Thursday, October 19, 2017

Banoffee Tool Box Birthday Cake

We had a family barbecue for my father-in-law’s birthday in August and I wanted to make a cake that would stand out. I tried to think of things I associated with him – my father-in-law is really handy, at everything from fixing fences to building a child’s ride on car from scratch so I had the idea of a tool box cake.
Looking at Google Images I realised there were some incredibly detailed, realistic tool box cakes and figured I wouldn’t have the time or skill to do anything like that. Rather than make something else altogether, I decided to make a simple rectangular red toolbox, with a separate lid, and make some tools separately to pull the whole thing together.

My father-in-law really likes banoffee pie so I decided that would be a good flavour for the cake and found a recipe in Fiona Cairns’ Birthday Cake book. The recipe in her book is designed to make cakes in the shape of a pair of dice – for someone who likes a game of chance perhaps – but it was easily adapted to a loaf tin shape. You can find the recipe online at Cooked.

I decided to make the lid separately and as I didn’t want it to be too heavy, I thought rice krispie cakes would be perfect. I’ve seen cakes where all sorts of parts were sculpted from rice krispies – like an animal or person where the limbs were made from rice krispies. I wasn’t sure what consistency to make my rice krispie cake so took the easy way out and (kind of) cheated by using Kelloggs Rice Krispie squares. I sandwiched 6 – a mixture of chocolate flavour and plain – together with melted chocolate, in a block the length of my loaf tin, and put them in the fridge to set.

For the cake, I followed the recipe, mixing butter, sugar, mashed banana, eggs, vanilla, milk, flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. The mixture baked nicely in my loaf tin – it did create a bit of a dome which had to be sliced off to level the cake. I also cut some corners – because I had a lot of other food to prepare for the barbecue as well – with the frosting. Fiona Cairns gives a recipe for toffee buttercream which sounds really nice, but as I had a tin of Carnation Caramel I decided to make some regular buttercream and add that.
After filling the cake I covered the whole thing plus the rice krispie cake block in red fondant, and made a handle out of fondant for the lid and some black panels for the front of the box. I wasn’t that confident at making tools even if I drew a template and followed it, so I bought some cookie cutters from Amazon and cut out a saw, pair of pliers, hammer and spanner, then did the same again in coloured fondant to make the handles. I think they worked really well, what do you think? These are the ones I used:

Finally I placed the tools on or around the tool box, secured the lid with a couple of cocktail sticks in an open position and the cake was ready to be presented. The cake itself was moist and delicious – I do recommend checking out Fiona Cairns’ recipe!


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Restaurant review: Rocksby's, Portsmouth

My sister and I wanted to take her baby daughter to the Portsmouth Aquarium a few months ago. I’ve realised it’s difficult to make an early start when you have a baby to get ready – by the time we arrived in Portsmouth it was already late morning, and we had decided on a quick trip to the Pyramids Centre soft play centre first.
My niece seemed to have a great time with the foam shapes and ball pond, but was most interested in some noughts and crosses on the wall which spun around as she touched them. I was quite tempted to get into the ball pond as well but it wasn’t big enough!
Baby had her lunch at the soft play, then my sister and I wanted to find somewhere to get some lunch ourselves. The Pyramids had two small café areas – one is right next to the swimming pool (and open plan) so noisy and steamy and the other was outside the main entrance by the turnstiles, but only had a couple of tables – so we decided to find somewhere else.
Walking along the sea front on a fairly dull day we decided not to go too far, as we still wanted time to go to the Aquarium. We found ourselves outside Rocksby’s, a fish and chip restaurant with a fairly broad menu of other dishes as well. I liked the décor, with seaside and fishing paraphernalia strung up from the ceiling and on the walls; the cheap white plastic chairs were comfortable enough and we were offered a high chair as well. They were busy but there was still plenty of room for the buggy.
I had mac and cheese, a bargain at £7 for a huge dish (and I mean huge), with an extra £1 for crayfish tails. It was delicious – I couldn’t even finish it! Definitely a dish I would recommend here.
When we left it had just started raining so we pushed the buggy up to the Aquarium, about a ten minute walk away. We were a bit concerned that we hadn’t left ourselves enough time in the afternoon, with my sister wondering when her daughter would want a nap as she hadn’t had her usual one that morning – only to find that as we arrived at the aquarium, baby was sound asleep. Rather than wake her – or spend money to go around the aquarium ourselves with her oblivious to the fish – we decided to go back to the car and head home. So our day out in Portsmouth consisted of soft play, lunch, and a brief walk along the seafront – but nonetheless a good time was had by all!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 42

