the way that dishes are prepared, one Xacutti or Kodi will differ greatly depending on the faith involved. Goan cuisine is incredibly traditional and diverse, awe inspiring really. I have never tasted anything like the Vegetable Xacutti I had yesterday in the excellent ‘Viva Panjim!’. A restaurant tucked down a side alley in a sedate quarter of the capital city, Panjim. ‘Viva Panjim!’ is located in the old Fountainhas area of the city, with many colonial looking buildings forming small quiet alleyways and nooks. In this place you can really see what things would have looked like under Portugese rule. My Xacutti involved alot of roasted coconut and was heavy on the warming spices, especially cinnamon and clove, there was definitely some kind of nutmeg/ mace going on in there as well . Dad opted for a Kingfish Goan Curry (like a ‘Vindalau’ – as they call it here), which has a vibrantly red coloured sauce which contained; Kashmiri chillies, tamarind, lots of onions and garlic, cumin seeds and tomatoes. It looked sensational. All of this served in an old colonial home with slow fans and hand carved furniture. The owner Madam Linda D’Souza sat at a desk overseeing things and when we showed an interest in the cuisine, how it was prepared (I was digging for a recipe or two of course) she gifted us a beautiful cook book, packed with the history of Goan culture and very personalised recipes from local home cooks and chefs.  There are even diagrams of how to climb a coconut tree and work a rice paddy.

In 'Viva Pajim!' one of our finest dining experiences to date

In ‘Viva Pajim!’ one of our finest dining experiences to date

Goa has no end of old school hippy joints that sell homemade tofu or seitan, pancakes, vegan cakes etc which was fine for a couple of meals (Bean Me Up, Blue Tao, Whole Bean Cafe and the legendary German Bakery were particular favourites) but we are now definitely in the hunt for more Goan delicacies. The only problem is we’ll have to leave the beaches and head inland, to the small towns to find the real deal. It seems that travelers/ tourists are not really into the local wonders. Which is a real shame. We have been invited by two real old school gents, Patrick and Peter (who run a tiny bar beneath our place) to their home for a home cooked (vegan!) dinner on Sunday. Something we are both very excited about. Will keep you posted.

Vegetable Xacuti, Fried Aubergine Chips and Dad's Goan Fish Curry

Vegetable Xacuti, Fried Aubergine Chips and Dad’s Goan Fish Curry

Categories: Curries, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Tribal Vegans of the Bishnoi Villages, Near Jodphur – 20th January 2015

I’ve been writing a travel blog about my Dad and I’s journey around India, ‘The Jalebi Express’.  We visited some tribal vegans recently, wonderful peace-loving people living in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan.  I hope you enjoy the article!

The Tribal Vegans of the Bishnoi Villages, Near Jodphur – 20th January 2015.

Grinding millet into flour

Categories: Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Israeli Salad (The Indian Traveler Classic) and Tribal Vegans


Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad


I actually had our homestay’s version of this for breakfast today, sitting on a roof terrace feeling inspired, taking in the massive Mehangarh fort and early morning city skyline with black kites hovering overhead.  The perfect breakfast setting!  I had forgotten about this traveler classic salad.  I enjoyed it so much, I’m having it twice today!  This type of salad is so quick and fresh , apparently hailing from Israel.  Salads like this are almost naked, stripped down and a showcase for glorious veggies.  They have this kind of salad in many countries, Morocco, Turkey, Iran etc, it’s one of the world’s finest side salads that compliments almost any meal.

Any traveler around India will recognise this salad, it’s served in most traveler/ backpacker style restaurant or cafes.  India is a home for many hybrid style world cuisine dishes.  For example, German Bakeries are everywhere selling bready croissants and random biscuits.  I guarentee that from Pushkar to Rishikesh, Gorkana to Leh, Varkala to Darjeeling travelers will be eating this salad right now with grins on their faces.  Salads are rare and normally a very small deal in India.  I am not sure exactly how Israeli it is, there are obviously some missing ingredients in India, like the gorgeous olive (which I miss deeply when on the road in the East).  I’ve been totally spoilt for olives in Spain over Christmas, we have our own olive man down the market who always sorts us out with a local and diverse range of those delightful orbs of oily goodness.

So I whipped my version up tonight for dinner (well Dad added an omelette to the mix, but he’s doing amazingly well to steer away from meat and embrace veganism).  I love making dishes in hotel rooms and always travel with my trusty little knife and a couple of plates and spoons.  Add to that two big tin cups and you have all the apparatus needed for a salad smorgasbord.  Jane and I have traveled with a grater before and other such bits, but space is at a premium in my backpack this time.  Making things in your room means you know exactly what went into it, sometimes in India they stir a little curd or cream into this salad.

