Cassatelle alla Trapanese

Cassatelle di ricotta alla Trapanese

You can almost see the calories in this great local dessert from Trapani. Known in the Sicilian dialect as Cassateddi it isn’t so much the calorie count but rather the weight of the ricotta that leaves you feeling you may have over-eaten these delicious half-moon shaped treats. One is usually enough, two cassatelle makes you feel that a bit of exercise may be a good idea to burn the excess energy consumed.

We bought a few cassetelle from a local pasticceria (pastry shop) in Erice, though they are easy to make at home. In my opinion the icing sugar coating was overdone – I prefer a light dusting.

Cassetelle are best fresh since, as with cannoli, the moisture in the ricotta makes the pastry soggy after a time. A damp cannolo is not nice but a cassetelle that is less than fresh is still ok.

Cassetelle with ricotta and chocolate chip filling

Ingredients (non-vegan**):

Pastry:
250 gm plain flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
40 gm caster sugar
80 ml white wine
water

a light vegetable oil should be used for frying the cassatelle 

Filling:
300 g ricotta (well drained)**
3 tbsp caster or icing sugar 
1 lemon (finely grated zest)

A few pieces of candied lemon/orange peel or chocolate chips (I like no more than half a dozen small bits per cassetelle, and prefer the fruit to chocolate chip)

Icing sugar for dusting before serving.

** To make a vegan version, try using or making a cashew nut ricotta. I haven’t tried this yet but am confident the cassatelle flavour will be enjoyable.

Preparation

Mix the ricotta, sugar and candied peel in a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge until the pastry is ready.

To make the pastry, mix the flour and sugar then add the wine. Continue stirring the mixture while adding water until the dough is firm (neither hard nor too soft). Place in the fridge for an hour.

Roll out the pastry until it is 2-3 mm thick (about 1/10th of an inch). Use a cookie cutter to make circles of 8 to 10 cm diameter.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of filling to each piece of pastry, slightly off-centre, then fold and seal the edges.

Fry until golden brown on both sides.

Remove excess oil from the cassetelle by draining on paper kitchen towels. Cover lightly with icing sugar and serve.

Nutrition

Calories: 117kcal
Carbohydrates: 15gm
Sugar: 5g 
Protein: 3gm
Fat: 4gm
Saturated Fat: 2gm
Cholesterol: 10mg
Vitamin A: 1.9%
Vitamin C: 0.1%
Sodium: 21mg
Potassium: 34mg 
Calcium: 4.7% 
Iron: 3.7%

* NB – the nutritional values will vary with actual ingredients used – treat as a rough guide

A Sicilian Caper!

Caper bush (Capperis spinosa), also known as Flinders Rose

Capers are well known as a pickled condiment. It is the flower buds that are harvested and pickled though, after flowering, the fruit or berries can also be harvested for pickling.

The bush, with its long stems, is a perennial plant that is found throughout the Mediterranean region and in my mother’s garden in Erice.

Flower buds and leaves on the Caper Bush

In addition to the culinary use of the buds and berries the leaves can also be pickled and used in salads.

The delicate flowers of the Caper Bush

The plant is said to have several medicinal benefits including remedies for diabetes, fungal infections, chest congestion, intestinal worms , and skin disease caused by a form of leishmaniasis.

Slender, young seed pods

Capers are used in many Sicilian dishes and salads, while the leaves are more often seen in Cypriot food.

Nutrition

While rich in some nutritional aspects pickled capers have a high sodium content.

Macro-nutrients

Micro-nutrients

Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

Burik

Burik served in the form of a tube, served with radicchio and olive salad.

Burik (the “u” is short, barely pronounced so the word sounds like bric) is a form of food found in Libya and Tunisia that is normally made in a triangular shape. It looks a bit like a samosa, perhaps having similar ingredients, but the pastry is different.

The ones we bought from Dar El Medina restaurant in Trapani (where I had couscous a couple of years ago) were made in the form of a large rolled tube, like a crepe. The filling was not the tastiest that I had eaten and, to be honest, I had to guess what it was made from: possibly fish, potato and parsley. I would have preferred some middle-eastern spice in the mix but the restaurant seems to try to over-localise their dishes.

The “pastry” itself is a thin layer of batter similar to the crepe, but thinner and lighter. The fillings can be made with whatever there is to hand: eggs, potato, left-overs, meat etc. Literally any filling that takes your fancy.

