Dad’s Birthday Dinner at Ben’s Cornish Kitchen

St Michael's Mount, Marazion, near Ben's Cornish KitchenDarling old Pops has just turned 80! Toot toot toot! (blowing a trumpet for him). He says he can’t believe it, and inside feels a mere 53 years old. We got him a really cool record player so he can play all his old 78s (whatever they are) and it has the nifty function to record onto MP3 too. So in theory we can make CDs for him to play in the car. He was really pleased, and being a thoroughly generous and fun-loving kind of person, he also whisked us all out for dinner, to the closest thing we have to a Michelin starred experience, the much loved, much reviewed, and much visited by my family Ben’s Cornish Kitchen.

Ben’s is a smallish family restaurant in the heart of Marazion. It’s relaxed and unfussy, and the flavours on the menu can sound unusual but always work to make a delicious mouthful of wonder. This was my third visit so it’s time to give it my ‘when in Cornwall you must go here if you are a foodie’ stamp of approval.

So how did the evening begin? We took taxis (a special occasion in my family involves compulsory drinking – you can’t get out of it by offering to drive) down to the newly refurbished Godolphin Arms which I’ve written about before. We drank prosecco which was delicious but weird because it’s on draft and came in a carafe… and the teenagers took 400 selfies. We admired the sunset, like last time. Then we swayed over the road to Ben’s.

We sat upstairs – feeling lucky to have got our booking, given that they also had another party of 12 in at the same time. It didn’t show in the service or the length of time for food that they were pretty busy, which is impressive too. The best and most serious reason we go to Ben’s is the fancy food. It’s not expensive for the quality, at £7 or £8 a starter, £16 or £17 a main which is only marginally more expensive than our local pub. But the quality of the local ingredients and the passion and talent of the chef makes eating here a great experience and a total bargain.

I had four perfect, small, sweet scallops sitting on a folded blanket of spiced cauliflower puree, with a couple of flakes of crisp salted caramel and matchsticks of granny smith apple. Sounds weird, right? Absolutely friggin’ delicious. Then came the mains. The softest, unimaginably tender and flavoursome haunch of venison with a little potato cake and kale. The sauce was described as having anais in it, which horrified the fussy teens as they thought it meant it would taste of liquorice (cue gagging mimes and tongues hanging out in disgust. Discreetly thankfully.) Anyway, the sauce was not at all liquoricey, instead it was fragrant and I think it had port in it, so of course it was divine. There was a squash puree lurking underneath the kale which was really rich, velvety and creamy and brought the whole thing together like a bit of delicious flavour-melding goo.

Dad had a lobster ravioli followed by partridge. He was full early (big-ish portions, no haute-cuisine magnifying glass needed here) so I nicked his plate and wolfed down the remaining little perfect partridge breast with the savoy cabbage, bacon crumb (!!) and creamy sauce. It was delicious BUT seeing as I don’t really like venison, and I had ordered it anyway thinking “if it’s going to be good anywhere it’ll be good at Ben’s” – it was so, very, good. The venison won.

Desserts were cancelled because my sister had organised a birthday cake, but down at our end of the table we ordered a protest ‘chocolate brownie’ with raspberry sorbet replacing the listed orange ice cream (younger teen hates all things creamy/buttery). It was no such thing as a ‘chocolate brownie’. Instead of being cakey and slightly boring, it was more like a thin layer of brownie that morphed into the silkiest, darkest chocolate torte type thing, with a gloss on the top like a sweaty racehorse. The tart raspberries with the silky chocolate were made for each other. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Dad loved it, and we were home in time for Match of the Day so that was good too. Dinner for eight people including six starters and one dessert, four bottles of excellent wine, and a tip, was £300. Which ain’t bad. Now I’m thinking ‘when can we go again?’.

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Melanoma Loner.

Sorry to get all serious on you, but I wanted to share a frightening thing that happened on New Year’s Eve 2013. My wonderful, honest friend Em and I were getting ready to party and sharing a smallish mirror. She just happened to be standing behind me as I was fiddling with my unusually straight hair. She looked at the back of my ear and said ‘Ooh. Do you know you have a mole on your ear?’

I didn’t know I had a mole on my ear. And this one was much, much bigger than all my other many freckle-style moles which are mostly medium brown. This one was about 4mm across and really black.

I started panicking there and then, I had a horrible feeling as I looked at it that it was a nasty one. I had heard about melanoma a few times, as a dear friend of my Mum’s had died at 27 of melanoma.

