Category Archives: Family

Cazabon at Belmont

Belmont is a neighbourhood, just east of Port of Spain in Trinidad, bordering the Queen’s Park Savannah, the large central park located at the north end of the city. Belmont is a collection of tight lanes with houses pressed close to their front gates. It is a great place to live and be close to all that the capital city has to offer including the national Carnival that precedes Lent.

IMG_20160409_213656Belmont House in Kent, England, is the home of the Harris family. The third Lord Harris was the governor of Trinidad and Tobago between 1846 to 1853. In Port of Spain today there is Lord Harris Square and in San Fernando, the second largest city, there is Harris Promenade. He was married to a Trinidadian and their son later became a famous cricket captain of England.

I learned of Belmont House through some research done by Mrs FTF on a painter I mentioned to her some years ago, Jean Michel Cazabon. Cazabon is considered one of Trinidad’s first internationally known artists. I’ve always admired his landscapes and I had a book showcasing his work when I lived in Trinidad. It turns out that Lord Harris was a patron of the artist and owned a sizable collection of his work. Many of those pieces are now kept at Belmont House.

With the daughter in Warsaw for two weeks, we took the four-seater Mito for a round trip through Kent. There was a tour of Belmont House early in the afternoon and we were unusually on time after taking the long way around London on the M25 via Gatwick Airport. It was my silent protest to the Dartcharge and a chance to see rarely visited areas of Kent. The rain made the drive slow but the views were great as many parts of the road ran along high valley sides.

We made an impromptu stop at the Beacon restaurant. Everyone was cramped from being curled up the last two hours. The building is located atop the side of a valley that was at the time of our arrival shrouded in mist. The interior was beautiful and as we had the place to ourselves, we all enjoyed walking around taking in the paintings and other design features. The snack was tasty although it was the smallest machiato I ever had. By the time we left, the skies cleared and the view across the valley was truly restful.IMG_20160409_125140

Belmont House was cold so we kept our coats on and with Little One on my back we followed the group tour around the house. It was a tiny group and the entire exercise had an intimate air. The house is small as stately homes go and we appreciated this because we had had enough after an hour, the length of the tour. The group knew from the start we were there to see the paintings so when we got to the room with the largest collection, everyone stopped and insisted I go in first.

A full set of water colours were on display in the master bedroom. Very delicate, very beautiful. To see these views of the island in the late 19th century always creates a sense of nostalgia, especially when you recognise a location. I was allowed to stay back and take in the collection if I wanted to. I declined as I knew there were more in other rooms and the guide was very knowledgeable. I did not want to miss a tidbit.

Downstairs, just off the main entrance hall where the last Lord Harris was known to have his afternoon tea, was the best piece, View of Port of Spain from the East

Never Liked Red 911s

This Saturday the family was down to four. Our daughter is in Warsaw with her aunt and grandmother for two weeks. We took the opportunity to use the Alfa Mito and enjoy some driving around the county.
We went to a garden centre to get some soil for our first experiment with planting potatoes in used tyres. These places are well designed to provide an outing with much more than garden stuff on sale. We passed the tea room which was fully packed and focused on our list. Then we headed off to Russell Park in Bedford. It is a wonderful park with near everything a family with children can ask for.
On the way we stopped at Chicksand Bike Park. It is a relatively new facility for off roading. The quality of bikes on view there was thought provoking. There seems to be less and less difference between what amateur weekend riders use and what the professional riders compete with.
The drive took us past the Airlander hangars, two huge green facilities from where the first test flights of this modern dirigible are due to happen some time this month. Big Son has written to the company for test dates but they are unable to commit to any at the moment and advise that he joins the support club.
When we got to Bedford it was very busy around the park and as usual on a weekend, parking was a premium. We ended up next to the ice cream van at the second bridge that crosses the rowing course. You have to provide your car number plate ID when paying for parking. No passing of tickets to new drivers when you leave early! With ice creams in hand, we headed towards the popular playgrounds where all types of climbing rigs are there for children.
The two boys were absorbed in play for nearly an hour before we decided to leave. We walked along the back path of the park and came into a side street where unknown to us, the parking was free. There was a red Porsche parked in that street which caught my ear for two reasons. It was an unusual colour red, not the Ferrari Red which looks out of place on a German car but more a milky red. It was also handsomely optioned with a dark glass roof and black accents stylishly placed across its body. The car looked good.
Then we saw the front boot lid pop open and the only people within range of the car was an elderly couple looking very unassuming. The association was entirely incongruous. True enough they walked to the car, placed their recycled market bags in the front boot and got in with the greatest of ease and familiarity. It was a sight to behold.
It is difficult to completely explain what was so striking about this scene because one can think it is about the car or the couple but seeing the two come together with a utilitarian attitude was quite refreshing and in some way, hopeful. Hopeful for the achievement of a certain level of equanimity.

