Sunday, 19 May 2013

Where to Eat in the Isles of Scilly: Juliet's and Spero's

I had intended to take a break from food blogging while on the Isles of Scilly food course because, let's face it, it can get a little tedious to read about someone's every meal. But then this happened:

This is the "edible garden," a new appetizer served at Juliet's Garden Restaurant, one of our favorite restaurants on the Isles of Scilly. Juliet's used to specialize mainly in teas and baked goods, but then the restaurant got a bit more serious about cuisine. We first started having meals there a couple years ago, and now we make sure to have a Juliet's dinner at least one night during our stay on St. Mary's.

We also tend to eat lunch there after we take the students rockpooling on nearby Porthloo Beach. That was the case on the afternoon when I ordered this fascinating dish. The veggies were "growing" in "soil" composed of sour cream, bread crumbs, Marmite (they sneaked that in on me), and probably some other stuff that I'm forgetting. In addition to home-grown carrots and radishes, the garden also included some wildcrafted plants, including three-cornered leeks and other edible wildflowers. The toast came with a delicious olive tapenade spread that I think was probably also created to mimic the appearance of soil. The whole thing tasted very fresh and wholesome, plus it looked gorgeous and was just really interesting.

The waitress asked me to provide some feedback, because the chef was uncertain about his new dish and wanted to know what customers thought of it. I told her that my only complaint was that I ran out of veggies to dip in, and use up, the "soil" in the little pot. Apparently the dish had been selling very well, so obviously I was not the only one intrigued by the concept. It will be interesting to see whether it remains on the menu; I hope so, because I would definitely order it again next year!

Once I'd begun documenting my meals, I couldn't stop, so I carried on the following evening when we ate out at Spero's. Like Juliet's, Spero's is near Porthloo Beach and has fantastic views of the bay; then again, there aren't too many bad views anywhere on St. Mary's. Spero's is housed in a building that used to be a boatshed; it has giant vaulted ceilings high enough to fit the mast of a yacht, but can only accommodate a few tables because it doesn't have a lot of square footage. As a result, it manages to simultaneously be spacious and intimate.

I have always loved the food here, to the point that I have a hard time choosing whether Spero's or Juliet's is my favorite Scillonian restaurant; usually I pick based on whichever one I've eaten at more recently. Our meal this year was really phenomenal, and was made all the better by the fact that the waitstaff squeezed us in on an evening when all the tables had been booked--extra points for excellent customer service.

I started my dinner with a bowl of apple and celeriac soup with truffle oil and some rosemary focaccia bread. It was rich and velvety and really fantastic. Usually it drives me crazy that 99% of all British soups are blended rather than chunky, but, as this dish showed, sometimes that is the perfect method of preparation.

Two of my colleagues ordered the scallop and chorizo kabobs, which looked beautiful and, I am told, tasted equally lovely. As I have probably written a hundred times already, you can't go wrong with Cornish scallops.

For my main course, I ordered the same thing I had last year: the baked field mushroom stack with veggies, goat cheese, and pesto. I have a hard time saying "no" to goat cheese, and I also have a weakness for mushrooms. This is a really tasty meal, and a hearty alternative to meat.

Some people, of course, aren't interested in avoiding meat at all; two of my fellow instructors ordered steaks. Spero's offers a choice of sauces (pepper, bleu cheese) to accompany its steaks, and we had one of each at our table. Both were highly praised by the carnivores.

Sasha ordered the chicken saltimbocca, which was served with sauteed tarragon potatoes, seasoned vegetables, and a red pepper sauce. Sasha is not a huge fan of cream, so he wasn't in love with the heaviness of the creamy sauce. On the whole, though, I think he did enjoy the flavors of the dish.

Although I don't often indulge in dessert, I did have to break with tradition and try the lemon tart, served with vanilla ice cream:

There are few sweets I love as much as a lemon tart, and this was a good one. As far as I'm concerned, lemon is the best flavor for dessert because you can make it sweet and rich, but the sharp citrus taste ensures that the dish is not overwhelming and heavy. Delightful.

My fellow diners chose finales that were a bit more intense. Sasha got a sticky toffee pudding (above), while Julian ordered the Jack Daniels cheesecake (the cheesecake flavor of the day; below):

Both were quite rich and intense; they were praised by Julian and Sasha, but I have a suspicion that I ended up with the best selection.

