Food post - 16 January 2017

by Janine  

It's time for another food post and, man, has this one been a long time coming. (p.s. Don't forget to go read yesterday's Christmas round-up blog post too.)

Roast Brussels sprouts with rosemary, lemon and pecorino (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
You can tell it's been too long since the last food post. When I cooked these (in the summer) I couldn't find any fresh Brussels sprouts so I had to buy frozen. Now, I must confess that I don't like sprouts. Then again, in previous Nigella recipes, she's done very well at taking vegetables I don't like (namely peas) and making them actually appetising. And, considering the cheese and garlic and stuff added to these sprouts, the recipe seemed promising. The verdict? Nah. Brussels sprouts are still bitter and horrible to me. These tasted like bitter and horrible sprouts, but with nice things added on top. Better than normal sprouts, yes. But not enough to persuade me to make them again.

Mexican bean burgers with guacamole
I made a mistake with this one: I accidentally bought the wrong beans! Instead of plain kidney beans, I bought kidney beans in chilli sauce. I tried to rinse the sauce off, but there was still a lingering taste of it that I couldn't remove. That said, the chilli sauce taste actually went really well with this recipe! I can't say what these burgers would be like with bog-standard kidney beans, but the burgers I made were wonderfully tasty, and the brown rice adds a nice savoury background. The only issue I had was that the burgers wouldn't stay together once I was eating them, and would fall all over the place. But if you are quite happy to eat a super-messy burger, then these get the thumbs-up from me!

Broccoli with lemon and Parmesan (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This is fairly easy to make (although nothing that requires zesting a lemon is truly easy) and tastes nice. In fact, it tastes just like broccoli, lemon, Parmesan and olive oil. There's not really anything else to say.

Stewed salted chicken leg (recipe from "Chicken Leg" by Hoe Yee, a Singaporean/Malaysian cookbook, which was a present from Mariya for my birthday last year)
I wasn't sure what to expect from this recipe. The name doesn't sound appetising to me, and the finished product didn't look that appetising either. Also, I'd never cooked a whole chicken leg before; I was surprised to find that you could buy them in the shop! The recipe was easy enough to make, though. You boil up the chicken legs with lots of spices, and lots of salt, then let them cool. Job done. (Note, I didn't add any Shaoxing wine to this, and I couldn't find any cao guo, so that got left out too.) Uncertain, I gave the finished chicken leg a taste. Oh man, IT IS SO GOOD, GUYS. The level of salt in the final product is just right and the spices make it really tasty. Overall, the taste was really reminiscent of southern fried chicken, which I love. I'd count it as a roaring success.

Thai green curry paste
So, I made the paste and then used it to make a batch of vegetable curry. The recipe suggests you could make chicken curry instead, but I was all chickened out after the previous recipe. The ingredients list says you can make the curry paste with ginger or galangal. I had ginger, so that's what I used. And I couldn't find shrimp paste, so I substituted with fish sauce. As for what the curry tasted like? Well, it was a) far too hot for my tastes, and b) kinda bland all the same. Maybe it was because I used vegetables rather than chicken, but there was a umami-ness and saltiness missing. All I could taste was chillies and coconut milk. Meh. Eating this felt like a chore.

Sicilian cauliflower salad (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Cauliflower salad? I had never eaten that before, which made me uncertain. Also, the ingredients list is full of things I don't like much: sultanas (too sweet for a savoury dish); dry-packed black olives (too salty); toasted pine nuts (too greasy). Also, I didn't add in the Marsala. This did not bode well. But I persevered anyway and do you know what? It was nowhere near as horrible as I thought it was going to be. It was actually pretty tasty! Somehow all the sweet/salty/greasy ingredients cancelled each other out. The only odd part is that the cauliflower is only cooked very lightly for this dish. Once you get over the fact that the cauliflower is crunchy as you eat it, then it's pretty decent.

Sesame fried chicken leg (another recipe from "Chicken Leg" by Hoe Yee)
Flush with the success of my first chicken leg recipe, I decided to attempt another. Perhaps this time I was too confident. Because, my God, this recipe is difficult to make! I mean, part of it is my fault for not following the recipe entirely. For example, after marinating the chicken legs, you're meant to let them dry in the sun for one hour. Firstly, we do not get that level of sunshine during a British winter. Secondly, no, I am far too scared to let the bacteria in a raw piece of chicken incubate in the warmth of the sun. So instead I rested the chicken on a strainer and let it dry in the fridge for an hour. The other thing I'm too scared to do is deep fry anything, especially as I do not have a special deep fat fryer. (I'm sorry. I can't help it. I just don't want to burn the kitchen down.) So, firstly I tried to shallow fry the chicken legs. Yes I realise how mad that sounds. After AN HOUR of shallow frying, they were still uncooked in the middle. And so, beginning to worry that I was giving the raw chicken a nice incubating anyway, I then put them into the oven for twenty minutes, which got them cooked all the way through. The other issue with the recipe is that the marinade for the chicken calls for a tablespoon of ginger juice and a tablespoon of red shallot juice (tiny note: I couldn't find red shallots, so used normal ones instead). Maybe you can just buy these juices in Singapore, where this book comes from? Or maybe everyone there owns a juicer? I do not own a juicer. I don't even own a blender. HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO JUICE A SHALLOT BY HAND? I grated a whole bag of shallots, then squeezed the gratings through a tea strainer. OH MY GOD. So many shallots are needed to get a tablespoon of juice, and they are so slippery and hard to grate, especially when the shallot fumes are making you cry your eyes out. After that, the ginger felt like a breeze, but the juicing of that still took about 45 minutes. So, after all that effort (it took me about five hours in total, guys), you would hope that the final product would be rather tasty. And it seemed promising; even though I left out the Shaoxing wine, the chicken smelled amazing as it cooked in the oven. Oh, if only that smell carried over into the taste! Don't get me wrong, this dish tasted fine. But mostly it just tasted like cooked chicken with (crunchy, and a little greasy) sesame seeds on the outside. I just... for that level of effort, I needed something that would blow my socks off. This did not blow my socks off.

Cannellini beans with rosemary (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Nigella helped calm me down after all that chicken leg business with an easy recipe. (Although, once again, nothing that requires zesting a lemon is truly easy.) This dish tasted ok. It tasted like beans with olive oil, rosemary and lemon added, which is certainly a pleasant thing. But, you know, I'm not the biggest fan of beans because of their mealy texture, and that texture was strong in this dish. I don't know though. I was just happy to find a recipe that didn't take five hours to cook while taking five years off my life in the process.

Ma po tofu
This was the first recipe I tried out in 2017 and it seems I continued on with the Asian theme. I had received a tonne of Japanese ingredients from my secret santa for Christmas and I was dying to make something with them. First up was the silken tofu. As soon as I saw it was silken tofu I knew I wanted to make ma po tofu (which isn't a Japanese dish at all, but a Sichuan one). I first had ma po tofu at the house of a colleague, who was from Sichuan, and I loved it (she's a great cook). I then ordered it at a couple of restaurants but didn't find it quite so great, as well as being slightly too spicy for me (I realised then, that my colleague had probably reduced the amount of chilli to suit an English palate, because I know Sichuan cuisine is supposed to be super spicy). Still, I couldn't shake the desire to eat ma po tofu again, and so a quick google search brought up this recipe. Looking at the ingredients list made me worry that this would indeed be too spicy for me. But I couldn't find Sichuan chilli bean paste or sauce, and so I bought a bottle of something that purported to be Korean chilli sauce instead (it was either that or Mexican-style sauces), and that was maybe my saving grace because the sauce I bought wasn't very hot at all. (Note for the pedantic: I also didn't add in the Shaoxing wine.) And, man, I say "saving grace" because this dish was so good! Wow. It was just as lovely as I remembered it being from my colleague's house. So tasty! Yum yum yum yum yum. If you ever find yourself in possession of some tofu, you have to make this.

