Greek Moussaka Eggplant

Travel with your taste buds with this Greek treat

Thinking of hosting a themed dinner and bingo party at home? Allow your guests to travel using their palate. Let them taste the wonders of Greece via the classic national dish: Greek Moussaka Eggplant. While the food takes about 2 hours to prepare and cook, you and your friends can enjoy some time to socialise.

Moussaka is regarded as one of the most popular Greek foods, thanks to the famous Greek chef Nicholas Tselementes. The casserole is not traditionally from Greece as some scholars maintain that moussaka was introduced by the Arabs when they brought the eggplant to Greece. Moussakka is an urban cuisine that, like Greece, is able to respond to new ingredients, religious, and traditional influences.

The rich influence of Greece to the modern world cannot be undermined. The Greek influence can be seen from events as big as the Olympics to as little as everyday things as the alphabet. Greek mythology is one of the biggest influences of Greece to the modern world. Even in the world of video games, countless Greek mythological references are prevalent among games such as God of War, titles are loosely based on the wonderful world of Greek Mythology. Meanwhile, Castle Jackpot creator IGT also tapped the creative muses of the Greek mythology by making Cupid & Psyche, a slot game that features the enduring love story that goes against all odds.

Here is a delicious recipe from About.com contributor, Lynn Livanos Athan:

Greek Moussaka Eggplant

Greek Moussaka Eggplant

Greek Moussaka Eggplant

Ingredients:

3 eggplants
1 lb potatoes
1 ½ lbs ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, diced
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup red wine
¼ tsp allspice, ground
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
8 egg whites, lightly beaten (please reserve yolks for Bechamel sauce)
2 cups plain bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese

For the Bechamel sauce:

1 cup flour
1 cup salted butter
4 cups milk, warmed
8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Method

  • Prepare the vegetables. Make sure that you peel the eggplants while leaving a 1-inch peel around the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into ½-inch slices. Set them aside in a colander and salt them liberally. Peel and boil the potatoes until they’re cooked enough. The potatoes should not be too soft. Drain them and slice them in ¼-inch slices. Set them aside.

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets with aluminum foil and grease it. Add a splash of water as you beat your egg. Dry the eggplant with paper towels before dipping it into the beaten egg. Dredge them in the bread crumbs. Make sure you coat both sides. Bake them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, turning them once during cooking. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees when eggplant is cooked. Set them aside.

  • In a large pan, cook the ground beef until brown. Add the onion, garlic, and cook for about a minute. Pour wine to pan and allow it to simmer and reduce before adding cinnamon, parsley, allspice, tomato paste, sugar, and tomato puree. Simmer for 15 minutes, so excess liquid can be removed. Season with salt and pepper.

  • Prepare the Bechamel sauce. Over low heat, melt the butter. Add flour while whisking continuously to create a smooth paste. Cook for a minute, do not allow the flour to turn brown. Add the warmed milk while whisking. Simmer over low heat for a minute, then remove from heat. Stir in beaten yolks and nutmeg. Bring back to heat and stir until sauce is thick.

  • Assemble the moussaka. Lightly grease a baking pan, sprinkle bread crumbs on the bottom of the pan, then add a layer of potatoes. Top with layer of eggplant. Add meat sauce and Parmesan cheese. Top it with another layer of eggplant slices before sprinkling again with the cheese. Pour in the Bechamel sauce covering the sides of the pan. Bake for 45 minutes over 350 degrees. Cool before serving.

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Lanes of London

I was invited along to an event at the Marriott hotel in Marble Arch for the opening of a new “concept” restaurant, Lanes of London.

It’s a beautiful setting and the staff were friendly, reasonably knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The food was surprisingly good considering the concept and the range of cuisines that they covered as a result.

It’s the concept of Lanes of London that I have a bit of a problem with. It’s not even a problem with the concept per se, more with the concept in this particular setting.

They cover four “Lanes” of London which represent different cuisines that our fair city has become famous for. So Brick Lane represents Indian food, Kingsland Road represents Vietnamese, or seemingly more generic “South East Asian” food, Edgware Road is Lebanese and Portobello Road is classic British.