Posting this a day late because I forgot on Monday night!

pork chop with sweet potato for me, peppered beef steak with mashed potato for him

Tuesday - working from home - have invited my mother in law around for dinner.
Fish in lemon cream sauce from this recipe, with hasselback potatoes

something easy from the freezer as we have a heating engineer coming this evening

My husband is out at a work event so I'll have spaghetti Bolognese with Quorn mince

Out with a friend

lunch TBA maybe cheese toasties
dinner - steak and chips at my husband's request

lunch bacon sandwich
dinner giant filled Yorkshire puddings we didn't have last week

Join in the blog hop!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Curly Whirly Cream Cheese Brownies and my new Ozeri kitchen scales

One day at work I spotted a sign advertising a Macmillan charity bake sale. The thing was, the bake sale was in two days time, meaning I didn't have very much time to shop for ingredients and bake something, as I'd already decided I needed to bake my dad's birthday cake at the same time so it was ready for the weekend!

I didn't want to miss the Macmillan bake sale since a recipe I devised appeared in the Macmillan Little Book of Treats, which came out in 2013. You can see that recipe, for toffee popcorn cupcakes, here on my blog or on the Baking Mad website.

Since I didn't have much time I went to a failsafe recipe: chocolate brownies. They are so easy to throw together and everyone loves a chocolate brownie. I chose the Curly Whirly Brownies from the Konditor & Cook book Deservedly Legendary Baking as they looked a bit different but still quick and easy to make.

At the same time I decided to make a start on my dad's birthday cake - unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster! The cake tasted great and was really moist, but that was part of the problem -so moist that it broke apart across the top while in the oven, then broke more when I was putting it into a cake tin, then by the time I reached my parents' house the cake was pretty much in three separate pieces!

I used my new Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scalewhich I was sent by the company to review. At only £8.99 currently and with free delivery on Amazon they are a real bargain - compact enough to not take up much room in the cupboard but the weighing plate is big enough for almost any bowl or plate, or you can put food directly onto the scales. If you're using a bowl, the 'tare' button allows you to subtract the weight of the bowl. The chrome weighing platform looks good and is easy to keep clean as well.

You can weigh in pounds, ounces, grams or kilograms and can change from one to the other by pressing a button - I found the scales very precise and as good as much more expensive ones. What's more the two AAA batteries you need come included.

So disregarding the cake which didn't quite work out, I also used the scales to make the chocolate brownies. Here's the list of ingredients from Konditor and Cook's recipe and then in my own words a bit about what I did:

To make about 16 brownies, you need:
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
175g salted butter
200g 54-60% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
175g plain flour

for the topping:
200g cream cheese
75g icing sugar, sifted
seeds from 1/4 vanilla pod
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20x34 cm tin with baking paper or greaseproof paper.

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat until it is melted and just starting to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the 54-60% chocolate and a third of the 70% chocolate until melted.

Add the chocolate to the egg mixture and mix well then fold in the flour. Stir in the remaining chunks of chocolate.

Pour into the prepared tin and level the top with a knife.

In another bowl, bbat the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth then mix in the egg yolk.

Using a piping bag or a teaspoon drizzle or pipe the cream cheese mixture in swirls over the top of the brownie mixture, using a fork or the tip of the teaspoon to drag across the lines.

Bake for 22-25 minutes in the preheated oven then leave to cool in the tin. When cool cut into squares.

