Moroccan and Lebanese Cooking Class - Alphabet Dating Idea

Alphabet Dating – M is for Moroccan Cooking Class

Moroccan and Lebanese Cooking Class

Although the blogging has taken a bit of a back seat to other parts of my life right now, hubby and I are still managing to carry on with our Alphabet Dating, even if it is a little haphazard (much like this blog really!).

April was our ‘M’ date which saw us attend a Moroccan cooking class. Ok… well to be honest, it was mostly Lebanese but we had already done our ‘L’ date so I’m calling it Moroccan!

Based in Surrey, our cooking class was held by a lovely Lebanese-born lady named Mona – the founder and owner of Samara Cuisine, a Lebanese and Moroccan catering company. When we arrived at her house, we were greeted with mint tea and delicious spicy smells emanating from the kitchen. We sat at her large dining table and waited for the other guests to arrive. There were 10 of us, plus Mona, and we were to be making four dishes that day.

Samara Cuisine - Moroccan and Lebanese cooking class

The Moroccan and Lebanese cooking class began with Mona showing us how to make Bistilla, which is a Moroccan chicken pie using filo pastry and an assortment of spices.

Bistilla - Moroccan chicken pie
Bistilla – Moroccan chicken pie

We also made muhamara – a pepper and walnut dip not too dissimilar to hummus and batata harrah aka hot potato salad using lots of tasty ingredients such as garlic and paprika. The last dish was called sfouf, a type of cake using semolina.

Muhamara and flatbread
Muhamara and flatbread
Batata Harrah
Batata Harrah

Although the class was mostly demonstration based, we did get involved in laying out the pastry and chopping peppers, and other people were hands on measuring out ingredients.

Of course, at the end of the class we got to eat what we had made and it was delicious! We had some flatbreads to go with the muhamara and we helped ourselves to the batata harrah. The bistilla was amazing and had a sweetness to it where it had been dusted in icing sugar and cinnamon. I think the only dish I probably wouldn’t make again is the sfouf as it was quite thick and I prefer something a little lighter, sweeter and creamier!

Sfouf - Lebanese cake
Sfouf – Lebanese cake

We had a lovely few hours, our fellow chefs were very chatty and friendly, and Mona gave us all a parting gift of some baklava. I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for something a little different!

Our class was the last class of the year due to wedding season etc, but Samara Cuisine’s classes will be back next year. Click here to book your own Moroccan and Lebanese cooking class, or click here for more alphabet dating adventures!

For an alphabet dating idea why not try a cooking class?
Bon Appetit!
Alphabet Dating: L is for Levison Wood

Alphabet Dating – L is for Levison Wood

An evening with Levison Wood

ABCDEFGHIJL… something’s missing?!

Our ‘K’ date should have occurred in February but we went to Costa Rica (which unfortunately begins with a ‘C’ so doesn’t count – I’m not gonna start pulling that Kardashian shit on you) and then March happened along with our ‘L’ date sooooo….. here it is – L is for Levison Wood!

We went to see Mr Wood on his UK tour, giving talks about his various exciting escapades. For those who don’t know who Levison Wood is, he is a British Explorer famous for walking everywhere. But when I say walking, don’t be expecting some gentle National Trust type stroll through the English countryside, oh no, his first television show called Walking the Nile showed him walking the length of the Nile from Rwanda to Egypt, through some quite harsh and dangerous climates.

An evening with Levison Wood

Levison’s second television adventure Walking the Himalayas saw him walking the length of the world’s highest mountain range. While his ‘thing’ is walking everywhere, there was one point on his journey where due to some political unrest of some sort in Nepal, he and some people who were accompanying him on that particular part of the journey ended up having to take a short taxi ride to a nearby village. Ironically, the one time Levison decides to get into a vehicle, it shoots over a cliff and hurtles 150m down a mountain, nearly killing everyone in the car.