As soon as my doctor’s surgery re-opened, the GP took one look at it, and got me in to the big hospital’s dermatology centre and two days after that it was removed. Total time from discovery to getting the bloody thing off = 5 days. Amazing.

After it was analysed, which only took 10 days, they came back to say it was indeed a melanoma – but a very, very thin one. It’s called a melanoma in-situ, which means it was sitting on the very surface. No penetration of the skin, no spreading to organs/lymph nodes. Phew.

They had me back in to do a wider excision of 5mm all around the site of the first excision. And because it’s on my ear-back, they couldn’t stitch it up, so it had to heal as an open wound from the inside up. Which meant nearly four months of dressing changes, awkward hair washing and no swimming. But what a lucky escape?! What if Em hadn’t said anything? What if none of my other friends or family spotted it before it was too late?

And then I started to worry, to panic, to obsess over sunlight touching me. I remember a very miserable February walk – long sleeves covering my hands, a huge hat, feeling terrified that the faint warmth of the early Cornish spring light would be making my skin change and grow more dangerous and potentially life-threatening moles.

I began to read everything I could about melanoma recurrence, given that Cornwall has such a high rate of skin cancer, higher even than Australia – I questioned my decision to move to this beautiful endless-summer outdoorsy place. How would I cope with work lunches at the sunny table in the pub garden? What about holidays with friends? Will I have to sit on my own in the shade while everyone else basks in the sunshine? A couple of weeks ago my supportive and understanding but sun-basking and piss-taking family nicknamed me ‘melanoma loner’. You have to laugh though right?! (Good job they didn’t say that to me a few months ago.)

The mole discovery and removal was nine months ago now. I’m over the constant worry. I no longer have a sinking feeling when I wake up and look out at blue skies. I’ve got my excitement back about travelling in warm countries.

You see, it’s all about management. I’ve got Factor 50 sunscreen from trustworthy brands coming out of my ears. I’ve even found a fantastic factor 100 which is so light, not pasty white, and comfortable to wear all day. (Which I totally recommend to anyone sensitive to the sun I’ve got the sporty spray and the cream which I use on my face, neck and hands – both by Neutrogena, but I think it comes from America as it takes ages to arrive when I order it). I have invested in some oversized shirts so I can roll down my sleeves and button up the neck when I’m outdoors. I’ve bought a few wide brimmed sun hats, which festoon the parcel shelf of my car so I’m always ready. (The best hats so far are from Peacocks. For real. But I do have a massive head so it’s tricky.)

And I’ve decided that 10-15 mins a day outside of the hours of 11-4pm on my face and arms will give me all the vitamin D I need. And every month when I give the dog her lungworm treatment, that is also Skin Check Day for me.

So here I am, worrying less, panicking not at all. Changing my lifestyle to avoid the sun is easier when you have a plan. And on our honeymoon? Book reading in the shade (first time for everything) and doing lots of interesting activities rather than sitting on the beach all day will be great. I’m looking forward to it…

Do you have a similar story you want to share? Please leave me a comment below if so x

Flat, small pre-melanoma mole

Here it is: the evil one photographed on New Year’s Day.

Walking up Trencrom Hill.

The walk up Trencrom Hill with the view to Marazion

View of the south coast and St Michael’s Mount

Trencrom Hill is a place for reflection.

View to the north coast, Hayle estuary and Godrevy in the distance.

We reached the top of Trencrom Hill

Reached the top of the top.

One grey Sunday we decided to find a hill and walk up it. We’d been up Godolphin Hill, I’d been up Carmenellis, and a favourite hill is Carn Brea obviously – that’s the one with the monument to Lord Basset/de Dunstanville and the beautiful Carn Brea Castle.

Trencrom hadn’t even made it onto my hill radar – and driving around since I’ve failed to spot it. Near the A30 by St Ives, it’s about 5 minutes drive up from Lelant roundabout to the tiny National Trust car park. Impressive granite outcrops line the twisting, steep path to the plateau – it’s not that much of a climb but the view from the top is HUGE.

Part of the ancient St Michael’s Way from Lelant to Marazion, Trencrom Hill must have been a place to rest with a pasty on the day’s walk from coast to coast for a very, very long time. It’s got that peaceful and majestic feeling that you get with granite boulders lying around on a hilltop.  I plan to return and do at least half of the 12 mile walk, probably starting at Trencrom Hill and ending up in Hayle.Cornish Hair. Walking in the Cornish mizzle does wonders for my barnet I must say.

Any suggestions of more hills for me to climb purposefully in Cornwall would be most welcome. x

Reflections on starting again in Cornwall.

