Hot days and cool drinks…. excuses, excuses…

We’re now coming up to our second Christmas in Malaysia and I realised that I had hardly written anything this year. There are so many reasons why… time seems to slip by and we’ve been busy

Pantai Cenang, Langkawi
Pantai Cenang, Langkawi

We’ve been travelling around Malaysia… exploring beautiful beaches

Kuala Selangor
Kuala Selangor

and being punted down the river at night to watch fireflies...

Singapore - Marina Bay
Singapore – Marina Bay

I drive to Singapore every few weeks to see my best friend from my teenage years and we try out roof top bars to see where we get the best view

Elephant sanctuary at Kuala Gandah
Elephant sanctuary at Kuala Gandah

We’ve taken our friends to the elephant sanctuary, where you can help bathe baby elephants in the river

Batik painting
Batik painting

and I’ve taken up batik painting at the Kraf Kompleks in the centre of KL

Mei King Fatt crabs, Ampang
Mei Keng Fatt crabs, Ampang

We’ve gorged on amazing crabs

Jalan Alor
Jalan Alor

and we always take our visitors to Sun Chui Yuen on Jalan Alor, the famous street of food off Bukit Bintang, where you eat outside at plastic tables, using melamine tableware… but the food is five star.


.. we breakfast at Raju’s, where roti canai, chicken and squid are eaten from banana leaves.

It’s not all eating out. I have cooked at home

Eating in
Eating in

where we can relax

Night view from the balcony, looking at the Petronas Towers
Night view from our balcony, looking  over the city towards the Petronas Towers

and enjoy the view with our after dinner drinks.

But cooking at home has taken a back seat really,  with all of the other things we do.

And it’s so hot! My kitchen is always over 85 degrees. All I want to do is relax and drink cold drinks. I bought a day bed so I can keep cool under the fan…

Day bed... for thinking on
Day bed… for thinking on

… it’s where I relax and read and think about writing things up, but mainly, I have to say,  it’s where I just relax.

I was there one day when I read about  Cakeyboi’s delicious Vanilla Bean Lemonade and realised that would be perfect, just perfect, for drinking as I idled an afternoon away. When he described it as “almost like drinking lemon meringue pie’  I knew I had to make it.


I had four beautifully juicy, organic and unwaxed lemons that squeezed out at least 125ml of sharp and aromatic juice

90g of sugar
90g of sugar

Sweetness was needed, so 90g of sugar was weighed out

90ml of water with the sugar added
90ml of water with the sugar added

… and heated with 90ml of water to make a simple, pure syrup, which once everything was dissolved and the mix was clear,  was left to cool completely.

Lemon juice...and vanilla bean paste
Lemon juice…and vanilla bean paste

I have a beautiful, old glass water jug that was perfect for this – the lemon juice was added and two teaspoons of vanilla bean paste was added to that

Whisking in the vanilla
Whisking in the vanilla

and then the  vanilla was whisked into the lemon juice

Adding the syrup
Adding the syrup

… then the cooled, clear syrup added…

...topping up with sparkling water
…topping up with sparkling water

When you’re ready to drink it, top up with sparkling water…

Vanilla bean lemonade
Vanilla bean lemonade

… and you’re ready to serve.

Vanilla seeds fleck the surface
Vanilla seeds fleck the surface

It’s so beautiful… the vanilla seeds fleck the drink

Vanilla bean lemonade
Vanilla bean lemonade

And the taste? Sweet and sharp, deep and rich… perfect for a hot day.

Perfect to serve to our guests who don’t drink alcohol but who need something more exciting than a glass of water.





… and perfect for me to drink as I read and laze about. One more reason why I haven’t been into the kitchen really….



Thanks, Cakeyboi! A great idea and a great drink.

Now all I have to do is start cooking again.

Merry Christmas!

Hot Toddy for a cold

There’s a reason for me being so quiet over the past few days… I have had a cold that has made me feel dreadful.

A rattling cough, a pounding head and aches all over made me feel so bad that I actually came home from work.

I knew what I had to do, of course.

The best cure for a cold is to go to bed, clutching a hot toddy and try and sleep.

So, first of all, a spoonful of lovely honey in a mug

The juice of half a lemon and a slice of lemon go in next, topped up with hot (but not boiling) water

Then stir it round to make a hot, sweetly-sharp mix

Then, to help those poor, tired muscles relax and the pounding head to ease…. find a bottle of whiskey.

This is Redbreast, a gorgeous Irish pot still whiskey (there’s a difference, you know – Scotch whisky is classed by some as the only true whisky and it is spelled without the ‘e’. Irish whiskey has the extra ‘e’ and gets an extra distillation. Three as opposed to Scotch’s two) It doesn’t matter what you use – that was just at the front of the drinks cupboard.

