A Griffon Vulture – Finding Peace In Nature

It was one of those weeks, you know the ones when nothing seems to be going right? Work wise, I had a couple of frustrating situations with financial ramifications then my car got a puncture so I had to buy two new tyres and to top it off maintenance work needed doing on my flat in London (kerching). So with a niggling mind, I was driving home from the garage when this happened. A huge bird of prey swooped down and flew alongside the car, it was so close, with the window open I could reach out and touch it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The bird with its huge wingspan dipped and then flew up in front of the car into the trees. It happened so fast but long enough for me to know it was special. Putting aside any plans, I pulled over and parked. Looking up to where the bird was perched I saw a way of climbing over some rocks to get a closer look, so that’s what I did, but I was careful not to get too close so as to scare or disturb him.

I came to know, after the event, that this was a Griffon Vulture probably a juvenile by the look of his down like feathers around his neck and the fact juveniles often go AWOL on their maiden flight migrating to Africa. If you are lucky you can see hundreds of them in the sky in the Western part of the Algarve around October, November time. For me that day, I only had eyes for one.

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Look out – a Griffon Vulture

I sat looking at him, looking at me and watching him dosing in the winter sun as it peaked from behind a cloud, and as I sat there, amongst the greenery a sense of peace washed over me. I felt calm and somehow reassured that regardless of the challenges that come with working as a freelancer and living on a mountain it feels like the right place for me, nestled in beauty. As I mentally bid him farewell on his journey I felt sure he would find his way. He may be lost now but he is resilient and nature has a way of looking after itself. Life rarely takes you down a straight road, but usually, in the end, you get to where you need to be.

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

People find solace in nature and it is proven to be a healthy way to de-stress. It’s important to have a ‘go-to’ place either in your mind or physically to help you unwind. Maybe you have a poem or mantra, a choice of words that help when you are having a bad day? In the words of Billy Ocean, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and we all need somewhere to retreat, just like my Griffon vulture.

Suzanne.x

 

 

 

How to survive travelling by air – wear lots of hats!

Do you find air travel fun or has it become a chore? We might be excited about the destination but with all the best-laid plans – delays, long queues and navigating the different rules and terminals as per the country you are entering it can make the whole journey stressful.

Earlier this year I travelled to Sydney on a work trip writing and gathering content on Australia’s Manuka honey for Balqees honey. My departure airport was Faro, Southern Portugal, via Lisbon with a 36-hour layover in Dubai planned to break the journey and catch up with friends. It’s a long way to go and I tripped on the first leg!

What hats to wear on a long-haul flight

Travel agent – I travel a lot and mostly on Emirates so I have come to understand the value of the multiticket option which allows you to book all your connecting flights in one go and works out better, I believe, on the pocket. When I travelled to New Delhi from Faro via Dubai it worked really well. This time my client booked the travel through an agent and although I advised booking via the multiticket option, it didn’t happen and all the flights were booked separately. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise this.

Negotiator – When you go to check in at the beginning of your journey and are told you cant check your bag through to Dubai or Sydney! If I have to collect my bag in Lisbon I will miss my connecting flight to Dubai. I was flying with TAP Air Portugal on the Faro-Lisbon leg and TAP have a relationship with Emirates so you can book a multiticket. I hoped if I kept the TAP rep talking they would eventually be able to resolve my predicament, I always think there is a solution to any problem and I have learned from past experiences it’s not worth showing your frustration or anger. I held my reserve with a smile and attempted to appeal to their human side. Unfortunately, It didn’t work on this occasion, I couldn’t even get an indicator of how long it would take for me to collect my bag in Lisbon and get to the Emirates desk to check-in. I was passed over to another member of staff at the TAP information desk.

Psychologist – Feeling the stress rising to work against the clock to sort this out before the gate closes the nice lady on the TAP information desk lets me use her phone to call Emirates (my phone is out of credit!). Emirates keep me calm and are really helpful but I’m told that I won’t make the connecting flight and the only option is to reschedule and get the flight the following day, so I pay the fee and make my way to check-in once again. Better to make a decision, cut my losses and move on.

