10/05/14
09:21:36 pm

Food post

I'm going to start this post with a heads up: I might not be around much for the next few months. I'm going to be doing some extracurricular work stuff, which is going to take up a lot of my time, so don't be surprised if things around here get a little slow (slower than normal, that is). At the moment I don't know how long it'll take, but I should be back to normal come autumn at the latest.

For now though, it's food post time! Because I have so many food photos that it's getting ridiculous.

Pasta with lamb ragù (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe was meant to be made with mafaldine or pappardelle pasta. I couldn't find either so I made do with the fusilli I had in my cupboard. But the shape of the pasta doesn't really matter because this recipe is gorgeous! It's the first recipe from this Nigella cookbook that I've really enjoyed. Lamb is lovely anyway, as is lamb and mint, and when you add in the sweet tomato sauce. Oh man. I could happily eat loads of this. Note to self: make it again sometime.

Blueberry & vanilla macarons (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
Once again I have discovered that macarons are not for the faint-hearted. At so many points did I think 'oh wow, this recipe needs a skill-set that I just don't possess'. But the only way to learn is to practice! The recipe called for purple sugar sprinkles. I could only find blue (I wanted gluten-free sprinkles so a colleague of mine could eat them). The colour of the sprinkles was the least of my worries, though.
1. Keep an eye on your macarons in the oven. The recipe says bake for 10 minutes at 170°C but I found that my macarons were turning from purple to brown in about 8 minutes. Oops. Macarons really aren't meant to be brown, and with the purple food-colouring added in, you get the strange pink colour that you can see in this photo.
2. The recipe calls on you to make your own blueberry jam. Mine wasn't anyway near thick enough.
3. The vanilla cream didn't go well. I over-whipped mine and then didn't pipe enough of it onto the macaron shells, which meant that none of the shells stayed sandwiched together. Also, I had to prepare these the night before, because I wouldn't have had time in the morning, which meant that my cream had kind of dried out by the time I took them into work. They didn't look the most appetising.
But! All problems aside, these tasted really nice! The sharpness of the fresh blueberries works great against the sweetness of the macarons. Oh, and unlike the last time I made macarons, the texture of these came out right: soft but a little crispy on the outside. The recipe said it made about 20 macarons; I got 30-ish out of the mixture. And when you consider how much macarons cost to buy in a shop, having a box of 30 macarons makes you feel proud no matter how they look. All in all, I'd count this as a success. And hopefully my next attempt will be even better.

Tricolore pasta with blue cheese (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe was meant to have all-green trottole pasta but I could only find the tricolore version. What can you do. Other than that, I don't think I liked this recipe so much. Granted, I liked it more than I thought I would. I am not a blue cheese fan, but the Gorgonzola piccante in the sauce just tasted cheesey rather than too tart and stinky. But, with the 125g of pasta per person, this is a massive portion. Far more than I can stomach. The pistachios are rich, the cheesey pasta is super-filling and the spinach is just sour. Hm. Edible, but not great.

Maple-glazed roast salmon
I couldn't find a 1kg side of salmon, so instead I roasted a load of salmon fillets together. I also wasn't sure that they were defrosted properly when I put them in the oven so I made sure to cook them for longer. What I'm saying is that I'm pretty sure my salmon was overcooked and dry because of it, but personally I don't really mind that. Overall, the sweet glaze made the salmon taste really nice. My only problem was that 300g of potatoes between four people makes for a very small portion size; at least, I think so. More potatoes please.

Fettuccine with mushrooms and mascarpone (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe was meant to include marsala, but I didn't add it in because that's my bag. As a result, I think the taste was missing something. In my opinion, it was a nice dish, but not amazing. Dried mushrooms aren't my favourite thing in the world, and once again Nigella hits you with 125g pasta per person. That's really too much for my stomach. I felt bloated all evening.

Mini macaroni cheese all'Italiana (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
And once again, I didn't add the vermouth to this recipe. This time, though I don't think I lost too much. Also, Nigella recommended using pennette or chifferi pasta and using freshly ground white pepper on top. I couldn't find any of that so I used macaroni and freshly ground black pepper instead, but I really don't think it made much of a difference. Now, let me confess: I don't really like macaroni cheese. It's very rich and I normally find trudging my way through a bowl of it to be hard going. This recipe though. This recipe! Nigella has got another gem here. Not only was this macaroni cheese nice. It was gorgeous! Firstly, I think the vegetable stock and truffle oil (I had no idea what that tasted like until I tried this dish. I'm a convert. Does this make me middle class now?) both those ingredients really lift the cheese sauce and make it sing. The four different cheeses give a great rounded taste and the chewy mozarella balls hiding amongst the pasta are a delight. I literally can't praise this recipe enough. I'll be making it for Eppa and James this week because I need to eat it again. (Literally the only problem was that I managed to chip once of my new ramekins when washing it up afterwards. Boo.) Oh yeah, I just remembered. I accidentally added twice as much pasta here as the recipe says to, but I think it worked much better that way. With less pasta the portion size is really small and the sauce is too runny. Sometimes accidents can work in your favour!

Roast beef with root vegetables
I don't think there was anything about this dish that I enjoyed! The major problem was my fault. I have learnt a big lesson, which is: pay attention to what cuts of meat the recipe asks for. This recipe called for topside beef but I used silverside. I thought it would be the same thing! It wasn't the same thing. Oh God. Silverside should never be eaten medium. The whole thing was tough as old boots! So chewy! I couldn't eat all the meat I'd served here because my jaw got tired half-way through the meal. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. The other faults were as follows:
1. The recipe calls for Elfe potatoes, which I couldn't find (I don't even know what they are) so I used normal white roasters instead and chopped them into roast potato-sized chunks. Whether this was the reason or not, I don't know, but the roast potatoes didn't come out crispy. That always makes me sad :(
2. The honey mustard glaze on the parsnips was far too sweet. Who ever thought putting honey on parsnips was a good idea?
3. The butter and lemon on the broccoli was too rich and just didn't go with the rest of the meal at all.
Overall, this was pretty much a disaster.