With dishes like these on offer at terrific restaurants all over the island, you can probably see why it is a very good thing that we spend our days burning calories by hiking around and trudging up and down the big hill to our campsite! Another great thing about both Juliet's and Spero's is that they are quite affordable; their dishes cost more than our students want to pay (which is great for ensuring some "alone" time!), but they are very reasonable considering the quality of the food and the incredible scenery that you get to enjoy while dining.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Isles of Scilly 2013

During the final week of April, I ended my 2013 academic travel season by journeying to the Isles of Scilly with second-year University of Exeter biosciences students. This was my fourth year as an instructor on this particular field course; I've written about previous trips here and here. Even though the itineraries are fairly similar from year to year, each trip always has its own personality--in large part, I think, because of the different students that cycle through (though, as ever in Britain, weather fluctuations are also very important!).

St. Michael's Mount, Penzance

One huge and wonderful difference this year were the conditions during our trip to the islands. If you read my account of last year's trip, you may recall that the 2012 journey was the most sickening thing I have ever experienced, thanks to the powerful winds and huge swell. This year, the sky was perfectly clear and the sea was amazingly flat, and everyone kept remarking on how it was the most beautiful day that had ever been seen for a crossing. It was truly lovely, though, as always, a bit chilly up on deck--I was shivering despite being thoroughly bundled. I was also incredibly drugged; I wasn't taking any chances with motion sickness, so I popped a Dramamine before every aquatic outing and therefore spent quite a bit of time feeling dopey (but not nauseous!).

Our arrival on the Isles coincided with the last few days of the moon's waxing, which gave us some incredible views and allowed me to take one of the most beautiful photos I've ever taken--though this says less about my own talents than it does about the insane beauty of the Cornish landscape:

The only problem with the increasingly full moon was that it obscured the Lyrid meteor shower on the couple cloudless nights we experienced during our stay on the Isles. Nevertheless, to my great excitement, I did manage to see a single, blue-tinged meteor go streaking across the sky. This was actually a pretty big feat because even though the Lyrid event can bring hundreds of meteors per hour during its peak, they are often quite faint--especially when there is a giant full-ish moon in the sky. I got lucky because there was some partial cloud cover that intermittently covered the moon and allowed me to see the other celestial bodies more clearly. While stargazing, I also managed to see several satellites zipping past, though sadly I was unable to get a glimpse of the International Space Station (with which I have become a bit obsessed after beginning to follow Commander Hadfield's space-based Twitter feed).

Daisies and lesser celandine decorated the lawn near the Garrison

This year, the students started their research projects right away, giving the staff almost two full days of alone time before we did any group activities. I did quite a lot of grading each day, but I also took advantage of the opportunity to hike around the island and look for wildlife. Thanks to changing weather patterns, the Scillies have looked different each time I've visited. On one of my first couple journeys, a mild winter had ushered in an early spring, and I can clearly recall the masses of beautiful pink thrift in bloom everywhere I looked. As the winters have gotten harsher and longer over the past two years, the thrift has bloomed later and later; this year there was only a handful of flowers and buds, with most of the plants still in hibernation. Instead of pink, the islands were dominated this time around by yellow--mostly the yellow of gorse and lesser celandine. It is amazing how different everything looks and feels with different things in bloom.

The other huge ecological difference this year was the lack of auks seen during our boat trip out to the Western Rocks. Puffins in particular were quite scarce; we saw a couple during our ferry ride to St. Mary's, but none were seen subsequently (to the great disappointment of the students). We did see a few guillemots and razorbills, but nothing like the numbers encountered previously. Here's a visual to help you see the disparity:

Both of these photos were taken of the same island--and even, I believe, of the same outcropping--at the Western Rocks. The top photo is from 2012 and shows just how many auks we encountered during our cruise; the bottom photo shows the much reduced number of birds we saw in 2013.

I hope this pattern stems only from differences in weather; if so, the birds are likely just delaying their migration by a few weeks because they're waiting for conditions to become more favorable in the Scillies. However, thousands of seabirds died off the southern coast of Britain this winter after a ship illegally dumped some sort of sticky oily substance in the Channel. Thus, it is also possible that the Scillies has low numbers of auks because many of them perished after becoming coated with pollution. Pointless, unnecessary, and utterly sickening.