So first of all, I realise three out of the four “Lanes” are actually “Roads” but I’m willing to let that slide, linking Portobello with British food is also pushing it a bit I guess but again, let’s leave pettiness out of things.

The real problem is that having all these cuisines and serving in small tapas-esque sharing plates means that depending on your group you can end up with a very strange selection of mis-matching dishes. This I think would be fine in a relaxed (I’m thinking Hackney) hipster place where the novelty would make things amusing, here it just feels a bit odd in posh surroundings and with the style that Lanes of London is going for.

 
Anyway, in no particular order, let me take you through some of the Lanes of London items we sampled this evening using press photos provided and starting with a cocktail.

The Arack Panch was a rice wine based cocktail from Sri Lanka with pomegranate seeds and lime. It was a little sweet but not at all bad.
Arack Panch

The Beef Brisket sliders served with bone marrow as a topping were probably the highlight, with tender patties we could have carried on eating these all night.
Beef Brisket Sliders
I found the butter chicken a little bland and the roti that came with it a bit greasy but it was popular with others at the table so maybe I just like it hot.
Butter Chicken
The Hung Que sour was an alternative take on the whiskey sour with added lemongrass. It wasn’t that dissimilar to an average whiskey sour was our verdict.
Hung Que Sour
These are the Jammy Dodgers – served to us in a Lanes of London metal box to take away and a cake rather than the biscuit you may be used to. Incredibly sweet but quite a treat.
Jammy Dodgers
The Kafta Meshwi were Lebanese meats with a babaganoush dip, pretty good if a bit fatty.
Kafta Meshwi
The Lamb Cutlets with greens were tasty although not really enough to share and very much on the bone.
Lamb Cutlets
The interior of the Lanes of London restaurant is done out stylishly although having to walk through the reception of the hotel and down two flights of stairs to the toilets was a bit of a mood killer.
Lanes of London - restaurant
The pumpkin salad didn’t last long but was kind of inoffensive and forgettable to be honest.
Pumpkin Salad
Another favourite of mine, perhaps because it took me back to Indian street food was the smashed up samosa Chaat, the pastry snack mixed with a tangy tamarindy sauce and chickpeas, straight off the stalls of Mumbai.
Samosa Chat
I’m a massive fan of a gourmet Scotched Egg, I attended a workshop on making these way back in the day, and this was an OK rendition but I thought the yolk could have been more runny and the breadcrumbs slightly less crisp. They were perhaps a little overcooked.
Scotch Eggs

So, Lanes of London, friendly staff, weird concept, decent food, wrong setting would be my summary.

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Immersive theatre: The Day Shall Declare It & The Drowned Man

Immersive theatre. It’s quite the thing.

I wrote a preview for Le Cool about this Wilderness production based on some Tennessee Williams short stories and then I wrote a review after going to see it for Weekend Notes. It’s extended the run now until 7th Feb so you still have time to go and see it.

the_day_shall_le_cool

It isn’t on the same scale as something like one of the Punchdrunk performances where you can go and get thoroughly lost in proceedings but it does get you up close and personal with the actors and is beautifully produced.

So what is Immersive theatre? Also called “promenade” or interactive theatre, imagine you are in amongst the action, with no delineation between set, actors, and audience, except, in Punchdrunk’s case that the audience wear white masks.

I also went to The Drowned Man, Punchdrunk’s new immersive theatre production in “Temple Studios” just next to Paddington Station.

This was on a different level altogether with a large cast spanning two storylines and a multitude of possibilities available to the explorer. It does feel like you are exploring rather than watching in an extremely detailed set which you can poke around to your heart’s content.

I felt after three hours in there that I’d only scratched the surface of the story being told and, while it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, it didn’t seem as focused as Faust, the first production of theirs that I enjoyed immensely. It’s a sexy, rollicking ride though which will leave you wanting more, I think I could go back two or three more times to fully grasp what was going on.

One of the issues with the scale of the production – with up to 600 audience members, is that following one of the main characters becomes a case of getting bundled into a large crowd of white mask wearing voyeurs. I saw some interesting side-scenes by wandering off by myself or chasing minor characters but this tended to confuse or create a more fractured storyline.