Udon noodle broth with beef and leeks
Finally, we have a Japanese-style dish. I choose this one so I could use the nori, udon noodles and miso that I received for Christmas (I used sweet white miso paste, here). This recipe doesn't take too long to cook, but the cooking is full-on. There was a lot of multitasking by cooking several things at once that all needed a lot of attention. Additionally, this is the kind of recipe that seems to use up every single pan and cooking utensil in your kitchen. Washing up afterwards was a chore. The end result? It was nice; not super amazing, but pleasant enough to eat. I wondered why I was having to bother poaching an egg as well as everything else, but the egg actually went really well with it. Overall though, I feel like the dish was missing some kind of saltiness or something. Maybe it's because I used white miso paste, where brown miso paste would have been better? Who knows?

Christmas 2016/17

by Janine  

Happy New Year!

Hi folks. How's it going? Are you having a good 2017 so far? Let's hope it's better than 2016 by a long shot.

Man, it feels like Christmas was ages ago. Now all we're left with is cold, wet (and sometimes snowy) January. Oh, and Sherlock is on too. I don't have time to write up my normal Sherlock reviews, so here's a very quick lowdown of series 4:

The first episode was so bad it made me question why I was still watching this show. The second episode was quick and funny and amazing and everything Sherlock does best. So, swings and roundabouts really. Will the final episode in the series be as good as the second? Who knows? But there aren't many more hours until we find out!

Right. Back to my Christmas blog post, which seems to be an annual tradition for me. This year Christmas was good, and was actually relaxing for once! I learned from previous years and made sure not to schedule too much in. I also took myself away from my parents and back to London for a few days in the middle of things, which was a great way to recharge my batteries.

As well as visiting parents and family, I saw a few friends. This included visiting Steve and Heather and William in Bristol for New Year. Almost everyone was there: James and Eppa with Rene and Jack; Nick; and Linda with Alex and Cara. I'd never met Cara before! She is tiny and cute (and was well-behaved). It was lovely to have everyone together, even if Linda and I only crossed paths for 45 minutes. Smooches to you all!

That was the people-side of things. When it comes to the materialistic-side, we have the following:

Christmas cards. I seemed to receive a lot of cards this year. It was difficult to fit them all on the bookshelf!

A special card mention this year goes to Steve and Heather and William for another very stylish hand-made card. Also, it's not ironic; I don't believe you.

A second card mention goes to Mariya for this staring leopard. Yeah. That's how I feel when Christmas is over too.

On the present-front, first up is books and stationery. One of my resolutions is to tidy up my filing system. Hopefully these folders from my parents will help.

The cute notebook and pen are from Mariya and will help me feel busy and important at all times.

As for the books, I read Jane Eyre last year and enjoyed it, so for Christmas I requested that my parents get me MORE BRONTËS. I didn't actually watch that drama about them that was on over Christmas. Did any of you folks watch it and was it any good?

Oh, and I requested Quiet Power from my parents too. I didn't realise that all it is is a rehash of Susan Cain's first book, but for a YA market. Useful for some, I'm sure, but I wouldn't recommended it if "speaking up more in class" and "working out what you want to do with your life" aren't on your radar.

Next up is the clothing, accessories and housewares section. (Shut up, it doesn't have to make sense.) Pyjamas from my parents, including cute cat pyjamas :D and Mariya continued on the cat theme with a tiny, adorable cat necklace (which I'm wearing right now).

There's also a soap from Mariya from Bali, various housewares, and the box that says "luxury" on it contains a purse from my parents.

And then we have the cooking and food section, featuring CHOCOLATES from my parents and from Asia, some plastic bags with slightly scary cat-shaped ties from Mariya, and powdered Bali vanilla from Mariya too (I've been putting it in my hot chocolate!)

Also pictured is a tonne of Japanese ingredients from my secret santa. Thank you, secret santa, whoever you are! (Because you are totally still secret of course.) I have been cooking a lot of things with them, the results of which you'll see in my upcoming food post (whenever I write it, which will hopefully be soon).

Finally, I did the same thing I did on my birthday, which is that I indulged in buying some shoes for myself, and later received money from my Nan to help cover some of the cost. Thanks, Nan!

That's it for present-talk, but not for grandparent-talk. If you have been following my blog posts you will have read that I lost two grandparents this year (leaving me now with one only; she of the shoes).

The two grandparents I lost were my Mum's parents. My Nan died in the spring and my Granddad lasted only six months without her. One of my aunts sent this memorial card in with her Christmas card to me. Apparently it's a normal custom in Ireland. I think it's absolutely lovely.

These two folks meant a lot to me. They looked after me a lot when I was a child so they were always close to my heart. Just recently, I've been wondering what I inherited from them, and I think it was a lot:

- The ability to sleep easily (thanks, Grandpa Bernard)
- Appearance (both of them, including shortness (Nan) and glasses (Granddad))
- Stoicism and patience (thanks, Nanny Margaret)
- A love of maps and history (thanks, Grandpa Bernard)
- A knack for science (thanks, Nanny Margaret)
- The ability to organise things well (I don't know who this comes from, but MY GOD it's gone through the whole family. We are punctual to a fault. Turning up on time to a family gathering, rather than turning up at least five minutes early, is seen as almost as bad as turning up half an hour late.)
- A love of walking and the countryside (both of them, very much so)

And because the love of walking has also gone through the whole family, we went for a family walk at Christmas to give them both a good send off and to scatter my Nan's ashes (my Granddad was buried rather than cremated, so scattering him would have been rather difficult).

The walk chosen was a favourite of my grandparents'. My Granddad had already chosen it and started making arrangements when he passed away (this was at least three months before the event; I told you we were good at organising.) On the day we finally went, it was cold and rather misty, which made it very atmospheric. Let me leave you with some photos:


by Janine  

I am on fire with this blogging business at the moment! Don't forget to scroll down to see the two blog posts I wrote yesterday!

Today I want to tell you about the second summer holiday I went on this year. (I am so lucky to go on so many holidays. And now I am so poor.) In September I made my first trip to Asia and went to Singapore!

Mariya was living in Singapore for the last six months of 2016 so I went out to visit her. Mariya's friend Sviatlana was also visiting and we all had a great time together. It was particularly lovely seeing Mariya again. We have a long-distance friendship so we only get to see each other about once every four years, which makes it all the better when we do finally meet up.

Staying with Mariya was also great because not only had she already scouted out all the best places to visit and to eat, but she is also really good at organising our time so that we were able to fit a lot into each day. I was in Singapore for less than a week (oh, the jetlag didn't thank me for that) but I still saw loads of stuff. Sviatlana was really good at sightseeing too; she managed to visit even more places than Mariya and I (how she did it, I don't know).

I'm going to show you loads of photos here, but what I don't have many photos of is the food I ate. I ATE SO MUCH GOOD FOOD. Oh man. Top of the list was the Chinese hot pot. I need to find a restaurant that sells that stuff in London. It was tonnes of fun and really tasty (even if the level of chilli was a little higher than I can normally take - I have memories of Mariya urgently ordering water for her poor, choking British friend). We also ate a load of good dim sum, some equally good sushi, and Maryia introduced me to pandan bread (that stuff was great to snack on after a long day). Plus, the highlight may have been discovering the best chips (read: fries) that I have ever eaten in my life! They were smoked paprika flavour and just a little sweet too and MY GOD.

The only food photo I have is of a milkshake that tasted only so-so, but it looked amazing:

It was sold in a very girly themed restaurant. The chairs had bunny ears!

Singapore itself impressed me a lot. It's a very clean place and everyone seemed really polite (compared to London). It's also really multicultural (you can tell that the people there have been involved in international trade for centuries and centuries). A lot of the buildings are new and very shiny; the sort of stuff you'd find in the financial district of any city. Also, it felt oddly homely because all the plug sockets were the same as in the UK and all the cars drove on the left! Not having to take a travel adaptor with me was a wonderful luxury.

The only difficult part of Singapore was the heat and humidity (and the mosquitoes). I shouldn't be so surprised for somewhere so near the equator, but my God it was hot. In fact, when I went it wasn't actually that hot. It felt like it was around 30C (just the same as the temperature in London when I flew out) but the difference was in the humidity. Singapore is proper tropical. It feels like you are in a steam room, constantly! When you are outside you quickly learn to find the shade to stand in (though even that isn't comfortable). Thank goodness almost everywhere inside has air-conditioning!