A dog frolics on Porthcressa Beach, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly

On a happier note, there are a few places I always visit when hiking around St. Mary's; I'm particularly fond of the wetland areas and their waterfowl hides. This year I was massively excited to spot two snipes--birds that I haven't seen for at least a decade. There was also a beautiful pair of pintails, and an egret that strode around confidently snatching up a seemingly endless supply of fish from one of the small ponds. In order to get a little variety, I visited some of the island's Bronze Age and Iron Age ruins, which I'd previously glimpsed from the boat but never seen up close.

Bant's Carn, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly

Part of the reason I headed to the ruins was that they were in the vicinity of the telegraph tower, which was the location of a recent shrike sighting. I was never able to find the elusive bird, though I saw a good many old burial chambers and hiked along a large section of the coast that I had never visited. During the several hours that I spent wandering around the northwestern portion of the island, I encountered maybe a half dozen other people; mostly, it was just me, the birds, and the wildflowers--pretty heavenly. I discovered all sorts of sandy beaches that I didn't even know existed on St. Mary's, and got good views of Tresco and St. Martin's not far off the coast of the island.

One of St. Mary's "hidden" beaches, with Tresco and St. Martin's islands off in the distance

The one thing that bothered me about all this hiking was how poorly marked the area was. There were really clear signposts to the various ruins, but then nothing else was labeled. There were bits where I couldn't tell the difference between the coastal path and someone's private road, and at no point could I clearly tell how on earth to get back to Hugh Town. I was beginning to think that I might have to circumnavigate the entire island just to get home. On a whim, I decided to take a random path inland and just follow my inner compass; luckily, it got me where I needed to go without any ridiculous detours. In the process, I was able to see even more portions of the island that I'd never encountered before--the predominantly non-touristy areas where the Scillonians actually live. I was left feeling very jealous.

Mallards, domestics, and mallard-domestic hybrids hang out by the side of a little-used road

My least favorite part of the Scillies trip is usually the rock pooling trip during which we teach the students about different tidal zones and adaptations allowing organisms to survive periodic exposure to sunlight, air, and saltwater. In general, I love looking at wildlife and learning new species, but I struggle with this particular exercise. For one thing, I have a (ridiculous) hangup about seaweed--namely, I do not want it to ever touch any part of my body (except when it is in sushi format, in which case it may touch my mouth and stomach). I also hate the idea of sticking my hand down into a rock pool and blindly fishing around for something to grab onto (are you crazy? there are crabs down there!). Also--perhaps most importantly of all--I hate trying to balance on top of slippery, wet, algae-covered boulders; it really hurts my knees and one day I know I'm going to fall and break something.

There is, however, a big part of me that would like to just get over these hangups and have fun with this activity. I love being able to recognize wildlife, and there are so many tidal species to see and learn--not to mention that many of them are edible and can make valuable contributions to one's diet! In the spirit of adventure and education, I tried to get more enthusiastic about the rock pooling this year, and, as a result, I did end up having a much better time with it. The students found some really interesting species, including one of my favorites: a pipefish.

Worm pipefish

We almost made it through the entire trip without any major drama, but on one evening a huge fight broke out amongst some non-Exeter people at the far side of our campsite. One of the campers involved in the dispute shoved her two young children at a group of our students that happened to be nearby at the time, asking them to get the kids out of harm's way. This motivated our trip leader, Frank, to wade in to try to settle the argument and get our students as far away from it all as he could. Although Frank was the embodiment of reason and peace, he ultimately had to call the entire St. Mary's police force (all two of them!) to come mediate. The entire drama lasted for about three hours and was the topic of quite a lot of Scilly gossip the following morning. The speed with which news of this event reached everyone's ears was a perfect reminder of how small St. Mary's really is.

Other than that minor wrinkle, the trip went about as smoothly as we could have hoped for. The clouds unexpectedly parted during the students' presentations on the final afternoon, so we sat bathed in sunlight as we wrapped up our last few official orders of business. The fog descended again during our ferry ride back to the mainland, but was not so thick that it prevented us from seeing several pods of common dolphins out in the open ocean, and another pod of bottlenose dolphins near the Penzance harbor. The water was, again, quite calm--so calm that we arrived 45 minutes ahead of schedule. We were all pretty chilly while waiting for the bus to pick us up, but at least we had these guys to keep us amused:

Turnstones keeping watch along the Penzance pier

One day I'm hoping to return to the Scillies as a non-academic visitor and explore bits of the archipelago that we don't have a chance to see with the students. For now, though, I'm more than happy to earn my trip by pointing out wildlife and chatting about animal behavior. It's hard to believe that such an enjoyable experience could be considered work!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Geo field trip to California: Redwoods and Half Moon Bay

Yesterday I was grading the papers our geography students wrote during the last portion of our California field course, and it reminded me that I needed to finish  my account of our trip. So here, without further ado, is the fourth and final part of the tale.