Time manager – Whilst queuing to board the flight I access the airport wifi on my phone and book a hotel close to Lisbon airport. I then let my client know the situation and cancel meetings with friends and colleagues in Dubai, as it turns out the Faro flight was delayed anyway and I would have missed my connection regardless. With my new schedule, I will land in Dubai airport around 1am I will have to stay there until my flight to Sydney departs at 10.30am. Until then I check into my hotel in Lisbon and use the time to work and get some rest.

Endurance athlete – Spending eight hours through the night in an airport is not for the faint-hearted especially when you land in the middle of the night after an eight-hour flight on your second day of travelling. If you are travelling to Dubai International airport for the first time, note, it is huge and made up of two terminals (1 & 3). When I land its too early to find out which terminal I will be departing from and so not sure where to base myself. So I wandered around for a while like a lost soul and was sent to one terminal and back again by airport staff who didn’t seem equipped to advise appropriately so I eventually worked it out for myself.

Tips on spending the night in Dubai International Airport

  • If you are a Silver (or above) Skywards member you have access to the Emirates Business Class lounges.
  • If you want to pay to access the Emirates Business class lounges you can do so for around $100 with access only in four-hour blocks.
  • You can pay to access the Marhaba lounges with the showers and refreshments and if you have a UAE HSBC credit card you can access for a reduced rate (the option I took after exploring many others first).
  • There are showers available to everyone in the concourse of Terminal 3 but there aren’t any towels so think ahead and pack a towel in your hand luggage. If you don’t have a towel…well here is a retail opportunity. I couldn’t find a towel to purchase. The closest I could find was a fleece travel blanket!
  • I discovered only after my night in DIA there is a Health Club with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room, and gym you can pay for on an hourly basis.
  • There are sleep pods available (although they weren’t when I needed them). I have tried similar ones at Gatwick airport and they are really good to book for an hour or more to relax, sleep or catch up on work.
  • If you have the budget, there is a hotel.

Lessons I learned about long-haul travel

  • Book the flights yourself.
  • Allow an extra day if you can to recover and to allow for any delays.
  • Keep your phone topped up or consider a remote package so you can make calls in different countries.
  • Keep hydrated and take deep breaths and stretch when you can, sleep when you can.
  • Wear comfy shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
  • Take a pashmina or jumper, it might be hot outside but it’s often cold inside planes and airports.

After 72 hours from leaving my house in Portugal, I reach Sydney International airport.

A friend asked if its worth it, after all the hours of travelling, and you know even after the delays and the jetlag I still get a twinge of excitement when I pass through an airport and enter a new country (or return to a country visited before) there is still a flutter in the stomach as I anticipate what is to come, places I will see, people I’m going to meet and what I am to experience. The same was true for this trip…

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View of the Sydney Opera House from the Four Seasons Hotel
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Taking in Sydney Harbour bridge on my walkabout, allowing a few hours to take in the sights before I start work!

And what about my return journey? Well, I did the whole trip in one go without a hitch. Sydney-Dubai-Lisbon-Faro picked up a car and drove 1.15 hours to my house making the whole journey in around 25 hours.

Do you have an epic journey to share? Let me know…

Happy travels.

Suzanne.x

JANE, a documentary that makes a lasting impression

I just finished watching JANE about Dr Jane Goodall, conservationist, primatologist and anthropologist, the documentary directed by Brett Morgen with the musical score by Philip Glass, revealing previously unseen footage shot by Hugo Van Lawick from the National Geographic archives discovered in 2014.  It shows how Jane has lived the life she dreamed of, living with animals in the wild which in itself is inspirational but also how she opened a window into the little-known world, at that time, of chimpanzees. We follow Jane as a 26-year-old in Tanzania patiently studying the primates until they begin to trust her. Through her eyes, we see how they are similar to humans and how they are different and what we can learn from them. Jane brought the research and information to the world that chimpanzees, like humans, they have the capacity to love, to be jealous, to fight and to be cruel and what surprised the world back in the 1960s they, like humans, have the ability to use tools with their hands. This is a story of love, the natural world and of primate and human behaviour. As she looks into the eyes of a thinking wild animal we feel the connection towards a family of chimps and a sadness that resonates as humans as the trials and tribulations of parenting, ageing, loss and bereavement unfold. This is a testament to a life well lived and as humans, we can do better to protect the wildlife that walks this earth.