March and Winter End

The whole of March we just couldn’t wait for Spring to arrive, it seemed to take ages this year to appear. We had a birthday celebration this month and we marked the beginning of Spring with “Topienie Marzanny”.

IMG_20160305_112637Early March, the daughter turned 7 and for this occasion she asked for a strawberry cake and small gathering of girlfriends. We have a local Polish shop selling very flavoursome frozen strawberries. I mixed them with mascarpone and Big Son sandwiched the cake with it and Daughter decorated the birthday cake herself. Girlie Wirlie was very proud of herself and we all enjoyed a glimpse of summer, but as it’s England, on that day it snowed again!

This year, we’ve made the effort to celebrate Spring Equinox. “Topienie Marzanny” is the Polish pagan tradition of saying farewell to Winter on the Spring Equinox with dropping Marzanna into the rivers, so it carries away Winter with it as it flows to the sea. Traditionally children would make a doll with straw, dress it up with scrap cloth or now tissue paper, make some hairdo or head gear, just letting the children’s creativity speak. Then you’d take the doll to the nearest stream or river. Sometimes the doll is set on fire before being dropped into water, but we gave it a skip due to H&S issues.IMG_20160305_135725

The day was sunny enough, the children quickly assembled the doll and adorned it with quite unruly hair made of golden, glossy tape secured with a staple. Girlie Wirlie threw it into river Lea which flows through a nearby village. It was quite quick affair so we hardly caught any photo of it. So that was it: out first Spring Equinox!IMG_20160320_153056

This month the children continued star gazing, with Big Son finishing an online course on the Night Sky: Orion and we all joined the local astronomical society one evening to observe the Moon and Saturn. We saw a close up of the Moon’s craters and a bit of Saturn’s rings which looked a lot like a small line across the planet.

The new telescope is still a fascinating tool to watch night skies or planes landing at the nearby airport. Big Son became very enthusiastic about astronomy, ticking off from the winter and spring sky maps planets he observed. He gets quite upset when cloudy nights prevent him from gazing the sky.

So here we are now, end of March, Easter done and my mother and sister who were here for Easter have now gone back home. I’m looking forward to the warmer days, more sun, more fun and new projects I’ll be putting my teeth in. I can truly say, we deserve to enjoy the Spring! So do you 🙂IMG_20160329_133425

Christmas Wishes / Wesolych Swiat!

Christmas is fast approaching and it’s a special time in a family’s life. Our tight knit pack savours all preparations and traditions we carry with us from childhood or new traditions we started ourselves here in the UK.

IMG_20151209_125458It’s the season to give time and attention to each other, spend time crafting home decorations, putting up the Christmas tree – our case is hopeless as children insist on having a tree once we changed the calendar to December.

We are a mix of traditions and cultures: Polish, Trinidadian and British. We pick and choose the sweetest ones and make it ours. But the most important thing is that Christmas is about the excitement of having a couple of days together that are going to be slow and that we enjoy. Exploring presents amongst a sea of wrapping paper, lots of sofa hugs, indulging in the homemade treats we cooked together, taking a walk or simply snuggling under blankets to watch sun setting across the valley.IMG_20151224_102142

In early December, Big Son starts to pester me to make a list of food we’re going to cook for our big dinner on Christmas Eve – Wigilia. It’s a traditionally Polish night with nine, eleven, twelve or thirteen dishes for good luck. We’ve simplified it over the years, mastering the art of balance, to not overindulge our bodies with pierogis, mushroom soup or millets. In Poland just before the dinner, we traditionally share a blessed wafer bread and Christmas wishes. That’s the Polish part.