Trencrom Hill is a place for reflection.When I met the Peeb I was 27, I was living and working in London and loving every minute of London life. I am hugely into food, and I shopped at the famous food markets and the best supermarket (the Turkish Food Centre) for amazing, fresh produce. I ate out several times a week, stuffing my face with Thai curries, Korean kimchi, Vietnamese pho, and sushi… sushi… endless wonderful sushi… Interspersed with hours in the Korean karaoke/internet cafe near Charlotte Street, walking on Hampstead Heath and getting to know every cool bar and food stall in every grubby corner of the city – I had a fabulous, fantastic time for 7 years. I love London. But I knew there would come a time when I’d had enough – of the commute for a start. Of the expense. Of the occasional arseholes on buses or in pubs who wanted to intimidate. And forever in the back of my heart was the longing to return to Cornwall.

Dad was here, though. Dad’s house in Falmouth provided a cosy, calm and red-wine-soaked haven from London for me, and sometimes a friend or two would join me in the escape from town. We’d walk the familiar streets out to Gylly beach cafe and back round the headland via the castle moat, to the Chainlocker for a end-of-walk cider. I remember arriving by train in Truro at 11pm ish four or five times a year, and lowering the train window and gulping in the green, damp, fresh air of this special place. Dad would be waiting to give me 36 hours of food, wine and Sky TV while I walked myself senseless, slept like the dead, and he’d finally put me back on the train at 14.41 on Sunday, with a lump in my throat and a warm pasty in my hand to take me back to Paddington.

So when I met the Peeb, a Bristol boy, it was just a matter of time before we headed west together. I miss London, I do… but Cornwall is my home.

I have been through more trauma and heartbreak since returning here than ever before in my life. But in a very real way the natural beauty and kind people of this place have helped and supported me and my family through all of that.

To anyone thinking of making the move west, I can only say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. We are both happier than we’ve ever been, our lives are so much healthier now, we live within our means here as so many pleasures and experiences here are totally free of charge.

Have you made a big move to leave a city? You’re welcome to share your experiences in the comments below, I’d love to hear about them.

What to Wear in Cornwall

Green and wet: Cornwall clothing needs to be waterproof! Cue sturdy wellies and a Craghoppers jacketI’m currently planning my Mother Hens night – next Saturday – to be celebrated in my adopted hometown of Falmouth, where I studied many moons ago, where the Peeb, tiny baby dog Duck and I camped out for a year while we were house hunting, and where my dear Dad lives. The poor man has been turfed out of his house so I can welcome a handful of the clever and hilarious women I’m proud to call my friends down to Cornwall for the weekend. They’re the “Mother” Hens as my mum thought a night out in London wouldn’t be up her street, so this is the civilised version of the hen night to come in October….

While these women are undoubtedly wonderful – they are not Cornish dwellers and they are partly the reason I can never throw away my old waterproofs and I harvest unwanted wellies and hiking boots. Ballet pumps and a thin cardi just won’t do – even in summer down here in the beautiful green and grey of Cornwall. So here’s my guide for visitors to the county of what they should wear – so I can thin down the contents of my ‘outdoor’ wardrobe:

  1. A waterproof coat. Yes, I know they’re ugly, but you’ll only whinge about the majestically wild weather if you don’t have one. It’s not the weather’s fault… it’s you and your soft townie ways.
  2. Comfortable shoes: Coast path + ballet pumps = blisters and chapped foot-tops. This isn’t just my teenage nieces only bringing these ridiculous items of footwear down for a whole week – fully grown women turn up in brogues/pumps/Uggs for the weekend and then realise we’re going WALKING people! (Maybe I’m just a horrible, bossy hostess?)
  3. Sunblock: I think it’s only in Cornwall that you can get sunburnt in February. In the rain.
  4. Jumpers/hoodies/big cardigans: Cornish houses are damp + cold until you light the fire, and I’m not lighting the fire in August. Sorry.
  5. Tracksuit bottoms: a guilty pleasure, which I very often indulge in after a long walk or while cooking my guests supper after a long day out exploring. Most guests will comply with the house dress code and put on their PJ trousers – but some have been known to borrow from my special selection of  what I like to call ‘comfort trousers’. Peeb even has a fleece pair, from M&S, which is the most comforting item of clothing imaginable.