The brownies were lovely and fudgy and the cream cheese topping had a slightly sharp contrasting flavour, a bit like sour cream; it made the brownies look more interesting as well and they disappeared very quickly at the bake sale!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Restaurant Review: Crate Brewery, Hackney Wick

The Olympic Park in Stratford, London, is home to the London Stadium, the Aquatics Centre, the Lee Valley VeloPark and other venues that were used for events at the London 2012 Olympics. I’d never been there before – I did manage to get tickets to one Olympic event, but it was elsewhere – the beach volleyball on Horseguards’ Parade near Westminster.
I was at a work event nearby recently and my colleague had booked a pub restaurant for us to have some dinner afterwards – the Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick.
It’s a surprisingly long walk across one side of the Olympic Park to the other so I was pretty thirsty by the time I got to the pub. It’s right next to the river (or canal? I wasn’t sure), with big wooden tables outside (with benches, sharing style); inside is fairly industrial-looking with big beer crates and seats made from wooden pallets and a bar made of railway sleepers. They are a brewery as well as a pub/restaurant, and you can book brewery tours, hire the space for an event and buy their beer online.
Their food menu seems to consist entirely of pizza (with a few salad and bar snack options) – all made from scratch and with some quite unusual toppings like sweet potato, stilton and walnut, Kashmiri dahl or Middle Eastern lamb, along with more traditional margherita and salami.
We went at the end of summer and sat outside enjoying the last of the nice weather, sharing several pizzas between our group. Unfortunately at this stage I hadn’t quite announced my pregnancy so none of my colleagues knew – which meant I was very limited in what pizza toppings I could eat, but couldn’t explain why!
The pizzas had a thin, flat base, and weren’t that gooey – good if you like the drier-style pizza though I’m quite partial to a deep-pan myself. I’d recommend a whole pizza or equivalent per person – they cost around £9-£11 each- but it’s definitely the sort of food you can share between friends while enjoying a beer (or something non-alcoholic otherwise!).
This place is quite out of my way so I’m unlikely to come back but it made for a nice end to the evening with a nice view of the river and being a stone’s throw away from the Olympic park.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

BlogCampOnBoard the MSC Preziosa - My First Impressions of Cruising

Cruising is just for old people, right? I've never been on a cruise ship before and imagined them as floating palaces full of old-age pensioners, playing bingo and dressing for dinner at the captain's table in their faded finery as they cruise around colonial-era Caribbean islands.

I had the opportunity to test and maybe challenge my assumption last week after being invited to spend the day on the MSC Preziosa, while it was in port in Southampton. An event for bloggers called Blog Camp on Board, run by Flea Enterprises, the company behind the Tots100 and Foodies100 indices and blogger communities.
The bloggers
I was expecting a fairly big ship but was amazed at my first glimpse of the MSC Preziosa - it was the size of several blocks of flats. There's a reception and drop-off area next to the ship, then boarding took a little while for security reasons, but as they called names alphabetically, I was in the first group to board and led the way up the steps onto the ship.

My first impression was of glitz and glamour - plush carpets, shining surfaces, wide corridors and big open spaces. In fact it was very easy to forget I was on board a ship as it reminded me more of a luxury hotel.

We were initially shown into the theatre, which can seat over 1,600 guests - though today there were only about 140 bloggers in the audience. We were given an overview of the kids' club offering by the Youth Activies Manager Mateo, with a little help from two of the ship's mascots. As I'm not a parent blogger - or a parent yet - I wasn't that interested in the children's facilities but it was impressive hearing that they have five different kids' clubs they have, divided by age, and some of the activities the children can get up to across the MSC cruise fleet - from cooking to mixing DJ sets and filming a web series called Kelly & Kloe - of which we saw a quick snippet. Children can also participate in activities where at the end of the cruise they take home a certificate stating they are junior ambassadors for Unicef.

Entertainment for the adults sounded fab - I know that cruises offer different shows and often have resident singers or cabaret acts, but did you know that MSC is the first cruise line to announce a partnership with Cirque du Soleil?