Steamed treacle sponge and proper custard (recipes came with a pudding bowl and jug set that I was given for my birthday last year)
This felt so old-school! I'd never made a steamed pudding or custard before (not even instant custard). Puddings are something that my Mum makes all the time (she doesn't make proper custard though) so I felt like a real grown-up for making these. And how exciting is steaming a pudding? I was terrified that the pan was going to boil dry in the 1hr 45min the pudding had to cook, so I kept running into the kitchen and looking at it. As for the custard, can you say 'scary'? Custard is so scary to make! But mine seemed to turn out ok, with only very minor lumps. (Proper custard is hard work to reheat the next day though; a bain-marie? Give me strength!) The proof of the pudding though, as they say, is in the eating. This pudding was nice, but nothing to write home about. And the custard itself was a little too eggy for my liking. I'm not a fan of eggs, really, and, ok, I'm a Philistine, but my Mum always makes instant custard and that's the version I like. Also, I found that the sponge was a lot tastier the next day after a reheat in the microwave to make the outside crunchy and chewy. I'm sorry; my Mum normally has batches of sponge puddings in the freezer so I've pretty much only ever eaten them reheated in the microwave; to my mind, that's how they're supposed to be. Don't look at me like that.
Overall verdict? These recipes were nice enough, but were a bit too much like hard work for me to want to make them again.

13/04/14
03:53:06 pm

Spring spring spring

Hi, guys? How are you? I'm very well, thank you.

Spring is properly on its way now and is perhaps nearing its end, even. The glorious weather that we've had since the beginning of the spring hasn't eased up; it's been warm and sunny most of the time. Glorious. Nearly all the trees have had their blossom replaced by leaves now, but there are still a few heavy-blossomed trees about, showering pink petals across the road.

I love spring. Can you tell that I love spring? The daffodils have died down mostly, to be replaced with a carpet of bluebells (if you're lucky). And my daily walk through the park is chock full of birdsong.

What have we done to deserve this year? I don't know! And Easter's next, which means a great excuse to eat chocolate. I love it.

So, what have I been doing since my last post? A few things. Have a rundown:

1. Walks in the sunshine
I went to visit my parents for Mother's Day. We took a mini country walk.

Daffodils in the churchyard where we sat to have lunch.

I think this was the rectory or something next door? It's a private building now, but I snuck a little way into the car park to take a photo of those gorgeous chimneys.

2. TV watching
I've been watching quite a few good things recently. And trying desperately not to get into Masterchef this year. (It just takes too many hours of my life!)

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle
Not everyone likes Stuart Lee, but I think his comedy is great. His delivery is so clever. He's the sort of comedian that can make a three minute silence hilarious.

W1A
This is the new sitcom from the same people that made Twenty Twelve. Since the Olympic Games, Ian Fletcher has gone on to become Head of Values at the BBC. If you loved Twenty Twelve, you'll love this. I, personally, adore the style of it, and as a satire on almost every large organisation ever, it is very clever and very very funny.

The Plantagenets
Professor Robert Bartlett came back with a documentary series about the Plantagenets. I loved his previous documentaries but I actually found this one a little lacking. Don't get me wrong, I learned some stuff (including things about the Wars of the Roses that I really should have known already) but this documentary didn't quite go deep enough for my liking. But then, if you're trying to cover a few hundred years in three episodes, things are going to have to go quickly.

3. And radio
I was reminded of this by one of our volunteers at work. Did you know that the whole back catalogue of episodes for In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg is available to download or stream online? Check it out! There's hours of fascinating stuff in there. Great to listen to when folding laundry or doing other menial tasks.

4. On the blogs
If that's not enough history for you, I've also spent my time reading the blog Food History Jottings. It's written by food historian, Ivan Day, who is someone you'll have seen on TV quite a lot if you happen to like documentaries about food history (I do!). His posts are always really fascinating, with the bonus that he often makes up the old recipes in his gorgeous kitchen (as seen in this post). It's great stuff.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I went to see this film last week with Susan. It was so good! I really really enjoyed it. (I'm planning to buy the DVD when I can.) It's fast-paced and fun and surprisingly funny. Not to mention that the whole thing looked gorgeous with its rainbow-palette of colours. I am becoming a Wes Anderson fan. Also, I kind of want to be M. Gustave when I grow up; able to handle any situation with style while calling everyone 'darling'.

6. Cake time!
I met up with James, Eppa and baby Rene yesterday. We had a lovely, relaxed walk around the park. On the way back we stopped for cakes. Look at mine!

It had lemon curd in the middle, which sadly didn't do enough to cut through the sickliness of all that buttercream and icing. I felt a bit ill. But look how Easter-y and cheerful it is!

7. London Marathon
I toddled off to watch the London Marathon go by earlier today. And what a lovely sunny day it was for it too. I managed to completely miss Susan go by, who I was meant to be cheering on. Whoops. But it was great to see all the other runners too. My favourite might have been the guy running with his own karaoke machine. He was singing Come on Eileen at the other runners. Biggest props, though, go to the guy carrying a fridge on his back the whole way, especially when you find out that the London Marathon is going to be only the first of four marathons he's running today. Whoa. He got such a massive cheer as he went past.

And I think that's about it for me. Have a nice Easter, all! I'll be back with a food post once I've got another couple of recipes under my belt.

19/03/14
10:05:42 pm

Food post

It's been ages since the last food post! Basically, for the last part of 2013 I didn't cook anything exciting at all. It was perhaps the hardest thing to give up during my studies. I'm so glad to be back on the cooking-wagon again :D

Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson, which Claire got me for my birthday last year)
I made this in September, so apologies if my description is a little vague. This recipe, which is essentially a type of pesto, contains anchovies among other things. I'm not keen on anchovies so I wasn't sure if I would like this. But it was nice! It packs quite a punch with the flavours: tangy and sweet and basil-y. Just slightly too much on the sweet side for me though; there are sultanas in the pesto, and having sweet in my savoury is not something I'm good at. (Oh yeah, and Nigella said this dish works well with fusilli lunghi pasta. Could I find any in my supermarket? Not on your nellie!)

