George, the Dragon and the Cottage pie

Wishing you all a happy Saint George's Day with these humble cottage pies. I've been mostly working on my book, stuck with my nose in research and absolutely loving it but in the evening I long for great simple food with pure flavours. This pie is just that, with the best spuds you can find for your mash, decent flavoursome beef and a layer of moist spinach, this is a treat for me. I just wrap it in a towel and relax with a beer and a movie.
Today will be marked by celebrations with a lot of beer in most parts of Britain, often started by a good old pub meal that very likely will consist of a hearty pie.
Saint George's day is the National Day for England although it is not an national holiday in Britain. As you will know, he is the patron saint of England and he is nearly always depicted slaying a dragon.
The origins of George and the dragon are quite obscure, like so many legends are. The earliest written source of Saint George in Britain can be found in the works of Bede, a monk from Northumbria who lived around the end of the 7th century.
It is not a saints day unique to Britain however, the feast of Saint George is celebrated throughout Christian and Protestant countries and all around the 23th of april, the date on which he would have been martyred.
Of George nothing is certainly known, it is most widely accepted that he was a Roman soldier from Palestine who lived in the late 3rd century AD.  
Born as Georgios, Greek for 'worker of the land' he became an imperial guard to the emperor Diocletian, but when Diocletian issued a decree that every Christian soldier should be arrested, George renounced his emperors ruling. He declared himself openly to be Christian and refused to convert to the old Roman gods. Diocletian tortured and later decapitated George for his refusal.
No doubt you will all have been waiting for the dragon slaying moment in this story but unfortunately I will have to disappoint you as there are no dragons in this tale.
The tale of Saint George and the dragon dates from a much later legend during Medieval times. Here the story of George would have been Eastern in origin and brought back from the Crusades. Before the Middle ages George was depicted as a soldier but around the 11th century that changed to the now more popular dragon scene. The first written source is believed to be a 11th century Georgian text that can be found quoted in the book The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition. 

A weekend away in Britain: Dartmoor and Exeter by train

Ditch the car for a long weekend
This online space of mine has always been about my love for Britain, not only British food. Traveling around the country, exploring regional dishes, wandering around small villages and heritage sites is what I love to do most.
So what would I do on this long weekend ahead of us? I would venture out to Dartmoor, the weather is going to be splendid for walking and having a lovely pub lunch outside. And what if you're stuck in traffic with your car every day, or don't have a car, don't know how to drive or just want to get away without your car, just because you want to.
This is a weekend away to Dartmoor and Exeter, without a car, but with plenty of fun.

Day 1: A dinner on a train to Devon
The weekend starts on a friday evening at Padding station in London, we've already spent the day in London browsing book shops and munching our way through Borough Market but the real trip is starting when the train to Devon leaves the platform this evening.
We have a booking on the First Great Western Pullman service, which will wine and dine us until we arrive in Exeter. They journey should have brought us to Cornwall but nature took over in the West Country a couple of weeks ago and the train track at Dawlish got consumed by the sea. Our plans had to change so we decided on a weekend of walking and pub meals in Dartmoor.

I've always had a thing for dining trains, it just oozes Victorian charm and I can just imagine how it used to be on the older and more charming train carriages. We board the train around six and as dinner service is shorter temporary, we are taking our place at our table while we leave the station. It's a full house, or should I say full train to Exeter and dinner service commences with a quick pace. The team on board serving us is professional and witty, it is clear that we have some regulars dining with us today. I heard the Somerset steak has a good reputation so I had to try it and for my starter I chose the Dartmouth salmon with Blackmore Vale Dairy cream cheese. That's the thing with this Pullman dining service, they have sourced the produce from the land and the waters we are travelling past on the train. The menu has been created by Mitch Tonks of the Seahorse in Dartmouth, as is the wine list which is sadly lacking a British wine. I sipped my pint of Tribute when we were approaching Reading, the salmon was delicate in flavour and the cheese a definitely good match, the steak really was devine and cooked medium rare as I asked. The sun was setting and a short while before Taunton we received our dessert, a cheese platter for us as we don't have a sweet tooth. All British cheeses which were at the right temperature, a soft Helford white, a smoky Devon Blue and a Keens Cheddar served with a quince jelly that was so good I finished Bruno's as well.
By the time we left Taunton, we were full and happy and ready to turn in for the night at our hotel in Exeter.

The lady chef of the Pullman dinner service

We were so tired after walking around London all day and enjoying such lovely food on the train, that we had an early night, ready to take the twelve O clock bus to Dartmoor. 

Day two: To the Moors
Busses to Dartmoor leave from the coach station in Exeter, after a walk around town with our backpacks we made a quick stop at the Real Food Store for a piece of cake - which was moist and full of dark chocolate and left us pining for more. The bus trip to Moretonhampstead is about an hour and with plenty of pretty views along the way and locals having a chat with you, it is over and done with in no time. We arrive in Moretonhampstead and start the search for our 13th century farmhouse B&B.
The farmhouse is situated a 20 minute walk out of the village, it's a nice scenic walk and as the weather was so warm for the time of the year, we enjoyed it.

Iconic British Brands - Twinings Tea

Mr Stephen Twining
On a Tuesday morning which felt like midday after a visit to London's fish market, Stephen Twining made me my first cup of tea of the day.
The name of the tea maker really gives away the reason why I made a note of that first cup of tea in my diary. Stephen Twining is the tenth generation of the Twining tea family, a legacy that was started 308 years ago and helped shape this nation of tea drinkers.
Stepping back those 308 years in time, there were over 2000 coffee houses in London. To stand out in this saturated market, one had to do things slightly different. Thomas Twining opened up shop in a London that was going through vast changes after the Great Fire of 1660 destroyed most of the city. Looking at the shop which is still holding strong at The Strand, it looks like the building is squeezed in but it was actually one of the first to be there. The shop used to stand at a corner which made it easy for high class ladies - who weren't allowed into the coffee shops as they were considered masculine territory - to drive their carriages to the side and send their footmen in to buy the tea that had the reputation of being the finest of them all. Because of this increasing amount of interest in buying his teas, Thomas realised that he was actually more a blender of tea and started to market his business as such. Sadly there were no copyrights in the 17th century and so his blends, and those he created especially for lords and ladies, were being copied by others. Today there is only one personal blend left, which is the closely guarded secret of the Queens tea.

The Twining Family played an important part in Britain becoming a tea drinking - devouring - nation when Richard Twining, grandson of Thomas, and head of the tea trade, persuaded Prime Minister William Pitt to lower the then high levels of duty. He argued that, revenues would be greater if taxation would be lower. Tea at that moment in history was a privilege only available to the most well-to-do of society and so important that it was high on the political agenda. The Communication Act of 1784 lowered tea taxes and made it affordable to all those who wanted it in their cup. This made tea finally a part of everyday life.