Most of the trees near Redwood Glen are under a century old, their predecessors having been chopped down for timber many years ago. Still, small as they may be (relative to others of their species, that is) they remain rather impressive. I always have and probably always will be a big fan of evergreens, which I think have about them a sophistication and elegance not associated with even the most stately of deciduous trees. One of the great things about these particular evergreens was that they provided shelter to an enormous number of interesting bird species, including Stellar's jays, black phoebes, chestnut-backed chickadees, and the Oregon race of the dark-eyed junco. Despite the intense cold, hummingbirds were also present. Standing on my balcony watching the sunrise, I could find the tiny birds in the branches by looking for their iridescent plumage shimmering in the sunlight as they sat waiting to get warm enough to fly off into the day. Hummingbirds are absent from Britain, sadly, as are my favorite group of birds, the vultures; since California had them both, I was able to get my fix.

The students spent their first two days in northern California working on research projects. The physical geographers collected data amidst the redwoods, while the human geographers worked with Caitlin and me in nearby Half Moon Bay (HMB). As pointed out by many of my students in their final reports, HMB is an odd little town in many ways. The adorable main street looks like a carefully crafted movie set and clearly panders to the many (seemingly predominantly wealthy) tourists who go there for a weekend of shopping, eating, and a break from the city. Surfers know HMB as the home of Mavericks, an incredible--and incredibly dangerous--wave that can reach 6-10 storeys under the right weather conditions. The surrounding countryside is predominantly agricultural, so there is also a bit of a farm vibe in town. For example, there is a garden supply store right in the center of things (selling, at the time of our arrival, darling little Easter chicks).

Funeral home in town. Morbid? Maybe. Beautiful architecture? Definitely.

Throughout the duration of our visit, a group of migrant workers congregated in the central park in the hopes of being offered odd jobs around town. Thus, as you might imagine, there are some racial tensions not far beneath the surface of the idyllic town. There is a significant minority population--predominantly comprising Mexicans and Portuguese--and there is even a "ghetto" with gang problems. I put "ghetto" in quotation marks because it is the most picturesque "wrong side of the tracks" you'll ever see, but, of course, a veneer of attractiveness can cover up some significant flaws. Our students interviewed several of the migrant workers and found out that at least some of them speak very little English, do not feel integrated into the town, and would rather be back in Mexico with the families that they are supporting with their seasonal work activities. On the other hand, one of the town's biggest events is a Portuguese Holy Ghost festival that is renowned for creating a united and celebratory atmosphere. HMB is, undeniably, a complex place.

Great old farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Buildings like this are a clear indication of how important agriculture was (and still is) to the existence and maintenance of Half Moon Bay.

As aesthetically pleasing the town is, I quickly found it tiring because there are really only two things to do there: eat and shop, and I'd already done enough of both of those during the rest of the trip. If I'd had the time and scheduling flexibility, I would have walked along the coast between the main portion of town and its marina a couple miles away (where some of our students were conducting research), but unfortunately that was not possible. Instead, my main indulgence was spending a couple of hours using the fast, free wifi at the public library. While we were there, Caitlin and I also worked on grading student assignments and developing questions for the end-of-trip quiz, so it wasn't all fun and games.

At the library, we also had the chance to watch a bit of local drama unfold. A group of local hoodlums had parked themselves across the street in the driveway/yard/porch of an unoccupied house that was clearly not theirs. They proceeded to set up a grill, blast loud music out of their car speakers, and practice throwing knives at a wooden gate door. Passersby were clearly uneasy, but the HMB police cruised by several times before finally stopping to have a chat with the guys. The whole affair provided a brief glimpse of the "real" Half Moon Bay hidden under the surface of the facade presented to the world.

I found this in the Half Moon Bay CVS. I can't believe this is even a thing--who decided this was a necessary invention?!

