Friday, November 30, 2012

The McGenie Lunchbox Of The Week

I apologise in advance for the cheesiness of this week's Lunchbox Of the Week.

And also that it's sadly lacking any actual could I leave that out? Let's blame the jet lag from Sri Lanka...

The McGenie Lunchbox

Chicken nuggets 3 ways; breadcrumbs, polenta and sesame seeds
Homemade ketchup and spicy sauce, crispy fries
Strawberry and almonds milkshake

Mr. Moustache's verdict? 'Je l'adore'.

Don't you mean you're lovin' it Mr. M? Sorry, couldn't resist.

Beats a ham sandwich anyway! Liked this? You can check out the other Lunchboxes Of The Week here. I hope you enjoy them. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Post holiday remedy - savoury (cheesy) crêpes

After weeks in the paradise of Sri Lanka I'm back with an icy bang to reality. Squeezed onto the tube, battling tourists on the crowded streets (damn those lucky people), Michelin Man style coat, boots, scarf, gloves...lagging jacket (still frozen).

Speaking of squeezing into things (we were, weren't we?), I've been on a post holiday detox after indulging in the 101 flavours of curry in Sri Lanka. 

But then I decided that's all a bit of crazy talk. Or in the words of the lady who taught me how to truss a chicken;  'Everything in moderation, including moderation itself'Julia Child.

My feel good treat for an easy dinner are crêpes. Savoury crêpes to be precise. Like these creamy (and cheesy) leek and bacon ones.

I also like to tell myself they're healthy-ish French fast food. If you like you can tell yourself that too. Bon appétit

Ingredients (serves 6)

Crêpe batter (makes 12 crêpes)

Since I was 12 I've used Delia Smith's pancake batter recipe. Now I call it crêpe batter, just to be fancy.

110g plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
200ml milk mixed with 75ml water
50g butter

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. 

Add the milk and water and beat until the mixture is smooth. Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave. At this stage most purists recommend leaving the batter to stand. Delia's recipe adds a tablespoon of the melted butter to the batter. Mix well and then it's ready to go. No need to stand around waiting. Keep the rest of the butter to cook the crêpes.  

Wipe a frying pan very lightly with some of the melted butter (repeat as necessary). Heat the pan to a high heat then turn it down to medium. Using a ladle pour in enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan. Tip the pan to ensure the base is coated lightly and evenly. It should only take a minute or two to cook on one side. Flip over with a knife and cook the other side until golden brown.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first crêpe is the practice one - as the cook you get to gobble it up and enjoy. Then make the rest. Layer on a plate with greaseproof paper between each one.  

Leek and bacon filling 

2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
200g bacon lardons
6 large leeks, sliced
100g cheddar cheese, grated
3 tbsp crème fraîche 
salt and pepper, to season

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic, bacon and leeks and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and crème fraîche

Serve each pancake with a spoonful of filling and folded into quarters. Just what the doctor ordered for post holiday readjustment. I'm feeling better already. Now where did I leave my lagging jacket?  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sri Lankan memories. Goodbye paradise, hello London.


It's over. Nearly a month in Sri Lanka and it feels like only a few days. Now I'm back in London. Freezing. When did winter arrive?!

We said goodbye to two of our best friends yesterday morning. They're the reason we had this amazing trip as they're recent expats in Colombo. Goodbyes are always hard. Leaving them over 8,000 km away and knowing we won't see them for months was particularly hard. R and S - thank you for everything and experiencing paradise was even more perfect because we were together. Here's to our next trip. The Maldives is near Sri Lanka isn't it...?

We were all set to enjoy our final day and then I had to spoil it by getting food poisoning...and spent a pleasant day staring at the ceiling. Drama. 

As there's not much to update on from our last day I thought I'd share my 10 favourite moments and some tips for visiting Sri Lanka. 

Top moments

1. Arriving in Colombo and experiencing an overload of the senses. Driving down bustling streets trying to take it all in: palm trees, tuk-tuks, a monk walking, 101 things happening at once, monkeys, street vendors, an old man in a sarong, banana trees, a Buddha monument and 102 horns beeping at the same time.

2. Gazing at the stunning Lion Mountain sprouting out of the jungle in Sigirya and better yet climbing it (on my second attempt).