The filling, a spoonful or two, is placed in the centre of the batter. It is then folded to create a closed triangular shape before being fried.

Burik can be served hot or cold. They can be treated as appetisers, snacks, street-food, served with soup, or served at special occasions.

Dar El Medina is a couscous restaurant and pizzeria with in the heart of Trapani, Sicily. The owners are Sicilian of Tunisian descent and prefer to offer Sicilianised versions of Tunisian food. The restaurant would, in my view, benefit from providing a Tunisian ambience rather than the more neutral, even clinical, one that it has.

How to make burik at home

The quick and easy way to make burik at home, for casual dinners, barbecues, picnics or snacks etc, is to use filo pastry. The authentic batter actually differs by country and ethnic group (there are Arab and Jewish versions) so it isn’t cheating

Prepare the filo pastry by rolling it out and cutting into squares.

Prepare the fillings by placing whatever ingredients you choose in a bowl. Add herbs or spices eg paprika, salt and pepper to taste and mix loosely.

Place one or two spoonfuls of the filling into a square of pastry.

Fold the pastry into a triangular or square shape (alternatively roll into a tube form).

Fry until golden brown then place on kitchen roll to remove excess oil.

Can be served immediately or later when cold.

Nutritional notes

Vegan when using traditional filo/phyllo (vegetable oil-based) pastry.

Gluten-free pastry is available in supermarkets.

Nutritional content will depend on filling used.

Sicilian Food – Panelle

Panelle

Reminding me of polenta in appearance only, panelle are fritters that are typically, though not always, eaten in a bun (U’ pane chi panelle in Sicilian).

It is very much a Sicilian speciality, perhaps more so in the capital of Palermo where it is regarded as street food in Palermo, sprinkled with lemon juice.

Panelle is often made at home to be eaten as a snack or an accompaniment to a meal.

My first impression, years ago when I tried the panelle sandwich for the first time, was that it seems as counter-intuitive to treat this snack as appetising as a traditional British “chip butty” but after the first bite I was won over. I also like chip butties!

The panelle recipe is detailed at the end of this article.

Nutrition

Firstly, panelle itself can be used in vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Chickpeas are a type of legume so, unlike cereals, contain no gluten.

When making panelle sandwiches, however, care needs to be taken to use vegan and/or gluten-free bread. But that’s obvious!

Chickpeas are a rich source of protein, low in fat.

Chickpeas, mature seeds, cooked no salt.

Nutritional value per 100 g

Energy 686 kJ (164 kcal)

Carbohydrate. 27.42 g

Sugars 4.8 g

Dietary fibre 7.6 g

Fat2.59 g

Saturated 0.27 g

Monounsaturated 0.58 g

Polyunsaturated 1.16 g

Protein8.86 g

Vitamins – A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B13, C, E and K

Minerals. – calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium (trace only) and zinc.

Recipe

  • 500gm chickpea flour
  • water (1.5 l)
  • 10 gm finely chopped parsley
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

The principal ingredient of panelle is chickpea flour. The flour is mixed with water, salt and pepper until it becomes lump-free. The mixture is then placed on a low heat, finely chopped parsley added and stirred continuously to avoid it sticking to the pan. When it has the consistency of thick runny cream it is poured onto a plate or tray (coffee saucers are often used since the size of the panelle will be ideal for placing in a bread roll). The mix should be about 3mm (1/10 inch) thick.

Allow to cool and refrigerate till ready to cook.

The panelle may be cut into shapes (squares, triangles etc) about 2 cm x 4 cm, or left round if left to set on a small saucer, and deep fried in vegetable oil till golden brown.

Remove excess oil from the panelle with paper towels, place 3 or 4 in a bread roll, squeeze lemon juice over the panelle and eat while hot.

Enjoy!

A long and winding road

04-05JUN19

I left Edinburgh on the 24+hour trip to Trapani that I’d booked on my Kiwi.com app.

The schedule was:

08:00 Edinburgh to Dublin

15:55 Dublin to Luxembourg

02:50 Luxembourg to Frankfurt Hahn

06:40 Frankfurt Hahn to Trapani

The journey began at 5 am with a short walk to the bus stop outside Slateford railway station in Edinburgh. I took the 300 bus. It was a quiet journey as it was still early. The bus left at 05:20 and arrived at the airport at 05:55 – in plenty of time for the 8:00 am flight.

