Punting to Islip, part 2

(You can find the first half of this trip here.)

In the last 24 hours the weather has turned, and from the balmy summer days we have been enjoying, it’s now grey, overcast, and very, very wet out there. Which makes me savour the memory of this trip even more. Four friends, one punt, sunshine, lots of Pimm’s and beer and the perfect mini sausage rolls!

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(I’ve been working on perfecting these, and was so glad they came out well. Super quick & easy to make. Chop a couple of red onions, throw them in a frying pan with some butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, some balsamic vinegar, & some chopped rosemary, and leave to sweat over a moderate heat. Roll out some puff pastry, and divide lengthways into 3 or 4 strips. Spread onions down the middle, then top with a row of cocktail sausages, and cut the pastry after each sausage. Brush one side of the pastry with beaten egg, fold the other side over and press onto the eggy side. Brush the top with egg, stick in the oven for 20-25 mins at 180°C or until golden, and Bob’s your uncle!)

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After a few hours battling the current and, in places, the debris, we finally reached Islip. It’s a beautiful, peaceful little village, full of gorgeous houses that I dream of one day owning. We didn’t want to hang around too long, so we stopped for a quick pub lunch, during which I had to fight off the wave of mid-afternoon drowsiness that hit me out of the blue. (This explains why I managed to not take any photos of the pub itself.)

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I used to think I would hate to live in the countryside, but the more time I spend in its “half-forgotten nooks”, the more I am seduced by it. I know it’s not particularly realistic in terms of jobs, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

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And then it was time to head back downstream.

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By the time we were almost back at the Boathouse, the light was dimming and the evening coming on. We quietly trudged home through North Oxford, tired but content. A couple of friends are coming to stay with us in August, and if the weather’s good, the plan is to repeat the trip then. Fingers crossed!

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Punting to Islip, part 1

“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do.” (Kenneth Grahame, ‘The Wind in the Willows’)

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There’s something about punting that is so quintessentially Oxford-in-the-summer. It’s the epitome of the idyllic British countryside immortalised by Kenneth Grahame in ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Punting up the River Cherwell into the wilds of Oxfordshire, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, has always felt so luxurious. To take time away from the everyday is so necessary, particularly as a graduate, when your to-do list can seem never-ending. No internet, no emails to deal with or screens to squint at, just friends, food, and glorious weather (at least some of the time!). 

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For the last few years, we have made an annual pilgrimage. An all-day trip up to the village of Islip, a few miles north of Oxford. We pack food and drink, and leave in the morning, to return by the early evening. It’s by no means an easy journey: there are several places where the river is almost completely blocked (especially if the weather has been bad), which involves some interesting feats of engineering, and there have been times when it looked like we would have to turn back. But somehow we’ve always managed to get there and back again.

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We’ve done the trip with various combinations of people (a punt can hold up to 6), but this year, when we went a week or so ago, there were only four of us. And it was the most fun it’s been.

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ImageThe riverside fascinates me, perhaps because it’s not something there is much of in Greece – growing up, I had very little experience of idling the time away on rivers. I’ve always loved boats, and relished the opportunity to take boat trips to go to islands such as Poros, Hydra, Aegina, and Spetses, which are very close to the mainland. Punting is different, though – it’s tranquil, slow and steady, calming and restoring.

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ImageThere’s something incredibly nostalgic about it all. Forgive me if I have come across as sentimental or romanticizing; it’s very hard to capture in words how wonderful the day was, and how it provided a much-needed break from everything, a chance to reenergise and regroup. Coming up in part 2: Islip itself, and the journey home.

 

Asian Salmon with Stir-fried Vegetables & Noodles

It’s only Saturday night but this weekend has already been such a long one. Thursday turned out (rather unexpectedly) to be pretty hectic (both work & play – supervisor meetings, student union stuff, and a friend finishing his finals), and on Friday we had planned a whole day punting trip to Islip, a village north of Oxford, which was wonderful but sapped all our energy. Today we took a walk up the canal to Woodstock for the Midsummer Festival, which took most of the afternoon, and by the time we were nearly home I was wilting rather badly. (Separate posts on both these trips to follow over the next couple of days, once I’ve been through the hundreds of photos…) So come this evening, a light and easy dinner was called for. There were a couple of salmon steaks in the fridge, along with some rather tired baby corn, stem broccoli, and half a red pepper. What else could you make than a stir fry?

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Ingredients (makes enough for 2):

  • 2 salmon steaks
  • Half a red pepper
  • Half a pack each of baby corn and stem broccoli (although any veg you have lying around will do)
  • Noodles
  • A couple of cloves of garlic (one finely chopped and one sliced)
  • Ginger
  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Honey
  • Chinese fivespice powder

What to do:

  1. First make the marinade. Mix together a few glugs of soy sauce, a couple of tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, some fivespice, the finely chopped garlic, and about half of your ginger (also finely chopped). Pour over the salmon, cover, and put in the fridge for 15 mins (or longer if you have the time). [Tip: if you marinate the salmon in an oven-proof dish, you’ll save on the washing up later.]
  2. Turn your oven to 180°C. Drain the excess marinade into a jug. Put the salmon in the oven for about 15 mins, until cooked through.
  3. Cook the noodles as per pack instructions (mine were dried, so required boiling first before I could stir fry them).
  4. Add about a tablespoon of oil to a frying pan (or a wok, if you have one). When hot, throw in the vegetables, sliced garlic, and the rest of the ginger cut into matchsticks. Stir fry for a few minutes.
  5. Add in the cooked noodles and the reserved marinade from the salmon. There probably won’t be quite enough of this, so add more soy sauce and oyster sauce as you deem it necessary. You can also add more fivespice at this point.
  6. Keep stirring until the veg is cooked but still firm. Put onto plates, top with a salmon steak, and enjoy!

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