For example, the Asian girl who was always running scared but who didn’t seem to fit in either of the main story lines. I was nosing around the office of a motel when she burst in with another audience member screaming about barricading the door but just when I thought I was going to get some insight she bundled me out telling me it wasn’t safe to be in there. I was trying to position myself for a one-on-one scene with one of the performers but, alas, it never quite happened!

Immersive theatre certainly makes for an unusual and exciting night out. although don’t necessarily expect a straightforward story line or plot to follow!

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One for Ten in Le Cool London

Death row in America, not a nice place to be, particularly if you haven’t actually committed the crime you are incarcerated for. As the title of these films suggests the current figures are one innocent for every ten guilty prisoners.

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This documentary series, which I wholeheartedly recommend you have a watch of on their website, is the result of the filmmakers’ journey across the US visiting former inmates who have been proven innocent following a lengthy appeal process. Often in jail for decades these prisoners have found a legal system which has not served them and corruption that has meant they have been left, sometimes in horrific conditions, and always with the threat of their life being taken away.

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I wrote about an event on the 14/1/2014 where the team will be giving a talk about the films and the process they took in making them and it went out in Le Cool London last week:

 

lecool1for10

 

Check it out, or at the very least go and have a watch of the films and despair about the legal system.

IMG_0141

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Brand X in Le Cool London

Brand X is a counter-culture classic film from 1970 and is showing in the Subway gallery at Edgware Road exclusively for the next two Fridays.

Taking on the culture of TV in a style that was a precursor in some ways to Saturday Night Live, this undermines the government of the day in a series of skits.

It’s creator Wynn Chamberlain was heavily involved with Andy Warhol’s factory and this project was a big success before Nixon’s powers that be allegedly clamped down on it.

I covered Brand X for Le Cool here:

Brand X in Le Cool London

Brand X in Le Cool London

It looks  pretty great! Here are a couple of other promo shots from the Brand X film:

brand_x_still_abby_hoffmann_in_the_money_program_2

Still from Brand X – Abby Hoffman in the Money Program – Chamberlain Family collection

brand_x_still_taylor_and_sally_press_conference_2

Still from Brand X – Taylor Mead and Sally Kirkland in the Presidents Press Conference – Chamberlain Family collection

BrandX_Sally_Kirkland_Taylor_Mead_Old_Plantation

 

Brand X – Sally Kirkland and Taylor Mead in Down on the Old Plantation – by Jean Franco Mantegna and courtesy of the New  York Public Library

BrandX_Ultra_Violet_Tomorrows_Stars_Today_2

Brand X – Ultra Violet in Tomorrows Stars Today – by Jean Franco Mantegna and courtesy of the New  York Public Library
 

 If you get yourself on their RSVP list then you can see the screening for free and listen to an introductory talk at the same time. On top of that they will be giving away free popcorn and you can bring your own booze. Sounds like a good way to start off a Friday night!

 

 

 

 

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Mama Mze’s Asian lunch spectacular

I recently spent a week in Morocco with a yoga group, practicing twice a day and enjoying some like-minded company in beautiful and sunny environs.  There were 13 of us all together, mostly in our 30s and all with something happening to lead us on a trip of discovery.  Noraini is slightly older than the rest of the group though, and she soon took on the unofficial role of mother to all of our yoga family. When we got back to the UK she realised a promise and invited us all to her house in Milton Keynes for  a feast of epic proportions.

Naz and I arrived a little early to help out with the finishing touches of preparation but the amount of work that went in was phenomenal and from our part it was more an excuse to get an early look at the delicious courses on offer.