Just a drop or so adds a deep, soothing, rounded flavour to the hot honey and lemon… and with a couple of cold cure capsules is the ideal medicine for a rotten cold.

The next step is the most important – get off to bed and curl up while you sip your hot toddy. Cocooned in a duvet and propped up on pillows, the delicious hot toddy soothes and relaxes….

Sleep really is the best medicine, you know.

After a couple of hours of sleep I felt so much better.

Just remember that, next time you have a dreadful cold!

Vanilla Vodka cocktails

After the great news that over a thousand people had, this month so far, looked at the blog, I thought I deserved a celebratory drink.

Yes, I know it was a work night but some things deserved to be celebrated. It was time, I thought, to try the vanilla vodka. I’d had great success with the basil vodka and tomato essence cocktail  so maybe the vanilla vodka would prove to be as much of a triumph.

I’m very lucky in that all of my lovely friends know how much I love cooking and when they travel I am often the happy recipient of some local delicacy. Far better that than a teeshirt with the name of a resort on it, I always think. I have had gorgeous cheeses from Catalan, spices from Istanbul, chorizos from Spain, sweets from South America, bush herbs from Australia, strange herbed alcohol from Germany, delicious vodkas from Poland, salamis and cheese from Italy… but possibly the most luxurious of all was a gorgeous bundle of vanilla pods from Flores, Indonesia.

Friends of ours, C & C, had gone on a wonderful trip, island hopping round Indonesia and when they returned they sent me a parcel through the internal post at work. I’d collected the post from the post room and walked back to my office, wondering what the parcel addressed to me was… and why it smelled so deliciously of vanilla.

I couldn’t believe it when I opened it… all those pods. Now THAT is luxury on a grand scale.

There were 25 plump, juicy and aromatic pods.

You know how expensive vanilla is…I’d never had so much vanilla. This was my chance to experiment.

Apart from cakes and sweet things, I had wanted to try infusing vodka with vanilla.  All I needed was a bottle of vodka and I was ready to go.

When I slit open the pods they were absolutely crammed with glistening black vanilla seeds.

They just had to be dropped into the bottle.

Within half an hour the vodka had started to take on a gorgeous golden brown tint as the essence of vanilla seeped into the alcohol.

And that was it. I left the bottle in the larder, with the pods releasing their flavour, for a couple of weeks. I was saving it for a special occasion.

And now, it seems, was a special occasion.

I’d been looking around for cocktail recipes involving vanilla infused vodka and a recurring theme involved using ginger ale. According to what I’d read it tasted like “creamsicles”… now I haven’t the faintest idea what that was but it sounded good to me.

When I called in, on the way home from work, to buy some ginger ale, I saw Fever-tree Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer so I bought that. Fever-tree mixers are probably the best I have come across (and yes, that is an independent choice by me. No bribery here.) Their tonic is my favourite to have in a Gin and Tonic

I thought I’d see what was best, ginger ale or ginger beer.

First of all, we tried ginger beer.

One generous measure of vanilla vodka was poured over ice

And then topped up with Fever-tree Ginger Beer.

Verdict? The Ginger Beer is a powerful drink with a hefty kick of ginger, which rather overpowered the smooth and luxurious vanilla vodka. You could just about tell it was there but, as the Bear said, putting the vanilla vodka in there was probably just a sneaky way to get someone tiddly. As a ginger beer by itself  though, it was fantastic with a gorgeous bite to it. And I say that as someone who happens to be a ginger beer connoisseur.

On with the experiment… well I was entitled to celebrate, wasn’t I? Ginger Ale next.

More vanilla vodka, poured over ice

… and topped up with ginger ale….

It was delicious. It was creamy and smooth with a gorgeous overlay of vanilla and a bright tang of ginger. very more-ish.

As to whether it tastes like a creamsicle or not, I have no idea. Whether I will do it again?  Yes, I definitely will.

Vanilla vodka is a winner whether you drink it neat, poured over lots of ice or add it to a mixer.

And to think it is as easy to make as that. Get some vanilla pods and a bottle of vodka and invent a reason to celebrate yourself!

Thanks, C & C… or, as it should be,  CHEERS!

Basil infused vodka and essence of tomato – the most perfect cocktail ever

If you look at the far right hand column on this page you will see a section called Blogroll. That’s where I keep a list of my favourite blogs so I can click on the links and go straight to their page. Have a look and see if there’s a blog you might not have come across before – you might find a post there that really interests you.

That’s what happened one day when I was having a coffee and taking a break from work – I thought I’d look at Katie’s Cosy, delicious and see what she was up to. Her latest post was Watermelon and Basil Martini… intrigued, I read on. It sounded great! She had infused some vodka with basil and made a mixer with fresh watermelon juice.