In 2015 I had the pleasure to meet and interview Dr Jane Goodall on Dubai Eye 103.8 when she visited the UAE promoting her Roots and Shoots programme in schools. I interviewed her again a couple of years later. The pictures here show me after practically stalking her at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. I was about to do a live broadcast when my producer told me she was in the building and I raced around the exhibition hall to find her. I waited patiently as she was being shown around by dignitaries before politely catching her eye and managing to record a few minutes with her to play out later on the show. She is a true inspiration.

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Sharing a moment of laughter with Dr Jane Goodall at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2016

 

 

 

French butter

Exploring French butter, meeting the producers and learning about the terroir and what makes great tasting butter. First stop is Brittany known for its dairy and Bellevaire to learn about raw milk butter. Click here and listen to the story.

 

From raw milk butter at Bellevaire to organic butter and the ‘savoir faire’ at Le Bordier.

So with an understanding of how butter is made, what do we need to know about using butter in cooking? Find out from Master cheesemonger Francois Robin who has the honoured title of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France and Chef Tugdual Debethune, expert chef at the Contemporary Culinary Center in Rennes, in the west of France.

From Brittany to Paris and a taste of the finest patisseries at Yann Couvreur, YC, at Gourmet Lafayette. Listen to what makes a perfect croissant and what’s typically included in a Parisian le petit dejeuner. Click on the feature and enjoy!

For more information on butter, the history, how to cook with it and recipes read all about butter here: Butter of Europe

The audio was broadcast on Dubai Eye 103.8 on June 28th 2018.

Eat Around Cape Town

It was a real pleasure to guest write for honeyexplorer on the food scene in Cape Town. Have a read of where to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a few stops along the way.

For a wide range of breakfast and lunch options with fresh seasonal salads, roasts and spicy curries try Yumcious by Jenny Morris located at Green Point. Jenny creates her favourite dishes for the table and on Saturdays you can enjoy brunch and listen to live jazz.

Jenny brings a lot of joy to her cooking as the Giggling Gourmet. From the menu I chose the French toast with orange honey butter and caramelised oranges, then I hit the kilo table, a Cape Town favourite, where you weigh your dish of food and are charged accordingly.

Jenny takes inspiration from ingredients travelling the world writing cook books, running her cookery school, appearing at food festivals and presenting for the Food Network.

So is there anything that doesn’t make Jenny smile?

“Large carbon foot prints where food is concerned takes the smile off my face. I wish everyone would buy and cook seasonally. This way we have more sustainable food chains and it would lower the cost on local, seasonal ingredients.”

Look out for Jenny’s sixth cookbook coming out soon where she shares recipes and stories from Yumcious and you can discover what goes into running such a delicious restaurant.

For a Taste of South Africa?

Jenny recommends the award winning Karubu (which means ‘welcome’ in Swahili) for a traditional, authentic South African culinary experience. Carefully curated by Executive Chef Jamie Rowntree who has been at the helm of the kitchen for many years. You can find Karubu in the vibrant V&A Waterfront which is popular with locals and tourists alike, you can go for one of the set menu options for lunch and dinner or go freestyle.

Recommendations include:

Smoked Snook fish pate soaked in Rooibos (which is fynbos).

Karu lamb chops on a bed of gem squash.

Classic Cake Malva pudding baked in apricot jam and served with a toffee and cardamom sauce.

Its always good to tap into the local minds to find the best places and if you are short on time you can sign up for a food tour or guide. I signed up the services of Jared, tour guide, writer and social media ‘influencer’.

I gave Jared my brief: a day covering the best eateries in town from street food to the cultural, to the trendy and fabulous.

This is what he put together.