It’s hard to know where to start talking about our Asian lunch but how about:

  • Slow cooked spiced Beef Rendang which was so tender, the slithers of meat disintegrated to the touch.
  • The broiler chicken, also slow cooked with soy sauce and chili on the bone and really indulgent.
  • Fried king fish smothered in a tangy, sweet, sour and hot sauce reminded me of times in KL’s Kampung Baru, noshing by the roadside on plastic chairs. It’s smell and taste were so familiar I think this was my favourite dish.
  • Indonesian Gado Gado was all crunchy greens until Naz and I smothered it in (perhaps a little too much) peanut sauce. Noraini claimed she had cheated on the sauce by using crunchy peanut butter but when it tastes so good, why go to the extra bother.
  • This along with corn fritters and fried aubergine covered in spicy sambal gave the vegetarians plenty to enjoy.

Noraini was born in Singapore but apparently learnt how to entertain so fabulously when she was living in Hong Kong and her husband used to bring work colleagues home for dinner. She’s entirely self-taught from one book – The Complete Asian cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, which she said gave her all the knowledge she needed.

Just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more Noraini served up an amazing array of desserts.

We had green tapioca puddings or Sago Gula Melaka, drizzled in caramelised palm sugar and coconut milk. Gula Melaka actually refers to the palm sugar from Melacca in Malaysia and although apparently it is possible to replace with Indian Jaggery, this lacks the oomph! As if these weren’t enough we had profiteroles filled with freshly whipped cream and covered in dark chocolate, a magnificent meringue with oodles of cream and raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and banana topping.

This was too much for us to take as the remaining sweet Malaysian pancakes filled with desiccated coconut were all stuffed into pockets to take away.

 

Tapioca dessert. Asian Lunch

Tapioca dessert

Fruity Meringue. Asian Lunch

Fruity Meringue

Profiteroles. Asian Lunch

Profiteroles

Serving up. Asian Lunch

Serving up

Broiled Chicken. Asian Lunch

Broiled Chicken

Beef Rendang. Asian Lunch

Beef Rendang

The whole feast. Asian Lunch

The whole feast

Aubergines in Sambal. Asian Lunch

Aubergines in Sambal

Corn Fritters. Asian Lunch

Corn Fritters

Gado Gado. Asian Lunch

Gado Gado

I’m very grateful to have met an amazing group of people in Morocco and to have continued friendships and learning journeys since coming back to London. A few of us are now doing Spanish lessons and although the wonderful Naz is heading back to Mexico to teach at her school there are enough connections for the rest of us to know we will keep the heart energy flowing!

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Occupy Walking Tour in Le Cool London

So I started writing for Le Cool again and this event looks like a fun and interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The guys from Occupy have organised a walking tour around the City of London to tell the history of money and finance.

In the wake of the banking crisis and the protests over the last few years there is a lot to talk about and these guys have an entertaining way of explaining some tricky concepts.

 

Occupy walking tour in Le cool London

Occupy walking tour in Le cool London

http://london.lecool.com/event/occupy-city-of-london-walking-tour/

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Writing Goals: 5 for Winter

Here I will set my writing goals for the next few months as a way of creating an intention, only in this way will I follow through and prevent my inherent laziness!  As we approach winter and all that entails it seems to me a good time to write, to express fully what is burning inside and to make plans for the future while remaining firmly in the present. Setting these writing goals will help me to tap into that creativity.

Writing Goals -  bring back this creativity

Writing Goals – bring back this creativity

I’ve been a lax blogger in the last few months and while I can blame work and domestic issues the fact is I haven’t prioritised writing in any meaningful way, I haven’t taken the hints to write every day, to make time and focus, turn off the internet and lose myself in the written word for a while.

This is going to change. I feel it has to for my general sanity, so here I set my writing goals:

 

First of all I am going to take part in NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month – otherwise known as November.

The challenge here is to write a novel, from scratch, in the 30 days of the month. The target is 50,000 words, which is a lot considering the pace of London life and the social opportunities that always crop up.

I don’t even have an idea for a plot yet, although I’m thinking it might involve India.

So the first writing goal is to plan for, and then write a novel. Easy.

 

Number two on the list is to blog more regularly. Writing a journal is a good start but putting stuff out there makes me much less likely to become self-indulgent or lazy.

I’ve got several posts I could catch up on, although a lot of them are rather out of date now so it becomes a bit less easy to remember details. Still, I will set the writing goal of 1 blog post a week – minimum.

