Top 4 European Christmas Markets

Posted on: December 18th, 2012 Posted by

What better way to get yourself in the mood for the festive season than with a visit to a Christmas market? We’ve selected four of the best, so whether you want to combine purchasing some last minute gifts with a short city break in Europe, or you want to give the kids a weekend to remember, without going too far afield, we’ve got the market for you. Read the rest of this entry »

Swimming Safety Tips For All the Family

Posted on: July 25th, 2011 Posted by

Statistics from The International Life Saving  Foundation suggest that internationally 1.2 million people die each year through drowning, and over 50% of those are children. These sobering figures only show one side of the story – many more people are rescued and live to tell the tale.  It makes sense then, to take some time to ensure that your family understand the need for safety around water before you go on holiday. Kids and adults can all benefit from learning how to avoid unnecessary risks and what to do if they find themselves in trouble. Read the rest of this entry »

Eight Ways to Stay Cool in a Hot Country

Posted on: June 13th, 2011 Posted by

If your holidays this year take you to a country with a hotter climate than you are used to, you will find the heat gets overwhelming at times. The eight tips which follow are a selection of tried and tested ideas which will help you to reduce your body temperature and refresh your senses.

1. Drink Plenty of Water

When temperatures rise, staying hydrated is vital. There are a number of ways to know if you are dehydrated – one of the easiest is to note the colour of your urine – it should be a light straw-like colour. To stay hydrated, drink at least a glass of water every hour, and if you are out and about, take a bottle of water with you and remember to take regular sips. Cool water, rather than iced water, will aid your body in all its functions and go a long way towards preventing heat stroke.

2. Have a Tepid Shower

Relaxing in an icy cold shower may seem like the perfect way to rejuvenate yourself on a scorching hot day, but a tepid shower will decrease your body temperature more efficiently! Chill out when the heat gets too much by showering for around 20 minutes, which will lower your body temperature and leave you feeling fresh and renewed.

3. Chill Your Body Lotion

If you are staying self catering, you are sure to have access to a fridge – and you can use it to store more than just food. Pop your body lotion or after-sun gel into the fridge for a deliciously chilly sensation on application – perfect after a shower.

4. Wear Loose Fitting, Natural Fabric Clothing

When packing for your holiday, be inspired by the loose fitting robes of the nomadic tribes who live in the deserts of Africa, and pack garments which allow air to circulate around your skin. You have probably heard advice suggesting that it is better to wear light colours, but recent studies have shown that what is more important is a loose fit. Another point to consider is choosing materials which let your skin breathe – such as cotton and bamboo. The only exception to this is high-performance technical fabrics such as Supplex (usually found in active wear) which wick perspiration away from the skin.

5. Get Sweaty

Sweating is the bodies natural system for reducing temperature and can help you to feel cooler. Eat spicy food or drink a hot drink to stimulate the sweat glands and you’ll quickly notice the difference.

6. Dip Your Feet In Water

When you are out on a walk and come across a tempting spot to sit and dip your feet in a river, a lake or the sea – go ahead. Submerging your feet in water helps to reduce the temperature of your blood as it circulates around your body.

7. Eat Cooling Foods

If you can’t face eating spicy dishes like curry to cool yourself down, choose foods which create a cool mouth sensation. Salads, yoghurt, sorbets and chilled soups all slip down smoothly and will make it easier to stop thinking about the heat!

8. Rest During the Hottest Times

In most hot climates, you’ll notice that the locals have a rest during the hottest hours in the middle of the day. Take a tip and follow their schedule – trying to make it through the heat will just be uncomfortable, so have a sleep, or just lounge around for a few hours when its too hot to be out of doors.

The Most Expensive Food Money Can Buy

Posted on: September 21st, 2010 Posted by

Food glorious food. The most transient of pleasures. But if there’s one thing the rich are good at, it’s forking out the dough for the nosh. Below are the top five raw ingredients so expensive that it seems a shame to eat ‘em.

5. Kobe Beef

Kobe beef, from carefully-reared Wagyu cattle, is considered the most succulent and tasty of all beef. With its beautiful marbled texture and taste, this meat can sell for up to $150/lb. Some have compared it to the meat equivalent of foie gras, or, for the less cultured, a smooth and velvety melt-in-your-mouth flavour explosion.