Vegan Breakfast at Plant Cafe

It came as a bit of a surprise that a French man would open a vegan restaurant but that’s how strongly Pierre Lambret feels about food and where it comes from. Leaving his corporate life behind he took over Plant Cafe in November 2017 changing up the extensive menu and keeping it #deliciouslyconscious. I went for the chia pudding and Jared the Plant Benedict with Lox.

So, first up:

What is lox?

Its a combination of carrot and beetroot marinated in sugar and salt with olive oil and lemon to create a smoky flavour vegan’s miss.

And

How do you make Benedict without the eggs?

We couldn’t get chef’s complete recipe but tapioca flour is used instead of eggs/flour/milk and soy replaces mayonnaise and cashews used to create the creamy texture.

I know vegan chefs don’t like talking about replacing or recreating ingredients but sometimes it helps for the purpose of understanding this art of cooking (without the heat) that is becoming so popular as a lifestyle choice across the globe.

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For more on vegan/raw cooking see how Riath aka the honey explorer and I got on in Bali.

Award Winning Coffee (and that’s the truth)

Voted the worlds best coffee by the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper two years running walking into Truth Cafe is like entering a live performance of theatre. With lots of activity built around the vintage probate coffee roaster the waiters are on hand to help tell the story and share the taste experience which is rich and dynamic. They use green beans that are micro roasted in house. I went for a rich blend flat white but one to try is the Sunrise espresso, a double shot with a splash of orange juice! I always find a spoon of honey helps put a spring in my step.

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A Walk Through

The Eastern Bazaar, an alleyway in the heart of the city serving from ten different counters reflecting the diversity of the city. From curries including butter chicken and bunny chow to Chinese and Turkish. Proper street food attracting anyone and everyone to eat well for very little.

Lunch, Cape Malay Style

High up Signal Hill in the Bo-Kaap area of brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets is the family run restaurant, The Bo-Kaap Kombuis, serving traditional Cape Malay cuisine and a fine view of the city and Table Mountain.

Steeped in history, community and Muslim culture favourite Malay dishes include tomato bredie (stew), biryani and babotie (like a spicy shepherds pie). Cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, tamarind and star anise are regular ingredients.

Going Casual is Fine

Cape Town does ‘casual fine dining’ well and Foxcroft is a great example of it. Located in Constantia, you sit in lovely surroundings tasting award winning food without it breaking the bank or having to dress up to the nines. Its what I believe a dining experience should be.

Jared and I chose off the set lunch menu and had a chat with Senior Sous Chef Tim Pick.

Chef’s recommendations include:

Seared Tuna Tataki which marries flavours bringing a little fattiness to moisten the fish with a nice lick of lime and a rice puff crisp.

Cured Yellowtale bringing complexity and a local flavour with mango atchar with ‘slangetjies’ which means little snake in Afrikaans and refers to the shape of the chickpea flour noodles.

I went for the game fillet which was robust in taste and rich and dark in colour and flavour with a smoky cherry jus.

Lunch at Foxcroft was a perfect way to spend an afternoon just outside Cape Town in the countryside.

Special thanks to Jared for putting together the whole day experience, and for the history lesson along the way.

Delhi Delights!

India is large and varied, but I am always struck by it’s colour and chaos. Previously, I visited Jaipur and rural areas of Rajasthan covering stories on organic farming and once I spent five relaxing days on a retreat in Bangalore but this time I’m visiting New Delhi and I only have two days.

Instead of trying to describe in words, here are the pictures.

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A ride through old Delhi. Photos taken from tuk tuk.

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I’m with Lara Matossian delivering training for the Foreign Commonwealth Office in Delhi and like when we were working in Morocco we find time to take in some of the sights and sample the local food.

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Street food at its best with chaat and pani puri and aloo puri. You can never have too many puris!
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Mashed potato patties with spices including spiced lentils and served with hot tamarind sauce

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Always fun working and travelling with Lara

And a morning looking at the spice market, mostly from rooftops!