Our time in HMB would have been more relaxing if we'd had a more flexible schedule back at Redwood Glen. We were given no real choice about when breakfast and dinner would be (8:30 AM and 6:00 PM, respectively), so we couldn't get an early start or stay late in the day. This was particularly frustrating because they served us huge meals; most people barely had time to get hungry for lunch, let alone dinner, after the massive buffet breakfast. HMB was a 45-minute drive from the lodge, so the poor human geographers were racing around to try to pack in all their research. Likewise, Caitlin and I also had harried schedules, shuttling students around and buying supplies and, on the first afternoon, visiting the laundromat.

In the course of picking up research materials for both the human and physical geographers, I visited three separate book stores before finally finding the nature guides I needed at the wonderful Bay Book Company; in the process, I located a fancy grocery store that Caitlin and I later visited so we could stock up on yuppy snacks for our road trip to San Francisco. I also stumbled across a hippie store where I bought a blue Buddha to add to my increasingly large collection. One thing I made sure not to buy was another coffee mug.

Amazing house leek I encountered on my way to the book store. The larger whorls were as big as serving platters, and even the smallest ones were the size of salad and dinner plates.

As a result of all this crazy scheduling and racing around town, I didn't really document the place as thoroughly as I would have liked; subsequent searches on Google have revealed that not many other people have gotten good HMB photos, either. All I have to offer are the iPhone photos I snapped of the interesting and amusing things I saw around town. Much better is my photo record of the time I spent wandering around Redwood Glen on our final day of the field course, which the students spent writing up the results of their projects. Happily, this gave Caitlin and me the opportunity to finally see the forest up close for the first time.

Coastal redwood

Banana slug

Caitlin and I went next door to the Pescadero Creek County Park to look for the "big tree"--one of the few that was not razed when the area was plundered for lumber during the 19th century. Supposedly the tree is easy to locate, but Caitlin and I were unable to find it; I think we were headed in the right direction but were cut off from the correct trail by tree surgery machinery that had been parked in the road. We therefore decided to take the "scenic route," which involved taking off our shoes and wading across a shallow creek. I was working so hard to keep my binoculars and camera out of the water that I ended up dropping in my shoes, which balanced gently on the water's surface while slowly making their way downstream. I climbed out of the creek and grabbed a stick to fish them out, and, of course, ended up completely immersing them in the water while dragging them toward me. Our walk back was a bit...damp (for me, at least), but at least we saw some good wildlife along the way.

Western trillium
Redwood violet

On our final evening at Redwood Glen, the students handed in their research reports and celebrated the end of the field trip by attending a bonfire. It was too cold outside for the event to entice me, but before I could escape to my room to read (I was deep into Introduction to California's Beaches and Coasts), the human geographers pulled Caitlin and me aside in order to give us a gift. They had bought each of us a Half Moon Bay bracelet, but, even better, had made a drawing of our entire group:

Thanks to my short hair, it's pretty obvious which of these drawings is me, but I love the added step of creating nicknames to differentiate between the two Caitlins. I wish I had the distinction of being the "Greatlin," but I have to concede that "Kightlin" is pretty clever.

The next morning, Caitlin and I had a hasty breakfast and bid farewell to the rest of the group before embarking on a long and totally unnecessary road trip. When we'd reserved our rental van online, we'd been cleared for a one-way rental; however, when we went to pick it up, we were told this was not possible for that particular vehicle. The only compromise was for us to drive from Loma Mar back to the rental agency at Salinas, pick up a "regular" car that could be left at the airport, and then drive back up to San Francisco...except that Caitlin was actually going to Berkeley, so it made more sense for us to go there and then for me to drive down to the airport on my own to return the car. If you're tired just reading that, then you can imagine what it felt like to actually do the trip.

One up side to all this driving was that we saw some amazing scenery; another bonus was that Caitlin and I have a lot in common and had a good time chatting (and eating the organic version of Cheetos that she'd bought at the posh grocery store). Speaking of food, Caitlin and I had an indulgent celebratory lunch at Barney's, a Berkeley restaurant that is home to a seemingly endless variety of gourmet burgers.

My Baja burger at Barney's

Since I still had many hours to spare before my 11 PM flight to Ohio, I then accompanied Caitlin to her favorite Berkeley book store, Black Oak Books. There, while browsing in the nature section, I found a must-have bird art book that turned out to have been authored by one of Caitlin's ex-boyfriends. What a crazy coincidence. Since we still had some time before Caitlin's uncle was due to pick her up, we headed next door to Far Leaves Tea for, obviously, a cup of tea.