But, you know, the weirdest part for me wasn't just that it was hot and humid (or that the sun was so painfully bright that you had to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days; ok, that was weird though). The weirdest part was that the heat didn't go away at night! You'd be standing on the street at 2am and you'd still be just as hot and sweaty as you were at 2pm. My poor head couldn't understand that. (And to think I'd packed a load of cardigans for cool evenings too!)

Anyway. That's enough of my jabbering. Let me jabber while showing you some photos instead.

This is Haji Lane, one of the oldest and imho prettiest streets in the city. It dates back to the early 19th Century and nowadays is full of hipster shops. One of the shops owned a couple of cats, which were happily wandering around the shop and staring out at the passers-by; needless to say, we had to go inside and say hello!

Sultan Mosque. We were taken inside the mosque on a tour. In fact, I went on a number of tours during my stay. They were all really good. I still need to learn more about Singapore history, but I feel like a got a decent grounding. In the mosque tour we later went to a perfume shop nearby and were given little free bottles of perfume!

An old cemetery. I loved the look of it.

Next up was another tour, this time in Fort Canning Park. I took a load of photos of trees. I've never seen trees with dangly bits like this before. (What are they? Vines? There are trees like this all over Singapore.)

We also learnt about the history of the spice trade. I'm used to thinking of spices as dried things, so it's odd to see living spice trees.

Another tree with dingle dangles.

St Andrew's Cathedral. We tried to go inside but I think it was closed. I mean, we did get inside, but all we saw was a little corridor and kitchen and signs to classes being held. (I think we went in the back door by mistake.)

I wish I could remember what this building was called. It was so pretty. I vaguely remember the tour guide saying something about Batman? (Hay, it turns out that you can find the name of the building if you type "Singapore Batman building" into Google. Apparently it's called Parkview Square.)

Next up was a tour of Haw Par Villa. This place is an experience and a half. It was built in the 1930s by (and named after) the two brothers that invented Tiger Balm. Originally it was intended as the home of one of the brothers, but the house was later knocked down. Even while the house was still standing, however, the gardens were intended to be an attraction for the public. Not only were the gardens a pleasant place for people to relax but they were also a way of advertising Tiger Balm at every turn!

The gardens are chock full of statues like this one above. Most of them show scenes from Chinese mythology. I was very grateful to our guide for explaining the stories behind them to us!

An impressive gate at Haw Par Villa.

I completely forget what these shrimp are meant to represent.

Don't forget to buy Tiger Balm! These mascots were meant to entice children. And I'm sure that it worked when the mascots were first built. But now that everything's a little bit worn and jaded... Look, I'm not saying that I felt like I was on the set of a post-apocalyptic film. But if it turned out that this mascot was all that was left of human civilisation after zombies overrun the world, I wouldn't be surprised.

Have you remembered to buy Tiger Balm yet?? They used to drive this car around the streets as a form of advertising. Brilliant!

One of the more famous attractions at Haw Par Villa is the Ten Courts of Hell. This is the entrance. Inside are statues depicting all the torments you will suffer when you end up in hell. And let me tell you, these statues did not leave the horrors up to your imagination! If I'd seen this as a child, I would have been affected for life!

I don't even know any more. After going through the ten courts of hell I was down with anything.

The next day we went for brunch and admired the view from the restaurant.

Here we can see the racing track with Marina Bay Sands in the background. The F1 grand prix was running when I visited and Singapore really gets into the spirit of it. There were chequered flags everywhere!

We had tickets to the grand prix one evening. I'm not a big fan of motor racing but I was impressed by how fast (and how loud!) the cars were. We also got to see the excitement of a crash (thankfully it was the good kind of crash where the car just spun and no-one got hurt).

But the real reason we went to the grand prix was to see Kylie, who was performing. Now, I wouldn't call myself a huge Kylie fan, but maybe I should revise that because I found I knew most of the words to most of her songs! We were very close to the stage so we got a great view. Kylie was very professional, even when she was almost dying from dancing around in the heat. And she went really old-school and sang "I Should Be So Lucky". Man, I was a small child when that came out! (And, nearly 30 years later, Kylie still looks the same!)

Walking along the river at night was great. They had loads of these red-lanterned boats sailing past. It looked lovely.

At night you really get a feel for how bright and shiny Singapore is.

We continued our night tour by going to see the light show at the supertrees.

Here are the supertrees up close. There was also a festival going on (there were a variety of festivals being celebrated throughout the city). I think this particular celebration was for the Mid-Autumn festival? There were stalls, as well as a show with some great dancing.

Next up was Marina Bay Sands. It's pretty impressive up close. So we decided to go up to the top.

Here's the view from the top of Marina Bay Sands. The city and the moon were having a contest as to who could be the shiniest.

We had intended to go to the bar at Marina Bay Sands, but when we found out you had to pay to get in, we decided we were too cheap for that. So we just took photos and went all the way back down again.

The next day (my final day!) we went to the Peranakan Museum, which had a cute little cat statue outside.

We had a really great tour inside the museum. This beadwork was the best thing I saw. Look how detailed and pretty!

More pretty beadwork.

And that was it! Then I had to jump on a flight, spend 13 hours in the air, and go home.

But, thanks to Mariya's generosity, I was able to take some of Singapore home with me! Here we have some birthday presents and some extra presents too!

The pack of tissues were specially for "choping" in Singapore, which is the practice of saving a seat in a cafe or restaurant by putting any small item on the table. In the UK we'd do it with something big like a coat, but if I saw a pack of tissues on the table, I'd just assume that the last person had forgotten them and so I would sit straight down!

The little cat-faced thing is a purse-keyholder thing. And the sheet face mask actually had a panda's face printed on it! In food gifts we have a moon cake, which lasted exactly two days before I scoffed the lot; a pair of "Kiki's Delivery Service"-themed chopsticks, which are not only cute but are also really nice to use; and a Singaporean/Malaysian cookbook devoted to the cooking of chicken legs (I know!) I've started cooking from the chicken leg cookbook already. You'll see the successful (and not so successful) results in the next food post.

Finally we have some presents that I bought for myself while in Singapore. Clothes in Singapore aren't cheap, and I was struggling to find a shop that a) had affordable prices and b) couldn't be found in the UK (I'm sorry TopShop, but I'm not travelling half-way across the world to go to you). But the good thing about shopping in Singapore is that they have more clothes there that fit me! If you've met me in person, you will know that I am both short and tiny. Often in the UK I just have to give up on some items because the smallest size in the shop is still too big for me. Not so in Singapore. There was so much choice in my size! Thank you country of people who are all slightly smaller, on average, than people in the UK. Thank you.


by Janine  

Hi folks. Don't forget to scroll down and check out the other post I wrote today. (Two posts in one day OMG!)

This summer I went traipsing around on a couple of holidays, and one of those holidays was to Edinburgh in August for the festival. I have never been to the Edinburgh festival before. I've never been to Edinburgh before. I've never even been to Scotland before! Yes I am appropriately ashamed about this.

Well, I went this year because Deborah was acting in a show and Claire and I went to give her some support. Deborah's show was really good. It was one of the better shows I saw.

I had worried that the atmosphere at the festival would be a bit drunk, a bit lary, and too busy, but I was utterly wrong. The atmosphere was completely touristy. There were just loads of people milling around and happily sightseeing or heading off to shows. And because there were so many tourists, there were so many places to eat! And all the restaurants opened late, so you could rock up at 10pm and stay for a long three-course meal. I ate so well.

Out of the shows I saw, highlights included the Cambridge Footlights (they were very professional, unsurprisingly). I also really liked seeing Josie Long. Out of all the stand-ups I saw, she was able to get the best atmosphere going. And I didn't realise that I was so close to her in age! A lot of her stuff was very relatable. Here are a couple of videos of her if you're interested:

Edinburgh itself is beautiful. Part of it is really Georgian; I felt like I was walking through Bath, only built from slightly darker stone. And then the old town is proper old. I was expecting winding Medieval streets, but it wasn't that at all. The streets were Medieval, certainly, but they were all straight and really really steep, with tall buildings on either side. Here's a picture:

We went to Mary King's Close, which explained the history of these little streets and I loved it! Oh man, I really need to learn more about the history of Edinburgh because it's fascinating.

