Sunday, 27 May 2018

Paddleboarding for beginners

Just to let you know that I'm changing this food and travel blog into a sports blog.

Just kidding. But, despite my widening girth (not helped by years of close-contact immersive food reportage), I do like to be active and adventurous, especially anything to do with water sports (no sniggering). So while I wasn't quite sure what paddleboarding was, I leapt at the opportunity to try it.

Paddleboarding is also known as SUP, an acronym for Stand Up Paddleboard. A paddleboard is like a surfboard, but thicker, sturdier and inflatable. It's easier to stand on than a surfboard and you row with a paddle. I have tried surfing, and it's very difficult if you aren't under 20 and super-fit when you start. Paddleboarding is a great deal easier, therefore accessible to older, less fit people. 

The Red Paddle Co, who invited me on the trip, are the market leaders of this sport in the UK, which was originally developed in Australia.

In the morning I dug out my shortie wetsuit and just managed to wriggle my body inside, looking like an over-inflated lorry tyre about to pop. That afternoon, we took the train to Bedford, about an hour north of London. The idea is that you don't need to go far to have an adventure and paddleboarding is something you can do after a day at work. It can be done on rivers, canals, lakes or the sea ( at sea you would have a lead attached to the board). 
The Canoe Trail Company drove myself and the other sports bloggers (I was double their age) to the River Ouse. The paddleboard, when deflated, folds into a wheelie bag, so this equipment is easy to transport. 

The first thing they did was pump up the boards. The longer and slimmer the board, the faster it goes. 
'Can I have a short wide one, please?' I immediately asked.
Out of seven journalists, three of us were girls. 
'Have you ever done it before?' I asked one.
The other woman said: 'I've done it a little bit.'
Later I discovered she actually had one at home. She was in front the whole way and ended the journey bone-dry. 

My paddleboard (a 10/8, whatever that means) was white and blue and had three little red fins underneath. I dragged carried it to the river. (Pause here to say, wow, the countryside is actually quite near to London.) Someone held it steady in the water while I gingerly clambered onto the middle section of the board, on my knees. 

I saw the others had stood up. I was so stiff in my wet suit, I couldn't bend. I paddled over to the wooden pier to hold onto it while I tried to stand. I planted my feet wide either side of the central strap. As I was accomplishing this feat, I heard the boss man from the Canoe Trail Co laugh:
'I can't even look.'
I managed to stand. Underestimate me at your peril. We started to paddleboard up the Ouse. We were going to be travelling 4 1/2 miles to a camp, staying overnight and getting the train back to London by 10am next morning. A micro adventure. 

At first it was fine, but my feet started to hurt and cramp. My years of Iyengar yoga obviously need a tune up. The wind blew up and it looked stormy. I was lagging behind the others. Finally a gust of wind blew me backwards off the board. I fell in. The water was warm - warmer than outside of the water anyhow. 

I tried to get back on my board in the middle of the river, which wasn't easy. Arran, a kind young man, helped me up. 
'Look,' he said, 'someone else has fallen in. You aren't the only one.' 
'I feel less shame now,' I spluttered gratefully.
Arran stayed with me for the rest of the journey. To be honest after the first two miles, I'd had enough, as a first go. It was pretty hard work, all that rowing, especially against the wind. I spent the last two miles on my knees, which is acceptable, I believe, within the paddleboarding community. I fell in only five times. By the end I was shivering. 
Slipping over muddy steps and following a path to the camp in the middle of the forest, a campfire was blazing. Is there a more welcome sight? Hot chocolate in enamel cups was handed around. I took off my wet clothes under a towelling poncho. I put on my thermals, which doubled as pyjamas.

Later that night we made S'mores over the fire. London and urban life seemed so far away.
'What's happening tomorrow morning?' I asked.
'Swimming at 6am, breakfast at 7.'
I laughed. Nobody else laughed.
I found the words 'Are you fucking kidding?' escaping my lips.
'No,' replied the sports writers with puzzled faces.
That night I proved my hardcore adventure credentials by sleeping in a hammock suspended between two trees. I barely slept. Everything hurt: my shoulders, my arms, my elbows. Nonetheless I was out of my hammock by 5.55am, ready to do the morning swim. Everyone else was asleep. Fibbers! I thought.