Farmhouse loaf
This was the very last thing I tried out last year before my course. Looks quite nice, doesn't it? Don't be fooled! It was horrible! Ok, so not horrible, but it definitely wasn't good bread. Problem one: I didn't get the rise I wanted. It can't have been down to my new yeast, so either I didn't prove the dough in a warm enough spot (possible) or my kneading technique lacks something (also possible). This was dense, claggy bread. Problem two: I didn't add enough salt so it didn't taste right either. Have you ever eaten bread without enough salt in? It's not a pleasant experience.

Lentil salad with flaked salmon and sugar snap peas
My first recipe tried out in 2014! This salad can be made with edamame beans instead of sugar snap peas, but I couldn't find any edamame for love nor money in my supermarket. Be that as it may, this was a real tasty salad. Tangy, sweet and punchy, and great for toning down the richness of the salmon. Super easy to make too.

Pasta with courgettes (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
I don't have cooking wine, so I left out the wine that's meant to be in this recipe. Perhaps the taste was lacking something because of that. Although, actually, I think I know what happened; I added too much water to my sauce, which meant that all the buttery, garlicky, cheesey goodness didn't really stick to my pasta very well. The result? It was a pleasant enough dish, but not super amazing.

Yellow spaghetti (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
Once again, I left the wine out of this recipe. Sorry, Nigella, but wine just isn't my bag. This recipe contains a raw egg in the sauce, amongst other ingredients, which you slather on the pasta just before serving. I wasn't too sure about that because eggs really aren't my favourite thing, especially not raw, slimy ones. Luckily though, this sauce wasn't that slimy and the eggy taste wasn't too noticeable either. In fact, the taste of this recipe reminded me of a nice carbonara without the bacon. Not too bad, but I think I'm still too squeamish about raw eggs to make this frequently.

Mushroom and parmesan risotto
We could call this block of recipes 'Janine cooks Italian food but leaves out the wine'. Here's another recipe where I did just that. I didn't find this dish lacking for it though. Oh man, I didn't. Let's get this first thing straight, shall we? I love risotto. I bloody love a good risotto. So this recipe was right up my street. I personally found that the taste of the dried mushrooms was a little too overpowering for my liking, but other than that, I would call this a super nice dish. If only risottos didn't take such multi-tasking to make. It's tiring stuff!

Pancakes filled with tomato, basil, mozarella and prosciutto (recipe for the pancakes taken from Sainsbury's Live Well for Less magazine, issue 2; and inspiration for the filling taken and modified from here)
Did you know that this is the first pancake day I decided to make pancakes all by myself? I've always found them a little daunting in the past, but I decided to buck my ideas up give it a go this time. The pancake recipe made loads of pancakes so I decided to have a savoury pancake course before moving onto the sweet. And this filling? It was really really nice. If I didn't find pancakes slightly too rich for me, I would have eaten loads of these.

Pancakes with lemon and sugar (recipe for the pancakes taken from Sainsbury's Live Well for Less magazine, issue 2)
Same pancakes as above, but a sweet version. I've tried all sorts of combinations of chocolate and ice-cream and fruit with my pancakes in the past, but nothing beats lemon and sugar for me. Did I mention that I find pancakes slightly on the rich side? Lemon juice always cuts through that richness wonderfully. You may note that my plate is looking kinda empty here. There were initially meant to be more sweet pancakes, but what I learned that evening was that if you make enough pancakes to feed a family of four, surprisingly, one person can't eat them all in one sitting.

Chicken, leek and lemon pie
This recipe sounds nice but I think it's been given the wrong name. Instead it should be called 'lemon, lemon, lemon, lemon, lemon, with a bit of chicken and leek' pie. It's a really lemony pie! Once you get used to that though, it's kinda nice. And you do get the pride of having made a whole pie yourself, even if the pastry is shop-bought. We'll forget the part where the chicken didn't cook enough when boiling so I overcooked it and the leeks afterwards to make up for it; a minor inconvenience.

Yorkshire pudding
I'd never made Yorkshire puddings on their own before. Having now done so, I feel like I have passed some sort of test of adulthood. Well done me! Ok, so the rest of the roast was rather poorly done, but you win some you lose some. These Yorkshire puddings tasted like, well, like Yorkshire puddings. Some of them grew really massive; they took on a life of their own and started climbing out of the tins. I had to relegate the really sprawled, ugly ones to the fridge for later consumption. The one warning I would give about this recipe is that it says it feeds three people. The recipe makes TWELVE YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS (If you don't overfill the tins like I did). Unless you are going to eat four individual Yorshires with each dinner, you will have far more Yorkshire puddings than just feeds three. You can see from this photo that I tried to eat three Yorkshire puddings in one sitting. I was very full after that sitting.

16/03/14
04:32:09 pm

Fun in the Midlands with a scotch egg

Hi, guys. Let's start, as always, with an acknowledgement that I've not posted here in ages. After the whirlwind Sherlock marathon that was January, I took a bit of a breather. Time was mostly spent visiting family, friends and new arrivals, celebrating Chinese New Year twice (with some amazing food, I might add), and celebrating a couple of birthdays.

And finally spring is here! Ok, that's not that much considering that this winter wasn't much of a winter at all. (Where was the cold weather?) But now, now spring is definitely here. There are crocuses, daffodils and bluebells in abundance, blossom on the trees and bees warming themselves in the sun.

We'll not talk about the part where I accidentally killed a bee by shutting the window on it (the decline of the bee population is entirely my fault, I'm sorry); or the part where all this sun forced me into spring cleaning mode because I can actually see the dirt in my flat for once; or the part where the warm weather caused one of my forgotten bags of flour to suddenly sprout beetles (ick ick ick); or even the part where the clothes moths are starting to come back, the bastards (I knew winter was good for something).

That aside, spring is great! No, really, it's my favourite season. And considering that spring took forever to appear last year, I'm glad it's turned up early this year. It's warmer and brighter and more flowery, and walking part of the way to work in the sunshine each day is just glorious.

So. So. I said that one of the things I was doing was celebrating birthdays. One of them was Nick's, who's just turned 30. Well done, Nicholas. To celebrate, we flocked up to the Midlands for a party.

Old-school sweets at the party. Everyone loves a sherbet dip dab (not a euphemism).