Edinburgh Airport

On entry to the airport I found it difficult to find the appropriate check-in desk since there were no boards indicating to which desk to go. I found the right one by conducting a physical check of all desks.

After check-in I went up to the departure area where there was a long queue for the security check. I joined one of the queues for the automated boarding card gates but when it was my turn all of the gates were turned off owing to the huge crowds waiting to pass through security.

Once I got to the x-ray area I was obliged to separate my iPad from my bag and to remove my shoes and belt.

After this ordeal was over I walked briskly through the Duty Free shop, ignoring the temptation to buy whisky, and headed to Nero’s were I had a coffee and muffin while waiting for the departure gate number to be advised.

Punctually at 07:00 the electronic notice board informed me to go to gate 29. It was not immediately apparent in which direction to head but I found my way. Edinburgh Airport needs to improve its signage generally. Apart from that it is quite a nice airport.

Is Edinburgh a place worth visiting? Absolutely. But I will write about Edinburgh separately.

Hainan Airlines to Dublin

Hainan Airlines didn’t provide the “luxury” of on-line check-in, but the in-person process was quick and easy. Generic local Swissport check-in staff.

Boarding was orderly and timely. First call for business and parents with children. Then the call for Economy passengers. As I was seated in one of the few seats reserved for old or infirm passengers I was one of the first in the queue.

Hainan Airlines boarding card

On boarding I was welcomed by one cabin crew member who politely checked my boarding card and gave directions to my seat while another handed me a sandwich and a bottle of water.

I had been allocated seat 36G on the 787-9 Dreamliner which was located just forward of the wings. Leg room was ample but storage space was limited. The power-points did not seem to function when I tried to charge my iPhone.

The aircraft, perhaps 15% occupied, left the gate at exactly 08:00 as scheduled.

The flight from EDI to DUB was 50 only minutes so we were obliged to keep our seatbelts on, tray tables closed and seats upright for the duration of the flight.

Adequate leg-room but very little space to store anything apart from a book

Not a full flight – plenty of empty seats. I had a row to myself.

We touched down at 08:50, twenty minutes ahead of the scheduled time. It was raining. The aircraft taxied then stopped and sat on apron for 20 minutes while Air Traffic Control decided where it should park. An announcement was made after 15 minutes to apologise for the delay. In the meantime I found a USB jack under the tv screen that charged my phone a bit. A second announcement was made 35 minutes after landing.

Forty minutes after touching down the plane started to make its way to a vacant bridge and another 10 minutes later the plane was parked. We spent fifty minutes waiting to park after a 50 minute journey! Not good but not Hainan’s fault.

Would I fly with Hainan again? I doubt if there would be a situation in which I would go out of my way to use the airline. However, if there was a need to use Hainan again I wouldn’t complain.

Dublin Airport

I didn’t have any hold baggage to worry about so I was able to exit quickly. I tried to follow the Connecting Flights trail but the security guy politely explained that Ryanair flights don’t participate in transit arrangements so I had to go back the way I had come, exit the baggage area and reenter the terminal. Very polite and patient guy👍.

Security was not as bad as that at Edinburgh. Thorough but much shorter queues. I bought a small backpack to replace the cumbersome box (Ryanair regulation cabin bag size) that I planned to use for the trip. It is squishable so hopefully will not cause the Ryanair bandits to give me grief at the boarding gates.

It was close enough to lunchtime for me to decide on having some food. I found the Garden Terrace on the upper floor and chose the Full Irish Breakfast (fried egg, two sausages, two rashers of bacon, half a grilled tomato, baked beans, hash briwn potatoes, a couple of slices of toast and what appeared to be two slices of blood pudding. And a mug of black coffee. €12.50)

Full Irish Breakfast (Vegans avert your eyes!)

I had to try this. Full breakfasts can be quite healthy though some possibly count as heart-stoppers! I have had the Full English, Cornish, Scottish, Vegetarian and Vegan breakfasts, and now the Irish version. The best non-English breakfast I have tried so far was the Full Scottish Breakfast served at the Spylaw Tavern, Colington, Edinburgh. More about that at another time. The Irish breakfast was tasty though didn’t score much on presentation.