Returning home the next morning, I felt tired but exhilarated. I would definitely do this again, though possibly in better weather.


Red Paddle Co: paddleboards from £899
Canoe Trail Co: paddleboard excursions from £25

Thursday, 17 May 2018

A riot of colour: rainbow vegetables with soba noodles

I believe in eating the rainbow: choosing colourful vegetables to enhance a meat-free diet. The best cooking emerges from shopping well. Look for purple and white carrots, burgundy cauliflowers, or ivory aubergines. 

Here I've used inky mangetout, golden courgettes, sun coloured tomatoes, pale mauve aubergines, a symphony in yellow and purple, on a bed of pink soba noodles. 

Soba noodles are a great go to for quick meals: they cook in a couple of minutes. They are supposed to be eaten cold or lukewarm, which may not sound delicious but in reality are. Plus they are gluten-free. I hope you enjoy this simple but tasty riot of colour as a healthy lunch for two. 
Rainbow vegetables with soba noodles pic: Kerstin Rodgers

Rainbow vegetables with soba noodles


Serves 2-3

1 large mauve aubergine, in thin strips
1tbsp Salt
3tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow courgette, in thin strips or slices
100g purple mangetout
100g pink soba noodles
half a dozen or so small yellow tomatoes, quartered
a handful of coriander leaves
a sprinkle of poppy seeds
Juice of half a lemon or lime

Preheat the oven to 200C). Use a mandolin to slice the aubergine and courgettes into very thin strips and season with salt. Cover a baking tray with olive oil and lay out the aubergine slices. Roast for ten minutes on the top shelf until golden. Remove the aubergines, replace with the courgettes. Roast for five minutes. Remove from the oven.

Bring a medium sized saucepan to the boil. Place the purple mangetout in a steamer, sieve or colander that fits on top of the saucepan. Steam, with the lid on, for ten minutes or so. The mangetout should be cooked but still retain their snap. Remove the mangetout and set aside. Put the soba noodles in the boiling water for a minute or two. Using another colander or sieve, strain the noodles under running cold water. Toss with a little oil (you could use sesame oil or olive oil).
On a bed of the noodles, layer the aubergines, courgettes, mangetout, tomatoes and add fresh coriander leaves and poppy seeds. Salt to taste and squeeze over half a lemon or a lime.

Rainbow vegetables with soba noodles pic: Kerstin Rodgers
Rainbow vegetables with soba noodles pic: Kerstin Rodgers

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Edible flower recipes for May

Three cornered leek and cornflower potato salad pic: kerstin Rodgers/

Rose and cucumber chilled soup pic Kerstin Rodgers/

At the end of May, London enjoys seasonal fixture the Chelsea Flower Show. While it's early in the season for edible flowers, don't forget them as flavourful and beautiful enhancements for your food. Three-cornered leeks, cornflowers and roses, all of which are edible, are currently blooming in my garden.

Tips for using edible flowers:

  • Picking flowers for eating is much like identifying fungi: ensure you know exactly what the flower is, don't make assumptions.
  • Don't use poisonous flowers such as anything from the nightshade family (potatoes, aubergines, peppers). 
  • Take into account where you found it: for instance don't pick flowers by the roadside where they have been subjected to car fumes or pets.
  • Pick only unsprayed flowers from a trusted garden rather than from supermarkets or flower shops.
  • Only use flowers in prime condition.
  • Remember you won't get fruit if you eat the flowers of courgettes, beans and squash (but they are so delicious you may want to sacrifice a few vegetables).
  • It's best to pick in late morning: the dew will have lifted so they aren't soggy, but the sun won't have started to dry out the petals.
  • Watch out for bugs: enclose the flowers in a paper bag and most insects will crawl out. For edibles like courgette flowers, prise open the flower carefully and look inside. 
  • Remove the stamen from larger flowers.
  • Cut off the bitter white part of the rose petal. 
  • If you are unused to eating flowers, don't eat too many.