What did we do at the party? Well. Nick had received a scotch egg as a birthday present. And we proceeded to ruin it (I'm so sorry, Nick). By "ruin it" I of course mean "attach more and more helium balloons to it in an attempt to make it fly".

I can safely say that there's little that's more euphoric in this world than finally getting a scotch egg airborne. Once aloft, it floated its way around the room, gently teabagging everyone it came across.

Good times.

After the party, we returned to our hotel, which was a lovely old Victorian country house. (With crocuses coming up in the garden.)

I loved these dog-shaped lights on the bannisters at the top of the grand staircase.

Oh yeah. And did I mention that my hotel room, which I got all to myself, was massive? It came with a large en-suite bathroom that caught the morning sun too. THE ROOM WAS BIGGER THAN MY FLAT, GUYS. I was sad to check-out the next day :(

While up in the Midlands, we decided to head to Shropshire for some sightseeing. This here is the iron bridge that gives the town of Ironbridge its name. It's the first cast-iron bridge that was ever built. It dates back to the 1700s! That's cool. And the whole town is so pretty. Perfect for an ice-cream and a wander round.

Next up was Bridgnorth, another very pretty place. I loved this street in particular. It just says "English country town" to me.

Bridgnorth is made of a "high town" and a "low town", with the high town being at the top of the hill and the low town being at the bottom. Here we are in the high town, heading towards...

The cliff railway! Two mini railway carriages that will take you up and down the steepest side of the hill. It was such a pretty view. And the carriages were so old-school and quaint.

Here's one of the carriages from the outside.

And then nice sight-seeing started to turn into... oh dear. Nick and friends standing in front of NICK TART.

And oh dear. I don't even want to know, Nicholas.

We also saw an advert for some seedsmen. Seedsmen.

SEEDSMEN.

Finally, we topped off the weekend with a trip to Cosford RAF museum (because Steve loves planes and he was the one driving). It was cool though. I learned all about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. Scary stuff.

That's all. It was a lovely weekend. Thanks to Nick for inviting us!

Now, if I can get my act together, we'll have a new food post coming sometime soon. Catch you later, guys o/

05/02/14
07:40:25 pm

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Guess what I went to see a while back! If you guessed that I'd seen the new Hobbit film (about a million years after everyone else) then you'd be right.

Click read more for my text-heavy spoilery thoughts:

Read more »

17/01/14
12:13:02 am

His Last Vow

And so Sherlock is over for another two years (or one year?) It's sad, yes, but also a relief. Living with this level of excitement is not possible for long periods of time. I'm exhausted.

Right then. Let's talk about the final episode. Click read more for spoilers. (Oh so many spoilers.)

Read more »

11/01/14
01:22:06 pm

The Sign of Three

I'm a bit late this time. Sorry, folks! I had a flat inspection on Wednesday, which meant that cleaning had to come before blogging.

And oh how I want to blog about this episode of Sherlock. So, without delay, onwards!

Click read more for spoilers.

Read more »

05/01/14
05:37:59 pm

Happy new year!

I'm back today with a more general post. Isn't this great? I think it's great. I've missed this. It's been so long!

Augh. If I ever talk about doing a distance-learning course on top of my full-time work again, please ask me to reconsider. This one was good, don't get me wrong, and it's going to be really relevant and useful to my work and I'm glad I've done it. But it took so much time! Coming home from work only to start studying again is miserable; especially if you're tired. At parts I felt like I was trying to swim through tar.

Still, now it's over! (Here's hoping I actually pass it.) I have so much free time and I'm spending all of it trying to run around and catch up on what I've missed. It may be a while before I'm fully up to speed again. (I may also have to do a tiny little bit of studying later in the year, just to finish things off, but not in January that's for sure!)

So, how was my Christmas? Mostly full of report and essay writing to be honest. Also watching Cooking with Dog and playing ridiculous computer games because studying isn't studying without a little bit of procrastination creeping in here and there.

I did have some breaks over Christmas though. I went to visit friends and family and it was nice. Yesterday (because it still counts as Christmas) I went to see James and Eppa and we ate homemade soup and scones while doing a jigsaw puzzle. Very relaxed but exactly what I needed. (Except for the aborted walk in the pouring rain. Thanks, guys, I didn't enjoy that part.)

Can we get to the presents now? I like doing the presents. That's what the spirit of Christmas is all about, right? That and eating copious amounts of cheese.

I got some lovely cards. Many of which were good. But my favourite one this year has to be the one hand-drawn by my Dad. It brightened my week.

With a special mention going to the panda drawn by Mariya.

As for presents, I got lots of lovely things.

Kitchen stuff, including a Japanese book about toast with some tasty-looking pictures from Mariya. I am so excited to start cooking exciting stuff again.

Stationary. I got the Michael Bublé calendar in a present lucky dip from Steve and Heather. It's 100% unofficial! I don't really know anything about Bublé. I suppose I should look up a video on YouTube or something? For now though, I've put up the calendar and the free poster. Just me and
Bublé (or Boobz as I like to call him) hanging out in the flat.

Clothes and underwear. The scarf and gloves come from Mariya. In fact, I'm wearing them both at the moment. I love being cosy warm in the winter.

And other exciting stuff. The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England has hardly left my side since I received it. I am beginning to truly adore Ian Mortimer's history writing. It brings everything to life. And so many interesting facts! Did you know that if you start at Piccadilly Circus and walk along the road we now call Piccadilly that you'll eventually get to Bath? For serious! It was originally known as 'the road to Reading'. Aaa! Such a good book!

Another mention goes to the Manga Studio 5 software. It's a present from my Dad. Apparently some people he's worked with recommended it. At first I was sceptical. I hadn't heard of the software and I already have illustration software. Surely I didn't need more? I was so wrong. OMG. The software I currently use is 14 years old. And you don't realise quite how far illustration software has come until you try a new one. It is so easy to use! I've only tried arsing around on it so far, but everything I've drawn looks miles better than what I could have achieved before. The lines are so smooth! There are so many types of brushes! And because this is specific manga software some of the effects and brushes are so bloody kawaii. I can get automatic feathers and petals and flowers. I used to have to draw all that stuff by hand! Seriously. I haven't wanted to draw this much in years. I can't wait to get stuck in some more.