Full Irish Breakfast at Garden Terrace:

⁃ 2 sausages

⁃ 2 rashers of bacon

⁃ 2 slices of black pudding (?)

⁃ Baked beans

⁃ Fried egg

⁃ Hash brown potatoes

⁃ 2 slices of toast

⁃ Coffee

The fried egg had been sitting for a while. It had a glazed alert look about it, as though it had been freshly fried, but once I cut into it it proved to be tired and dry ie held under a heat source after it had left the pan.

The coffee was good.

Ryanair planes in the rain at Dublin Airport

My next flight, on Ryanair, was scheduled at 15:55 which left me plenty of time to relax.

Would I visit Dublin again? Yes, and would consider an overnight stay so that I could look around the city. But only en route to another destination.

Ryanair to Luxembourg

There aren’t many people that have a good word to say about Ryanair. Jokes abound about the extent of their extra charges – a darker one for example about having to pay for oxygen in the event of cabin depressurisation. I had carry on baggage which meant I had to have the bag under the seat in front of me. Priority passengers get to take a small suitcase and one item of hand baggage.

I was seated next to a window on the right hand side of the plane (seat 14G) but there was cloud most of the way and nothing to see. It was an uneventful flight apart from a bit of turbulence over France on the approach to Luxembourg. The plane was a bit late.

Would I use Ryanair again? It’s a no-frills budget airline. I don’t like their baggage policy but aside from that I will probably use them unless there is a better option available. Leg room is tight – made worse by having hand baggage stored under the seat in front.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg airport is not very big, though not surprising considering the diminutive size of The Grand Duchy.

Luxembourg Airport

I exited the building with the idea of finding the bus stop for the next leg of my journey and found it right outside. Next plan was to find a way to get into the city. The number 16 bus was the answer. €2 ticket valid for two hours was adequate to take me to the main railway station. The journey took about half an hour. I had a quick look around but the light was fading so no decent opportunity to take pictures other than a couple of record shots on my iPhone.

Luxembourg railway station

I had something to eat at the station (just a granary roll with parma ham and cheese) then caught the bus back to the airport. There seemed to be a few photogenic locations along the bus route that might occupy me in the event of a return visit to Luxembourg, but I doubt that I would come back.

The airport, at 9pm , was pretty well deserted. The silence in the terminal building was broken only by background chatter, the occasional loud phone call (interestingly two separate calls: one, a woman chatting on speaker with her friend in Portuguese; the other a man also on speaker chatting in Portuguese to his wife or I think his lover – she with a Brazilian Portuguese accent – about missing his flight.

Oberweis cafe at Luxembourg Airport

At one point a woman, who appeared to have some problem with the world at large, began talking very loudly in French. She had a good stage voice, catching the attention of the entire terminal but directing her complaints at one woman seated in the cafe! The cafe staff encouraged its patrons to ignore the woman who, it seemed, was a regular visitor. That was the extent of the evening’s entertainment.

The bus to Frankfurt Hahn airport

My bus was scheduled to leave the airport at 02:50. I had somehow managed to keep myself occupied for over 5 hours with just one cup of coffee.

The air outside the terminal was cool, slightly humid and had a pleasant smell reminiscent of woodlands. It had rained lightly for about an hour from midnight. I sat outside the bus stop on a piano stool at 2:30 am. Within a few minutes a bus arrived but it was to another destination. My bus arrived shortly afterwards, driven by a middle aged blond German woman who seemed to like modern rock music.

At the scheduled hour she started the engine and reduced the volume of the music. I settled down with a plan to nap. The first stop on the way to Frankfurt Hahn airport was in the centre of the town of Trier, on the Mosel river, that I remembered from my school German lessons. At 3:30am, after a few minutes waiting, the bus continued its journey. The autobahn was smooth and quiet. We stopped at another town though I was in a sleepy state, taking little notice of the surroundings until the dawn light broke close to Frankfurt. I managed to nap a bit but not nearly as much as I wanted.

Frankfurt Hahn Airport

Frankfurt Hahn, in comparison to the large modern complex of Frankfurt am Main airport is little more than a glorified shed! Considering how Germany is noted for its Teutonic organisation this airport was a bit slapdash.