3. Cooking breakfast Sri Lankan style - egg hoppers.

4. Experiencing paradise on earth in Unawatuna.

5. Finding the perfect cup of tea in the Hill Country. And the perfect (cooler) weather.

6. Wandering the markets and supermarkets reeling at the many different kinds of spices, fruits, vegetables and rice (and doing my best to taste them all).

7. Discovering the wonder of nature in a spice and herbal garden.

8. Eating. Eating. And Eating. Like this. And then eating some more.

9. Waking up to sunrises like this.

10. And watching the day end with sunsets like this. Then sitting under the stars, feet in sand, cocktail in hand. Sigh.

Top tips 

(Ahem, tongue-in-cheek tips, please consult a guide book for more comprehensive travelling tips...)

1. Always cross the road in Colombo with a Sri Lankan, unless you're feeling very brave. They know how to avoid maniac tuk-tuks (autorickshaws) which screech to a halt just in front of you. 

2. Carpe curry. Seize the curry. So many types to taste; mango, mushroom, cashew nut, banana blossoms, mutton, chicken, biryani...and the spice goes on...

3. Caveat curry. Beware the curry. Always ask 'Is it spicy?'. Then double check. Perhaps triple check. Trust me on this one.

4. When taking a tuk-tuk, close your eyes and hang on. That's all you need do. And you'll have a story to tell afterwards.

5. Remember Sri Lanka is very VERY hot...prepare to sweat. Especially if you're Irish. Lots.

I loved Sri Lanka, I'll definitely be back and we're missing our friends already.

Now it's home to reality and wrapping up in winter clothes. Brr.

But I must admit, London, I missed you. Ah c'mere and give me a little hug. London sweet London.

What happens in Sri Lanka stays in Sri Lanka...but you can read about it here:

Friday, November 23, 2012

More of the black stuff: Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Sri Lanka

After our tour of the tea factory we headed to...another tea factory in the Hill Country.

The Heritance Tea Factory  Hotel - which does exactly what it says on the tin. The welcome drink on arrival is of course a lovely cuppa. Ah go on.

Accompanied by a 'shot' of cumin seeds, cardamom and sugar. A sweet and spicy explosion in your mouth, I went back for seconds.

While the interior of the factory has been beautifully restored, the exterior hasn't been altered.

Memorial in the garden, over 35,000 Sri Lankans died in the 2004 Tsunami 

The reception area is where the drying room used to be. 

On the fourth floor the blowing fans represent the tea withering room.

Views of the tea plantations from the bedrooms complete the unique feeling of staying in a piece of living history.

The climate is much cooler in the hill country. Alleluia! We even had heaters in our room and hot water bottles...a novelty after weeks of humidity and 30 degrees heat. At night it felt so cosy wrapped up with a hot water bottle looking out at the misty plantations. 

The next morning we took the iron-grille door lift down to breakfast.

Seeing the hotel restaurant called 'Kenmare' in Sri Lanka made me think of the talented (and hilarious) Karen of Kenmare Foodies in Ireland!

I think she'd like all the spice on offer in Sri Lanka's Kenmare, just maybe not for breakfast...

Instead we opted for a banana milkshake, apple juice,  mixed fruits, egg hoppers, banana cake, waffles and Ceylon tea. The tea comes from the surrounding plantation and it would have been sinful to drink anything else.

Ooooh and an omelette. In our defence we had a long drive ahead of us.

Our lovely Chef in action at the hopper and omelette station

Stuffed we rolled into the car and headed to Nuwara Elyia for a little exploring. Nuwara Elyia, or Little England, is Sri Lanka's main hill resort, with English style buildings and houses.

We strolled around the market, thankful for the cooler temperatures. I was even in jeans for the first time. Madness. 

After some shopping it was back on the road to Colombo. I've been here nearly a month now and just thinking of leaving tomorrow feels strange. But it's not quite over yet. One last dinner of curry, wine and chat with friends to look forward to. 

Sri Lanka, I'm going to miss you X.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hill country, Sri Lanka - in search of the perfect cuppa

Our final trip in Sri Lanka could only be in search of one thing - a cup of the black stuff. Ceylon tea. Kettle in hand we set off from Colombo for the hill country early this morning. A three hour drive. Or so I thought.