So, is there anything else I've been doing recently? Let me see.

National Portrait Gallery
I went to the National Portrait Gallery in October. It's one of the few fun things I've done in months so I loved it. Is it possible to get nostalgic about something only an hour later? Because that's what happened. I went with my parents for my Mum's birthday. We took the whole day and went through the whole gallery in chronological order. It was so great to see the fashions in clothing and painting evolving as we went along. And I was playing a game called 'who looks the prettiest in this room'? The winners for that one were Prince Rupert, John Constable (I'm a fan after my holiday earlier in the year) and Ira Aldridge.

Pride and Prejudice
I finished reading this book months back. It's one of those books where I was embarrassed to admit that I didn't really know much about it before. Personally, I'm not sure that Elizabeth and Darcy ever become that likeable but I still found myself caught up in the plot anyway. The best part though, is this tie-in documentary, Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball, which I rewatched over Christmas and is so interesting (and not just because of the pretty costumes). Basically, it seems like Regency balls were a lot more like modern day clubs than you think. They're boiling hot, tiring, and everyone slowly gets pissed as the night goes on.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
I've been reading my way through the works of Oscar Wilde recently. It's a lot of fun. I feel like you could start a drinking game where you have to take a shot each time a rich, witty and beautiful gentleman dramatically throws himself down onto a divan and lights a cigarette. You would get drunk very quickly. I'm still reading my way through the book at the moment, but I finished The Picture of Dorian Gray a while back. I enjoyed it a lot, even if most of the characters are bastards. And. Seriously. I don't think I've ever read any story with such strong homoerotic overtones before. People weren't actually shocked when Oscar Wilde was convicted for homosexuality were they? I have never read men described so lovingly before, and I'm sad that I haven't because it's great to read. What? You want to describe how beautiful his lips are yet again? Why, go ahead. I'm not stopping you.

Yonderland
This is the new comedy outing from the team behind Horrible Histories. Here's the trailer. I had despaired that I would never be able to see it because it's on Sky. But I had forgotten that my parents have just gotten cable! We watched part of it while I was visiting for Christmas. My verdict so far? It's a little on the silly and childish side in places (which was right for Horrible Histories but maybe doesn't fit quite so much here) but it is enjoyable for the most part. And if you don't appreciate all the jokes, there is at least the bonus of watching Mat Baynton dance around in tight purple trousers.

I also discovered that my parents have access to Sleepy Hollow, which I've been very eager to check out. There wasn't enough time to watch it though. Not when we had plenty more episodes of Yonderland to get through.

Is that it? I think that's all I have to say today. I hope you all had nice Christmases and New Years too! I'll be back next week with more Sherlock. For now, it's time to go play at drawing stuff again.

04/01/14
11:28:55 pm

The Empty Hearse

Hi, everyone! Hi! I'm back! My studies are over as of a few days ago; Sherlock is back on the TV; and I am just giddy with joy at the moment °˖✧◝(´∀`)◜✧˖°

I'm hoping to have a summary of my Christmas up tomorrow. But today? Today I have to talk about Sherlock. Loads.

Click read more for spoilers. (And sorry if it's rather image heavy. I got excited.)

Read more »

27/10/13
10:18:07 pm

Dropping by

Guys. You may have noticed that I've not been blogging much recently.

I'm currently doing a part-time distance-learning course and trying to fit it around my full-time work. Needless to say, I have very little time for anything else. (Not even cooking fun stuff. I miss it so much *sob*)

The good news is that the course is only until the beginning of January, so if I don't make it back on here in 2013, you'll be sure to see me in 2014, along with lots of excitement and jabbering about the new series of Sherlock (which I'm assuming will air about that time).

In other news, I was watching The Great British Bake Off recently (one of my few weekly treats while it lasted) and this happened.

WHAT

08/09/13
06:24:49 pm

Suffolk, Essex and Constable Country

I was away on holiday with my parents last week.

We didn't go far, just to a village in Suffolk, very close to the border with Essex. It felt like miles away, though, compared with the rough and tumble of London. The joys of hearing birdsong, having a whole detached property to yourselves and being able to see the stars at night should not be underestimated!

Oh, and the weather was great too. Now I'm back home, we seem to have descended into the first blip of autumn, but last week was a different story. It was warm and sunny and I hardly saw a cloud once!

Here's a recount of what we did.

John Constable

The village we stayed in was were John Constable grew up and the surrounding area is known as Constable Country.

I got to acquaint myself with Constable's work while I was there. Many of his paintings are of a rural idyll bathed in the warm light of a sunny afternoon. They're pretty in a calm sort of a way and are subsequently very popular. If you don't know someone who has a Constable picture on their wall, I will be surprised!

This was Constable's studio.

And this is a village over the river, where Constable went to school. I'm not entirely sure, but I think the school he went to was the building on the left. We certainly found graffiti in the brick-work that could be his: "J.C. 1787".

This picture was taken just outside of one of the mills that was owned by Constable's father. The building is Willie Lott's House (not 'Lots of Willies House' as I liked to call it); Constable painted it in The Hay Wain (not the 'Wayne' as I also called it; God I was annoying that day).

And this was taken inside the parish church at the village where Constable went to school. Up top there is his painting, The Ascension. A bit different from his normal subject matter!

It was lots of fun to walk in Constable's footsteps. The area doesn't seem to have changed much since his time so it's quite easy to imagine it as he saw it. Oh yeah, and Constable seems to have been quite the attractive gent too, so that helps.

Churches

Following on from that last photo, here are some more photos of churches. I love wandering around a parish church because they're normally one of the oldest buildings in the village. They always seem to be filled with hints and puzzles about what was there before.

This is part of the parish church in the village we stayed in. It was built in the 15th Century. The most striking feature is its tower; or rather, its half a tower. For some reason, presumably a lack of funding, the villagers stopped building the bell-tower when it was only half-way finished. This photo shows an archway that was meant to run underneath the tower. But the walls don't go much higher than this, and as you can tell from the sunlight between the arches, the tower doesn't even have a roof.

Without a tower to put the bells in, the villagers put them in this (what they had initially thought was temporary) bell cage.

Inside the bells are left pointing upwards, waiting to be rung by hand.