Frankfurt Hahn airport

It was clearly an old airport and very clearly catered to budget airlines, though it did have a couple of nice cafe/snack bars, a duty free area and a souvenir bookshop.

The departure gates were chaotic! Two lines existed: one for Priority passengers and one for non-Priority. There didn’t seem to be room enough to support a single queue but the two ran in parallel. It seemed to work but I would have relocated some seating to create decent queuing lines.

Once through the boarding process we had to walk a fair distance to the airplane. When I got to the plane there were two long queues snaking away from the fore and aft stairs.

Long queues to board the aircraft at Frankfurt Hahn.

Ryanair to Trapani

The flight was about two hours in duration though scheduled to take 2 hours and twenty minutes. As ever on Ryanair there was applause on landing. I suppose passengers are just grateful to arrive in one piece! Enough said about Ryanair!

Trapani

The airport at Trapani has been in use for decades. It is a compact airport with a runway shared with the Italian Air Force.

It has a small cafe where one can buy coffee, wine, spirits and snacks. I had an espresso and a cannolo. However, despite the sign indicating that cannoli are prepared on request, I was served with a made up cannolo in which the biscuit had become soft. If you want a cannolo insist the it is freshly filled.

Unfortunately, it seems that local politics have obliged airlines to move to Palermo Airport – an hour away from Trapani – with a consequence that tourism in Erice/Trapani has declined significantly. Ryanair still flies to Trapani but the number of flight options has been severely reduced. Hotels, restaurants and taxis have suffered.

Would I visit Trapani again? Absolutely – though primarily because my mother lives in Erice. I have always liked Trapani and Erice and the surrounding countryside. Lots to see and lots to do.

Conclusion

Long journey. Four legs in each direction but it was the cheapest option available. It also enabled me to review a number of aspects connected with the trip.

Kiwi.com? I’m still deciding!

As a frequent traveller I have collected a number of travel apps that cover everything relevant to my travel needs from airline bookings to weather conditions. I group these on my iPhone and iPad so that I can access information quickly and, when necessary, make reservations at short notice. The apps that I have are the best travel apps as far as I am concerned.

I tried Kiwi.com for the first time earlier this year in order to get from Edinburgh to Florianopolis in the south of Brazil. Ordinarily I would have booked the intercontinental leg through TAP Portugal and the other connections via local airlines but on this occasion I didn’t like the prices.

It was my first time using the Kiwi app. Downloading and registering was straightforward, as it should be, and the search for the best flights was simple. I booked a route that took me from Edinburgh to Venice on Easyjet, Venice to Lisbon and Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro with TAP Portugal, and Rio de Janeiro to Florianopolis on Avianca (a Latin American airline that suffered financially in Brazil last month and no longer operates there!).

I didn’t like Avianca as it was the only airline that didn’t accept on-line checkin so I had to go to the counter – luckily a short queue for us over-60s*.

I am used to doing my own online checkin but discovered that Kiwi does this for you with, in this case, the exception of Avianca. In theory that saves a bit of effort for travellers but caused me some anxiety as I can be a control-freak at times.

All went smoothly though I decided I probably wouldn’t use Kiwi again.

Until last week!

I wanted to get from Edinburgh to Erice (Trapani, Sicily) as cheaply as I could. I know that Ryanair goes to Trapani as I have used them many times in the past – usually requiring an overnight stay in Bologna or Bergamo, Italy. However, the Ryanair app showed only flights from Edinburgh to Palermo while Trapani didn’t even appear on their list of airports. So I looked at the Kayak app where I found a number or routes.

Next day I opened up the Kiwi app and booked the cheapest flights from Edinburgh to Trapani. Kiwi. Not Kayak! Too many apps. Still, I managed to get a flights from and to the cities I wanted.

Cheap sometimes does come at a cost. Over the course of 24 hours I shall have taken 3 flights and a bus trip that, in total, will allow me to visit Eire, Luxembourg, Germany and Sicily on the route from Edinburgh.

The itinerary is interesting I suppose: Edinburgh to Dublin on Hainan Airways (!). Dublin to Luxembourg on Ryanair. A bus from Luxembourg (a city that I haven’t visited since hitch-hiking there from London in 1971) to Frankfurt, and a plane from Frankfurt to Trapani on Ryanair.

The return journey will be almost as spectacular. Trapani to Karlsruhe, then to London (Stansted), then Dublin (yea, yea, fresh Guinness!) and finally to Edinburgh.

