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boa vista, cape verde

happy new year everyone! it’s been a slow start for me due to being a bit ill but also having a lingering desire to do very little, after a wonderfully relaxing holiday in cape verde.

we stayed at spinguera ecolodge on boa vista, one of ten islands in the cape verde archipelago. boa vista is a volcanic desert island, which has a dry rocky landscape (they’ve not had their normal rainy season for two years so everything looks especially parched) with sand dunes and some lovely beaches. i imagine people have a love or hate reaction to the beautifully stark landscape - i loved it.

spinguera is a very special place – it’s a small eco resort which is situated within the norte national park and is the result of a project, by its italian owners, to restore an abandoned hamlet. everything has been developed with respect for the environment – natural materials and colours are used throughout; the buildings nestle unobtrusively in the landscape; most of the power that is needed is provided through wind and solar power (no air conditioning, tv or hair dryers here); water usage and light pollution is minimised.

it is also draws on the resources of its location - the vast majority of the staff are from the nearby village bofareira; food is a mix of local and italian-inspired dishes and the ingredients reflect local specialities such as goats cheese and yoghurt, an abundant supply of fish and seafood, wonderful spicy sausages and local wine, beer and grogue (the local sugar cane hooch, said to be similar to cachaça).

spinguera has a wonderfully stylish character - this is at least partly due to the amazing light but also the creative eye of its artistic owners, whose decorations include glass jars of shells, the white skulls and bones of goats, donkeys and even whales, plus driftwood, shells and a range of items (both natural and manmade) which are at various stages of decay as a result of the sandy, salty winds that blow across the island. this creativity was also reflected in the lovely christmas decorations – a tree made out of fishing buoys and decorations made from coloured newspaper wrapped around wire.

the care that has gone into creating spinguera is also reflected in the thoughtful hospitality that you receive when you’re staying here – the staff speak several languages (the local creole and portuguese plus english, german, italian and french were all in use during our visit); there are plenty of quiet comfortable spaces to which you can retreat (both indoors and out, under cover and in the sun) plus the food and drinks provided are varied, delicious and always available!

as i mentioned, there is a mix of local and italian-inspired dishes on the menu. some of my favourites were local dishes. at breakfast, there was always a choice of egg dishes and while david usually had an omelette of some sort or scrambled eggs with peppers, onion and the local spicy sausage (which was very similar to chorizo), i really loved the cachupa guisada with egg. cachupa is cape verde’s national dish and is a slow-cooked stew made from dried corn kernels, a mix of other beans plus a little onion and tomato plus plenty of garlic. it’s intensely savoury and i loved the texture and taste of the dried corn (i’ve been looking for them since getting home to frankfurt but haven’t found any yet!). at breakfast it was served with a crashed egg; i also ate it for supper one evening (cachupa rica), when it was served with some fish and sausage on the side; i think that in this case there was also a little pork in the corn/bean mix. or maybe i’m getting muddled and that was the feijoada that i had, another bean-based stew which can be found in many lusophone countries.

we ate plenty of fish and seafood – there were fish options every day and it was usually cooked very simply, with vegetables and rice or polenta; there was also a wide range of seafood – in fact, on christmas eve we had a wonderful meal which included prawns, octopus and lobster as well as the local garoupa fish. i also ate conch for the first time, served in a light herby tomato sauce - delicious and similar to squid/octopus. the meat dishes we tried included a wonderfully rich goat stew, fillet steak and chicken caesar salad. puddings were also delicious – a chocolate mousse particularly stands out in my memory!

we really enjoyed the locally-sourced chã wine from fogo (one of the other islands) - i particularly loved the rich fruity flavours of the white and rose wines, but also enjoyed the red.  we didn’t try grogue on its own but did enjoy the spinguera ponche caseiro – their house blend which adds honey and citrus fruit to temper the fiery spirit. this was served as a digestif and tasted remarkably like grand marnier (maybe that’s the holiday talking but we bought a bottle home and i’m looking forward to doing a taste test as well as seeing what cocktails david comes up with)!

and that’s almost it. not quite though – before catching our flight we took advantage of a spare hour and arranged to travel via the small brightly coloured town of rabil, so we could visit a local pottery and see the old são roque church which was built in 1801. we also stopped off to see the deserto de viana, which are described as boa vista’s most beautiful sand dunes with their soft white colour (if we had been on the island during a full moon we would have done a moonlight tour as apparently this is incredibly beautiful).

and that really is it. we had a wonderful visit and i’d love to return – the warmth and sunshine in the depths of winter was very welcome (temperatures were c24c) but more important was the warm welcome we received at a beautiful and comfortable retreat. many thanks to larissa, vanusa and the team at spinguera.

if you do want to visit the island i thoroughly recommend spinguera (this lovely video shows you want to expect – i think the musicians in this are the group that played for us on christmas eve and are also from nearby bofareira) but if you’d like somewhere less remote – the beaches were a ten or thirty minute walk, depending which one you chose (the nearby one has the beach huts pictured; the further one is a larger bay with open sand and varied from being deserted to full of kite surfers who were incredible to watch) – then the migrante guest house in sal rei would be top of my list of places to research further. 


merry christmas

season's greetings from frankfurt! well, from cape verde actually as we've escaped for a bit of sunshine, but i'll soon be back and in the meantime, please enjoy frankfurt's beautiful tannenbaum and römer.