Thing is, I didn’t have any watermelon and I’m sure that the watermelons Katie gets in the States will be much sweeter and fresher than anything we could get here in England… but it left me thinking.

I had lots of basil so I could try infusing the vodka anyway (after all, I made the old favourites Toffee Vodka and a Coffee Liqueur just before Christmas last year) and whatever you do with vodka and an infusion has to be fun….

In my pot on the balcony, high above the rest of the city, I had Sweet Basil and Greek Basil growing   – and as the weather was turning cooler and autumn was on its way, I really should get it used up.

I thought I would try with both kinds of basil to see what it was like.

Katie said she had used 2 cups of basil to 4 cups of vodka

So twice as much vodka as basil was poured into my large storage jar and it was put into the larder to keep it in the dark for a day or two. Two days is the maximum but check it to see how it is doing.

Now, as I didn’t have lovely watermelons, I started to think of what else I would put with the basil vodka when it was ready.

And what came to mind was basil’s perfect partner – tomatoes……

…………………… but not that thick and gloopy tomato juice you make a Bloody Mary with, no, I wanted a pure, clear, almost sweet, essence of tomato juice.

It would be like my favourite salad in a martini glass!

I had some beautiful tomatoes that I knew tasted delicious. I’d read about people making clear tomato juice by straining the tomatoes to get just the juice and none of the pulp. That was what I wanted… just translucently clear, pink, sweet tomato juice.

To make it, I’d need a sieve, some muslin and a jug to catch the strained juices.

Lining the sieve means you keep more of the pulp out of the way and allows the pure juice to drip through.

I chopped the tomatoes roughly and gave them a little squeeze as I put them in the lined sieve.

And watched as the pink juice dripped through.

It really was a beautiful, bright pink.

I squeezed the cloth to get more juice out but what that did was thicken the juice. I’d have to strain it again….

I used a coffee filter paper this time and poured the juice into that.

The juice looked almost clear and I wanted this to be the most delicately coloured drink imagineable.

I got the jar with basil infusing in vodka out of the dark cupboard – it had been in there for 36 hours and, when I checked it, the vodka had been tinted by the basil leaves and it smelt delicious. It had a softly sweet smell of basil – not harsh, just sweet and fresh smelling.

All I had to do to that was pour it out of the jar through a sieve to get the leaves out.

See how pretty that looks!

What I imagined would be the perfect cocktail had to have the perfect glass. I had just the thing. An old, handblown glass with intriguing bobbles on it. It’s been one of my favourite glasses for years, ever since I was given it by an old friend. I have no idea how old the glass is or where it came from originally but I love it.

A measure of the delicately tinted basil vodka was poured over the ice.

The sweet, clear tomato essence was added

And as a finishing touch? Tiny Tomberries (the smallest, sweetest tomatoes there are) and a baby leaf of basil were speared with a cocktail stick

And what was it like?

It was delicious. It was sweet and aromatic with the most subtle flavour of basil – not overwhelming at all.

It was the essence of summer in a cocktail.

I had one… the Bear had one and we agreed this was possibly the most delicious drink there ever was. Every sip was perfect.

I’m going to make this again and again and perhaps when I next serve a tomato and basil salad I will make this and serve it alongside to highlight their pure, sweet and aromatic flavours.

You really have no idea how much this cocktail pleases me… I suppose, all I can say is have a go yourself.

And cheers!


Yes, I’m celebrating!

After what seems like many years in the wilderness of temporary work, I have finally got a job!

I am coming up to a BIG birthday and what better present than this?

It seems like the last decade was marked by redundancies, deaths of loved ones and the search for work in a depressed economy… finally, it seems like I am turning the corner. Things have been pretty miserable at times and it seemed as if there were few things to celebrate.

But yesterday I had an interview for a really great job (REALLY great) and yesterday afternoon, I was phoned by the Human Resources department to tell me that I had got the job.

I start work in just over a week’s time, when The Bear and I get back from a weekend away. We were going to celebrate my birthday and now we have an extra thing to be happy about.

They say things come in threes, so who knows what the next good thing is going to be? I shall start the celebrations now ….. I am back in the north and I am just about the pour a drink for myself and one of my most long standing friends… so cheers, everyone!

No cooking tonight, just champagne and cheers!


It’s Friday.

The end of another working week and I have been promising myself a treat for when I get in… when I get in and change from work clothes into my jeans and a jumper.

….. for when I go upstairs and  lounge on the sofa with my feet up.

I can picture it now. I can imagine the comfort of putting my tired feet up…. and I can see, in my mind’s eye

I have a bottle of my favourite gin, Tanqueray and some Fever Tree Tonic and a lemon that is just asking to be sliced….