The spa area

The day was divided into different sessions for smaller groups of bloggers and my first stop was the spa where we watched a make-up demonstration. It would have been better if they had done more of a tutorial but the idea was to show one of the things that passengers can have done on board (though you pay extra). We only saw part of the spa but the whirlpools certainly looked nice.

The MSC Preziosa is huge, with 18 decks, 14 of which are accessible to passengers, carrying 4,345 passengers when at full capacity - which it was that day, so we weren't able to see inside any of the cabins. It also has 1,388 crew which makes for an awful lot of people on board, though today most of them seemed to have disembarked and gone into Southampton - shopping at Primark judging by most of the carrier bags I saw people carrying when they were coming back!

One of the cabins we didn't get to see - complete with MSC ad on the TV screen. Photo courtesy of MSC
So it was unsurprising that we couldn't take in the whole ship as part of our tour, but I got to see the outdoor pools on the top deck, the Doremi kids club, a crèche (or kids club for very young children), a casino, gym, the Safari lounge and one of the bars, and the focal point - a staircase where every step is inlaid with Swarovski crystals. It must be the most photographed point on the ship - the bloggers I was with all took time to stop and take pictures and I can just imagine guests using it as a backdrop when they are glammed up for the evening!

The pool deck

Swarovski crystal staircase

Kids club - photo courtesy of MSC

We didn't get to see the children's Doremi castle, the 4D cinema, library, bowling alley or the art gallery or any of the shopping boutiques (there's even a duty free mini mall on board) so I indulged in checking out some photos and an online 360 degree tour afterwards.

Doremi castle - photo courtesy of MSC


roast pork with some other bits and pieces!

the dessert bar

We were treated to lunch in the main restaurant (there are about eight restaurants on board I think) with a choice between a menu and a buffet. I went for the buffet as I think you can tell a lot about the quality of food when you are serving yourself from a buffet. The options today were roast pork (carved straight off the bone by a crew member), sweet and sour pork or fish, with roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts (a shame the only vegetables on offer were ones I hate!). There was also a selection of salads, breads, hams and cheeses and of course an awful lot of desserts to choose from!

The food was good - I chose the roast pork, and a trio of desserts (they were fairly small - though not that small!). Unfortunately I couldn't enjoy the wine on offer as I'm pregnant but a helpful waiter kept bringing me soft drinks, which I needed as I'd gotten a bit dehydrated from not drinking much during the morning and watching the make-up demo in the warm spa!

After lunch there were some events aimed at bloggers - I went to a session on food photography presented by Sandhya from Sandhya's Kitchen - and Sally, founder of Flea Enterprises, did a session on blogger metrics.

The day ended with a glass of bubbly or a non-alcoholic cocktail and a Q&A with MSC's UK Managing Director Antonio Paradiso, where he covered everything from the background of MSC to carbon emissions of its ships.

MSC Cruises is known as more of a European cruise company and has had a relatively small presence in the UK, but next year the MSC Magnifica will have Southampton as its home port. There are already plenty of departures from Southampton on both the Preziosa and the Magnifica but this should make it more appealing to UK passengers.

gym with sea view
They are even making the effort to target their cruises more at a British audience, down to details like putting a kettle in the cabins and partnering with Yorkshire Tea as their chosen brand of tea!

MSC has 13 ships at the moment and is getting ten more in the next nine years; they are particularly focused on families and children and interestingly, Antonio told us that cruise demographics are changing, but even across the industry the average age of a cruise passenger is 55 - on MSC Cruises it's 43.

Having spent the day on board and seen the sparkly modern facilities, the range of services for both adults and children - and by adults, I mean people like me, not just my grandparents' age - I'm impressed. I still don't know whether I'd actually book a holiday but there's no denying it's an efficient way to visit several cities and countries on one trip - but the day definitely dispelled some myths and misconceptions. And there wasn't a bingo hall in sight.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017- Week 41

Another busy weekend of sorting out the house before the baby comes (yes, we still have several months - but I want to get it done now!) meant I didn't do any meal planning, and I'm in the middle of cooking dinner - the result of a random rummage in the freezer - before I have even planned this week's meals!

Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch ham sandwich
Dinner Quorn spaghetti Bolognese                                                                         

Tuesday - working from home
Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch crumpets or croissants as we have both from the weekend to use up
Dinner beef stroganoff with leftover meat from Sunday's roast, with sweet potato - based on this recipe

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch sandwich
Dinner homemade cod in breadcrumbs with chips

Breakfast cereal
Lunch sandwich
Dinner out at a work event

Breakfast  cereal
Lunch sandwich
Dinner microwave risotto - v. quick as I have a pregnancy yoga class tonight

Lunch hot dogs assuming I remember to get the bread rolls!
Dinner chicken schnitzel with katsu spices from Waitrose with German pan-fried potatoes based on this recipe

Lunch Out - will have been at a Mothercare baby event this morning and then might grab lunch nearby and have a look around a couple of other shops as well.
Dinner filled giant Yorkshire puddings with chicken and sausage

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Grilled Cod with Jerk Spice

I love to eat fish but usually buy salmon, tuna or even something like mackerel – I get very bored with white fish as it can taste very plain. I found this recipe on Cooking Channel TV for grilled mahi mahi (a fish also known as dorado, which I’ve only ever had on holiday before) with jerk spice that I thought would work well with cod.
I thought I'd share what I made following this recipe with you - it may not photograph particularly well but it tastes good!
Scallions are spring onions in UK English- and the spices are all widely available in supermarkets, and mixing them is a bit more satisfying than just buying a jar of jerk seasoning. It’s very easy to make the marinade – just put everything together in a food processor!
The best way to cook the fish is to then grill it – serve with a green veg.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce

You may not have heard of shawarma before but you’ve probably eaten something very similar in the past – it’s a lovely (and easy) dish to make yourself at home. A shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish that can use various meats or poultry – usually lamb, chicken, beef or veal – cooked on a spit and shaved, rather like a kebab. It’s then served in a wrap or in a roll and is sometimes topped with houmous.
It's also nice served on, rather than inside, a pitta bread for a sit-down lunch. Of course, you don’t have to cook the meat on a spit (unless you want to barbecue) and most people don’t have a kebab rotisserie at home – so you can also cook the meat in the oven. I used this recipe for oven-baked chicken shawarma with garlic sauce from the Easy Peasy Foodie.


Like her, I used chicken mini fillets to make the recipe quick, though you do need to allow an hour or two to marinade the chicken in advance. There are a lot of spices to mix but they are pretty much all ones you would probably have in your store cupboard anyway if you like cooking, and once you’ve marinaded the chicken, simply bake in the oven then shred it.
The garlic sauce from this recipe is also easy to make and works really well with the spicy flavour of the chicken. I lightly toasted some pitta breads on the grill and served the chicken and garlic sauce on top – I think this would even work for a pizza topping if you want to make your own pizza! It was delicious and something I’d definitely make again.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 40

I barely managed to blog at all last week - I had quite a busy week, out three days during the week and away visiting family at the weekend. For anyone who read my meal plan last week and was wondering about the awards on Friday night.... we won!

Here I am having just collected the Institute of Internal Communications award for Best News/ BAU Writing on behalf of my team - pretty cool given it's a national award across all industries and we beat some stiff competition!
I also had a good weekend seeing my family for my dad's birthday and came away with quite a haul of baby gear, as my sister's 10-month old daughter doesn't need some of her things any more. At this stage we still don't know if we are having a girl or a boy but she still gave us loads of neutral clothes plus things like a moses basket (two, actually), a cot mobile and a sling that seems to be just a long piece of fabric you are supposed to knot around yourself to put your baby in - I don't think I will have the confidence to do that!

Anyway on to this week.... I'm away tomorrow and Wednesday going to a blogger conference called Blog Camp on Board - organised by Flea Ents, the company behind the Foodies 100 index, and hosted by MSC Cruises on board the MSC Preziosa, which should be interesting - more on this in another post!