Caitlin also took the opportunity to pull out her iPad and show me maps of the area so that I would know how to get to the airport. It was a relatively easy trip that really only involved one turn, but I think you can probably guess where this story is going. I hit the road almost immediately after Caitlin was picked up, and very shortly after that managed to miss my exit. In my defense, it wasn't actually my fault--there were cars in my way and I just couldn't safely get where I needed to go. Instead of cruising around the northern portion of the bay and then swinging south for the short trip to the airport, I backtracked along the same patch of road that Caitlin and I had already covered earlier that day. I had only a vague notion of where I needed to go, so I visited a CVS in order to take a peek at their road maps. These indicated that I would either have to drive all the way around the bay or take one of two toll roads that went directly across it. I made a quick ATM trip and then headed toward the San Mateo Bridge.

The San Mateo Bridge. Photo not mine--obviously.

To be honest, the trip across the bridge was worth both the toll and the extra time on the road. The bay is unbelievably huge--a fact that you often read, but can't really wrap your mind around. By driving across the width of it, I could begin to appreciate both the size of the area and its beauty. I just wish that there had been places where I could have pulled over to look at the view and the wildlife (I think I saw some eiders and scoters bobbing on the waves).

At long last, I did finally get across the bay and reach the airport, drive through its labyrinthine roads to the rental agency, hand over the keys, and head into the airport. There weren't too many things there for me to do to keep myself occupied for five hours I still had left before my flight, but the free wifi was about all I needed. I found a nice empty waiting area in which to catch up with e-mails, and, wouldn't you know, it was the same waiting area in which some of my students were sitting while awaiting their own eastbound flights. Typical!

That said, I actually quite enjoyed getting to know the geography students and learning about all the things they study--which are, generally speaking, very different from the stuff I deal with during the biosciences field trips. Everyone was quite welcoming of me despite the fact that I was very much an outsider, and they tolerated my propensity to point out birds and wander around photographing flowers. I learned a huge amount about California's history, culture, geology, and geography, and appreciated the state much more than I ever had during previous visits. The field course was tiring, but awesome. As I always say when discussing all the other field trips that the University of Exeter sends me on, I hope I get to go again next time it runs!

The Pacific Ocean--brr!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Foodie Penpals Reveal: April

Yet again, I found myself traveling at the time of month when my Foodie Penpal parcel was due to arrive. I thought I might not get it in time for the reveal day, but the postman made the delivery just under the wire. Receiving these packages each month makes me feel like a kid at Christmas; it's exciting to anticipate what they will contain and then see what surprises are in store.

My partner this month was RoB Molloy, who is one of the few people (so far) to send me any potables. These included a mini can of ginger ale and a small bottle of prosecco. I had intended to follow RoB's suggestion and use the Canada Dry for a cocktail of some sort, but I happened to develop a migraine later in the day and the ginger ale was just the ticket for sorting out my stomach. Not the most gourmet of uses, but certainly a very noble one.

Inspired by some comments he'd seen on Twitter, RoB included a bag of soft licorice. Amazingly, this is the third time I've received licorice in a Foodie Penpal parcel, though each time it has come in a different form. I find this really interesting because it is not at all a common or popular candy in the US; here in Europe, though, feelings toward licorice are obviously a bit different. I actually quite like the candy--it's another thing that's very good for settling stomachs--so keep it coming, penpals! The other main sweets component of the parcel was a jar of popping candy. My finger was resting across the label when I first picked up the bottle, such that I could only see what it contained, and not what brand it was. My husband and I have watched a number of Heston Blumenthal's TV specials, so of course I immediately thought of him when I saw this ingredient--and then I moved my hand and saw that the candy was, in fact, from his line at Waitrose! I don't think I'm quite capable of Heston's level of innovation, but I can certainly try to whip up something interesting with these nonetheless.

On the savory side of things, I received a bag of olives and a bottle of white pepper. Although I've cooked with olives before, I've never used them in dry format, so I will have to do a little research to find out how best to utilize that ingredient. I think Sasha will be particularly pleased with the white pepper since he is such a fan of pepper in general (adding it to everything I make, no matter how much I have already seasoned it!).

Thanks very much to RoB for his thoughtful parcel. If you're curious about what I mailed to my own penpal, Sam Hoey, you can visit her blog here and read about the predominantly Cornish foodstuffs I sent her way. If you want to participate in Foodie Penpals, head over to Rock Salt and read about it here.