I miss the crunch and vibrancy of a massive bowl of salad, all that raw food goodness.  I adore curry, but making my own fruit salads and veggie salads in my room is a real treat.  When I’m eating it, I can almost hear my body thanking me.  Keeping yourself topped up on nutrients and vitamins especially when travelling is a must to stay on top form.  I even have Dad taking part in my morning spirulina ritual, you can buy it over here inexpensively and organic.  Adds a touch of zing to proceedings!

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Dad striding through Sadar Market, Central Jophur with the giant Mehrangarh Fort in the background.

So, here I am with Dad, Jodphur, in Rajasthan.  A wonderfully historic city, I am typing beneath the giant fort, fantastically lit each evening.  In fact, it reminds me a little of an old Spanish town, dominated by a medieval fort.  The streets are small and windy and the people wonderfully friendly, something I find all over Rajasthan.  We are staying with a incredibly hospitable family (the Hill View Guesthouse), headed by the laugh a minute Zafran, who is also a member of the local government…..I could go on at this point for a long, long time, but Dad and I are starting a blog called ‘The Jalebi Express’, coming to wordpress very soon (aka when we can get a decent blast of reliable internet access).  It’s going to be a hoot, with all of Dad and I’s adventures around this truly awesome land.  For regular Beach Housers, the other half of the BHK, Miss Jane Legge, will be joining up with us in Delhi in some 5 weeks time.


Being vegan is a serious challenge in India, normally involving turning down sumptuous looking food and regular boughts of impromptu fasting.  I like yoga, I believe fasting to be very good for the health, but if you’re not expecting to go hungry it can be just plain pants!  Trying to explain not eating ghee to an Indian is a little like going into an Italian Mama’s kitchen and saying “What are you doing with all those rank tomatoes and this wine is like a poor man’s Vodka and Red Bull and as for that dodgy mouldy looking cheese, I’m going nowhere near that, smells like feet, and as for those dodgy noodle things.  Sorry, just not my thing at all.  I’m English you know.  Our food’s great etcetc…….”  I approach with hopefully a little more tact but the ghee issue constantly rears its head and seems to sneak into the most unexpected things.  I will soldier on and still have plenty of oatcakes left from Lidl!  Turning down things like camel milk tea, traditional village cooked dishes, constant streams of delicious looking steaming masala chai, basically all Indian sweets is one of the most difficult part of being a vegan.  It’s well worth it though, this is after all, very much my own choice. It’s just when cultures shift, so does the ethical playing field and in India, the cow is Holy and what comes from the cow, the milk and even the poo has sacred connotations.  I have started to go for the approach of lots of laughing and pointing at my head with a zany look in my eyes, trying to convey that I am slightly mad.  Lots of shrugging and confused looks ensue.  It rarely works.  Any ideas?

Down at the market, Jodphur

Down at the market, Jodphur

I had a magical time down at the market today gathering a few bits.  I have been to Jodphur before and love the little veggie market near the stately Victoria Clock Tower, a hopelessly British looking thing poking above the skyline of Maharaj buildings, Mosque Minauret’s and an enormous palace.  I always get local price there and meet so many characters.  The salad, with plenty of leftovers, cost around 1 pound to amass.  The experience of chatting with characters selling fruit and veg (market vendours are always a hoot all over the world, why is that?), local folk who are interested in my nationality; reasons for visiting India, marriage status, occupation, age, university back ground, next destination (a very standard range of questions fielded on average 30 times per day) and having a laugh is of course quite priceless.  I gently elbowed my way past many a ferocious, single minded house wife.  In the market, they mean business.  When buying veg I have regularly been elbowed out of the way or body checked away from the freshest looking produce.  It can get a little hectic.  All part of the fun.  For my quid I also got 6 small lemons and a wedge of ginger for morning beverages.  Not a bad price all considered!


In fact today I’ve been quite busy in the kitchen.  Earlier on Dad and I visited a Bishnoi Tribal village, a very interesting branch of Hinduism (see here).  They are vegans!  The Bishnoi’s do not believe in harming nature, no cutting of trees, no animal products at all.  They eat grains and vegetables grown in local forests and this philosophy of life can only be found in Rajasthan, just 28 villages in fact.  You’ll see me busy below grinding millet to make flour which is them mixed with a little water and made into lovely, toasty chapattis.