 

The third writing goal is to use my time more effectively. Get up earlier, stop wasting time on trivialities and spend it on writing, planning and doing practice that energises me.

My daily yoga practice for example has become something of myth and legend. I did practice this morning, and it was great, but I want to do that every morning and face the day rejuvenated.

So the goal is to rise at least an hour earlier than I need to for work. Practice and write before leaving the house. This in itself is what will give me the opportunity to reach the other writing goals in this list since carving out the time to write is the thing that I find hardest.

 

Four is to grasp new opportunities, and follow them through.

It seems simple but I don’t do it often enough. I have a nature that is calm, relaxed and perhaps to the outside seems unflappable but equally unlikely to get over-enthusiastic about things. Positivity is the key and pushing forward with projects that are important to me while only giving the time I absolutely need to for those that aren’t is crucial.

So being open to new things and experiencing whatever comes my way but also to set the time aside to NOT be distracted by messages, tweets and phone calls to actually do what I need to in the first place.

 

Finally, I want to make sure that the things I have going on already come to some fruition.

So, I will write more for the wonderful bods at Le Cool London, I will try to chase the Thai Cookbook that I spent quite a lot of time on last year, and I will continue to write for Weekend Notes, Recipe Yum and the like.

Stir Fried Fresh Beans and Red Curry Paste... Writing goals - publish the cookbook

Writing goals – publish the cookbook

I might never have mentioned I wrote a random e-book about Prince Philip last year and have a couple of others that I started work on, so they need to come to completion.

These are primarily my writing goals for the next few months. Write a novel. Do a minimum of one blog post a week. Keep writing on my existing platforms. Find new platforms. Write some ebooks.

I have other goals too. Learn to drive, speak Spanish, speak more confidently in public and create a lifestyle that allows me to do the things I love more regularly.

 

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Hunters and Gatherers at the Rooftop Cafe in Le Cool

This Hunters and Gatherers event is being held at the Rooftop Cafe at the Exchange building, just in the shadow of the Shard. It’s a new place, only opened in January and there is still a bit of work to be done but it offers some good lunch options for those around London Bridge and a cool little space to get away from the hustle as well.

Hunters and Gatherers

Hunters and Gatherers event in Le Cool

This event focuses on local produce. They are offering ales brewed with hops from the East End and an English sparkling rose. Hunters and gatherers is the theme and this is represented by the foraged wild Kentish mushrooms and presumably locally tracked meat.

They are planning on opening a roof terrace with a cover which will be great once the weather starts to improve a bit. You will be able to sit with the Shard looming in front of you and with views over the other rooftops around the area.

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Craft Beer Rising

We attended the press day of Craft Beer Rising on Friday and discovered an array of beautiful ale and a buzzy environment showing the cool side of Real Ale in the UK.

Cornish Craft Beer

We had a fun afternoon wandering amongst and sampling Craft Beer galore inadvertently starting with two from Cornwall, The Rebel Brewing Co. and then Sharp’s, perhaps most famous for Doom Bar. The guys there were really friendly and informative and we tried a few of their bottled selection. They had a couple of good ginger varieties but the all time favourite and something which spoilt us for the rest of the festival was the fabulous Quadrupel. A dark ale containing four different types of hops and yeast this has an amazing depth of flavour. Chocolate and pale crystal malts are combined with Centennial, Hallertauer and Aurora hops and then fermented with three strains of yeast. Finally the maturation process sees it added to Simcoe hops at -1c for a month before being seeded with a fourth yeast strain in the bottle.

This was the best brew I tasted all day. At 10% it isn’t really a session beer and a crate of 12 will set you back about £50 but treat it as a fine wine and you’ll appreciate the value.

Craft Beer Rising, Sharp's brewery

Enjoying the beer and the banter at Sharp’s

Craft Beer Rising, Quadrupel from Sharp's

Sharp’s beautiful Quadrupel

Sharp’s Brewery Cornwall

 

Old Scottish Ale

Drawn in by the Bear Ale, we stopped at the Traquair House brewery where they had three Craft Beers. The interesting story of the Brewery is that it is based in one of the wings of Scotland’s oldest inhabited house. Their House Ale was complex and treacly while the Jacobite Ale had an interesting mix of herbs and chocolate.