Here, have some more pictures of the place:

I didn't take many photos (and all the photos I do have were taken at night) because I was too busy the rest of the time a) watching shows, b) eating, and c) having a great time chatting with Deborah and Claire.

We were only there for three nights but I loved it all! If it weren't so expensive, I'd go every year!

Another goodbye

by Janine  

Everything seems to have been non-stop since September. And looking ahead at my diary I can see that the first few months of 2017 will be non-stop too. But now that the Christmas season is here, I have a few moments to sit down and tell you what was going on with my autumn. (I have a few posts to write about the autumn, but whether I get them all done remains to be seen.)

My biggest piece of autumn news is that my Granddad died in October. You may remember me saying that I lost my Nan earlier in the year. Well, my Granddad, her husband, made it exactly six months without her before he went the same way. Her cause of death was pancreatic cancer, his was bowel cancer. And in both cases, the cancer was so severe that they only lasted 2-3 weeks after being diagnosed.

Still, my Granddad was always a lively and healthy person, and he was feeling pretty well in himself right up until the day before he died. If I feel that good on my way out, I'll count myself lucky.

The problem for me, selfishly, is that his illness was so surprisingly quick that I never got to see him between his diagnosis and him passing away. That was hard to take. But also, selfishly, I'm kinda glad that the last time I saw him was on Father's Day when he was feeling perfectly fine. We went on a walk with my parents and he told us about his years as a farmer. We had a very jolly time, and it's a nice final memory to have.

So, understandably, Christmas has been a little difficult this year. (Christmas last year was the last time I saw my Nan and Granddad together. And neither of them knew they had cancer at that point.) I still have one grandparent left (which is lucky, I know, for someone my age) and by God I'm not going to let 2016 take her too. (It was looking hairy at one point when she had a really bad attack from her diabetes in the summer, but she's on new meds and better now. I saw her on Christmas day and, other than her continuing back pain, she looked well.)

But here I am talking about Christmas when I'm meant to be telling you about the autumn. My Granddad's funeral was held in the autumn and it's nice to see how the family has really come together. (One of my aunts was walking around at the wake shouting "Right! Nobody else die! We can't take it any more, thank you!) Next year as a family we have a wedding, a new baby and a 60th birthday party to look forward to. And it's times like this when you really want to focus on the good things coming up.

Speaking of good things, shortly after the funeral, it was my Mum's birthday. She'd just lost both her parents, so it wasn't the happiest of occasions, but we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and went for a walk.

Often my Mum is lucky to have good weather on her birthday and this year was no exception. It's that time in autumn when it starts getting cold and the nights start drawing in, and the weather is either full of hazy mist or glorious golden sunshine. This year my Mum got both. The scenery on the walk was beautiful, and the sunset was so spectacular that I took a million photos of it (I have been reserved and only put three up here). Take a look below:

Birthday 2016

by Janine  

So, I had a birthday recently, and as tradition dictates I'm going to tell you about it here.

It was a low-key affair (which is just what I like). My parents came down to London and we went to a museum (late, so we only had an hour in there) and then went out for dinner at a local pub. It was good, and the weather co-operated this year so it was lovely and sunny and warm. The next day I went to James and Eppa's house for a barbecue in the garden. I broke Eppa's butter dish and then the visit ended after James and Eppa had a particularly stressful time getting Rene and Jack bathed and then to sleep. Also they had all been as sick as dogs with a stomach bug. But other than these misfortunes it was a pleasant visit and I got to eat some tasty barbecued meat products too. Thanks, guys! I'm so sorry about the butter dish!

Now, let me side-step my guilt to show you some presents:

Cards, cards, cards. And a bouquet of roses from James and Eppa and family. When I arrived, Rene was waiting at the front door to give me the flowers, but she forced Eppa to sing Happy Birthday all by herself (singing on the street is very embarrassing when you're two years old).

Rene made my card though! The stickers were hand-picked and stuck on. I was told that there was meant to be a (lion?) in the middle, but at the last minute it was decided by Rene that the lion was a BAD CHOICE and so she took it off again.

Next up in hand-made cards is this super stylish one from Steve, Heather and William. Not shown: a christmassy picture of kittens stuck on the inside. Also not shown: no writing anywhere on the card telling me who it's from. Thank God I only know one set of people with a laser cutter and a love of old Christmas cards.

The card from Linda, Tom and Alex isn't hand-made, but it is wonderfully tacky. Look at it! It comes with a bracelet! I have never seen a card that comes with a bracelet before! I wish I could find cards this tacky to send in return, but I have had no luck :(

So for presents, the big one was a new TV. It is neither expensive, nor a good model, nor big (I bought it before I knew my parents wanted to pay for it for me, so I was being especially frugal; I mean, I hardly use my TV) but it is NEW. I've only ever owned one TV in my whole life before, which recently gave up the ghost. I'd bought that TV in the 1990s! The first TV show I watched on it was Rugrats! As such, it was huge, despite having a tiny screen. Yay for arriving in the 21st Century!

Kitchen-related gifts, including a tea towel from James and Eppa and family, and the rest from my parents. The percy pigs are clipped up because I started scoffing them as soon as I had them in my possession. The chocolate-covered popcorn, meanwhile, has since been opened and is TO DIE FOR.

Oh, and you see that big plastic thing? I had no idea what that was when I opened it! It turns out it's a cover to put over food in the microwave to stop it from splattering everywhere. Handy. Cleaning a microwave is such a chore.

Non-kitchen presents, including some cute stationery and gifts bought by Nick on his recent trip to Japan. The maid keyring comes from his visit to a maid cafe, which appears to have left him visibly shocked (I forget that many British people haven't heard of these things before!)

Also pictured: pretty hair clips and other things from my parents, including that Bramby Hedge book. Do you guys remember Brambly Hedge from your childhoods? I only ever read "The Secret Staircase" when I was little, but it tapped into my embryonic love of history and affected me so much that I can still remember it to this day! Oh, man, maybe this is why adult me loves old, blocked-up doorways so much? Anyway, I'd rediscovered Brambly Hedge and its charming illustrations over the past couple of years, and I decided I wanted to own it for myself. I am so glad I did! I don't care if this is a children's book. The illustrations are so lovely and so detailed I could cry, and the stories (most of which I hadn't read before) are so calming and peaceful. Augh. It is escapism in its purest form and I love it to pieces.

If you don't know Brambly Hedge, go and Google it right now. RIGHT NOW. Edwardian mice living in little, detailed houses in trees. What's not to love?

And finally, I bought these as a birthday present to myself, but later found that I'd received enough birthday money to cover a good portion of the cost. I have been trying hard recently to find a pair of sandals that doesn't give me multiple blisters. Eppa has a pair of these Salt Water Sandals and swears by them (also, they look nice), so I decided to give them a go! I haven't worn them much since I bought them, because I only wear sandals in really hot weather, but I'm willing to bet we're going to get some more of that before the summer's out.

Food post - 30 July 2016

by Janine  

The last food post was so timely that of course I had to take months and months before I got this one to you. (I was determined to get the Winchester photos to you first, and it seems like that task took a while.) I actually cooked the last of the dishes in this post over a month ago! Since then two things happened. 1) I was beginning to get very tired after a busy few weeks, so I decided to take some time to prioritise sleep over cooking (aka cooking quick easy meals in the evenings so I could go to bed earlier). 2) My microwave died on me and it took me ages to find a replacement model that didn't break down as soon as I used it. I mean, I know I don't use microwaves to cook any of these recipes, but I actually tend to cook a large batch and then use the microwave to reheat the rest the next day. And there's no way I'm reheating stuff in the oven; that takes forever (see the point about me wanting more time for sleep in the evenings).

Anyway, I now have a microwave that works and I've also caught up on sleep (feels so good not to be sleep deprived, man), so now I should be able to cook some exciting stuff again! Woo!