4. Saffron

Ladies and gentlemen, the world’s most expensive spice. Viewed as perhaps the most decadent foodstuff of them all (the ones following will at least fill your belly), Saffron’s cost can be attributed to the difficulty of its production. Over 70,000 Safron flowers are required to make a single lb. of Saffron (for those of you metrically inclined, that means 150 flowers for every single gram of the stuff). Depending on the quality and variety, Saffron can see for up to $5,000 per lb. Not bad when you consider it takes one man an entire day to harvest a single lb. of the stuff over an area roughly the size of a football pitch.

3. Yubari Melons

The humble melon, so often the go-to healthy snack for low-flying professionals, makes the number three spot on the list, specifically the Yubari variety. These japanese melons regularly sell for $150 each, but in 2008 one went for a fat and juicy $20,000. Yubari melons are traditionally given as gifts in wooden boxes, so if you do have any long-lost japanese relatives visiting soon, do not turn your nose up at the carefully packaged fruit they bring with them.

2. Caviar

Any James Bond aficionado will be familiar with Beluga caviar, that most prized of salty fish eggs. But if James Bond had been an aficionado of caviar, he would have asked for Almas (‘diamond’ in Persian) caviar. This pearly white variety of Beluga caviar comes from older Beluga sturgeons. The sturgeons can take up to 20 years to mature, but the Almas variety requires a fish of 60 – 80 years old, and is the most prized of all the most prized of salty fish eggs. This variety goes for $25,000/kg. So rare is this caviar that there is only one known outlet in the UK – the Caviar House & Prunier on London’s Piccadilly. The same restaurant is also home to the most expensive meal ever eaten in the UK, when two ladies gobbled down over £21,000 worth of salty fish eggs over the course of an afternoon.

1. Truffles

Truffles are a great social barometer. Ask someone what a truffle is. If they say ‘the soft strawberry marshmallowy thing in my pick n’ mix’, chances are they have never rubbed shoulders with someone who says ‘the king of all fungi’. Although there is no definitive answer for the question ‘What is the world’s most expensive food?’, the truffle would be the most likely to take the crown. A gigantic Italian White Alba truffle 1.5 kg in weight and bearing a striking resemblance to a bit of old, worn leather, recently sold for $160,000 dollars. Not bad for a mushroom you can fit in your pocket.

Cooking Without Cookers

Posted on: March 10th, 2010 Posted by

The cooker is a relatively new invention. François de Cuvilliés, a French architect, is often credited as the first person to invent a cooker. In the early 1700s, he put a box around fire and probably called it le cooker. What we now know as cookers – the gas and electricity types – came much later. It was not until the mid-1800s that gas prototypes were put on display, and later still before they became a feature of everyday life.

However, as sure as dinosaurs had feathers, people had to eat before the 1800s. So what did they use? Here are a few archaic cooking methods from around the world, most of which are still in use today because they (whisper it) actually make better-tasting food than most cookers.

Earth Oven

The brutal daddy of all cooking methods, the earth oven, at its simplest, is a hole in the ground with a fire in it. You put the food on the fire, and cover the hole. They are one of the earliest signs of human settlement, and they are also the chief source of nourishment for Ray Mears. The earth oven has its own peculiar charm; it’s almost like watching evolution. The caveman, he sits there, and he has his open fire, but the meat just isn’t tasty enough for his liking. What to do? Dig a hole.

Haybox

The Haybox is the laziest of all pre-cookers. Food items that need to be cooked have to be heated to boiling point before they even reach the Haybox, at which point they are placed inside the contraption and insulated. The food, inside the Haybox, cooks itself through the residual insulated heat. Before you rush out and buy one though, remember that warm food is often bacteria-friendly. You have been warned.

Hot Salt/Sand Frying

Arguably the coolest cooking method ever devised, this involves filling a wok (easily the coolest cooking utensil, beating even the whisk) with either coarse sea salt or black sand and heating it. Once at the required temperature, dried food items such as egg in a shell or popcorn are buried in the salt, or peanuts are buried in the sand, until cooked. Used by street-side food vendors in China, and unlikely to be seen at your local Greggs.

Pickling

If one of the main purposes of cooking is to make food safe to eat by killing bacteria, then reach for the pickling jar. Food is usually pickled in brine or vinegar with a pH lower than 4.6 – plenty low enough to stave off any unwanted bugs. Another good thing about pickling? Okay then: pickling can actually make some foods more nutritious, introducing B-vitamins produced by the bacteria it kills. Please note – you cannot pickle a deep-fried mars bar.

