The Mad Plants of Madeira

I recently spent some time with my parents on Madeira. It is seriously a plant-lover’s paradise! Here are some of the crazy-looking plants I saw…

This wonderful creature Mickey-Mouse bushis called the Mickey-Mouse bush. The yellow flowers fall off to reveal these cute red sepals, and eventually produce black fruits which give the plant its common name. Isn’t it lovely?

And this kapok treeis the kapok tree. Earlier in the year it has striking red five-lobed flowers which are apparently very attractive to bats, but its main importance is the fruit: a light fibre which is used as an alternative to down as stuffing for soft toys and upholstery. I’m told that the fibres kapok fibresloosen and float off, to the great annoyance to residents…but to me they are just cool!



Peach Tea Vodka

While in Charleston this summer, Lovely Man and I stopped at the Blind Tiger Pub for a break from the heat and humidity. The stop proved to be rather longer than planned due to our discovery of a little something called “Sex on the Plantation”. It’s basically a riff on Sex on the Beach, one of my favorite summer cocktails.

The main ingredient is peach tea vodka. The Blind Tiger uses Firefly‘s version, but we didn’t have time to track down a bottle (or the luggage room) to bring home. So, once home, I decided to have a go for myself.

I added the contents of two packs of peach tea P1030229 (40 teabags) to a jar P1030231along with approximately three litres (roughly 100 fl oz) of vodka, sealed it and stored it in a cool, dark place. After about 2 weeks the vodka had taken on the color of black tea and smelled and tasted of peaches. You could add sugar at this stage (let it sit a little longer) if you like; I decided I preferred it without. I then strained off the tea and poured the resultant vodka back into bottles. IMG_7840

Party time!

P1030099 - Version 2

Sex on the Plantation cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz  peach tea vodka
  • 1/2 oz peach schnapps
  • 2 oz cranberry juice
  • 1 oz orange juice.

Fill a shaker with ice cubes. Add all ingredients. Shake and strain into a chilled highball glass filled with ice. Enjoy!

Click here for other recipes from Firefly.

Do you have a favorite summer cocktail? What lengths would you go to to reproduce it?


Weekend Getaway: Central Coast and Wine Country

My Lovely Man and I recently did a quick trip to Morro Bay and Paso Robles. I forget now how we first discovered the area, but it has become our default destination (accommodation permitting) whenever we need to recharge our batteries…and our wine cellar!
Morro Bay is a coastal town about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s named after a distinctive crown-shaped rock in the bay.
IMG_2295 The rock and its environs it are marine protected areas due to the wildlife (specifically peregrine falcons) that live there. The bay has a lovely beach with spectacular views,
IMG_0391 and the lagoon is a great place to watch birds and other creatures.
IMG_0390 It’s also only 30 minutes from Paso Robles, which makes it a great place from which to explore this wonderful wine region. Each time we visit we swear we won’t buy much wine, but each time, we do. Here are some of the wineries we love:
Adelaida Cellars
Alta Colina
Halter Ranch
Tablas Creek Vineyard
Terry Hoage Vineyards
And this time we made a new discovery…Re:Find, IMG_0389a distillery that uses saignėe (the juice removed before fermentation) to make some amazing grape-based spirits. Oh, dear…


Bowood House, near Calne in Wiltshire, is a fine example of an English Country House. The gardens and part of the house are open April-November and are well worth a visit. Every spring the owners open their justly famous Rhododendron Walk to the public, and this year I was able to go. But though the rhododendrons are spectacular, my interest was elsewhere…IMG_0339

Friday I’m in Love: The English Hedgerow

The perfect English hedgerow is an ephemeral thing and this year I was lucky to be on the spot at the right time. The ingredients are:
Hedges (of course!)
IMG_0329 Key trees are oak, ash, blackthorn or sloe, beech, hazel and the occasional horse chestnut, but absolutely vital to a spring hedgerow is hawthorn, or as it’s known when in flower, “May”.
IMG_0330 Occasionally the “hedge” is a wall…
IMG_0331 …and there should be the odd gate or gap to allow a view of the fields beyond.
IMG_4657 Wild flowers peeping out from the grass;
IMG_0332 And last but by no means least: cow parsley. Not that spectacular seen singly,
IMG_4659 but in drifts…beautiful!

Happiness Project: Reading Lists

I never need to make the resolution to read more; reading is one of my main pleasures in life.

And travel is for me a good opportunity to catch up on some different reading, so my packing for trips back to Europe aways includes a variety of books I might not get round to reading otherwise. This trip I’m (re)reading “Howard’s End is on the Landing” by Susan Hill, in which the author spends a year reading – and writing about – books she already owns. It has started two trains of thought…

The first is that, like Ms Hill, I have books on my shelves that I have either not yet read, or which warrant re-reading. I’m going to set aside a bookcase for these so that they are always on hand when I’m in need of literary  inspiration. There are probably enough that I won’t need to buy a new book for six months if not more! Not that it will stop me…

And the second is to actually write down the titles of the interesting books Ms Hill mentions that I haven’t got, so that I can read them too. It’s going to be quite a list!

Which leads me to more lists:

A friend posted this IMG_0188


on Facebook and I’m trying it for a different approach to book selections. I’m working on my first line and so far I’ve read or am reading: “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert – over 500 pages; “The Black Moth” by Georgette Heyer – author under 30; “Paprika” by Yasutaka Tsutsui – one-word title; “The Killing Floor” by Lee Child – first book by a favourite author; “Black Cherry Blues” by James Lee Burke – book a friend loves. Only 150 pages of the first to go…another book that’s in my packing!

More of a challenge is this list. And this is well-nigh impossible! So far I’m up to 31 and 110 respectively. I don’t expect to finish…

What do you like to read. How do you make your selections?