In triumphant mood, let's have a look at what I cooked last time:

Warm parsnip and pear ribbon salad
This salad looks great! You sit down with it feeling so proud that you made something that looks so pretty. If only it tasted as good as it looked! The roasted parsnips were nice (when are roasted parsnips not nice?) and the goats' cheese was nice too. But my problem was that there wasn't enough savoury goats' cheese to offset all the sweetness that came from the pear and the honey dressing. Too much sweetness in savoury dishes just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid. Plus, I'd never eaten raw parsnips before. It turns out they're surprisingly tasteless. I mean, they're basically just ribbons of fibre. You're chewing away on mouthfuls of this salad thinking, "Wow, this sure feels healthy. There's so much fibre here. I feel like I'm eating a tree." But, you know, it looks amazing, so there is that.

Braised broad beans, peas and artichokes with thyme and mint (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This was really yummy. I don't think I'd ever really eaten artichokes before, but they get the thumbs-up from me. Nigella calls for artichoke bottoms (and I had so much fun laughing at the word bottoms) but I couldn't find any. In fact, almost the only artichokes I could find were chargrilled artichoke hearts that had been packed in a jar with oil, so I used those. Personally, I really liked the smoky, chargrilled taste that they added. I didn't add the vermouth to this, and I also have to warn you: I don't like peas! I don't really like broad beans either! What am I doing??? But, once again, Nigella shows that she really knows how to cook peas to my taste. The garlic and the thyme worked wonders. Also, Nigella suggests popping the broad beans out of their leathery coats before cooking them; I'd never done that before but it turns out it makes them a lot less sour to eat. In conclusion: a yummy dish, but (and it's not stated) the portion size makes this a side-dish not a main. Be warned!

Roast red onions with basil (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Oh, sweet, crispy, oniony goodness! These are well-nice, which is to be expected, as roasted onions are always well-nice. I'm not entirely sure about the addition of the fennel seeds, but I think that's mostly because I'm not used to eating them. Along with the basil, they gave this dish a rather perfumey flavour. Oh, one word of caution though. This dish will spatter oniony oil all over your oven. Basically, everything I cooked in my oven after this tasted of onions. In the end I gave up and cleaned the oven. Was this dish worth it? Yeah, maybe it was.

Pecan shorties (recipe from "The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking" by Linda Collister, which was given to me by my grandparents last Christmas)
I decided to make these as a tribute to my late Nan, as this cookbook was a present from her and my granddad at Christmas time. I can remember lying in bed the night after her funeral thinking "I'm going to bake something this weekend from my Nan's book". If only they'd turned out nice! I mean, they look nice. Look at all that chocolate! The issue for me was that it's dark chocolate. The shortbread biscuits don't have much sugar in them, which I think means they need a sweeter chocolate to match them, rather than a bitter dark chocolate. Also, I made two mistakes with these. 1) I cooked them in the oniony oven (see above) so they had an unnerving oniony taste in the background, and 2) I burnt the pecans, which made them bitter. So these ended up as bitter onion biscuits with bitter chocolate on top. Not my best work. I still got some compliments when I took them into work, but I think people were just being nice. Thanks for the book, Nan. Aren't you glad you have a granddaughter who can give you such a bitter, oniony send-off?

Spinach baked with ricotta and nutmeg (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I'll admit it: this is not a good-looking dish. (But I challenge you to show me any pile of cooked spinach that looks good.) I didn't add the vermouth to this, which is perhaps where I went wrong. I was expecting it to taste amazing and it was... ok. Perhaps it would be better with a stronger-tasting cheese? Because this pretty much just tasted of nutmeggy spinach. Don't get me wrong, it's pleasant enough to eat. But I find that spinach starts tasting a bit bitter when I eat so much of it.

Steak with cheese and chive polenta
Look at this! A dish that looks rather good and tastes good too! I'm not normally a fan of blue cheese, but that polenta has such a punchy, great taste. On top of that you have the bright, sweet taste of the tomatoes, and then the asparagus. And when you think it can't get any better, you have a big, meaty slab of beef too. Very nice. It's a bit of a faff to make because you have lots of things on the go at the same time; and is there an actual way to cook polenta without it going bloop bloop bloop and spraying polenta all over the hob? But it's worth it. Oh baby.

Savoy cabbage with potatoes, fennel seeds and Taleggio (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This wasn't super amazing but it was nice enough. I shovelled it into my face pretty quick, so I must have enjoyed it. But at the end of the day it's basically cabbage and potatoes. The thing that makes the dish is the cheese that holds it together. I had never eaten Taleggio before, though, and hadn't realised it was quite salty, so I completely over-salted this dish the first time I made it. And, you know what, I'm uncertain about the fennel in this dish. I'm beginning to wonder if I actually like fennel. Hmm. One to ponder on. Oh, and this is another one that seems to be a side dish from the portion size, jsyk.

Garlic mushrooms with chilli and lemon (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Guys. Guys. This dish may look rather pale and insipid. Don't let that put you off. Within those mushrooms is a taste explosion! Oh God. It is so good! Eating it is like being punched in the face with garlic and lemon and mushrooms. But, like, in a really good way. It is good! It is so so good! I hoovered this up in a blink of an eye. But, this is another one of those "don't even try to pretend the portion size is for a main meal" dishes. I tried to eat it as a main meal with some polenta. I then went and had a snack immediately afterwards. But who cares? Oh man, I'm salivating just looking at the picture.

Some news; some Winchester

by Janine  

My main purpose today is to give you the lowdown on a lovely trip to Winchester I went on in April. But first I thought I'd share some upsetting family news.

My Nan (my Mum's Mum) died just after Easter. She'd been ill for several years with osteoporosis; but while that had made her very uncomfortable, it wasn't anywhere near fatal. Just before Easter she went into hospital with jaundice and they found out she had pancreatic cancer. In only two and a half weeks she was gone. Thankfully I was able to see her in that time, but it was all very sudden and a shock to everyone. I've come to terms with it now, and it seems like my Mum has too. Everyone (it's a large family) is rallying around my Granddad, who's trying to cope with living alone after over 60 years of marriage. He seems to be doing as well as he can.


In other news, my parents and I took a long weekend in April to go on a quick trip to Winchester (while trying to forget other events). It's not particularly far from London, but I'd never been there before. I fell in love with the place almost instantly (despite the fact the it rained pretty much the whole time we were there). Not only did I love the fact that the city was small enough that you could walk everywhere (always a novelty), but IT HAS SO MUCH HISTORY.

So many old buildings in that place! From so many different centuries! The real highlight is the medieval stuff, and there are plenty of gorgeous half-timbered buildings about. The real heyday of Winchester was before most of those buildings were built though, and before the Norman conquest. Apparently King Alfred (he of the burnt cakes) had a lot to do with Winchester. It was certainly important in terms of government back in the Saxon times. A big royal mint was there (and maybe the treasury?) and it was the home to the Bishop of Winchester who was a big cheese.

There was so much history in the place that I basically spent all four days screaming internally. Good times. Let's have a photographic recap.

This is the church of St Bartholomew's, which used to be outside the city. It's super old, if the Romanesque doorway is anything to go by.

St Bartholomew's used to stand opposite Hyde Abbey, of which this gatehouse is one of the only parts still standing. Also super old. They say King Alfred was buried here. (We saw this on our first walk into the city on our first day there. I was already in love with the place from this alone.)

In the middle of the High Street, right in the middle of the city, you have the Butter Cross. I love a good old medieval cross. Apparently on either side of the Butter Cross were two taverns, one called Heaven and one called Hell. (And you can imagine that the people who drank there found those names very amusing.) I was also excited by the fact that just behind the Butter Cross was apparently where William the Conqueror had a palace!

This is the West Gate in the old city walls. It's a tiny museum and you can actually go inside!

Here's a close up of the west side of the West Gate. I'm loving those carvings.

You can climb onto the roof of the West Gate, and because it's up a hill, you get a great view right down the High Street. Apparently the High Street lies along the line of a track that pre-dates the city (we're talking before the Romans, guys). This track has been used for so long that it's actually a hollow way; if you walk along it, you see that all of the side streets coming from it slope upwards. (Cue more internal screaming from me.)

Another view from the roof.

Inside the West Gate they have this lovely ceiling, although I don't know if it's been moved there from somewhere else. Part of my memory suggests that this ceiling was created to celebrate the wedding of Mary I with Philip II of Spain, which took place in Winchester Cathedral. (I mean, I could just be making that up though.)