For a year now I’ve been wearing my men’s Craghoppers Kiwi Long Jacket (£100) that I got for my birthday last year. It’s amazing, like a stylish AND waterproof Barbour-style (which I have been coveting but can’t afford). And my Hunter wellies which really are good because they feel like proper boots when you’re walking. They fit me around my ankles and have a grippy sole. They’re in my life thanks to my dear friend who bought the wrong size on eBay! Bonus. This winter though, I think I may treat myself to some smart leather wellies. You know the ones, they’re like Dubarrys but half the price…

Wet spaniel is a permanent smell in my house
And here’s a scratch-and-sniff shot of a wet spaniel. She probably needs a waterproof too.

Have I missed anything? What’s your essential clothing item for wearing in Cornwall?

Painting the walls of a Cornish stone cottage.

Rendered stone walls in a Cornish CottageDamp in the dining room of a Cornish cottage

I’m just researching which paint to buy to paint the interior walls of our living and dining rooms of our 1850 Cornish stone cottage. The walls are partly rendered, some with thicker render and some with thin – so in parts you can really see the texture of stone. The fireplace has been re-pointed with pale grout – so you can really see the sparkly nature of the granite especially in low light.

Last winter the storms, rain and floods were overwhelming in Cornwall. We found out our front walls (south facing, catching the brunt of the weather) were cracked and water literally rained in from behind the enormous granite lintels onto our wide window ledges. Pans and salad bowls lined the windows catching a pint or two in each bowl a day at the worst times.

And the dark corner of the dining room behind the “handkerchief tree” hasn’t dried out yet. (I don’t know what the tree is, I only know it has hanky shaped leaves – any guesses?)

We’re having the exterior walls re-pointed at the end of September, which should solve the ‘raining indoors’ problem – but we really need to repaint the interior too. With a dusty dog and a few patches of varying finish paint left by the previous owners we want a more uniform, matt look.

But you can’t slap any old paint onto rendered stone in a cottage with no damp-proof course. So I have been researching and reading up on it – and I am happy to have found Earthborn paint. They make eco-friendly, no-VOC, safe, thick, breatheable, matt clay-based paint in some beautiful colours. It’s quite cheap too. So this week I’m going to pick some up, in white, and then post about the results! I’ll make sure I do some proper before and after shots too.

I’m also on the hunt for some cheap, non-slippery patio paving slabs or tiles. We have a tiny patio area which is concrete at the moment, so we need to lay the stones on top of that which isn’t ideal. We really need to make sure water doesn’t pool by the house!

Hopefully this won’t be one of those jobs that it takes me 45 years to actually do…

Any advice on patio laying, painting and granite is gratefully received!

x

36 hours in Salcombe, Devon.

Low tide walk at Mill Bay, Salcombe.

Low tide walk at Mill Bay, Salcombe.

Hey, yo. So this weekend I ventured over the border into Devon. Via a quick stop to pick up an item of pottery that is a gift so I shall say no more about that, but it involved a Plymouth housing estate, folding cash, and a plastic Sainsburys bag containing a beautiful 1960s stoneware thing of secrecy. Onwards, and 11ish hours later we arrived at the crest of the terrifying hill at the top of the harbour village of Salcombe (it was an hour really, but it felt like 11 hours due to my desperate singing, Peeb’s crazy lane driving, and not knowing where I’m going).

Populated by a few authentic sea-dogs and the cast of Made in Chelsea, Salcombe manages to cling to its uniquely beautiful charm despite the drunken haw-hawing of people traipsing home at 3am.

We were staying with my soon-to-be in-laws, and we just walked and walked, ate chipshop chips with fried eggs for tea, and admired the views. On Sunday we ate the most divine crab sandwiches at the Crab Shed down on Batson Quay. Watching the tide rise and fall is the best thing about a waterfront weekend in Salcombe.

On the way home we stopped in Plymouth again, this time at Drake Circus shopping centre (boo!) for the Peeb to try on wedding suit sizes in Next. It almost killed the post mini-break glow – but not quite. Home for 20 minute lamb curry and ice-cream repentance. It’s now only 2 weeks and 5 days until my wedding dress fitting and I’m still the same weight I was at proposal (2 years ago). Aaaargh. Wish me luck for the next three weeks of exercising and living on vegetables.

Peeb will be wearing a semi-bespoke (?!) tweed suit from a company whose sizes are similar to those used by Next… so hopefully, fingers crossed, praying the suit he ordered today will fit properly.

Top tips for Salcombe? Get yourself a loaf of sourdough bread from the bakery. And get an ice cream from the ice cream factory – I had Ginger. The best. Walk to South Sands beach and get the ferry back for £3.50 each (dog goes free).