 

Craft Food

It didn’t take long tasting these strong beautiful ales before we started to feel a bit squiffy. We’re both a little out of practice. As a result we meandered over to Hix’s Fish Dogs and tried what can only be described as a large fish finger in a hot dog bap drizzled with minted mushy pea sauce. It was OK but not really satisfying and the roll could have been better quality. Unfulfilled by this we knew where there were pork pies in abundance and so swerved back through the crowds to find a tricky selection atHartland Pies

Craft Beer Rising, Hartland Pies, Pork Pies

An Array of Pork Pies


We went for the pork and Stilton but they also had pork and black pudding, chorizo and the classic Melton Mowbray. Served with a dollop of mustard this hearty feast could only have been improved by a bit of Gray’s home-made piccalilli.
Craft Beer Rising, Hartland Pies, Pork pie

Pork & Stilton pie from Hartland Pies

Prizes!

Duncan from Melba tipped us off to a prize draw on the Wheel of Fortune. It was happening every 15 minutes at The Union bar and they were giving away bottles of Fuller’s Vintage Ale. This craft beer has been an occasional treat ever since I did the Chiswick Brewery tour with its live yeast fizzing away in a feast of flavour.
Our luck was in and we came away with bottles of 2006 and 2012 vintage.

Craft Beer Rising, Wheel of Fortune, Fuller's Vintage Ale

Winning some Fuller’s Vintage Ale on the Wheel of Fortune

Ale-sbury

We have friends that live in Prince’s Risborough and it was our home in the country when we first arrived back in the UK. As a result we were excited to see the stand for the Aylesbury Brewhouse and Vale Brewery which is just down the road.

Craft Beer Rising, Aylesbury Beer

Aylesbury beer

Keg time

In the Keg Room we stopped first at Thornbridge Brewery to try something a bit lighter. Their Halcyon Imperial IPA was full of complex flavours and the Chiron was fresh but neither really satisfied my thirst for the deepest darkest brews on offer..!

Our next stop at Harviestoun was influenced by the fact they had chocolate to go with their tasters but the Ola Dubh 12 was totally worth a stop in its own right. This smoky and bitter brew is based on the Old Engine Oil dark beer that is their staple. It is matured in Oak casks which previously contained 12-year-old Highland Park Whisky. Delicious, and perfect with a square or two of dark chocolate.

Craft Beer Rising, Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12

A variety of others…

 

We particularly enjoyed the variety of Bateman’s Signature Beer range offering Hazelnut Brownie, Mocha Amaretto and Orange Barley flavours. Delicious and with very distinct flavours, the Orange was like a Robinson’s Squash although did have a bit of an unusual aftertaste. The Brownie though was totally amazing and the Amaretto, made by infusing almonds into the brewing process was also nice. I’m not usually a fan of marzipan but this was sweet without being cloying. These are not the sort of thing you would drink all night but what a great treat!

Craft Beer Rising, Hazelnut Brownie

Hazelnut Brownie Beer

 
We also found The Botanist, a pub with a brewery literally within the restaurant area which must smell a bit. The main reason we stopped there was because Sophie liked the pink barrels.

Cider

 
We finished up where all the best beer drinking sessions do, at the cider stall. Thistly Cross Cideris a Scottish cider maker and they made it palatable even for me. A selection of flavours were on offer with Elderflower being particularly fresh and delicious.

Craft Beer Rising, Thistly Cross Cider

Thistly Cross Cider varieties


The Whisky flavoured one was a bit underwhelming and the Strawberry was a bit too jammy but overall they were all drinkable which takes some doing for me and cider. We finished with their “posh snakebite” a combination of one of their ciders, real black currants and a cask ale.
Craft Beer Rising, Snakebite

Posh Snakebite


 

It was a great way to spend an afternoon and the whole weekend was a sell out meaning that crowds gathered for the next two days to enjoy the sounds of Norman Jay and his fellow DJs turning the space into a craft beer party par excellence.

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