Look at this! At one time the West Gate was used as a debtors' prison. And the walls are full of graffiti from the prisoners. Guys. I LOVE OLD GRAFFITI. Love it love it love it! Yes, that graffiti on the left there does indeed say 1597. I'm not screaming, you're screaming.

Next up is the Great Hall, another medieval building. This one used to be part of Winchester Castle. I was having fun looking up and noticing all the carvings on the walls.

In the Great Hall hangs the round table. The table dates to the time of Edward I (who presumably commissioned it during a bout of Arthurian fanboy glee). It was painted later on the orders of Henry VIII (hence the massive Tudor rose in the centre).

A statue of Queen Victoria also sits in the Great Hall, for reasons I don't quite remember.

Back out in the streets, Winchester is an odd mix of medieval and Georgian buildings. They proudly proclaim themselves to be the city where Jane Austen came to die. Charming. (No, really, it is charming. The whole place is beautiful.)

Next we have the Cathedral (with its WWI memorial statue). We didn't go inside the Cathedral, because we didn't fancy paying the entrance fee, but the outside is still pretty impressive.

Flying buttresses outside the Cathedral.

And this happens everywhere in Winchester. You're just walking along and you happen to look at the wall beside you and you realise the stones are really interesting. This carved stone has obviously been cannibalised from another building and plonked in the side of the Cathedral. There are random carvings all over the place.

Another thing you find in Winchester: old, blocked doorways. There's not much I love more than a blocked-up doorway. What was it used for? Why did it get blocked up? So many questions! (Every blocked doorway is a story waiting to be told.)

Oh yeah, but blocked-up windows are pretty cool too.

Near the Cathedral you come to this gorgeous place: Cheyney Court. It used to be a court house and is now so picturesque that I was in serious danger of hyperventilating. (None of my photos could quite do it justice.)

Then you step through the gate next door and you're outside the Cathedral walls again (see that big wall on the right). I love the thought that so much of the city was originally taken up with religious houses. The big walls make it very clear that they were not places that everyone could go into. I wish I knew more about just how religious communal life worked in the middle ages, and what the difference was between an abbey and a minster and a college and all those other terms. Time to read more, I reckon.

Not to be outdone, we now come to the city walls and another city gate. This one is Kingsgate, which has a church on top! The church is known as St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate. I've never seen such an odd-looking church before.

Here it is on the other side, flanked by a lovely magnolia tree. (This trip was in April, remember. Not pictured: how bloody cold I was feeling by this point.)

After a brief pub stop to warm up, we then walked around the rest of the city walls. The walls were, I think, first built by the Romans, and then rebuilt and repaired into the middle ages. I remember talking about how King Alfred used them to fend off the Vikings (but I've no idea now where I got this fact from; I may just have made it up). Anyway, the walls have definitely been used over the years!

Speaking of King Alfred, the folks in Winchester are rather proud of their association with the guy. Check out this Victorian statue of him. (Just, like, don't mention those burnt cakes, ok?)

Here is the City Mill, right on the city walls. Apparently a mill has been on this site for hundreds of years. This particular building dates from the 18th Century, making it one of the newer buildings in the city! We didn't go in the mill, but we did spend ages watching a wagtail dart above the water catching insects.

Then we walked up St Giles Hill. This hill is where St Giles Fair used to be held each year. You get a wonderful view over the city from up there. In this photo you can see the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, the Bishop's Palace (yet another large piece of land within the city that was walled off and private). Looking at this really brought it home to me just how much of a big cheese the Bishop of Winchester was.

And finally, on the last day, too sad to leave, we spent our last hour wandering the little side streets of the city, looking at all the unexpected, beautiful things. Like these houses. What a wonderful garden that is! It was only when I got home and looked it up that I realised that this garden was so big because it used to be the sight of a church that was later knocked down. And that really sums up Winchester for me. History lurks everywhere in that city. Layers upon layers upon layers of it. I can't get enough. I want to go back!

Food post - 20 March 2016

by Janine  

Look at this! A new food post in an almost timely manner! What happened?

Green beans with pistachio pesto (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I'd never made green pesto before. This pesto recipe is similar (I assume) to normal pesto, but has pistachios instead of pine nuts. There was something about it, however, that made it taste a little less nice (in my opinion) that store-bought pesto. Could it really be the pistachios? But pistachios are tasty! The problem for me was that it was a little too rich and lacked a tang to back it up (should there have been more basil?) Of course, it doesn't help that the green beans I bought happened to be really tough, stringy ones. I would probably have been much happier with the taste if it wasn't accompanied by the texture of shoe leather.

Cherry tomatoes with olives (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I left out the pink vermouth from this but the dish still had big flavours. The tomatoes were really sweet and lovely. Unfortunately I find the dry-packed black olives that Nigella recommends to be far too salty for my taste. With different olives, I imagine this could be really nice!

One-pot Mexican beef stew
I couldn't for the life of me find any chipotle chilli paste, let alone chipotle chilli paste with smoked paprika too. Instead I substituted some normal chilli paste and dumped in a whole load of smoked paprika. I don't think I've ever knowingly eaten chipotle chillies so I've no idea what difference this substitution made. But the dish was really tasty anyway. I had worried it would be too hot, but instead it just had a nice warmth. The only issue was a small portion size but, between you and me, I believe I may have got my weights wrong and added less beef than I was supposed to.

Peas with pancetta (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Here's a thing that's useful to know about me: I don't like peas. They're not totally abhorrent by any means; I will eat them without fuss if you put them in front of me and I've even gone out and bought some without prompting before! But, if you gave me a choice between peas and almost any other vegetable (barring Brussels sprouts) I would not be choosing the peas. Oh, and one more piece of info for you before we hop to it: I didn't put the vermouth in this. So, I hate peas, and I didn't even bother adding all the ingredients, but you know what? These were actually pretty good! They're not super-amazing (because, you know, peas) but they were pretty darn tasty. Perhaps, even, the best peas I've ever eaten! My problem with peas is that they're too sweet, so the garlic, shallot and pancetta in this added a nice savoury flavour and cut down some of that sweetness. Yummy!

Roast butternut with sage and pine nuts (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I rarely cook with butternut squash because it's so hard to chop! (Actually, this suddenly explains why one of my hands is feeling a bit bruised today; I made this dish the night-before-last.) Chopping over, though, this is really easy to cook. And you don't even have to peel off the skin! (I hadn't realised before that you could eat the skin of a butternut squash once it was roasted. When I ate this, I started by trying to take off the skin, but it was so soft I gave up and just ate it instead; not a bad taste, and extra fibre too. Score!) It's not my favourite dish though. The butternut squash is too sweet for my taste and there's nothing to cut out that sweetness (the added lemon juice just makes it tart and sweet at the same time). Oh, and I've never been a massive fan of toasted pine nuts; they just become too oily and rich for me. Verdict: edible, but not one I'll be making again.

Food post - 7 February 2016

by Janine  

Happy February, folks! Here's what I've been cooking recently.

Chicken under a weight (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Ok, so this recipe is actually meant to be "Chicken under a brick". There are a few bricks in my front garden but they are utterly filthy; there's no way I'm letting one of those near my dinner. The idea is that you first fry the chicken then bake it in the oven, all while it has a house-brick on top; this weighs it down, makes it cook more quickly and also crisps up the skin (so says YouTube). Instead of a brick, I improvised by piling all my pyrex dishes on top. It was awkward though, and the skin didn't get that crispy. I think I would have done much better had I used an actual brick. Oh, and that's not an adult chicken. It's a poussin. I've never eaten a poussin before; they're tiny little things! Before cooking, you spatchcock the poussins (you have no idea how much I laughed while cooking this. Apparently I'm ten years old. This was my first experience of spatchcocking anything and I found it simultaneously easy and hilarious.) And then you marinate them overnight. The marinade, with lemon, thyme and garlic, made for a really punchy, tasty sauce. My kitchen was too cold though to get the poussins up to room temperature before they cooked, so they both took longer to cook than Nigella said, and one was still slightly pink even after that (I ate the fully-cooked one first, and ate the next one after extensive re-heating the next day). Oh, and even though the taste was really good, have you ever tried eating a poussin? Such teeny tiny bones! Eating it took forever. God. If you ask me, it'd be much easier to use the marinade on some bog-standard chicken drumsticks before baking them in the oven, without bothering with any of this brick business: tasty chicken; job done.