I received the booking acknowledgement and confirmation by email – the first within minutes of making the reservations, the second after Kiwi had confirmed each of the flights. I also received the bus ticket for the trip to Frankfurt. The Ryanair boarding cards will be emailed to me on the day before I travel, which leaves me a bit jittery, while the first flight requires me to check in at the desk in Edinburgh.

Kiwi included connection insurance between flights. I didn’t used to take travel insurance when offered but on my trip from Brazil to Edinburgh in February this year I did – luckily! My flights from Lisbon to Gatwick was delayed by 6 hours (for which I received statutory compensation) while the insurance cover got me onto a later flight, having missed my connection. The insurance arrangement worked smoothly – staff at a desk in the departure area at Gatwick made all the arrangements quickly and efficiently.

The Kiwi experience, so far, has been good so I shall keep the app on my iPhone/iPad.

My journey begins at 5am today. I shall update tomorrow on arrival in Sicily.

* In Brazil it is, for any commercial/customer arrangement, a legal requirement to give queuing priority to the disabled, persons over 60 years of age, pregnant women and mothers carrying infants. At airports this group ranks ahead of Business Class passenger boarding. Persons over the age of 80 do not need to queue and get first priority. I think Europe ought to adopt this policy.

Cobbs for Brunch

Outdoor enthusiasts can have a pleasant time browsing and/or buying clothes, accessories or gear for camping, mountaineering or sport at a well-stocked specialist .

Combine such a shopping experience with a good Sunday brunch and you have, potentially, a great way to spend half a day – even better if the other half of the day is spent trekking in the hills.

I had a very nice brunch at Cobbs located at Craigdon Mountain Sports store. It was the second time that I’d had brunch there, very pleased with the food quality and ambience on both occasions.

I ordered the Cobbs Works – essentially a full Scottish breakfast.

Cobbs Works – a full Scottish breakfast

Grilled bacon, leek and pork sausages, black pudding, haggis, baked beans, tomatoes, toast and an egg (fried for me). (£8.50 with a hot drink included – I had an americano). I think the toast may have been an extra (£1).

With apologies to vegans and vegetarians I found the two rashers of bacon to be grilled to perfection. The mushrooms,too, were great – I don’t like overcooked mushrooms. The egg was a bit over-fried but I did ask for it to be well done as I am not keen on under-cooked whites. The rest of the items were good.

Anericano coffee

On the last occasion I had the vegan full breakfast which was really good. I have already posted about that so won’t repeat here.

There are lots of options on the menu which is great for families and other small groups. The place is both child friendly and dog friendly so a great option if you like taking walks before or after lunch.

Where

Situated next to the Pentland hills at the roundabout joining Biggar Road and Swanton Drive off the A702.

44, Biggar Road, Edinburgh, EH10 7BJ

Phone: +44 131 445 4581

A visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.57.01

Palm House at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

Nature was in a good mood. The day proved to be relatively sunny and mild, sandwiched by cold wet days that prompted me to think about cancelling my visit to the gardens.

I arrived at the East Gate entrance, a gate festooned with metal flowers on a wire background. After purchasing a ticket to enter the Glasshouses I bought a coffee and snack before starting my photographic tour of the gardens. The first subjects were the colourful crocuses and daffodils near the gate.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.52.26

East Gate (pedestrian) entrance to the gardens

My walk took me, with the bright winter sun in my eyes, up to the left of the entrance and among bushes at either side of the path. The gardens are, in the main, wheelchair friendly with signs indicating which paths were, or were not, accessible.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.53.09

Direction signs on path

The only real issue with photographing the gardens at this time of year is the fact that some plants are not yet in bloom, and many trees were still bare. That said there were plenty of colourful plants to see and photograph and I came away with about 400 pictures for the day.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.54.24

As I reached the Nepalese garden the clouds gathered overhead so I made haste to the Terrace Cafe for lunch. I arrived just in time as the heavens opened and it rained quite heavily for an hour. Although hot food was available I decided to have a Coronation Chicken wrap, followed by a cherry slice and a cup of hot chocolate. At £10 for this simple meal  I was not unhappy but have heard comments that the food is regarded as expensive by some people.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.56.01