Thankfully no one died, although this isn’t the first time tragedy has struck one of Levison’s adventures. During Walking the Nile, he was accompanied at one point of the journey by some journalists. Tragically, an American journalist named Matthew Power died from heatstroke while accompanying Levison in a remote part of Uganda. Reminding us just how dangerous these expeditions can be.

Levison Wood’s most recent adventure saw him Walking the Americas. Starting in Mexico where he met his friend, a Mexican fashion photographer named Alberto, who walked the entire journey with him. And ending triumphantly in Colombia. Me, hubby and my two work friends who also love Lev actually got to meet Alberto on the night. He was incredibly funny and charismatic. I asked him where his favourite place was and he said Nicaragua but Costa Rica was his second favourite. He told me that Nicaragua was alot cheaper than Costa Rica too!

me: * adds Nicaragua to the ever-growing bucket list *

Meeting Alberto from Walking the Americas

We didn’t get to meet Levison himself but we enjoyed listening to him tell his stories, from backpacking along the Silk Road in his youth, to the time he lost his wallet at a theme park and it was returned by post to him from someone in the Army. He wrote back to thank them and then to ask advice on how to get into the army. Because that was how he was going to fulfil his childhood ambition to become an Explorer!

He inspired me by saying that you should take opportunities when you can, because even unpaid jobs can lead to bigger things. For him, this was an unpaid job he took after leaving the army where he delivered a couple of ambulances from London to Malawi for a charity project, which, to cut a long story short, ended up with him landing his first television gig!

At the end of the talk there was a little Q&A session which if you’re curious – his scariest moment was the car crash in Nepal. He was also pretty scared of a situation involving walking into a field where there were landmines in Africa. He wouldn’t tell us where his next adventure was but I know wherever it is, he is there right now as I am writing this. And there is another expedition in the planning for next year which will see Alberto accompany him again. As for Alberto, the thing he missed the most about his everyday life while he was walking the Americas was in actual fact his toilet!!!

See, I told you he was funny 🙂

Now hubby and I are playing a guessing game of where we think Lev might travel to next but I guess we will just have to wait and see!

Walking the... Nile, Himalayas, Americas - what's next?

A girl's guide to volunteering in Costa Rica

A girl’s guide to… volunteering in Costa Rica

Volunteering in Costa Rica

I’ve always had a fascination for the animal kingdom, so being rich in nature and wildlife, Costa Rica has been on my travel wishlist for a while. Costa Rica covers just a tiny proportion of our planet yet is host to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, something that the nation is particularly proud of. And you don’t have to venture too far to see some of its native creatures. Just relaxing by the pool at our hotel in Manuel Antonio we managed to spot lizards, capuchin monkeys and various birdlife, including toucans!

As someone developing a keen interest in all things zoological, I decided that I would like to combine my sightseeing holiday with volunteer work, so spent a week at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, around 20-30 minutes from Juan Santamaria International Airport.

Volunteering in Costa Rica - spending a week at an animal rescue centre was a very rewarding experience.
One of the many murals decorating the walls at the centre

We were picked up by a driver at the airport, along with 3 other jetlagged Brits. We arrived at the centre late afternoon and were shown to our 12 bed dorm. There are around 5 dorms in total and most were almost full, accommodating over 50 volunteers in total – alot more than I was expecting!

We met the owner Bernal and his howler monkey, Feluco. Feluco is an orphan whose mother was killed by a dog. Because he lost his mother at such a young age, his immune system is very weak. He also has a cleft pallet which gives him breathing problems. Feluco would stand no chance of survival out in the wild but luckily he is very well looked after at the centre. We learnt more about the other animals and the centre itself, but I will tell you more about the story of the rescue centre in another post.

An orphaned howler monkey being cared for at a wildlife rescue centre in Costa Rica
Feluco

The next morning we were given a tour of the centre which at the time of our visit is home to an assortment of birds including parrots, owls, a peacock, a curassow and some chickens and ducks. There are also pigs, goats, 3 types of monkey (howler, spider and capuchin), two and three toed sloths, a tortoise, porcupine, marmoset, opossum, hedgehog, squirrels, two kinkajous, an olingo and a couple of pet dogs. There was also a toucan but as it was going to be released back into the wild, only the resident biologist was allowed anywhere near it.

Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center - rescue, rehabilitate and release Costa Rican wildlife.

As volunteers, the only animals besides the toucan that we were not responsible for were the spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and some of the baby creatures inside the animal hospital.

A baby three-toed sloth being rehabilitated at a wildlife rescue centre in Costa Rica
One of the baby sloths from the hospital with her teddy bear <3

For your first two days volunteering, you must shadow someone and not enter the enclosures, with the exception of the goats and pigs. I must admit being a little wary of Oscar the male goat, but the mama and two baby goats were sweet. I did enjoy going into the pig pen and we were encouraged to go visit the pigs to stop them from getting lonely.

Feeding the resident pigs on a Costa Rican volunteering holiday!
Feeding my piggy pals

A typical day

7am – Breakfast in the common area.

8am – Meeting in the common area – this is to go over any points of discussion and extra duties (one day every single person got involved in shifting a spider monkey cage, for example). Each volunteer is put into one of five teams and then each team has set tasks for the day on a morning and afternoon rota. The rota is repeated every 5 days so everyone has a chance to be involved with different animals and different aspects of the work.

Food preparation at a wildlife rescue centre
Food preparation for the animals – one of the rota tasks

A typical day may go something like this…

AM

  • Clean enclosures and supply fresh food and water for: the goats, the sloths beside the goat enclosure (aka The Goat Sloths), the owls, peacock, curassow and parrots.
  • Collect grass for the goats.
  • Tidy the garden.

The morning shift would usually last until 11am.

A scarlet macaw in Costa Rica
A cheeky scarlet macaw – the parrots were always entertaining the volunteers!

12 noon – Lunch in the common area.

Free time.

1.30pm – Meeting in the common area.

PM

  • Clean enclosures and supply fresh water for the porcupine, hedgehog, squirrels, opossum and teen sloths.
  • Feed the squirrels.
  • Give the porcupine, hedgehog and opossum their snacks at 4pm.
  • Give the teen sloths their branches at 5pm.
  • Feed the porcupine, hedgehog, opossum and teen sloths at 7pm.
Squirrel at a rescue centre in Costa Rica
One of these inquisitive squirrels decided to climb on me and run round my legs!

The afternoon shift would usually last until 4pm. Of course, every day was different as if your team were responsible for some of the nocturnal animals that day, you had a few jobs to do after 4pm, but who’s complaining when you have a kinkajou climbing on your head at the 7pm feed! You aren’t supposed to touch the animals but an excitable kinkajou did decide my head looked like a fun place to climb!

Vet feeding a pair of kinkajou. These animals are nocturnal but required veterinary attention during the day, giving us a rare glimpse of them during daylight hours.
Normally nocturnal, the kinkajou woke up to receive their electrolytes from the vet

6pm – Dinner.

Free time.

10pm – Lights out.

There was a swimming pool and some hammocks for chilling during down time. The living conditions were basic and I didn’t mind the cold showers and sharing a dorm, however the sleeping wasn’t easy due to the various, and quite loud, noises of the local wildlife and vehicles on the nearby road. My body also ached for somewhere comfortable to sit – yeah yeah I’m an old granny alright!

The people at the rescue centre, both staff and volunteers, were really friendly and the work felt very rewarding. As someone who volunteers at a cat rescue centre close to home, it was a great learning experience to be so close to the native animals of a different country, and I could tell that the other volunteers felt the same.

Volunteering in Costa Rica - caring for howler monkeys among other animals.
Chew with your mouth closed! – Me in with the Howler Monkeys

I would like to thank Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center for being the wildlife warriors that they are and for allowing me to play a small part in their story.

And I would urge anyone who wants to make a difference, no matter how small, to get out there and do it!

Pura Vida!


If you would like to help the CRARC you can donate money, supplies or your time by following this link.