We start the dinner with British crackers and hats as we continue feasting on Polish delicacies of Wigilia. Pierogi is definitely the hit and the children every year are taking on a bigger part in preparing them with me. The fun, little spats, all the fuss of the day or two before Christmas.

The Trini part on Christmas Eve is the music, Parang, and the black cake which we order from a Tobago friend.

In my childhood in Poland, we used to get presents right after the Wigilia dinner. Here, our children wait for Santa to drop gifts at night, so on Christmas Day morning we can have the best kind of mess in our living room – full of wrapping paper, toy boxes, surprises, excitement and laughter.

The brunch on Christmas Day is the Trini style: ham with piccalilli and homemade hops rolls and leftovers from Wigilia, rounded up with the rich black cake.

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But the most important thing is that we spend that time together. Christmas is about giving each other love, time, attention and care. We love to catch up with the family, friends far away, watch the children playing with new toys, enjoy presents that were chosen thoughtfully with love or stretch the legs on a brisk walk.

It is quite tranquil and calm in England that day, while people are tucking in the Christmas Day lunch amongst their dear ones. I find it very special and soothing to have the paths, streets or parks to yourself. The true Christmas aura, even if we do not have snow here.

Merry Christmas and Wesolych Swiat!

Van Houten Cacao for sale!

Dutch Cocoa 100% available from Ftfoutlet on eBay

Van Houten Cocoa

I rediscovered an old classic cacao this year. Van Houten cacao was the one we used to make hot cocoas, desserts and cakes in my childhood. It was the 100% of pure goodness in times, when you can hardly find in shops a bar trying to mimic real chocolate – (my childhood was at the end of the communist era in Poland with shortages of nearly everything).

The Van Houten family traditionally made cocoa by a process they invented. Later, they invented the Dutching or Dutch method, where cocoa powder is treated with alkaline salts, making it darker and milder. This made it possible to create a chocolate or hot cocoa, by blending with milk or water easily.

It all makes Van Houten cacao perfect for patisseries, baking or making traditional cocoa drink. It is mild and creates a rich and velvety drink – our family’s favourite treat. I was fortunate to spot the old brand and now I’m sharing the good news with you.

I found it again in the French shop this year and we fell for its dark colour and richness. We decided to bring with us some of this goodness straight from France. We found Van Houten cacao to surpass in taste the chocolate or cacao available here in the UK.

Van Houten 100% Cocoa for Sale

Van Houten 100% Cocoa for Sale

It comes in boxes of 250g, no sugar added, with the traditional Van Houten logo. Just as I remembered it from my childhood. I’ve set up the FTF eBay shop and you can now buy it here.

Soundtrack to the drive…

One of the favourites tracks we listened to on the tour of Poland drive. Two Polish sisters, “Ballady i Romanse”. I translate:

What will remain of those years?
Maybe memories none.
Smoking in the staircase, showing off.
We sense something, fearful of something,
But generally we having a good time.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Sitting on the citadel’s wall, wine drunk and stoned.
Soothing nerves with laughter,
Worried with grandparents’ funeral.
But parents feel well.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
We invent our deaths,
Now finding it tempting.
Who dies is who lose, who lose is who dies.
We sense something, fearful of something,
But generally we having a good time.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Sitting on the citadel’s wall, wine drunk and stoned.
Soothing nerves with laughter,
Worried with grandparents’ funeral.
But parents feel well.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Sitting on the citadel’s wall, wine drunk and stoned.
Soothing nerves with laughter,
Worried with grandparents’ funeral.
But parents feel well.
Who will swim across and who will not?
Who will drown?
Who will swim across and who will not?
Do you know?