Flowers to try:

Violas and violets are good for decoration, crystallisation and scent.
Day lilies can be steamed. Their blazing colours are great in stir fries.
Borage for decorating salads and drinks. In the Middle East it's used as a tea.
Nasturtiums are well known, adding a peppery colour to salads.
Marigold petals are good for your skin and excellent scattered over bread, or salads.
Courgette flowers, stuff with soft cheese and deep fry.
Squash flowers make a traditional Mexican soup.
Pinks have petals which can be used as edible decoration.
Rose petals: rose was ubiquitous before the importation of vanilla. Use the flavour sparingly. For use in baking, to grind with spices to make Ras el Hanout or rose harissa.
Geranium flowers and leaves to use in salads.
Pelargoniums: you can use the scented leaves (some are rose or lemon scented) to line sponge cakes.
Bean flowers which taste just like the raw bean itself (but not sweet peas).
Crocus stamens are of course one of the world's most treasured spices, saffron.
Hibiscus flowers make a refreshing drink when infused in water and also lower blood pressure. They are used as an ingredient in Mexican cooking, to stuff enchiladas.
Elderflowers, fried in delicate batter, used as a syrup over ice creams and cheese cake.

Herb flowers:

Mauve chive flowers to flavour and add colour to soft cheeses.

Rosemary blossoms are a good addition to garlic mushrooms.
Lavender flowers for flavouring sugar or cakes.
Thyme flowers can be added to pasta dishes.


Three cornered leek and cornflower potato salad

Serves 4-6

2kg new potatoes, scrubbed, skins left on

50g salted butter
Three cornered leek leaves or wild garlic leaves, shredded
300ml sour cream
1tbsp salt
A large handful of pea shoots


Cornflower petals or, later in the year, fennel flowers which add a lovely aniseed flavour.


Boil the potatoes in salty water for 20 minutes or until tender. I don't peel new potatoes, the goodness is in the thin skins.
Strain and mix with butter.
Add the leaves and the sour cream.
Season and garnish.

Rose and cucumber chilled soup

This is a refreshing summer soup, an English gazpacho if you will.

Serving suggestion: serve in pretty teacups.


2 large cucumbers
300ml plain yogurt (or creme fraiche)
Juice 1/2 lemon
Handful of wild garlic leaves if in season or 1 garlic clove, minced
30ml olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Fresh ground white pepper

To garnish:

Rose petals, white tip removed, rolled up and cut in a 'chiffonade'
Wild garlic flowers or 3 cornered leek flowers


In a blender, combine the cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, wild garlic, and olive oil. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Season the soup again just before serving. Pour the soup into bowls. Garnish with the rose petals and wild garlic flowers.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Jerseys off and on

Throughout April, I've been yearning for Jersey Royal new potatoes. In usual conditions, the season starts at the end of March but the 'Beast from the East' has delayed them by a month. I visited the island of Jersey a few years ago where I met dedicated farmers who would get up, in the middle of the night, to wrap their precious potatoes in fleece, if there was a chill. This year, fields remained covered till late spring.

I was struck by the amount of work that goes into growing Jersey Royals. Each and every one of these tiny spuds is chitted, sorted, graded, planted, ploughed, by hand, on steep slopes or 'cotils', where it is impossible to use machinery. Each cotil is intimately known by the farmers; which ones suffer from frost, where the soil is dry or wet, sandy or loamy. The yield is often very low which is why they are known as the champagne of the potato world.

The flavour is in the skins, a slight coppery flavour, evoking newness and freshness. Their distinctive taste comes from the fact that they are mulched with seaweed or 'vraic'.