Famous for its wildlife, Costa Rica is a great place to spending some time volunteering with animals. This is my personal account of when I spent time at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center. Pin for later!

Alphabet Dating J is for Japanese Food

Alphabet Dating – J is for Japanese Food

We put Alphabet Dating on hold for the busy and expensive month of December, which meant that our ‘J’ date fell in January. As we both love Japanese food we decided to try out a new Japanese restaurant.

Black and red decor inside a Japanese restaurant

We went to Love Sushi in Maidstone, Kent on a cold and dreary Sunday afternoon. The restaurant was pretty quiet but was kitted out in a smart, stylish black and red oriental style. We had the option of sitting in a booth or next to the sushi conveyor belt. We chose the belt although it was pretty pointless given that there were barely any dishes circulating the belt. Still, we grabbed a random one to share and ordered some hot food – tempura prawns and chicken udon noodles. I also ordered a Philly Cheese sushi roll.

Japanese food - an idea for letter J Alphabet date

Tempura prawns - Japanese food

The food was really good, probably one of the best tempura prawns I’ve tried outside of Japan – and I don’t even like prawns unless they’re covered in tempura batter! The noodle dish was also large and filling and the sushi all very tasty and beautifully presented.

As much as we enjoyed the food, we felt that the restaurant was lacking in… something I can’t quite put my finger on. It may have helped to have a picture menu a la Yo Sushi to help identify some of the sushi dishes and perhaps the atmosphere lacked a little as it was quiet, I don’t know. Still, I’d go back but just not on a Sunday afternoon!

Udon noodles

If you enjoyed this post then whet your appetite with some other of my Japanese foodie adventures, such as my Kaiseki meal at a Japanese Ryokan or my recommendation of 10 foods to try in Japan. Or if you’re London bound then how about an Asian Fusion restaurant in Soho with an interactive menu?

You might also like to read about my other Alphabet Dates!

Alphabet Dating - I is for Italy

Alphabet Dating – I is for Italy

November was the month for our letter ‘I’ alphabet date. November was also the month of my Dad’s 60th birthday, where we decided to surprise him by taking him to Rome for 4 nights with my mum.

So Alphabet Dating letter ‘I’ became ‘I for Italy’, slight cheat but hey ho, when in Rome (see what I did there?).

I hadn’t been on holiday with my parents for 10 years but things went pretty smoothly, infact I think they were glad of our company as my husband became Human Sat Nav and I became Event Co-ordinator.

When in Rome

We visited all the typical tourist attractions – Vatican City, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum etc. Plus I tricked my Dad into visiting an amazing Cat Sanctuary in the ruins (more about that coming soon!).

The joke of our trip occurred on our last day when my mum suggested that after lunch we head to Piazza Navona, which for the fact geeks out there was built over the 1st Century AD Stadio di Domiziano and hosted the city’s main market.

According to Lonely Planet it is nowadays “Central Rome’s elegant showcase square”.

According to my mum “There’s nothing there, but it’s all going on”.

Lonely Planet call it "Central Rome's elegant showcase square". My mum says "There's nothing there, but it's all going on". Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy. #Inspiring #Travel #Quote

When we got to Piazza Navona however, we realised that it really WAS all going on. There were cameras rigged up, important looking people busying about, crowds of gawkers and part of the square had been cordoned off. We later found out, through the brilliance of twitter, that they were filming a Hollywood movie that day! The film is called American Assassin and stars Dylan O’Brien and Michael Keaton. And if you see a girl in a yellow coat hovering about in the background, then that will be yours truly!

Making a movie in Rome

The filming of 'American Assassin' in Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy.

We had a wonderful time in Rome, sadly it was too cold to eat as much gelato as I might have liked but otherwise November was a good time to visit as the crowds were alot less (we queued for 30 minutes to get into the Vatican unlike the 3 hours we could have spent if we had gone earlier in the year).

Stay tuned for more Rome posts coming soon and keep an eye on my instagram for a few of my pics!

Arrivederci Roma!