I've left planning meals a bit late as I was so busy last week and pregnancy is still making me very tired... I fell asleep in front of the TV earlier this evening and it was only about 9pm! So here's what I've planned so far:

ready made lasagne (went shopping on way home)

at my sister's where I am staying before Blog Camp

home from Blog Camp around 8pm so think I will have a quick tuna risotto using microwave rice

working from home as I have an antenatal appointment in the middle of the day. Hunter's chicken for him, salmon and sweet potato for me

stir-fry chicken with veg and noodles though without my favourite beansprouts as you are not allowed to eat those when pregnant

Lunch crumpet pizzas
Dinner Chinese takeaway style meal from the supermarket - bit of a weekend treat and means I don't have to cook much while we are trying to sort out the spare room to become a nursery!
Lunch sweet apple lamb left over from last week in a baked potato for me, beans and cheese in a baked potato for him
Dinner roast beef with cauliflower cheese

Link up your meal plan below!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: Bella Vista Farmhouses, Gozo, Malta

This summer my husband and I spent a week on Gozo, a small island off Malta. It was a nice relaxing holiday - there are a few things to do on Gozo but it's not as busy as Malta. We stayed on the outskirts of a small village and enjoyed pottering around and sitting by the pool.

We booked through a holiday rentals website as we were looking for a villa, and the Bella Vista Farmhouses looked nice and seemed good value. By the time we had decided where to book though, it turned out the smallest villa, which slept four, was not available, and we ended up with one that slept six just for the two of us.


Bella Vista can arrange transfers from Gozo ferry which is helpful; they have several farmhouses and a main reception area where you can go for help or information about booking excursions, and Monica on reception speaks good English.

The website didn't actually say these were villas - they are described as farmhouses - but I was expecting lots of separate stand-alone properties, perhaps dotted about the hillside (the amazing view you can see in their pictures is accurate as you are high up looking down). However this was a big disappointment - I would call these apartments rather than farmhouses.

To get to ours - Ta Natu - you walk through an underground car park and down a small corridor, where there are front doors to the different 'farmhouses' all along the same corridor. There were then steep steps going down into our apartment, and the living room leads out to a small terrace with a very small swimming pool. But there's a wall next to the pool and on the other side is the next apartment's pool, and because the apartments are slightly staggered, you are then overlooked - I was in the pool one day and looked up and saw someone standing at the wall of their terrace looking down on me. We had wanted a private villa that was detached and ideally far enough away from neighbours that you wouldn't hear them let alone see them so this was quite disappointing.

This is the barbecue

The apartments themselves are quite rustic in style but the furniture was decent quality, and the sunloungers outside next to the pool were comfortable, but the barbecue was another disappointment. We'd hoped to barbecue every night and did end up using it several times but had to buy foil trays in the village to put the food in. The barbecue itself was like nothing I've seen before -a sort of flat tray over a burner (not a grill) - and it was absolutely filthy and didn't look like it would be easy to clean so we didn't want to put food directly on it. It is also hard to control the heat as there was basically a flame that you could turn on and that was it.

view from our terrace

Our apartment had three bedrooms, one with a double bed and two twins. The double bed was the hardest, most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept on - my husband had such back ache after the first night we had to switch to one of the twin rooms where the beds weren't great, but they were better.

watching fireworks over the Citadel by night from our terrace

We decided not to hire a car and the village, Xaghra, was about a 15 minute walk - fairly easy to do but we avoided doing it in the heat of the middle of the day. It's well lit at night as well and we were quite happy walking to restaurants and back.


Overall I was fairly happy with our stay at Bella Vista; the apartment had everything we needed (apart from privacy or a comfortable bed); the pool is too small to swim properly but I like to just sit in the pool and read which you can do (sitting on the steps that lead in) and I'm glad we had the extra space without trying to squeeze in six people. Xaghra is a nice little village with some decent restaurants (see my separate reviews) and it's easy to get around the island to explore.