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Exploring the rooftop I look through and see a man resting, but what is the orange ingredient drying beside him?
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I posted on my Instagram page and my friend Shalini explained it is called hing or asafoetida. It has great health benefits. It is used for tempering dals and the South Indian sambar. It aids digestion and flatulence!
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Hanging out!
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Our trusty guide and tuk tuk driver
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Vibrant colour of hot spices
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Dried red chillies and fenugreek
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Figs, nuts and pulses

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Enroute to the airport and a walk though a park. Always many temples to see but sometimes just walking gathers its own sense of magic

48 Hours in Morocco!

From the hills of the Algarve to the cities of Casablanca and Rabat. My mission? To deliver role-play as part of training with the British Embassy and FCO on crisis management.  I only have 48 hours and one day is for training but I make the most of my time managing to get a taste and flavour of the place and culture.

Casablanca

The award winning 1943 film was probably filmed in Hollywood and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman never set foot in Casablanca. The film makers did a good job at capturing the character of the place as It felt familiar somehow when I stepped out into the streets. The hint of  French colonialism and the turn of the century architecture provides a dramatic setting though many report that Casablanca doesn’t have as much to offer as other places in Morocco. I only had a morning before picking up my connecting fight to Rabat so what can you do?

Take a walk

A dentists with sets of false teeth on display
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For philatelists a stamp shop

Visit the Old Medina

I’m quite resilient but i wouldn’t say i felt completely safe with my camera and phone at eleven o’clock in the morning, particularly as a woman alone. I was aware i was clocked by watching eyes as I entered and although I wanted to explore the labyrinth of alleyways where there are leather goods, snacks being served and local ‘tat’ or as they say in the UAE, ‘genuine fakes’ but instead I kept to the perimeter.

Buy a tagine

I found a shop selling tagines and although I didn’t have much room in my hand luggage I wanted to buy a small one for cooking, not just serving. The staff were pleasant and helpful, so much so they escorted me upstairs to a bigger space selling carpets and local artefacts. The senior proprietor came forward and started showing me a variety of wares. I explained my limitations space wise and then the bartering process began. I was definitely not up to speed with this but apparently as ‘first customer of the day’ and ‘lucky’ you get extra discount. I left with a small tagine having spent about 10 euros (i think I overpaid).  Regardless I enjoyed the experience and felt like I got a small slice of Casablanca culture.

For more: https://theculturetrip.com/africa/morocco/articles/10-top-souks-and-medinas-in-casablanca/

Rabat

I meet Lara, my fellow actor and facilitator, and we are driven the one hour journey to the capital, Rabat.

View from my hotel room

Take a walk

Dusk and a walk to the Kasbah by the sea and fort

Visit the medina

Buy a djellaba

I love the hooded long coats the local’s wear and figured it would be a good ‘warmer’ for me on the mountain. By the way Djellaba means attractive.

Making friends with the locals
I choose the blue, handmade, beautifully stitched and snugly warm

And a fez

The Moroccan head wear named after the cultural city of Fez. As a Brit growing up in 70’s England when i see a fez i think of comedian Tommy Cooper which of course bears no real relation to the cultural meaning and identity to the hat and country, his its believed relates to his time spent in Egypt.  Goes to show hats can carry meaning (or not). Its a complex history to this hat: http://www.hatsandcaps.co.uk/history-of-the-fez-athe_fez/

Lara’s purchase!

Order lamb tagine

So many varieties to chose from on any menu from chicken, lamb, vegetables blending fruits, nuts and spices like ginger, turmeric and cardamom.

The shape of the lid allows for steam to rise and the moisture slips down inside the pot and cooks the ingredients retaining flavour, tenderness of meat. The original slow cooking utensil.

lamb tagine with prunes, sesame and almonds

To cook at home try this recipe from: My Moroccan Food

I really enjoyed my trip, Morocco is interesting, inexpensive and there is a lot to explore. I hope to return and spend more time, I would like to visit Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains.

I went the long way from the Algarve flying Faro – Lisbon – Casablanca but you can drive to Spain take in Seville – Cadiz and then catch the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier. One for the future!