Trip to Poland 2015

IMG_20151023_104231Thursday 22nd – left home at 3am. Eurotunnel went smoothly and we were in Calais by 7am. We had rainy skies all the way to Magdeburg. Not the best drive. We split the duty. Got there about 5pm. TomTom Go was very helpful and we had no troubles getting to the door of the Airbnb flat we rented.
We shopped for something to cook and came up with spetzel, beans in tomato sauce, corn and cheese. All ended up in one pot and finally five bellies.
IMG_5850Friday morning started out with cloudless skies. We had poached eggs and no-flour bread we got from the shop Thursday night.
We walked along the Elbe through the State Park and toured the neighbourhood.IMG_20151028_143936
Excellent weather for Autobahn driving and testing out the cruise control on the car. We made some stops along the way and got to Warsaw in the dark at 7pm.IMG_20151026_151117
Saturday we slept in as expected but not too long. We took the children to see Mrs FTF’s old apartment in Sadyba from 2002. It was a great memory seeing the place we spent a lot of time in when we first met. We shopped at a sports shop to pick up warm clothes for Mazury and soon after left the children in Warsaw and head for Lodz. IMG_20151029_151734Wojciech Waglewski and his sons Fisz and Emade were who we went to see at the 2015 Soundedit Festival. The concert was a showcase for JBL new speaker systems. The quality of the sound was excellent. I really enjoyed listening to a quality band with such clarity and power coming through. We walked along Piotrkowska Street. Dinner was at a Bulgarian restaurant, No 69. Great food. We walked the length of the street and back to the hotel.
IMG_20151027_095044Sunday we had breakfast at one of the new delis, Brednia. The croissants were not light French numbers but rather heavy “meal in one” jobbies that made us realise we were wrong to order individual meals on top of the two jelly filled ones we got with our coffees. We bought some Polish cakes at a nearby cukiernia Hortex for the children.IMG_20151031_103526 We chose to drive the old road back to Warsaw and got there in time to watch the Formula One race from Austin, Texas. Lewis won the race and sealed the championship.IMG_20151027_150600

Monday started out grey and cloudy in Warsaw. We got it all together and left there for Pasym. The sun came out as we crossed the Wisla and the drive was nothing short of amazing. The Autumn palette did its best to startle us with new vistas as we enjoyed the newly repaved roads. We had to turn back at one point in the forest because the road was being repaired and it meant an added 30mins to the trip. We got to the house at about 5:30pm. It is a modern house with lots of heaters scattered all over. No Internet! Detox for the next five nights. The town was very quiet and the moon was nearly full. The sight of the church steeple in moonlit silhouette was something to behold.
IMG_20151027_160701Tuesday began with a light haze over the village. We walked around to locate the shops and ended up in Centrum Delikatesy. Breakfasts are the best when you stay at AirBnb rentals. You have full control of your meals. And you get to try new things at a pace you are comfortable with.We drove to Rudziska Pasymskie where we were told of an old bobsled track that was built for Wehrmacht soldiers in WWII. The car almost got beached heading up the track so we parked and continued on foot.
IMG_5486The children climbed a hunter’s tower and for the next few days counted them as we passed many in the adjoining fields driving around the area. As we were returning to our car we saw a couple stuck on the hump of sand that almost got us. After some attempts to push the car the guy decided he’d run into the village to get help. Soon he was blasting up the hill in another car so it seems like they were local. They passed on the road to Szczytno and we got a resounding round of horns. Another quiet night with dinner put together with sausages and cheeses from two shops in Jedwabno.IMG_20151030_141104
Wednesday was exercise morning. Mrs FTF, Big Son and I did our 15mins HIT bodyweight. Mrs FTF then took the three children to the bakery to get new rye bread the owner promised her on Tuesday. Big breakfast and then we went in search of an airport. We drove to Olsztyn to find a tourist information centre. IMG_5450We were sent to Lotnisko Wilamowo in Ketrzyn. It was a longdrive but in the end it turned out to be Hitler’s secret airport used to get to his Prussian base and today a busier airport that we expected with 3/4 flights per day. We drove directly to Szczytno and found the Mazuriana to be just the place to have a family dinner. The children loved the fireplace and we got online with the free WiFi. We got back to the village and everyone retired quite early. The nights are solid with little noise. We moved all mattresses to one room and all cosied up on the floor.