We discovered that the main historical site on Gozo was actually just outside the village where we were staying - Ggantija, meaning 'giant's tower' is a temple complex older than the Egyptian pyramids, built around 3600 BC. They are the world's second oldest existing man-made religious structures (after somewhere in Turkey) and we saw it referred to a few times as the Maltese Stonehenge which was ironic because I grew up just a few miles away from Stonehenge.

It was about a half hour walk and didn't take that long to go around as it's basically ruins with a few information signs but it was quite interesting and I would say worth a visit if you are on Gozo.

Blue Lagoon- first thing in the morning

Another day trip we did was to the Blue Lagoon - an area with beautifully clear water on Comino, which is a tiny island between Gozo and Malta. We booked through the Bella Vista reception and were taken by taxi to the harbour where we got a ferry to Comino. We had wanted to do a longer boat trip around the island where you could snorkel off the boat but it was fully booked - if you want to do something like this it's probably a good idea to book in advance.

We decided to get the first ferry at 10am and I'm glad we did (it only took 10-15 minutes to get to Comino). The beach area next to the Blue Lagoon is tiny - in fact you couldn't really call it a beach. There's a very small semi circle of sand and then mainly a paved area where deckchairs are laid out - you have to pay for them and there isn't an inch of space between loungers. If you don't want to pay you can climb higher up and sit on the rocks but it didn't look all that comfortable.

We paid 15 euros for two deckchairs and an umbrella; the chairs in the beach area are more expensive than the jetty area where we were but it's only a few metres apart and didn't make much difference. At 11am more boats arrived, and it was getting really crowded; by midday it was absolutely heaving and I heard the guy who was renting the deckchairs telling someone there were no more left.

There's a toilet block and several stands selling food but all food truck style so nowhere to escape the hot sun unless you have a beach umbrella - and apart from swimming and sunbathing there's nothing to do here (and no space to do anything!).

The water was lovely - you can see fish without even needing snorkelling equipment - and it was nice to swim in the morning but in the afternoon it was so crowded I decided not to go back in. Our return ferry in the afternoon was a different kind of boat I think; it took us on a tour of some caves around Camino and was driving really fast almost like a speedboat where the back of the boat is in the water and the front is higher up, which I really didn't like, but luckily it was only for about 10 minutes! I would say the Blue Lagoon is worth a trip but definitely go early to beat the crowds, at least if it is peak season like when we went.

A few other tips if you are staying at Bella Vista Farmhouses:
  • We paid our deposit in advance by bank transfer with the balance (several hundred euros) to be paid on arrival - but they only take cash. There is a cash point in the village (a 5 min drive or 15 min walk) but you might want to bring the cash with you.
  • There is a big fan in the living room which kept us surprisingly cool - we bought a few cards for the air conditioning (5 euros each for about 10 hours) but didn't use all of them
  • Buy or bring a clicker to turn on the gas hob and oven if you plan to use it (and given how bad the barbecue was, we did end up cooking inside). The ignition switch on our cooker didn't work which means you have to reach right inside the oven to light it with a match which Monica did for us the first time, but I was too nervous to do myself. The barbecue also needs to be lit with a match underneath the cooking plate so a clicker is much easier and safer. We bought one in the grocery shop in the village.
  • We were given a map to the Lighthouse Grocery store; they are open 7am-7pm and will deliver to the farmhouses though we got there around 6.30 as we hadn't wanted to walk in the afternoon the first time (as we didn't know how far it was) and the lady in the shop seemed quite put out we wanted delivery that late in the day (we hadn't realised that would be an issue). She said it could be arranged though and we would have our food in about 30 mins so she got us to pay and pack it into a box and leave it in the corner. We walked back to our farmhouse and in the end delivery took about an hour - so don't buy anything frozen!
  • Since we didn't hire a car Monica gave us the number of a local taxi driver and we used him to go to a restaurant one evening; it was very reasonably priced and we called him when we had finished our meal and he picked us up again about 15 minutes later. It's really easy to get around Gozo if you don't want the expense of hiring a car.