Somehow I confused three with six. Let's blame the heat. Ahem.

But I'd have put up with many more hours for the breathtaking views of lush green plantations and waterfalls.

Along the way we stopped to visit the Glenloch Tea Factory. Stepping inside the scent of tea hits you (and made me crave a cup). There's a guided tour of the tea stages and of course an obligatory tasting at the end.

After being plucked the tea leaves are withered using large fans.

Then the grinding stage.

Followed by fermentation, or oxidation, where tea develops its distinctive flavour. Additional drying then takes place. Once dried the tea leaves are sorted and graded. 

Finally packing takes place.

Enjoying a cup of the factory's tea.

Followed by a silver tip tea omelette.

They really do love their tea. Our driver stocked up on 6k of it. Not the type of place you'd be asking for a latte now.

Eating lunch outside I noticed something rather strange. I wasn't melting. Ahh. Another plus for the hill country, cooler temperatures. The Sri Lankans are even in their jumpers, being Irish I'm still in my beach gear...

Refreshed (and slightly tea-scented) we hit the road for the town of Nuwara Eliya, known as Little England.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tropical paradise, Unawatuna Sri Lanka

A five hour drive from Kandy passed in a blur of luscious greenery, coconut trees, monkeys and more greeness. And then we arrived in paradise - Unawatuna. Golden sand, turquoise warm sea, palm trees and this view from our room.

Bliss. I need to pinch myself to make sure it's real. 

There's a chilled out vibe here and all you want to do is soak in the atmosphere and sun. Well as long as I can bear the sun, 34 degrees today and there's only so much of that heat before I turn into a little lobster. But that's what holiday napping was invented for right?

We stayed in the Thaproban Beach Hotel and loved it. With the kindest staff who made us feel right at home, even chopping up an aloe vera plant from the garden to soothe insect bites. But be wary of men at work with falling coconuts.

Waking up to a stunning sunrise and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach is a memory I will keep forever.

For breakfast a refreshing plate of papaya, watermelon, orange, plantain and pineapple. With fresh watermelon juice and Ceylon tea.

Followed by a little elevenses, a mango milkshake and chocolate brownie. I don't know why I've never had a mango milkshake before, I'm going to make it my business to have at least one a day from now on. Rich and creamy and with all that mango I'm just sure it has to be good for you.

When it gets too hot there's always a little ice cream, Sri Lankan style, served from a tuk-tuk.

And some more fruit.

Dinner choice is a no brainer. The mixed seafood platter of gigantic jumbo prawns, crab and lobster. Pictured below are the prawns in their raw state. Now that's gonna make prawns back home look minute. And all for only 2, 000 rupees (approximately 12 euros).

At night we wander along the beach and drink fruity cocktails with our feet in the sand while looking at the stars. A midnight paddle completes the perfect day.

It's been an amazing holiday so far and I'm going to keep squeezing every last drop out of it. In one week I'll be back in freezing London wrapped up in a coat and scarf. Brr. But for now I'll enjoy relaxing in my shorts and only worrying about where my next mixed seafood platter is going to come from :-). Sigh. 

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sights of Kandy

The city of Kandy was our final stop of Sri Lanka's cultural triangle.

View at breakfast 

Kandy moves at a slower pace than Colombo. Even its tuk-tuks are more chilled out, like this Bob Marley one:

The Temple of The Tooth houses the sacred tooth of the Buddha. Tickets costs 2,000 rupees (approximately €12 euros). You can't see the actual tooth, instead you briefly view its golden casket as you walk past in a queue filled with pilgrims and tourists.

Inside the Temple of The Tooth

Offerings to Buddha outside the golden casket

After the temple we visited a wood carving workshop.

A relaxing walk in the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden just outside the city completes our morning (1,100 rupees, approximately €6). 

Palm tree avenue 

Lobster claw plant


In the afternoon we headed South to Galle and to one of the best beaches in the world, Unawatuna. I'm looking forward to (more) relaxing, sunsets and seafood platters on the beach. Ah, adjusting to life back in London is going to be hard after experiencing paradise...

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