I think this tower contains a staircase. The star was the emblem of a local family.

And here is the church that contains Constable's picture of The Ascension. It was also built in the 15th Century. This photo shows the tower that the previous church was trying to copy. Only these guys actually managed to finish theirs.

This tower, like the failed one, has an arch underneath it. Only this one actually has a roof, and very pretty it is too.

The area seemed to be very heavy on the puritan side during the reformation. According to the story, this font was found in the churchyard where it had lain for centuries after being dumped. You can even see where it had had angels on the outside before they were struck off.

Anglo-Saxons

What with recent TV documentaries and the Anglo-Saxon history book that I've been reading, I am on such an Anglo-Saxon kick at the moment. The dark ages are fascinating because I know next-to-nothing about them. But it was a time when all sorts of traditions and governmental structures were laid down. Shire boundaries! Manorial landholding systems! Place names! Ahhh!

And so I forced my parents to take a trip up to Sutton Hoo and its famous Anglo-Saxon burial ground.

Here's the entrance to the exhibition. It wasn't a large exhibition, and all the original finds are at the British Museum in London, but it was really interesting nonetheless.

This is one of the burial mounds. It's been reconstructed up to the size it would have been when it was originally made. Imposing. And eerie. You can tell why later Anglo-Saxons thought it would be good to use the place for executions.

These are the mounds as they are now. Some have been completely flattened by ploughing.

And here's a replica of the famous helmet. It may well have come from the grave of Raedwald, King of the East Angles and High King of all the Anglo-Saxons in the south of Britain. Whoever it belonged too, it's some serious bling.

Countryside

So there I was, wandering through the countryside and caught up between Regency painters, 15th Century church-builders, and dark-age warriors. It was nice. I like to feel the roots of a place when I'm there.

And, well, it was all rather pretty in the sunshine. The ground is quite flat so the views stretch a long way. There were green fields, a lush river and grand cottages that were painted 'Suffolk pink'. You can tell why Constable wanted to paint the place.

26/08/13
09:20:53 pm

Summer's still going strong

Summer has been so nice this year! Where are the cold temperatures and the endless rain that we've had to put up with for the past few years? I have no idea!

I've mostly been spending my time having picnics and going to the theatre (more on that later). And yesterday Claire was visiting and we took ourselves off to Notting Hill Carnival. I don't have any photos because I wasn't sure how safe my camera would be in the heaving crowds, but it turned out to be a good experience. The whole of Notting Hill was like one massive street party fuelled with dancing, bright colours and the smell of jerk chicken. We had fun.

In other things of note. This:

I received a birthday card from Linda! It deserves a special mention because it's travelled to London from Luxembourg twice. Originally ending up at the wrong address it got returned to sender and Linda was kind enough to send it out again. What a well-travelled card!

And as for the rest of this blog post, here's a run down of things I've been watching and listening to recently:

The Great British Bake Off
Not much to say about this yet because the new series has just started. I'm so happy it's back on TV though! It's like everything is right with the world when there's a mixture of cakes and Mel and Sue making bad puns on my TV.

King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons
I've come to the conclusion that I love every one of Michael Wood's history documentaries. This one is about the Anglo Saxons and is just as fascinating as I was hoping for. Watching it is my weekend treat.

A Field in England
I watched this film when it premièred on the TV. Here's the trailer. I enjoyed it! The direction was very nice to watch (bar one overly-long strobe sequence) and the story kept you on your toes. Bear in mind, though, that you will get to the end of the film without having any idea of what it was about. It's not an easy film to decipher. The best part though? I liked the historical feel of it; it was very 'show not tell'. Other films might have made a meal trying to explain what the Civil War was all about, but this film didn't even touch on it. The setting didn't need to be explained; it just was.

All in all, very enjoyable, and the only thing preventing me from purchasing it is that I can't bear to watch that strobe sequence again.

Welcome to Night Vale
So, I've gotten on the band wagon and have started watching this podcast (links to where to listen to it here). I wouldn't call myself a super-duper fan, but it is certainly fun, often laugh-out-loud funny, and shockingly cinematic for an audio-only medium.

The premise of the podcast is that it is a local radio show based in a small town in the US where every single horror cliché and stereotype is real. I'd call it a cross between The League of Gentlemen's radio show (only less of an obvious sitcom) and Blue Jam (only slightly less creepy).

I'd say give it a go if you're interested. Make sure to listen to the episodes in order though because they often refer back to things that have happened in previous episodes.

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
I'm sure you've all heard the super catchy Get Lucky, right? Daft Punk's new album seems to be a trip back to their slightly more funky roots and I am all for that. Some of the tracks are a little slow and a bit too experimental for me, but some of them are great.

For example: I was listening to Lose Yourself to Dance while hanging up my clothes from the washing machine and before I knew it I had stopped what I was doing and had started dancing around the room like a weirdo.

So, yes, I approve. Once again Daft Punk prove that they are what we know them to be:
Sexy sexy disco robots.

The Sound of Music
I went to see this show at the Regents Park Theatre with James, Eppa, Steve, Heather, Eppa's sister and Heather's brother. Luckily, with it being an outside theatre, the weather was nice and not rainy in the slightest. We even had a picnic before the show!

Now, here's where I admit I've never seen the film before. Embarrassing, I know. This meant that I got to enjoy the full force of the plot, while somehow recognising all the songs anyway.

Overall, I really enjoyed this show! The songs were very uplifting (there's a reason why the film is so popular) and the actors had great singing voices. I actually felt energised after watching it, and I was left humming My Favourite Things for days afterwards. Oh, and Captain von Trapp was rather hot totty too, which I hear from a good source always makes the show more enjoyable.

If I've learnt anything from this show it's:
1. If you're expecting a happy ending, watch out. It's likely to be ruined by Nazis.
2. Nazis can be defeated through music.

Handy things to know.

Top Hat
And another musical! I saw this one with Claire this weekend at the Aldwych Theatre. Once again, I'd not seen the film, but most of the songs were familiar already.

I have to admit, I didn't enjoy the singing in this one as much as The Sound of Music. And while the dancing was good, I couldn't help feeling that it probably wasn't quite the same as Fred and Ginger.