Grinding Millet for chapati, Bishnoi Village, Jodphur

Grinding Millet for chapati, Bishnoi Village, Jodphur

Tomorrow, Dad and I are helping with the food preparation for a engagement party, some 300 guests are expected!  Fortunately Dad is an ace carrot peeler and garlic basher.  Indian’s love a wedding and this is wedding season.  We went to visit the brides house last night, Dad and I carrying plates of fruits and nuts down through the winding blue walled lanes of Jodphur.  The bride to be lives beside a large white mosque and we were welcomed like long lost family.  Dad has some tender looking mutton, I opted to nibble on roti (flatbread).  Tomorrow night, the brides family come to visit our homestay, with Raja (the amazing, 18 year old son of the family) taking centre stage.  Zafran is organising the feast and it sounds like a mutton affair again.  I’m looking forward to getting behind the scenes of mass Indian wedding catering.  The pots are normally the size of a small jacuzzi.  Maybe I could rustle up a salad?!

The Chef at Raja's Brides House (lovely fellow, cooking on wood fires for hundreds of hungry party goers)

The Chef at Raja’s Brides House (lovely fellow, cooking on wood fires for hundreds of hungry party goers)

I have made a few wee embellishments to the classic Indian/ Israeli salad.  You knew I would.    They are not really taste based, more with nutrition in mind.  I cannot live for long without green things in my belly.  So I’ve added loads of coriander and mint which is plentiful over here and 10p for a massive bag.  You could also use spinach or even watercress, and if you love parsley, parsley.  Flax seeds are one of my favourite things.  They are powerhouses of all sorts of nutrition.  I’ve added flax seeds which I bought in Dilli Hart in South Delhi (a wonderful craft market if you’re ever in the area).  In a classic Indian twist, these flax seeds turned out to be deep fried and smothered in salt and masala spices.  My diet flips on its head in India and after a week, my belly is just about coming up to speed.  Lots of carbs and a huge decrease in vegetation.

Dinner time, Dad and I getting ready to eat off newspaper on the roof of a Jodphur Blue House.

Dinner time, Dad and I getting ready to eat off newspaper on the roof of a Jodphur Blue House.


In North India, carrots are a shade of deep pink, potentially red.  Striking looking things and ours today was a whopper, about 2 foot long.  It stuck out of my ‘man bag’ like a baseball bat.  Originally carrots in Europe were black (it was the orange loving Dutch who changed the colour to and trend, the Dutch are excellent market gardeners and the British were not.  Many of our techniques for market gardening, meeting our supply of veggies in cities etc, we’ve borrowed/ bought from the Dutch.)

I say things like extra virgin olive oil and sea salt almost in jest.  There is very little of that touching our lips here.  I am sure there is a hotel in Jodphur serving these types of delicacies tonight, but not on our budget!  A miniscule sacrifice for travelling India, but would have embellished this salad very nicely indeed.  Instead we use two sachets of olive oil that Dad had pocketed from our dinner on Turkish Airways from Istanbul.  Genius!

Remember this a traditional Indian Israeli salad and if you decide to make it, you will be joined by thousands of travellers over here, chowing down on exactly the same crunchy, vibrant goodness.

Make this salad super fresh, straight off the chopping board, just like they do in Marrakech, Tehran, Jodphur and  Istanbul.

The Bits – For 4 as a side salad

2 carrots (black, red, orange…….white I hear are quite tasty)

5 tomatoes

1 large cucumber (peeled or non peeled, some say that the skin is hard on the digestion)

1 small, sweet red onion (finely sliced in half moons, nice for presentation)

1 green pepper (finely diced)

3 big handfuls fresh coriander leaves

1 big handful fresh mint leaves (finely sliced)

4 tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 tbs flax/ linseeds

½ lemon juice

Sea salt (to taste)

Do It

Chop your carrots, cucumber and tomato in similar sized 1-2cm chunks.  Arrange your coriander leaves around the edge of a serving plate.  I like to add texture and layers to the salad so mix the mint, tomatoes and onion together (holding back a little onion for topping).  Pile as a base layer between the coriander.  Now mix the cucumber, carrots and pepper together.  Scatter/ pile on tip of your tomato layer.  Scatter the flax seeds and a few thin slices of cucumber on top.

Israeli Salad (The Indian Traveler Classic) ready for action

Israeli Salad (The Indian Traveler Classic) ready for action


When ready to serve, simply drizzle the oil over the salad and squeeze the lemon on top (watch those pips!)