    Terrace Cafe near the Nepalese Garden

The rain cleared as I finished my lunch so I then made my way towards the Glasshouses, passing the huge beech hedge and the Queen Mother’s Memorial garden, then the rockery and finally the Glasshouses themselves. I entered via the Palm House which has palm trees (obviously!) and orchids.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 11.16.30

One of the many species of orchids on display

One then passes (after the ticket desk) into the series of 10 huge glass houses, a couple of which are very hot and humid!. A note here to those with cameras – the lenses will steam up as the camera/lens units will have come from the cold outside ambient temperature to a hot humid environment. I had to hug my lens for about 15 minutes, to bring up its temperature, and wipe the front lens with a micro-fibre lens cloth to clear the condensation. I also had to remove my jacket as I too was suffering from the heat (ironic considering I live in Brazil where temperatures are high).

Screenshot 2019-03-13 11.20.42

Amorphophallus konjak, also known as the Corpse Flower, in bloom

The exciting feature of the visit was the Amorphophallus konjac, also known as New Reekie or the Corpse Flower, which was in bloom for the first time in many years – a rare event. I have a poor sense of smell so did not notice the famed bad odour. Interestingly the plant is used as a source of vegan food in its native home in Indonesia. New Reekie was in the last of the 10 glass houses so I then retraced my steps back to the reception area.

I lost weight!

Weight tracker from Under Armour’s My Fitness Pal app

Ten years ago I used to exercise regularly. I would walk to my local gym every weekday (only about 5 minutes walk) then warm up for 20 minutes on a static bike before my personal trainer started me on my planned routine that lasted about an hour.

Things were going well. I could see muscle format and could feel muscle development. After the gym session I would grab my bike and cycle for 20 kms at a good pace, and do double that distance at least once a week. I was fit.

Then I moved from the south of Brazil to the northeast where I spent some time (a little over a year) working on an on-going photography project and planning/leading a tour group to the Amazon (jungle, not store!). Hence little time for body maintenance. Despite that I remained quite trim till I moved to India.

My introduction to good, genuine Indian food, combined with a lack of exercise, had an adverse impact on my body shape! My weight skyrocketed to about 100 kgs and I could no longer see my knees withough bending forwards! Although based in India I was travelling a lot internationally so it was a struggle to stay in shape. With the help of the My Fitness Pal app and with a couple of colleagues in the same boat I managed to get down to 89 kgs for a short time. I was, unfortunately, not successful in keeping to my lower weight.

About two or three years ago I decided that understanding more about nutrition was not just a good idea for me personally but would also help me in my food and fruit photography business. I completed a number of courses in nutrition and, though not registered formally as a practicing nutritionist, I am at least qualified as one.

I applied my knowledge to a long term weight reduction program that has seen my weight reduce from over 102 kgs to just under 93 kgs – a weight loss of almost 10 kgs that seems to be permanent. My secret?

No secret – simply more discipline – reduced intake and more self-control.

My daily regime diet-wise is essentially:

  • Pre-breakfast: a glass of water
  • Breakfast: 4 dessert spoons of oatmeal, about 50 gms of yogurt, fresh berries or dried fruit and nuts, and a mug of strong coffee (no milk or sugar).
  • Mid-morning snack: a slice of plain cake or a plain doughnut
  • Lunch: beans (green, black or brown), white rice or pasta, salad or boiled vegetables, meat (beef or chicken) followed by a fruit jelly (jello) and a glass of fresh fruit juice
  • Mid-afternoon snack: fruit or cake with coffee
  • Dinner: soup or meat with boiled manioc or yams with fruit juice unless I have soup
  • An apple in the late evening

It looks like a lot of food but the trick is to keep the portions small. I found for a while that my dinner plate was too full. The trick, for me, is to put just a spoonful of rice down first, then enough beans to cover the rice (about a spoonful), then the veg and finally a small piece of meat. Keeping things in balance is key – more veg is ok as that’s where the micro nutrients are and they help to keep you feeling well fed.

I have based my diet on:

  • 1500 calories per day
  • Carbs. 40%
  • Protein. 35%
  • Fats. 25%

The only thing I have regularly ie daily without variation is my oatmeal breakfast. It was recommended by a doctor about 20 years ago and I rarely have anything different (exceptions being aircraft breakfasts, hotels that don’t have oatmeal on the menu, or full breakfasts of eggs, bacon etc as a special treat!).