It's an important crop for Jersey: fifty percent of the export market is comprised of royals. They command a premium price, but the UK is pretty much the only market, although the French are being worked upon. (The skins might be a stumbling block to gaining popularity in France; I once cooked new potatoes, leaving on the skins, for Parisian friends who were horrified by this practice.)

Other seasonal vegetables include sprouting broccoli, tipped with purple florets, artichokes and cheery green peas. Don't forget neglected vegetables from the sea - samphire. 

Jersey Royal Potato Salad

The easiest way to achieve nude spuds is to rub off their skins with a clean tea towel after they are cooked. When wild fennel is in season, use the flowers to decorate the salad. 

500g Jersey Royals

3 heaped tbsp full fat crème fraîche
1/2 bulb fennel, finely sliced, include fronds
Handful of samphire (often available at fishmongers)
Zest of 1 lemon

Boil the potatoes, skins on, in a salted pan of water. Once tender, drain and slip off the skins. Very tiny potatoes keep whole; larger ones, cut in half. Add the creme fraiche while the potatoes are still hot, ten add the finely sliced fennel and the samphire. Finally scatter some lemon zest and season to taste. Can be served lukewarm or cold. 

Sautéed Potatoes

Waxy potatoes, for instance Charlotte or Yukon Gold or my choice here, the red-skinned, yellow-fleshed Ruby Gem, work very well shallow-fried. 

3tbp olive oil

500g potatoes, sliced 1/2 cm thick, skins on
200g sprouting broccoli, separated into florets
50g fresh or frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
A handful of artichoke hearts in oil, sliced in half
1 preserved lemon, finely diced

Pour the olive oil into a frying pan, once hot, add the sliced potatoes. They will take at least 10 minute to cook, add the broccoli after 5 minutes, then the peas, garlic and finally the artichoke hearts and preserved lemon. Season to taste and serve hot. 

Mousseline with Truffle

Chef Joel Robuchon famously transformed humble mashed potato into a Michelin-star experience. His technique is time-consuming but worthwhile for a velvety rich purée.

  • Use La Ratte or waxy potatoes.
  • Baking rather than boiling the potatoes dries out the flesh for a fluffy interior. To further dry them, you could bake them on a bed of coarse salt, a technique used for another great dish - the Canary Island style 'papas arrugadas'.
  • Use a special sieve called a 'tamis', a potato ricer or fine sieve.  On no account use a blender or food processor, which turns mash into glue. 
  • Use half as much butter as potato, so weigh the potato once baked and peeled.
  • Continually beat in the cold butter otherwise the butter melts and the dish becomes greasy. 

500g of potatoes (when peeled this is around 340g)
160g of cold salted butter, cut into small squares (or use unsalted butter and add salt)
Dash of whole milk
Optional: truffle salt/oil or shaved truffle

Bake the potatoes (with skin) in the oven at 200°C for 45 minutes. Peel and pass through a sieve or a potato ricer. Do both while the potatoes are hot. Put the mash in a small pan on a low heat. Using a wooden spoon, add a few pieces of butter at a time. Beat vigorously and constantly. Finally, add a dash of milk to loosen. Season and serve.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

A day with Eric Lanlard on P and O cruise ship Britannia

Afternoon tea, P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard tea pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

I was very impressed by patissier and TV presenter Eric Lanlard on the P and O cruise. He went out of his way to spend time with passengers and guests of his masterclasses and dinners. He was funny, charming, humble and knowledgeable. 

This was part of the culinary cruise series run by P and O. There are others with Marco Pierre White (I've heard he is equally as approachable), Atul Kochar, and wine expert Olly Smith. I'd highly recommend booking one of the masterclasses or the hosted dinner if you want to spend quality time with a famous chef. (Of course there are no women famous chefs).

We tried Eric's afternoon tea in The Epicurean restaurant. This costs £75, similar to a London hotel, except you are next to a window overlooking a massive rolling ocean. 

The masterclass took place in probably the most beautiful cookery school in the world, on the top deck of the ship, surrounded by the Atlantic.