as you might expect, i’ve been surrounded by christmas markets in every german town and city that i’ve visited in the past month. the christmas markets – weihnachtsmärkte – are a real focus from the last week of november up until christmas, with people visiting regularly to meet friends, enjoy the food and glühwein that is available as well as to stock up on gifts and baubles or go the fairground rides that are scattered among the stalls.

the largest markets i have visited have been in frankfurt and hamburg, which are both similar in that there is a concentration of stalls and activities in the main square in front of the town hall but also plenty of offshoots around the city centre, in side streets, squares and pretty much every open space where a small wooden hut can be plonked ready to share some festive love.

we also visited aschaffenburg, a small town nearby which had a lovely little market in schlossplatz in front of the city hall and the johannisburg palace, and a much smaller market in eschborn, which was along one little street and had a much less commercial feeling, with stalls being run by the local rotary group etc.

the food and drink available varies a little but not by that much. hot drinks are the focus with glühwein being most common – a spiced red or white version is almost always available but i also saw flavoured glühweins where fruit brandies gave an extra kick and a different flavour. egg nog is also available and in some cases slightly odd concoctions such as hot aperol (aperol spritz is a summer favourite but i can’t imagine it hot).

the food is often sweet – stollen, lebkuchen, gingerbread cookies with festive messages piped on in icing, chocolate-coated fruit, lots of traditional cakes plus popcorn and other candies – or deep fried. the most common deep fried foods involve potatoes – thin crips, french-fry style chips and kartoffelpuffer (a deep-fried potato pancake, usually served with apple puree).

wurst is also widely available – eaten as you’d expect peeking out of a small bread roll and smothered in ketchup or mustard that has been dispensed from enormous udder-like sauce containers - no retro squirty bottles here, it’s almost industrial in its approach!).

garlic mushrooms and plain/topped garlic breads are things i’ve seen in most markets. my favourite – and to be honest the only thing i’ve managed to eat more than a mouthful of as i’m not a fan of this kind of streetfood – is dinnele, small freshly baked flatbreads breads with a scattering of toppings and which reminds me of turkish pide.

there is also a abundance of hot sweet dishes – crepes with all sorts of fillings, as you’d expect, plus stodgy steamed puddings served with oodles of custard and jam

the weihnachtsmärkte are a lovely seasonal feature of life in germany (a good follow on to the summer of fests) and i’m looking forward to exploring further afield next year – nuremburg is often said to have the best market in germany and i’d also like to pop over the border to see strasbourg's christkindelmärik, which a friend absolutely fell in love with, when she visited it a few weeks ago. 


a weekend in budapest

last year, when we were making the decision about whether or not to move to frankfurt, close friends were making a similar decision about moving to budapest. we both decided to make the move and last month we finally managed to catch up and share our stories about moving and getting settled in a new city.

it was david and my first time in budapest and while the focus was more on catching up, we did manage a bit of sightseeing and exploring the budapest food and drink scene. an hour in the budapest central market quickly showed a similarity with germany – a shared love of all things pork-based. however, unlike in frankfurt it seemed much easier to get a decent flat white coffee – espresso embassy and my little melbourne both hit the spot (any and all frankfurt tips welcome!).

we had a lovely relaxed supper at terminal – a modern bar/restaurant in a converted bauhaus style bus station. the food was light and full of fresh flavours ( which is apparently not particularly easy to find in the city). they also served delicious cocktails. not that we needed them, having had a lovely time sampling some lovely hungarian wine at divino and doblo (both of which serve a wide range of local wines by the glass). the palinka (the local fruit brandy) that we tried was less enjoyable – pear and quince were the two flavours we tried at divino and paint stripper really was the thing that they evoked!

our final meal was at da mario, a pasta and pizza restaurant with relaxed (albeit quite slow) and very child-friendly service. the pizza and pasta dishes were great but the mixed seafood salad less so (frozen deep fried flavourless calamari and prawns, which was a real surprise given how delicious the homemade pasta sauces were).

it was a fleeting visit and we barely scratched the surface of the city - we enjoyed an afternoon learning about hungarian history and the city’s architecture, courtesy of the excellent english language free walking tour - but i expect we’ll be back at some point in the coming year, which i’m really looking forward to.


chicken and chickpea harira

it’s been a quiet blog in recent weeks – i’m sorry for that. a combination of travelling, visitors and dark days have all distracted me and reduced my interest in cooking new things.

having said that, i have not been entirely idle in the kitchen. my love of hearty soups continues – ribollita, white chilli and minestrone are all well-established favourites - and recently i’ve been dabbling with harira recipes.

my last attempt at a vegetarian version wasn’t particularly successful so i decided to try a version with chicken, to use up some leftover meat and stock that i had made. i looked at lots of recipes and chose bits from several of them, while also trying to keep things simple. a lightly spiced fresh flavour and nothing too stodgy were the things i was after.

the result of my efforts was good – a little heat from harissa and ground ginger plus a spice combination of cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and saffron. it also had chickpeas in abundance (i’m really loving them at the moment), a bit of potato for comfort, tomatoes and carrot for sweetness plus a combination of lemon, coriander and yoghurt to freshen everything up at the end. the recipe below is not prescriptive, more a record of how things developed, to act as a starting point for you.

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