I have to be careful when travelling. I now tend to plan meal/restaurant reviews in advance to ensure I stay on plan … it’s easy, especially with good food, for me to overeat. I was brought up with the philosophy of “take the quantity of food that you want, and eat all that you take” so restaurants that serve large portions will derail my diet. Some nutritionists will say that its better to leave food on your plate as soon as you haveceaten enough – my view is, over eat at one meal and adjust in the next. We waste enough food (30% from farm to kitchen) without wasting more.

My plan is to shed a further 10 kgs or so, taking me to 80 kgs. Anyone with a head for maths will see that my plan is to reduce by 20 kgs or 25% so, yes, theoretically I am obese – just – and certainly overweight. At 80 kgs my BMI will be normal though slightly high. Once I reach my goal I will see if I need to shed more weight. I shall certainly celebrate but will also have a medical check up to see what the doctor says. Next update in 5 kgs!

ASG images library:

We have a number of nutrition-related images in stock and can shoot to order. Contact us for stock or commissioned images.

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date.

I could go vegan! At least for a day!

Full vegan breakfast at Brunch & Supper, Edinburgh (vegan haggis, vegan sausage, baked beans, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, tofu, mushroom, potato bread and couscous)

I have to admit that quite a few years ago I regarded vegans as folk that were a bit off the rails. My first experience of a vegetarian (not vegan) was a lady who was on an eight-day trek with me near Machu Picchu in Peru. The cook, who seemingly forgot her dietary preferences, had prepared a rabbit stew – as far as I was concerned a very welcome and warming lunch at the end of the morning’s trek in the rain. To cut a short story shorter she had started to eat the stew before it was confirmed to be a non-veg meal. She sobbed – it was the first time in her (50+ years) life that she had strayed from her meat-free lifestyle. I had to sympathise, mistakes can happen, but was not really able to empathise.

My own life has been a meat-full one. I have been used to meat-and-two-veg meals for lunch and dinner since I was young. My mother liked to experiment in the kitchen so we had a variety of international and traditionally British meals at home with various animal parts as the core component of the meal.

I have lived for many years in Brazil where meat is a staple. The Brazilian barbecue restaurants are world famous through the health benefits of mounds of beef coated in crystals of salt are definitely negative.

The family of one of my daughters is vegan so I am now able to understand this lifestyle choice. With age comes wisdom. In recent years I have tried to limit my intake of meat. I spent a few years in India where a high percentage of the population is vegetarian, so I managed to adapt to and enjoy, local meat-less dishes interspersed with delicious, spicy non-veg meals.

More recently I have tried to eat more vegan dishes. On the most recent occasion, I tried a vegan brunch at Brunch & Supper (a restaurant in Old Town, Edinburgh).

I enjoy a Full Breakfast be it Full English, Full Scottish, Full Cornish or Full Veggie so, while lunching with my daughter and a friend of hers I opted for a Full Vegan breakfast in order to compare the food to other full breakfast meals. Such a comparison is a bit subjective as, unlike in a wine tasting, for example, I was comparing the dish to memories of previous dishes.

The plate came, nicely arranged with a pair of asparagus spears pointing out from the centre of the plate. I found the meal satisfyingly filling and tasty though I have to say, in respect of all of the Scottish breakfast that I have tried, regardless of the restaurant, that the haggis has always been disappointing. I guess I was spoilt by having haggis for the first time (and a couple of other occasions) served at top restaurants ie real deal haggis. Still, I enjoyed the meal and enjoyed the vegan experience

I honestly doubt if I will ever become a vegan, nor even wholly vegetarian, but I can say with certainty that I am reducing the amount of meat in my diet. I don’t have issues with vegan meals, good food us good food, but I would certainly recommend to any restaurant that they include vegetarian and vegan options on their menu – even non-vegetarians like to vary their diet occasionally. And I recommend Brunch & Supper as a place to eat if you happen to be visiting Edinburgh. Need to book as the place is small and popular!

Brunch & Supper

37-39 George IV Bridge,

Edinburgh,

EH1 1EL

Phone: +44 131 225 6690

Url: brunchandsupper.co.uk

ASG images library:

We have a number of nutrition-related images in stock and can shoot to order. Contact us for stock or commissioned images.

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriately registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date.