In India, you can serve this with warm chapatti in most other parts of the world, crusty bread is nice.  Or keep it purely raw for optimum nutritional benefits.

PS – Carrots are of course a bit crunchy.  Maybe you’d prefer slightly more refined, smaller chunks.

Foodie Fact

FLAX SEEDS = PROPER ‘SUPER FOOD’, CHEAP, LOCALLY GROWN (It pretty much grows everywhere)

Flax seeds have outrageous amounts of Omega 3 fats, they are superb for anit-oxidants and have plenty of vitamin B.  You will also find them to ease and assist digestion.  They are also cheap to buy, no ridiculous ‘super food’ price tag here.  Not bad for a humble brown grass seed.

Happy muncher!

Happy Muncher!

Categories: Healthy Eating, Raw Food, Recipes, Salads, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Italian Flava! Holiday Snaps of Napoli and the Amalfi Coast

ITALIA!  What a place!  Pizza, scenery, pasta, wonderful people, gelato (for Jane), stunning scenery, espresso, incredible history….so much, a country filled with endless passion for life and bellies filled with wonderful culinary creations.  Here we have just a few of our holiday snaps from June’s trip to Southern Italy.

Jane's first gelato (she was a little pleased) - Napoli

Jane’s first gelato (Pistachio flavour) – Downtown Napoli

We started off in Napoli, hiring a car and camping for most of the time.  We rarely spent two nights in one place as the allure of the open road and the fascinating sights just kept us rolling deeper and deeper into Campania.  Napoli reminds me alot of Latin America, a real vibrancy and chaos, it can be scruffy and awe inspiring  in the same alleyway, it is a hive of creativity, is crammed full of ancient historical sights and offers all the opportunity to feast like a greedy baron.

Pizza is the mainstay of things and the Marinara (just tomato sauce, a little garlic and a drizzle of olive oil, so called because the fishermen used to eat it) took dough discs to a whole new level in my eyes.  The wine was local, with a vast array of indigenous grape varieties and generally, delicious.  Apart from eating and sipping coffee with jumpers tied around our necks, we walked the cities old town, took in as many museums, cathedrals, underground grotto’s, gelaterias (Jane) and Greek sculptures as our mortal legs could manage.  Napoli is my new favourite city at a canter.

On the road lunch - Graveyard, somewhere in the Cilento National Park, Campania

On the road lunch, Italy=best produce ever! – In an old graveyard, somewhere in the Cilento National Park, Campania

The spectacular Duomo Cathedral - Napoli

The spectacular Duomo Cathedral – Napoli

After Napoli, and the utterly mental driving conditions (most of the cars bear the scars of the outrageously tight roads and kamikaze scooters), we drove south past Mount Versuvius (the once mighty eruptor) and headed to the Amalfi coast, a place constantly banged on about as being rather pleasant.  Well it was in a  fashion, if you are of the manicured tourist variety.  We are not.  So camped in forests when we could and only ventured into the pretty towns for dinner, which was almost always, fresh, local, seasonal, made my mama and utterly delicious. We generally found things quite cheap, making our breakfast and lunch on roadsides and picnic benches along the way with some of the best fruit and veg I have ever encountered.  Believe the hype!  Italian lemons, plums, tomatoes, olives……the list goes on, are touched with something intangible and utterly magnificent.  Food here is a way of life, a cornerstone of culture…..I have heard this all before, but to witness it first hand and even better, to taste the fruits of this fascination and tradition, made me feel like the luckiest muncher on the Med.

Temple of Poseidon - The Ancient City of Paestum (600BC!), Campania

Temple of Poseidon – The Ancient City of Paestum (600BC!), Campania

Camping by churches seemed to work well - Cilento National Park, Campania

Camping by abandoned churches works well –  Near Morigerati, Cilento National Park, Campania

We found some beautiful camp spots and used disused churchyards regularly.  Almost painfully romantic and with the added bonus of clean water springs to do the washing up and for the occasional bathe.  The weather was sweltering, so we rose early with the sun and generally bedded down under clear night skies, sparkling with stars and fireflies.