Chicken with tomatoes and peppers (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This stew doesn't look very appetising, but it was actually really nice. It's easy to make, and while not the most exciting taste in the world (think tomatoes and peppers and you've got it; I left out the Marsala though, as always) it was really comforting. Nigella suggested serving it with orzo pasta, which I did. I've never eaten orzo with a stew before and it was delightful! The shape of the pasta with the sauce has a really nice mouthfeel: soft and warm, like porridge but less lumpy. Goes down a treat.

Chicken with tarragon salsa verde (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
A tasty dish! The sauce is another punchy one: really strong with tarragon and lemon. It goes well with the chicken, which is cooked simply in the oven. I don't have a stick blender to make the sauce and had to make do with my food processor; this left my sauce lumpier than Nigella's version, but it still tasted good! Oh, but you don't get much chicken per serving (the recipe had the option to serve six or eight. I choose six. How you would eke this out to eight people, I don't know.) Normally Nigella gives you massive portions so I was shocked at this one!

Winter vegetable curry
I wasn't initially sure what this recipe would be like. I often find vegetarian dishes to be a bit underwhelming, and I often find carrots too sweet. The thought of a load of immensely sweet vegetables in a coconut sauce piled on top of rice, with no meat to add any savouriness, wasn't very appealing. Thankfully, I was totally wrong! It was really good! Takes a while to cook, but you get enough for leftovers. The only difference I made to the recipe was that I couldn't find curry leaves anywhere, so I left them out. Even so, the taste of this was really nice. Yes, the veg are sweet and the coconut in the sauce is creamy, but that was actually pleasant. The extra sweetness and creaminess from the yoghurt and mango chutney on top were lovely too. Why did it work? Well, in addition to the sweetness, you've got the curry paste in there, and something (I don't know what) that gave it a really great savoury flavour. I think it was maybe a mixture of the brown rice and kale combined; the savoury chewiness of these meant that I didn't miss the meat at all. Really great stuff! (Also, this is my first time cooking with kale; that and the butternut squash and the lack of meat made this feel like a very fashionable dish. Totally 2016.)

Italian roast chicken with peppers and olives (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe uses a whole chicken but no spatchcocking this time :( I only got to stuff a lemon and a few sprigs of rosemary into the cavity before roasting, which wasn't nearly as funny. Nigella said to roast the chicken and vegetables all in one baking tray, but I just couldn't manage it; my tray was too small! So I had to put half the veg in a separate tray; these got a little more brown than the others. Nigella says that the veg are meant to be a bit browned, but I found it made them taste a little bitter (or was that the olives?) Either way, this was ok, but not super-duper wonderful.

Fred's favourite sugar cookies (recipe from the back of a box of biscuit cutters)
I made this recipe to try out some biscuit cutters that I got last year. The biscuit cutters come with letter stamps, so you can make letter biscuits to spell things (they were a birthday gift from Emma). I also got some lovely biscuit cutters in different shapes when I left my previous job last year; here I decided to try out the gingerbread man-shaped one. On top of that, I also wanted to try out some sprinkles and decorating powder (a gift from Mariya ages ago) and some Benedict Cumberbatch rice paper decorations (left-over from a birthday cake made by Eppa a couple of years back, with the decorations sourced by Nick). What better way to use all this stuff out than by making cookies that spell "yum", and Cumberbiscuits? (I laughed so hard while sticking the faces on the Cumberbiscuits, you have no idea. It was very much a "what am I doing with my life?" kind of a moment.) So, the recipe came from the back of the box that contained the letter-stamp biscuit cutters. I've never had sugar cookies before. Being British (I get the feeling they're very much an American phenomenon), I wasn't even sure what sugar cookies are! Turns out they taste like a shortbread but sweeter. Despite the fact that they tasted nice, I AM NOT IMPRESSED. I had thought that the letter-stamps would work if I used the recipe from the box. Not so! The recipe contains an egg and baking powder, which meant that even though the biscuits had been lovingly-stamped before they went in the oven, the biscuit dough really rose and spread while it was cooking. The letters all-but disappeared :( I'm sure the stamps would work with a different recipe though, even if trying to get the biscuits out of the cutters is really difficult, which it is :/ Attempting to salvage the situation, I tried to paint on the letters with the decorating powder, but this was difficult without a proper brush for the job. I tried out the decorating powder on those six biscuits you can see (I ended up painting it on with a clean finger in the end, after trying a pastry brush, a chopstick, a clean toothbrush, and a spoon) and then gave up. The recipe worked great with the gingerbread man shaped-cutter though! That moment when your joke biscuits turn out much better than your serious biscuits...

Aubergines with oregano and red onion (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
These were yummy! I was meant to use baby aubergines, but I couldn't find any, so I used a big one and chopped it into smaller pieces. Nigella also suggested garnishing with fresh oregano, but I've never been able to find that. You know, sometimes roasted aubergines can be too greasy, but these weren't at all. Perhaps it's because you've got the tangy vinegar, garlic and onions on top? I don't even normally like raw onions, but they were nice here. A+ a great way to eat aubergines. Well done, Nigella.

Christmas and New Year 2015/6

by Janine  

Hi! So Christmas and New Year feel like ages ago. Don't they feel like ages ago? But the fact that I'm getting around to writing this in January still counts as a win to me.

What did I do over the break? Well, not take many photographs apparently! This year I seemed to be too involved in what was going down to remember to take photos. Whoops.

While I was busy not taking photos, everyone came to London for the weekend: Linda, Tom, Alex, Steve, Heather, William and Nick. I put Nick up at mine, but mostly we imposed on the hospitality of James, Eppa and Rene. Lots of fun! Not only did Alex, William and Rene get to play together for the first time (well, Alex and Rene were learning to share toys and meanwhile William, the youngest, was sticking everything in his mouth) but they all got given matching pyjamas too. So cute! For the adults there was a massive, baked Christmas ham. Wow. Thank you, guys! That was good eating.

Then I went to visit my parents, and from there visited lots of family and friends. Plenty of good food was involved, including turkey and beef at Christmas, tiny caramel tarts as a gift from a friend one lunchtime, and a massive burger and milkshake from Byron. After all that, I returned to London for New Years' Eve and a few friends came to mine, including James, Nick, Deborah, Esha and others. We went out to a local place that had a swing band. It was an enjoyable night, but I had a cold and talking over the music made me lose my voice for the next five days. Oh well. Who cares about talking anyway? (Going back to work without being able to talk well was difficult.)

Also, cleaning! I spent the first few days of 2016 cleaning the flat (not a result of NYE, btw). I even cleaned the oven and the net-curtains! It felt so nice to start the year all fresh and new. The time not spent cleaning was spent watching the Sherlock special, "The Abominable Bride". I don't have time to write one of my normal full-on Sherlock reviews for this one, unfortunately. All I'll say, in a non-spoilery way, is that it was enjoyable for the most part. I liked the costumes and the plot twists. And it, thankfully, wasn't as much of an outlandish Victorian gothic horror as I was worried it would be. But some parts of the show could have been done better. There were issues imo. I mean, at least they tried? But they didn't try very hard.

Right then. Here's the part I remembered to take photos of. Let me give you a Christmas gift overview:

Cards cards cards. Lots of cards! More than normal, even! Now, I know lots of you folks like to get a mention on this blog, so I've got a few cards to highlight. (I loved them all btw.)

A hand-drawn Benedict Cumberbatch from Mariya! So cute! The effort that has gone into this is extraordinary. Thank you!

Another hand-made card from Steve, Heather and Baby William (I think William probably delegated most of the work to his parents on this one tbh). The middle pops out to become an ornament for the Christmas tree. It was made with their laser-cutter. Beautiful!

Nick's card is not hand-made. But he clearly spent a lot of money on it (it was too heavy to go through the post like a normal card!) so it feels cruel not to showcase it here. You can't tell in the photo but this card was a hologram. That's a 3D cat!