I’d like to think I lived an elegant lifestyle with cocktails at 6… but the truth of the matter is, I will be sitting, not in an elegant cocktail dress, with a cigarette in a long, slender  holder, looking impossibly elegant and oh-so-well groomed, making light and amusing conversation, no, I will instead be wearing old and faded jeans, warm socks and a rather happily smug expression….

The glass will, however,  still have 1 measure of Tanqueray to 3 measures of tonic, over lots of ice and a slice of lemon.

The glass will still bead with condensation and the ice will still clink in that lovely way…


I deserve it…. and so, maybe do you.

Welcome to the weekend.

Coffee liqueur

There is, as you will probably know, a rather famous coffee liqueur.

In my kitchen there is a jar of something very similar… let’s call it Aunty Mary. After all, I’m not Spanish so I wouldn’t call it Tia…. oh but there you go, it’s NOT the famous coffee liqueur, is it?

It’s me with a bottle of vodka, knocking up rough and ready flavoured alcoholic drinks, ready for the Christmas party season.

.coffee vod, apple cake, 036

This is simplicity itself…. first of all, make some espresso coffee.

coffee vod, apple cake, 037

For a bottle of vodka, I need two cups of espresso

coffee vod, apple cake, 039

and a vanilla pod and some sugar……

coffee vod, apple cake, 040

Slice the pod (look at it shining.. it is almost seeping with deep, rich vanilla-ey essence)

coffee vod, apple cake, 041

Pop it into the jar with a couple of mug fulls of sugar (remember if this is to be a liqueur it needs to be sweet and almost syrupy)

coffee vod, apple cake, 043

Pour in the coffee

coffee vod, apple cake, 045

Then add a bottle of vodka……. all of it…..

coffee vod, apple cake, 048

And stir……

And leave it……. and do you know… it’s not rough and ready at all… it’s rather smooth and delicious!

  Pea and ham soup... and Aunty Mary 063

Once you are ready to celebrate…. Aunty Mary sends Festive Greetings…. and says Cheers!

Toffee vodka

I first made this years ago and it is rather like Marmite… not in taste, of course, that would be silly, but in causing complete polarity amongst my friends. They either hate it with a passion or they love it.

lemon glazed cake, tandoori pheasant, toffee vodka 062

Toffee vodka – at least this rough and ready version of it – is the easiest thing in the world to make. Quick, too. Which is handy as I have a couple of friends coming to stay tomorrow night and it would be good to offer them at least a little drink….. These are the friends who once called me, whilst on a camping trip, for instructions on how to make it. J & M  called later to say they had been bashing the toffees with a tyre iron to get them to fit in the bottle neck.

That did cause a bit of a mess as they were bashing them on the dashboard. Shards of toffee were found for months afterwards.

Anyway, this is the quick and easy way to do it……

 lemon glazed cake, tandoori pheasant, toffee vodka 060

Get a bottle of vodka – it doesn’t have to be good vodka.. in fact, why would you use expensive stuff when you are going to add a packet of Werther’s Original Toffees?  Then, get a large jar

The first experiments involved taking some vodka out to free up some space and shoving the toffees down the neck of the bottle (hence the adventures with a tyre iron) but we realised that while that may be necessary when you are living rough (or camping, as they chose to call it) a large jar was much easier to deal with.

lemon glazed cake, tandoori pheasant, toffee vodka 063

Step one…. unwrap the Werther’s (they really do taste the best)  and add them to the jar

lemon glazed cake, tandoori pheasant, toffee vodka 065

Step two … add the vodka

lemon glazed cake, tandoori pheasant, toffee vodka 067

Step three… watch how quickly it all dissolves – this is after ten minutes

lemon glazed cake, tandoori pheasant, toffee vodka 068

Step four… give the jar an occasional shake… it will be dissolved completely within 3 or 4 hours. Shake or stir to help it along….

Step five…. decant it into pretty little bottles, wrap a ribbon round and give it as a Christmas present… OR… serve it in a glass with plenty of  ice and some single cream.

I’d like to think it was some sort of cocktail…..It probably is in some sort of chavvy way.  

toffee vodka 001

Oh and be warned. You really must dilute it .. While it tastes almost innocuous with its rich toffee flavour, it is, after all, the equivalent of drinking neat vodka while sucking a toffee.

The way to go is to add a mixer and what seems to work best is milk or cream. M and I like the cream option while J goes for soya milk. It transforms it into a soft and delicious drink. In fact, you could start off a party evening with  a round of this for everyone.


toffee vodka 014

Drinking it neat is madness and may lead you to complete inebriation and a life on the streets.

And don’t sneer… some of us are very partial to it!