The awesome Hercules - National Museum, Napoli

The ancient and mighty Faranese Hercules 3AD (roughly 12 metres tall!) – National Museum, Napoli

Packing up one of our favourite campspots  - Overlooking Positano, Amalfi Coast

Packing up one of our favourite campspots – Overlooking Positano, Amalfi Coast

Stunning villages abound! - Morigerati, Cilento National Park

Stunning villages abound! – Morigerati, Cilento National Park

The national park, Cilento was a real highlight.  The second largest in all of Italy, with little villages on crags, waterfalls, endless forests and some stunning mountainous peaks, far too much to explore in the little time we had.  There seemed to be no one there and the towns were always sleepy and friendly, generally the opposite of the Amalfi coast towns which were packed full of tourists and establishments fixed to empty their pockets of silver.   We discovered a few gems on what is a dramatically beautiful, steep slope, but generally the Amalfi is a little overrated.  Its a big world, many coastlines, why should we all gather in one place?  I have to admire the marketing job done by the tourism folk, Sorrento for example is heaving with Americans who have flown all this way to the Med to see a sanitised version of what is surely, one of the worlds most stunning areas.  And, it was 45 euros for a dorm bed!  45 euros for a wonky bunk!!!!!!

Making salads on bins - A little medieval village, somewhere in the Cilento National Park

Roadside salads – A little medieval village, somewhere in the Cilento National Park


Stunning nature - Cilento National Park

Stunning nature – Cilento National Park

Jane just before another amazing dinner - Campania

Jane just before another amazing dinner – Castellabate, Campania

We spent a week in Cilento National Park, driving the crumbling roads and marvelling at the sheer natural beauty of the place.  It seemed impossible to escape the ancient past as we randomly came across site after site filled with magnificent ruins of towns and temples, the most impressive of which were (of course) Pompei and Paestum.  Some of the details that have survived are stunning, it feels like you’re looking directly into the lives of the people who lived more than 2000 years ago.  We know their names, how much they earned and where they worked, the Gods they worshiped, what they did for giggles and even their favourite snack bars!  These incredibly preserved relics give colour and texture to the ancient world and open fascinating windows into how our forefathers and mothers would have passed their lives.  It wasn’t all good, being a gladiator fighting lions seemed like a raw deal but I have to say, in the most part, they seemed to live well and in a highly advanced, organised and cosmopolitan way.

Another lunch stop, abandon churches again (always with handy fresh water springs for washing up!) - Cilento National Park, Campania

Another lunch stop, abandon churches again (always with handy fresh water springs for washing up!) – Cilento National Park, Campania

Italian beaches are strange and normally filled with sun loungers, costing an exorbitant amount of euros to perch on.  It is the only place in the world I have visited where beaches are private and fenced off!  You need to buy a Cappucino to take a dip in the ocean!  What a strange approach.  Due to this, we only spent 20 minutes on the beach, it all seemed a little hectic and the opposite of relaxing.

Temple of Isis, Pompeii

Temple of Isis, Pompeii

The best pizza in town (gypsy guitarists just out of picture) - Di Mateos, Napoli

The best pizza in town (gypsy guitarists just out of picture) – Di Mateos, Napoli

There are a few famous and touristy pizza restaurants in Napoli, but we were assured by locals that Di Mateos was the best.  Located on Via Tribuani, one of the main streets in the old town, it is always packed full and has a real buzz about it.   It was, without any peer, the best pizza I ever met.  Add to that the band of gypsy’s (not the Jimi Hendrix lot) playing as we went in and you have the full package.  You cannot beat the sound of a well strummed mandolin and some toothless yelping.  It stirs the appetite and soul.

Our favourite dinner spot, in a cave! - Nochelle, Amalfi

Our favourite dinner spot, in a cave! – Nochelle, Amalfi

After all that driving, we landed in Pompeii, not a bad little town considering the daily influx of tourist coaches.  We camped there in a little family ran site and walked the 20 metres to the main gates.  Italy really impressed me in the fact that corporations don’t seem to have taken hold.  Family ran joints, hotels, cafes, restaurants etc seem to be very much the done thing and it adds so much variety and authenticity to towns.  You get to meet the real locals, eat their food, hear their gossip and understand a little about what is actually going on.  Places ran by people who genuinely care about what they’re doing which makes all the difference.  I hear this does not extend to Italian politics, but that’s a whole different blog……

Last but certainly not least, antipasti and pasta! - Mama made it, Morigerati, Campania

Last but certainly not least, antipasti and pasta! – Mama made it, Morigerati, Campania

So Italy is nice, very highly reccomended by the B.H.K.  There seems so much to rave about but its the warmth and intensity of the locals which will stay with me.  Prego!!!!  I think Jane and I would go back now, if we weren’t tending to tomatoes and reveling in the unpredictable beauty of a Welsh summer in full swing.

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