That said, I enjoyed the show, especially once the farce got going. I love a good farce.

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
I've just finished reading this book and I was shocked by just how much I enjoyed it. I wouldn't say it wasn't without its flaws (see also: God, Dickens really hated America back then; the gratuitous use of American stereotypes gets a bit boring to be honest. And also: none of the female protagonists appear to have much of a personality at all.) If you can overlook those parts, then it is a good read. The plot's a bit odd in places, but the characters are mostly great and the book is really really funny. There's a lot of physical humour in it, which I didn't even realise was possible in book form!

For example, take this scene, just after Mark Tapley has knocked on Mr Pecksniff's front door:

A person of Mr Tapley's observation could not long remain insensible to the fact, that Mr Pecksniff was making the end of his nose very blunt against the glass of the parlour window, in an angular attempt to discover who had knocked at the door.

Did I mention that I loved the characters? Of particular note are the good guys, John Westlock, Mark Tapley and Tom Pinch. John Westlock is endearingly romantic, Mark Tapley is pretty much the only person with any sense in the whole thing, and Tom Pinch? Well. I haven't been such a fan of any character for a good couple of years.

At the beginning, I thought Tom Pinch was going to be a joke character, but he pretty much turns into the main protagonist (or was that all in my head?) Once I got halfway through the book, I found myself feeling rather frustrated when reading any chapter that didn't have Tom Pinch in it. As a character, he's foolish, certainly, but he's also utterly adorable!

And here's the part where I descend into spoilers. Click the link below for more:

Read more »

18/08/13
03:48:37 pm

Food post

Hold on to your hats. I haven't blogged about my cooking adventures for the past month and a half. This is going to be a long one.

Strawberry and basil salad with balsamic reduction
This salad is really quick to make and looks so summery! Unfortunately, I was a bit wary about eating it because I normally don't like sweet and savoury mixed together, or raw onions, or feta. Good job. Luckily for me, I got a pleasant surprise when I took my first mouthful because the taste is actually pretty nice. Well, nice at the beginning anyway. It's still a bit too sweet for me so I started to feel a little ill once I got halfway through but let's not dwell on that part.

Panzanella Tuscan bread salad
I don't have much to say about this one. It's nice enough to eat (filling too) and is good for those hot days when you want to eat salad and nothing else.

Lemon and herb crusted fish
Oh God, this dish is so good! It's a bit of a faff to make and if, like mine, the fillet is smaller than suggested then it can break up when you try to take it out of the baking tray, but it's so worth it anyway. The fish is nice and goes really well with the potatoes and, man, that tarragon mayo is the jewel in the crown. I get the feeling it's not so healthy but who cares? I could easily eat it seven days in a row.

Colin McGurran's chicken fajita kebabs
Is this the most beige meal in the world or what? Don't worry; the fajitas are colourful on the inside. Point one: the recipe didn't say what to do with the rice so I just ate it on the side. Point two: I think I grilled these for longer than I was told too, but I always like to make sure my chicken is cooked through. Point three: I was scared this was going to be far too spicy for me, but actually it turned out to have a pleasant mild heat and nothing more. In fact, with the lime and everything, they were really tasty and nice; far better than my photo would suggest.

Love hearts gingerbread (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
Can you tell that I iced these at midnight? I think you can tell. I didn't have a heart-shaped cutter, so I made a stencil from some baking paper, which seemed to work well. The icing though; I think I made the icing for the middle too runny, because it took ages to set (you can see that it's still a little wet in the photo). In fact, I didn't wait for it to set fully because it was goddamn midnight already, so I just piped the rest of the icing on top with frequently terrifying results. Thanfully, they tasted absolutely stellar so there is that.

Vanilla macarons with caramel cream (recipe from I ♥ Macarons by Hisako Ogita - a birthday present from Mariya!)
Making macarons is possibly the most stressful thing ever. There was one part, about an hour and a half in, where I discovered that I hated everything in existence. Thankfully, I persevered and ended up with something tangentially related to a macaron. Now, before you tell me that these don't look too bad, let me point out that I hid all the ugly ones at the bottom, and that there were many of those. One of my problems was that I'd used a wet finger to smooth out the points on the macarons; this meant that they didn't dry very well and led to a lot of them cracking in the oven. My other problem is that they were a lot more brown and more hard and chewy than they were meant to be. This was all down to the oven temperature; I must have been using a different type of oven to the one they use in the recipe book because the cooking temperature was far too high and the cooking time was far too long for me. Oh, and I need to work out size as well. I tried to follow the size guidelines in the book and ended up with macarons that were ridiculously tiny (I hid those ones at the bottom too). So, all in all, I don't think I ended up with anything that looked, felt or tasted like a macaron, but actually they were pretty nice to eat anyway. Time for more practice I think!

Turkey and rosemary skewers
This is one of those meals that looks better than it tastes. The taste was fine, yes, but it wasn't mind-blowing. Oh, but the smell of rosemary when you're cooking will make your whole house smell great; I bloody love the smell of rosemary. As before, I grilled these for longer than I was told to because I wanted to make sure my turkey was cooked through.

Caesar chicken pasta salad
I normally find Caesar salad a bit too rich for me and this was no exception. I'm also still not sold on the taste of anchovies. Overall, this wasn't my favourite dish in the world, but making the parmesan crumbs was fun.

Herby chicken with lemon and almond rice
Again, I grilled these for longer than I was told to because I wanted to make sure they were cooked through. I liked the chicken; chicken legs are always nice and moist. And I get the feeling that the rice could have been really tasty if I'd managed to not burn the garlic to high heaven. How embarrassing.

28/07/13
04:41:46 pm

Birthday time :D

Things have been rather exciting around here because it was my birthday this week! Unfortunately I've also had a bad cold, but I enjoyed the parts where I wasn't feverish or hacking up half a lung (actually, to be fair, the feverish parts were quite good too; feeling cold and getting goosebumps on a day when it's 32°C outside is kinda pleasant).

So, firstly, Steve and Heather and Nick came to London and then with James and Eppa we all went out to eat BBQ ribs in Hoxton.