This is a job that Eric was born for - hailing from Brittany, he spent 18 months in the French navy, making patisserie for the captain, travelling around the world. He has a great affinity with the sea:
When I dream at night, I'm always back on that ship. 
On Britannia, crew expressed surprise that he is so interested in the workings of the ship. On request, he has been given tours of the engine room.  Eric told me that once he was invited to a special dinner in port, given by the Indian chefs, a kind of secret supper club, only available to a select few. I would love to be there!

Cooking on board, there is no open flame anywhere. There is a bakery where all the bread and cakes are made. The ovens are super fast, baking things in minutes. We used the same ovens in the cookery school. There can be disadvantages -see the cupcakes in the picture below? They got rapid baked at a steep wave-like angle because of the swaying of the boat. 

In the Masterclass, Eric showed us how to make lemon curd cupcakes with an Italian meringue topping, white chocolate cake pops and finally a salted caramel and apple souffle. 

That evening, at a very good dinner, supper club style in the cookery school,  Eric entertained us with gossip, stories and anecdotes. He is naturally amusing and charming, I can see why he was chosen to be on TV. At midnight, we were still chatting away!

He did mention one bit of juicy gossip: he was in the running to be the baking judge for the Great British Bake Off, but in the end they decided to go with Paul Hollywood because he was British!

Afternoon tea, P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard tea pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
msmarmitelover and  P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard,  masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
msmarmitelover,  P and O cruises, Eric Lanlard masterclass  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

 I was invited as a guest of P and O cruises to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Last stop on P and O cruise: Lisbon

View of Lisbon from the dock, P and O cruises Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

Loja de conservo tinned fish shop  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Me in Lisbon  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

Lisbon is hot, the place to be. Madonna and Michael Fassbender have moved there, what other proof do you need?

I predicted Portugal was trending up when I visited Porto a couple of years ago. Great food, fantastic wine, beautiful architecture, low prices and the Portuguese have a style of their own. 

Things I like about Lisbon:
  • the trams
  • the tiles
  • the street art
  • the beautifully dressed children
  • the kiosks where you can get a coffee and a snack
  • the milky coffee
  • the colours
  • the individually decorated Tuk Tuks
  • the shops that sell tinned fish
  • the custard tarts

This time I only had a few hours so we got the bus along the sea front to Belem, to try the original Pasteis de Belem bakery, a blue tiled establishment with a beautiful interior. The custard tarts here were served warm and slightly salted, which made a gorgeous contrast with the soft buttercup yellow custard inside the crispy layers of buttery puff pastry. 

The custard tarts at Manteigaria, which has a few branches, but I visited the one in the Time Out market, don't have that intriguing salt flavour but are more caramelised, browner on top. 
I could seriously embark on a 'best custard tart in Lisbon' project. They are all so different. A recipe for Portuguese custard tarts.

The Time Out Market (yes part of the magazine) is worth visiting; it's like a massive food court, but much hipper. 

kiosk,  Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
tiled buildings, Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
guards on horseback. near pasteis de belem, Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
tuk tuk  Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
street scene, Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
ghostly head on a Lisbon street,Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

Not only does Portugal have decorated cans for tinned fish (I'm now collecting), it also has restaurants that serve different varieties of tinned fish. I bought several tins at the Loja Das Conservas.

For lunch we went to an old style restaurant, Martinho Da Arcada, which proudly states 'founded in 1782'. This attractive place has shady tables outside under the arches, yellow tablecloths, and waiters with long starched waist aprons. While it is rather touristy, I noticed many Portuguese eating there too. We had a simple lunch of house wine with garlicky clams almeijoas a bolhao pato and rice. 

loja das conservas restaurant that serves tinned fish, , Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
tinned fish shop,, Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
almeijoas a bolhao pato, Martinho Da Arcada, Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Martinho Da Arcada,, Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Martinho Da Arcada,, Lisbon, Portugal:  Pic: Keratin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

More posts on Portugal:

Food and drink in Alentejo

I was invited as a guest of P and O cruises to Madeira and the Canary Islands.