 

Its Sweet Potato Time at the Batata-Doce de Aljezur

The sweet potato festival in Aljezur happens each year in November celebrating the ingredient and the variety of ways it can be used and eaten. I love a roasted sweet potato in the pan with carrots, pumpkin and any other root vegetables you can find. Because the nutrient rich soil of this part of Southern Portugal makes a particularly tasty spud there is much to be celebrated apparently as thousands descend on the grand hall, there is even a little train which transports the masses from the carparks to the event. There is live music, cookery demos, arts and crafts and lots of people and batatas knocking around.

Along with roasting, people love sweet potato fries and crisps and apparently cake too!

Cake made with sweet potato flour!

Shake Rattle & Roll – Olives

If you drive through rural Portugal in November you are likely to hear the thudding and bashing of branches as olives are battered from their trees, shaved off in some cases and carried off in huge nets and sifted by hand through large manmade sieves to take off the unwanted sticks and leaves. It’s an aggressive system but it’s a labour of love for the families in their rural communities as their strength and skill is passed down through generations. You will see olive trees lining the groves the length and breadth of the country and the people take pride in this beautiful product, the elixir that is olive oil to sip, drizzle or lightly fry.

Portugal ranks as the world’s 8th largest producer of olive oil at around 50,000 tons.

It was early November when I got the call from a friend who I knew from Dubai and who too had found Portugal to be the setting for her (and her husband’s) next chapter. ‘We are harvesting the olives on Wednesday’ so I said I would be there on Tuesday. And so it was that Shakespeare and I set off for what would be a five hour drive (should have been four) to the north, near Toma and half way between Lisbon and Porto. My friends are great lovers of food having both worked in the food business for many years. It was their dream to build a sustainable eco friendly house and farm and here they are at the beginning of building their dream. With help from the knowing locals their trees were harvested for the first time in many years as the land and property had been left uncared for before their recent ownership.

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SR yaelSR Back Breaking Olives 3SR Olives againSR Olives TubsI saw the process and hard work unfold over three days. The nets are placed under the trees and the branches sawn or shaken or sheared to release the olives. Then the olives are sorted removing the twigs. They are gathered and pushed through mesh to clear the woody debris a bit more and then in buckets put through the machine to clean them more. Then they are bagged up to go to the olive press.SR Olives

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

I arrive on the mountain at the beginning of October and within a few weeks its chestnut season. I head to the village of Marmelete, and to a ‘magusto’ (chestnut party) . People from miles around gather to celebrate the harvest and when I arrive I see a row of fires and these are not just to keep the hoards of people warm but for cooking the mounds of nuts. They are hot to touch as people scramble in the ashes to grab there stash and eat them from paper cones. This puts a whole other spin on street food. No trucks, no stalls, food from the earth. There is music, games and lots of baked goods. Its a truly local festival and it wraps it great rural arms around me and welcomes me to mountain living.

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Open fire for roasting (burning) chestnuts
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Chief taster, if in doubt ask a five year old!

Now its important to note, not all chestnuts are for eating. Sweet chestnuts as opposed to the horse chestnuts are good for eating and when they fall from the trees you can enjoy them cooked, not raw, and they make for great autumnal ingredients in recipes. High in fibre, vitamin C, magnesium and fatty acids. BBC Good Food explains what to do with chestnuts at home.

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Come this way for the great guinea pig playoff!

At the end of a row of food stalls serving doughy pastries, cakes and breads I’m drawn to the crowd and wonder what all the commotion is about.

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Place your bets!

And here it is. Guinea pig gambling. The rodent is masked under a tin can, people place their money on a numbered hutch, the big reveal is made and we wait to see which hole the furry thing runs to for shelter, no doubt to hide from the squealing bystanders. I’m not sure this is particularly kind pastime for the creature but I guess its better than the guinea pigs in Cusco, Peru. I remember walking by a restaurant there stopping to admire the cuddly crew of guinea pigs in a delightful enclosed pen only to realise they were kept for cooking and were on the menu for dinner that evening!

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Filhos – Malasadas – Portuguese Fried Dough

On the way home I munch on a malasadas fresh from baking in the open air and where the dough has been stretched and worked to provide this tasty donut Portuguese style. For the full recipe go to Maria and Lisa’s lovely blog celebrating Portuguese food and heritage. Portuguese Diner.