The Algarve, Portugal

My holiday decisions always seem to be a bit hit or miss, from the disappointment that was Naples, to the utter joyful seclusion of the Sardinian beaches.

The Algarve was in many ways pleasant but nothing to write home about. The nicest beaches were packed to overcrowding, and the quieter ones had seas that were too choppy for a relaxing swim, or a scarily strong undertow that made me a little nervous about stepping in.

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There wasn’t a lot in the way of cultural sights to see. Here is a destination where the predominant attractions really are sun, sea and sand. Maybe storks too 🙂

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There were storks everywhere, nesting on the most unlikely of tall structures. From random stumps in the middle of derelict construction work, to electricity pylons, to the roofs of petrol stations, these birds certainly weren’t afraid of heights.

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Quaint cobbled streets with brightly painted whitewashed houses were actually rather a rarity. Look a little closer and they have names like Gingerbread Cottage – housing retired British expats of course. 

I guess that’s one of the reasons I didn’t feel drawn to the Algarve. It was hot, sunny and there were beaches galore, but I never got the feeling of really getting away from the UK. It surrounded me everywhere – from the tourists en masse, to the road signs and hotel signs, shops…it was almost surreal, and not in a very good way.

Escaping to the West provided some respite from the commercialism and built-up surroundings. Less child-friendly, fewer nightclubs…here the simpler, plainer beauty of the coastline is allowed to shine, and the tourist vibe a casual, relaxed surfer-based one. There are already signs of development creeping into the western coastline too, so perhaps this won’t last for long.

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I don’t tend to think too much about the way tourism affects the local character of a holiday destination. Usually, both find a way to work pretty harmoniously. In some ways, tourism helps preserve some local customs, cultures and traditions, albeit in a somewhat sanitised, showy way.

Sadly, in the Algarve, tourism seems to be the monster that ate and ate and ate. It feels like the coastline is no more than an endless chain of purpose-built resorts, imported-sand beaches, cheap drinks and night-life. For sure it generates jobs, and provides economic growth for a previously poor area, but what a shame it has to be at the expense of what was once a very beautiful coastline.

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Summery Scones

When the weather gets really hot, I never feel much in the mood for baking, with the exception of scones of course! They just epitomise summer for me, and I bake multiple batches every year without fail.

I also wonder every year why are scones in North America are so different from scones in the UK? I’m not sure I want one that is dyed pink with food colouring, or topped with cream cheese icing. A scone with some dried fruit is as about as exotic as a scone gets in the UK. Otherwise there’d be no room for the cream and jam!

Which in my book is surely the whole point of scones?

Sulking and Scones

I keep deviating from the tried-and-tested recipe every year to try out new ones. I think this one really is a keeper.

This scone recipe is from Like a Strawberry Milk, and is so simple. Flour, raising agent, butter, milk, and cream. A lick of egg yolk for the tops.

I love Fanny’s writing, which gets the balance just right between the necessary precision, yet airy, carefree, more romantic side of baking, along with nature, and snippets of an artistic presence that don’t otherwise exist much in my pragmatic household.

True to form, the scones were delicious. Thanks to the tips, they are also quite possibly the neatest risen, most glossy-topped, photogenic scones I have ever baked. Sadly my camera has been put out of action, but thankfully my new phone doesn’t take half bad photos, so you get to see how gorgeous these scones look too.

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The only changes I made to Fanny’s recipe was to substitute plain flour and baking powder for cake flour mixed with self-raising flour. I only had spelt flour in the cupboard, and was worried this would make the scones too “wholemealy” and perhaps crumbly. The self-raising/cake flour combination worked great. I also rolled the scone dough out slightly thinner to 2cm thick instead of 3cm, as I couldn’t cut 6 scones out of the thicker dough. As you can see the scones rose a dream, so it really didn’t matter at all!

Next time I’m going to be really exotic, and put some sultanas in the mixture…hold onto your hats!

Raspberry Crumble Bars

The weather has been utterly glorious, and I’ve been making the most of it by…doing nothing. Not a thing.

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Well, almost.

I did drag myself away from my box set of Sex and the City (can’t believe the first season is 17 years old!) to throw together some ingredients to make these raspberry crumble bars. They were a perfect excuse for finishing up the brown sugar, and leftovers of some scrumptious raspberry jam.

Raspberry crumble bars have eluded me for some time. They always turned out too crumbly, too sweet, too oaty. Apart from one success story around three years ago, I never seemed to get it quite right since.

So I had another stab at the elusive, roughly following that tried-and-tested shortbread formula, and some inspiration from my Peanut Butter and Jam Bars (minus any nuts of course).

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These were delicious, warm and cold. A real keeper of a recipe. I think it works well for multiple seasons – perfectly portable for summer picnics, a warmed slice with a dash of cream for pudding, or perhaps even a Christmas version with mincemeat and a little winter spice thrown in for good measure. Totally the wrong time to be thinking about such things, but I’ve never managed to stick to this whole seasonality thing much. That person in the jumper, holding a raincoat, when it’s sunny and a glorious 30˚C outside? Yep, that’s me.

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Raspberry Crumble Bars

Makes 16 bars

  • 200g butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 160g brown sugar
  • 100g rolled oats
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1/3 jar of good quality raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Line a rectangular baking tin with baking paper.

Put the butter into a bowl, followed by the salt and brown sugar. Mix together, then add the oats and flour. Stir together to form quite a crumbly mixture that sticks together easily to form a dough.

Scoop out around 2/3 of the crumbly mixture, and press it firmly into the lined tin.

Then spread a layer of jam over the base, leaving a gap of around 0.5cm around the edges as the jam will spread as it bakes. Sprinkle over the remaining crumbly mixture, and bake the bars in the oven for around 30 minutes until golden-brown on top. Slice into squares, and leave to cool down completely.