Smoking

Smoking cooks food by exposing it to the smoke from burning wood or plant materials. However, while it is an effective way of both cooking and preserving many foods, particularly meat and fish, it is contended by some that the process of smoking can introduce carcinogens into food, and that by today’s stringent standards, there may remain some harmful toxins after the smoking process. Tastes damn good though.

Spitroasting

Not that spitroasting. The one where you put a rod through an animal (the rod being the ‘spit’) before turning it in front of an open fire. Renowned for its juicy, tender results, the spitroast is the king of meat-cooking methods, whether it be the pig with the apple in its gob or the headless chicken with rickets that ends up on your plate.

Tandoor

A Tandoor is a clay oven inside which foods are lowered for cooking. The Tandoor is awesomely powerful – the clay insulates the burning charcoal or wood inside, generating heat of up to 480°C. As a result, it’s common practice to leave the Tandoor lit, as building the required heat can take a long time. The word Tandoori means ‘pertaining to the Tandoor’ and is the basis for many British nights out.

Weird Food Through the Ages of Antarctic Exploration

Posted on: January 28th, 2010 Posted by

From the end of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th was the time of the ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’. This is shorthand for describing a bunch of utterly mental stiff-upper lip types from the four corners of the world who were adept at funding, getting in scrapes and, but not always, getting out of scrapes, in the white wilderness of the Antarctic.

The Nimrod Expedition. As they were taking pictures, this must have been what passed for a good day.

Some of these names have been added to the canon of great explorers: Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton. There were, however, many others not so famous who gave their lives in pursuit of the South Pole and other noble endeavours. Seventeen men are recorded as losing their lives during the Heroic Age, a not insubstantial figure when the average expedition party numbered less than a dozen. Let’s see what some of them died of:

  • Edgar Evans: starvation and cold;
  • Lawrence Oates: starvation and cold;
  • Robert Falcon Scott: starvation and cold;
  • Edward Wilson: starvation and cold;
  • Henry Bowers: starvation and cold;
  • Xavier Mertz: food poisoning;
  • Arnold Spencer-Smith: scurvy and cold.

Of the seventeen who perished, nearly half of the men died as a result of malnutrition or contaminated food. Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest place on the entire planet. It is depicted by many wildlife shows and popular culture in general as being a place abundant in animal life. The truth is very different. There are no land-based animals on the continent (Penguins and Seals are classed as water-dwelling) bigger than an insect, the biggest of these being a flightless midge a massive 12 mm in size. Despite, or because of this, the killing of any animals on Antarctica, or the introduction of new species to the continent, is illegal.

In short, this means the only food to be found on an Antarctic expedition is whatever you have with you. At the beginning of the last century, the rules were a little bit different. They had to be ruthless, sometimes for the sake of convenience, mostly through necessity.
Provisions were taken with Antarctic parties to stave off starvation on board ship. Two of the most famous were Pemmican and Sledging Biscuits. Pemmican was invented by the Hudson Bay Company and based on traditional Native American Indian recipes. Its basic ingredients are pounded, dry beef compacted with beef fat, providing half of the daily dose of calories required by the average Antarctic explorer. The main advantage of Pemmican was its ability to stay unspoilt for many years in poor conditions, and with the introduction of some melted snow it became a tasty broth. Sledging Biscuits are perhaps the most boring foodstuff known to man. These thick, chunky biscuits are most notable for their ability to last so long some are actually being auctioned off for thousands of pounds as artifacts from expeditions that took place, in some cases, over a century ago.

It seems that the intrepid details had enough to get by on, yet provisions were an illusion of security in expeditions which were often planned with a view to returning home by the skin of one’s teeth. On one of Robert Falcon Scott’s expeditions, dogs and ponies were taken along to drag sledges, with the plan being the ponies would be shot for food when rations ran short. This type of exploration is far removed from today’s sanitised trips where, though ever-present danger remains, food is no longer a concern.

So, what happened when the food ran out? Below are two tales of culinary woe featuring Ernest Shackleton, one of the most famous explorers who ever lived. Perhaps the reason why the Antarctic explorers hold such fascination for many even a hundred years on is the sense that they skirted the edge of sanity in their quest for discovery.