Man, I've wanted to eat ribs again ever since I had them in New York. I went for the pulled pork and the ribs here. They were nice, but not quite as nice as the NYC ones. Expensive too, but the portion was so large that it managed to feed me for two whole days. Good work.

My milkshake was jolly nice though. It was basically a load of ice-cream in a bucket, and for a boiling hot day it was lovely.

A few days later my parents came to visit and we went for a wander around Greenwich. We got there quite late so most of the museums and things were closing, but it's a pretty place to walk around regardless.

First we saw the Cutty Sark.

Then the Old Royal Naval College.

Then the National Maritime Museum.

And finally we went up into Greenwich Park to see the view across to Canary Wharf.

All in all it was a nice day and my cold was stating to wear off by that point too. Score!

Not to mention, everyone has been so nice sending cards and presents! Thank you, guys!

A selection of my cards. Very impressed with the Moonpig card from Sam and Gemma, showcasing photos that we'd only taken a few days beforehand. So on-the-ball!

Cookery/food presents. (I've actually had the food processor for a few weeks now, but I've been keeping quiet about it ohohoho.)

The macaron recipe book is from Mariya and I am so excited to try it out. All going well, I'll attempt my first batch of macarons next weekend. Pictures to come later I'm sure.

Oh, and a special shout-out goes to James and Eppa for getting me the picnic blanket. I now have everything I need to be a fully-functioning adult. Hooray!

Other presents. The Horrible Histories box set is from Nick. Aaa! I haven't seen series one or two before so I can't wait to get my teeth into them (especially now that the last ever Horrible Histories series has finished showing on TV D:)

I asked my parents for Moranthology. I've been champing at the bit for the last year to read this book. Caitlin Moran is so funny; I am a mega fan.

And thanks to Steve and Heather for the book of Tom Gauld comics! I've just finished devouring all of them.

Other things I can't wait to get my chops around? Adorable moustache-shaped lip balm from Maryia and new Daft Punk album from my parents :D :D

Thanks again, everyone! I hope your weeks have been as lovely as mine!

02/07/13
10:43:00 pm

Summery business

I hope the weather has been nice where you are! Here, it's been mixed. Sometimes cold, sometimes windy, sometimes rainy, oftentimes muggy, and always with a high pollen count (just in case you like a bit of mucous with your summer).

This weekend though. This weekend the weather was gorgeous! Sunny and just the right temperature. If only it could stay like that always, rather than get all cloudy and rainy like today.

Still, good weather or not, I have been gallivanting around and trying to enjoy summer (and sneezing lots along the way. Seriously, what is up with the pollen count this year?)

Contents
1. Victorian cemeteries
2. Norfolk broads
3. Stuffed animals
4. Sunny picnics
5. Television

***

1. Victorian cemeteries

I visited an old Victorian cemetery with James and Eppa a couple of weeks ago. It stopped being well-tended some time in the late-20th Century so now it's really overgrown with the headstones listing all over the place. Probably not what the first people to be interred there imagined would happen to their graves, but it does add wonderfully to the Gothic feel of the place.

***

2. Norfolk broads

After that, I went to visit Theresa and Colin and their 16 month-old daughter, Rosie. They live in a village on the Norfolk broads and the place is so pretty and peaceful!

We spent the weekend playing with Rosie (I was on drawing, pushing the ride-on toy car, and Winnie-the-Pooh duty), having a barbecue, and visiting model railways.

Oh yeah, and walking along the waterside.

***

3. Stuffed animals

The week after, I went with my parents and my Nan to go visit a museum full of stuffed animals.

It's a fascinating place. I love learning about evolution, so being able to compare the different species was great. But as the stuffed animals are all about 100 years old, we got to learn a bit about the way people saw animals and museums back then too.

Antelope

Badger

Lion

Benedict Cumberbatch

***

4. Sunny picnics

This weekend, Susan, Helen and I took advantage of the nice weather and went for a picnic.

I love strawberry season. These strawberries were from Kent and were so sweet and juicy. I stuffed my face with as many as I could manage.

And Susan gave me a belated house-warming present! Very bright a cheerful. I hope I can keep this one alive, unlike all the other plants that have been entrusted into my care over the years. (Even my long-lived poinsettia is looking a bit ill these days.)

***

5. Television

I've been watching a lot of TV series recently, and not one of them is a cooking programme! What's happened to me?

Horrible Histories
The internet tells me this is going to be the last series of Horrible Histories. How sad! It honestly is one of my favourite shows. What can be better than history and jokes? In particular, the songs this series have been great. My favourites:
Vikingland
Charles Dickens
Marcus Licinius Crassus

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England
This documentary series was so fascinating! The presenter, Ian Mortimer, has written a book of the same name that I'm hoping to read soon. (I read his earlier book, The Time Traveller's Guider to Medieval England, last year and it quickly became one of my favourite non-fiction books.) What makes this show so interesting is that it pretends that you are going to visit Elizabethan England and tells you what to do, what to eat, what to wear, where to stay and what to expect (all very every-day kind of stuff so very relatable). I really enjoyed trying to imagine myself in the Elizabethan mindset. Fun fact! Most people in Elizabethan England had never heard of William Shakespeare. And how would they have heard of him if only the folks in London could go see his shows at the theatre?
I just loved this show. Can't wait to get my grubby paws on the book.

Rise of the Continents
And another good documentary series! I started watching this on a whim but it's turned out to be really fascinating. Taking each of the continents in turn, it uses the geology and the animals around to show how the continental plates have moved and changed over time. If you know almost nothing about geology, like me, you'll find it really interesting. Fun fact! It's not Antarctica's location but the seas swirling around it that make it so cold. When it was still attached to Australia, and so the sea currents around the land mass were different, it was lush and wooded.
Ahhh! Things in the past were different to how they are now! I can't get enough of this stuff!

Girls
Thanks to Eppa for letting me borrow her DVD. I'm halfway through the series now. Personally, I would class it as a comedy-drama rather than a pure comedy, because the laughs are thin on the ground. It works well as a comedy-drama though and has more of a feeling of reality to it than a lot of dramas do (see: characters living in believably tiny New York-sized apartments). Ok, and they might be thin on the ground, but I did laugh at the jokes too.

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