Shackleton, a.k.a. Shack, a.k.a. Badass Explorer.

The Nimrod Expedition 1907 – 1909

The first of Ernest Shackleton’s infamous trips, the Nimrod Expedition, resulted in near-starvation for one of the parties attempting to reach the South Pole. At one point, the three men heading for the magnetic pole (Shackleton was heading for the true pole) ran so low on food that they resorted to a single biscuit each for breakfast and dinner. Even the crumbs were consumed feverishly, and to ensure no argument broke out over who got the biggest share, the cook would point to each in turn while the others had their backs turned, shouting ‘Whose?’ By this method the peace was kept. Edgeworth David, the oldest and leader of the group, wrote, ‘We could discuss nothing but the different dishes with which we had been regaled in our former lifetime at various famous restaurants and hotels.’ Shackleton himself, having been afflicted with illness after eating tainted pony meat, wrote, ‘We are so thin that our bones ache as we lie on the hard snow.’ Nevertheless, the men returned from their journey, albeit without reaching the South Pole.

There may be trouble ahead…

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (The ‘Endurance Expedition’) 1914 – 1917

Clearly up for more hardship, Shackleton mounted what became the Apollo 13 of Antarctic expeditions. Initially mounted as an attempt to become the first to cross the entire continent of Antarctica, the expedition suffered a severe disaster when its ship was crushed by the Antarctic ice, sinking it. After a series of abortive attempts to march to safety, Shackleton ordered the setting of camp, a place which came to be known as ‘Patience Camp’, which would be home to the expedition for three freezing months. During this time, as rations ran low, the team subsisted on seal meat before shooting their own dogs – the pooches were consuming too much seal meat and brought welcome variety to the crew’s diet. After an astonishing 800-mile journey in an open boat to get help, Shackleton’s crew returned, three years after setting out, and undoubtedly in dire need of a steak. It took another four decades before a successful crossing of the Antarctic continent was achieved by the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition – testament to Shackleton’s ambition and how totally bonkers he was.

Most of us have spent a night, or a week, or if you’re a student, several years in a house with no heating. These structures are remarkable, turning the freezing cold weather outside into an almost unbearable tormenting ice prison inside. I have spent many a day in the house with no heating (in fact, I’m typing this with fingers that feel like 10 sticks of Captain Birdseye’s best breaded fish) and am now, after several hundred failed attempts, fully qualified in providing eight solid gold tips on how to keep your knackers freezing off during the yuletide months and beyond.
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9 Awful Tent Stories

Posted on: December 3rd, 2009 Posted by

Tents are cubicles of doom. By the end of this page, it’s unlikely you’ll ever want to go camping again. Every tent should be equipped with a contraption that activates a Vincent Price recording each time you zip up. Something along the lines of ‘nice knowing you’ or ‘goodbyyyeee’. People should be made to take a Navy SEAL course in survival before being allowed to purchase any tent-shaped camping equipment.

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You might remember the moment in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! when two of the ‘contestants’, Jordan and Kerry Katona took each other on in the ‘Bite For Bite’ bush tucker trial. Mealworms, coakroaches and fish eyes were a few of the items on a taster menu that would leave Heston Blumenthal popping his collar.


Would you like to see my Moths?

While this may appear to be scraping the edible barrel, insects and their ilk have long been considered an excellent source of nutrients for bushmen and Aborigines alike. Before you turn your head away in disgust, have a quick think about the last time your grandparents mentioned tripe, or the fact that western society considers oysters a primal delicacy, or that the French still chow down on snails in garlic butter. One man’s bowl of snot is another man’s delicate soup, and if that mental image made you gag, you might want to avoid the following descriptions of classic Australian bush food. If Jamie Oliver was an Aborigine, these would likely be on his recommendations for an early evening snack.

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10 Unusual Meals to Make With Potatoes

Posted on: November 19th, 2009 Posted by

A staple of the western world’s diet, potatoes are usually prepared in one of a number of overly-familiar ways, serving as a lacklustre accompaniment to the main dish. However, with a bit of effort and ingenuity, it’s possible to turn the humble potato into the centrepiece of a delicious recipe. Below are some ideas for what you can do. Some are quick and delicious, some are for adventurous students only, and some are downright weird.

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