Now for the presents. Here's the food/kitchen stuff. I adore the bake off, so I was pleasantly surprised to see Mel and Sue's faces staring back at me. It's a recipe book from the 2014 series (but I don't think it contains the bin-gate recipe). The book came from my grandparents, as did the cute Radley mug. Some (still as yet uneaten; I'm working my way round to them) caramel chocolates from my parents, and a glut of Japanese sweets from Mariya! I haven't yet tried the Himilk chocolate yet, but the apple candy kit (the one with the bear on) was really yummy. (You can see Emmy eating the candy kit on YouTube here. As an aside: I love all her videos.)

And then there's the Super Lemon. I think the suspect English on the packaging is what drew Mariya to this one (see the lady crying "Oh! Juicy!") I thought this was amusing too, but then I tried one of the sweets and realised that the packaging is completely accurate! For the most part they're normal hard-boiled lemon sweets, but they're covered in this lemon-flavour powder that IS THE MOST SOUR THING I'VE EVER TASTED. The first one I tried dropped out of my mouth I was so shocked. My eyes were watering. But, like, not in an entirely bad way? The super sourness doesn't stay for very long, but it's certainly a memorable experience. After my first one I spent the rest of the day exclaiming "Oh! Juicy!" at random points; it felt appropriate.

Cosy things! Hot water bottle. A furry blanket that's really soft and warm; I love it to pieces. Sensible grey socks from my parents. And then socks from Mariya that sum up my thought process at any given moment: CATS! CAAATS! CATS!!!!

Computer stuff, including some wires and things that allow you to charge via a USB cable in a normal wall power-socket. Also, I asked for a new mouse and a new mousemat for Christmas because it is apparently 1996. Useful though! My old ones were about ten years old and looking it. The mousemat shows a picture of my parents' cat Heidi from last spring when she was allowed into the garden for the first time. My parents got her as a tiny kitten last Christmas. I can't believe it's been a year. She's grown so much since then!

Things that don't fit in other categories! Korean face-mask, beautiful hair-pins and evidence pouch (for me to keep secret evidence in) from Mariya. A foldaway shopping bag from my parents (useful now that it costs 5p for the disposable ones in shops). And, also from my parents, "Step Aside, Pops", the new book of comics from Kate Beaton. I love her stuff so much. History, humour and comics; what's not to like? (If she threw in some recipes too, it would be a distillation of everything I enjoy.) I read this book, cover to cover, within two days of receiving it. Yes!

Finally, I got a bit of money for Christmas, which I used to buy some new clothes. I've been quite frugal in the past few years (rent in London is crazy) and I've avoided buying clothes for the most part, so it was nice to get some money for the purpose. Two pairs of shoes from the sales. And two tops from Oasis that weren't in the sale at all (I am terrible at sale shopping because I always get distracted by the new stuff). We went into Oasis (in the House of Fraser) because we went shopping relatively late in the day and it was the only shop still open at 5pm on a bank holiday. I particularly loved the navy jumper because wearing it will make me feel like a sailor (especially with my peacoat). And I have only just realised that the colour navy is called navy because it was the colour worn by the navy. Shitting hell! (Apologies if I have been really slow on the uptake for this. Mind=Blown.)

Food post - 22 November 2015

by Janine  

I've accumulated a million more food photos (ok, eight). Let's get on with it!

Lemon thyme chicken with roasted balsamic beetroot
This recipe was nice, but nothing spectacular. You go to some effort to put balsamic vinegar on the beetroot, and lemon and thyme on everything else, but mostly it just tastes like roast chicken and potatoes. I certainly wasn't getting much balsamic vinegar or thyme when I was eating it. Thankfully I like roast chicken and potatoes quite a lot, so it went down well. The main problem was that the portions were tiny! Two new potatoes per person (or thereabouts) does not a dinner make!

Lobio (nutty bean dip)
I hadn't heard of lobio before I tried to cook it, so I had no idea what I was going to end up with. Turns out it's this! Texture wise it was, admittedly, more of a spread than a dip, but I think that's because I cut down the quantities in the recipe and so the reduced amount of liquid boiled away too quickly. Regardless, this was tasty. The spice gave it a warm flavour I wasn't used to and the onions were slightly sweet. Not super amazing, but it went down pretty easily!

Chimichurri sandwich
Next up was chimichurri. I'd actually heard of chimichurri before, although I had no idea what it was. It is, it turns out, a sauce made from lots of fresh herbs, garlic and chilli. And it is absolutely delicious! The actual steak part of this sandwich was less good. More of a disaster, actually. The recipe asks for 'sizzle steaks'. I have no idea what 'sizzle steaks' are, but I thought that thin sandwich steaks would do. THIN SANDWICH STEAKS WOULD NOT DO. It seems that the steaks I bought needed much more cooking than two minutes in a pan. Oh, they tasted fine, sure, if you like a nice taste that accompanies the texture of shoe leather! Pretty much the whole sandwich (bun and all) fell apart as I was trying to bite through this steak, which left me holding onto nothing more than a piece of meat in my bare hands and gnawing away like my jaw was going to fall off. In summary: don't use sandwich steaks, but do make chimichurri sauce. It's got a sharp, fresh taste that goes really well with beef. I bet it'd be great on a burger.

Cod with broccoli and chilli (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Nigella really sang the praises of the broccoli when introducing this one. Apparently, broccoli is amazing in this garlic, chilli, anchovy sauce. Personally, I found that the broccoli tasted like broccoli and not like amazing! broccoli. (Maybe it's because I left out the Vermouth?) To be honest, though, I prefer my broccoli more well done than this. That said, the sauce goes amazingly with the fish! Really salty and nice. And I had never in my whole life pan-fried cod before. It turns out that pan-fried cod is super easy and super tasty. It has since been added to my repertoire (the pan-fried white fish part, not the broccoli and anchovy sauce part). Oh, I tell you what though: Nigella recommended fresh red chilli as a garnish, but I think I went a bit overboard with mine. The whole dish was uncomfortably hot (which, come to think of it, is maybe why I wasn't so enthused with the broccoli).

Grilled steak with lime and mango salsa
I tried out this recipe as a way of using up my sandwich steaks and my fresh chilli. You're meant to barbecue the steak, but since I don't have a barbecue (and it's autumn!) I shoved them under the grill instead. I did grill them for longer than was suggested in the recipe, but it wasn't long enough because they were still kinda tough (I think I may have just bought really bad steaks). Also the marinade on the steaks tasted mostly like nothing? The steaks were most definitely not the greatest thing in the world. The mango salsa, though, was really nice. I think perhaps I just love anything that contains mango and/or coriander. It made the steaks a lot more bearable. The only issue with the salsa was that it had too much chilli for my liking; it was uncomfortably hot again. I don't know why I'm surprised about any of this.

Tuscan smoked salmon tartare (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Ok. This is perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever made. And I am not blaming Nigella; this one is all my fault. You see, Nigella's recipe is for Tuscan tuna tartare, not smoked salmon. I mean, can you even call it 'tartare' if smoked salmon is involved? (Answer: just don't try making this and you won't have that problem. Seriously: don't make this.) But my supermarket doesn't sell tuna that's good enough to eat raw, and I am far too lazy to go to one of the multiple fishmongers in the city that would sell me decent tuna. Hmm, thought I, what fish can I eat that's kinda raw? I know! Smoked salmon! And the thing is: this dish was really nice with the smoked salmon. Like, really tasty. I bet it's gorgeous with some proper tuna, and you feel so sophisticated if you eat it with the little bits of toast that Nigella recommends! It is good! It is also incredibly salty! Jesus Christ! I only normally eat smoked salmon at Christmas, and I had utterly forgotten that it has lots of added salt. So I blithely added the capers and the extra salt in the recipe (which would be a lot of salt, even for fresh tuna, I reckon). So salty. So saltyyyyy! Thus began the period of Great Dryness in my life, in which I spent about four days guzzling water. Even now, I'm not feeling keen about salting food as much as I normally would. My body is just like: nope, nuh-uh, don't need any more right now thank you very much. So. Don't be stupid like I was and make this with smoked salmon. But do make it with tuna, because I reckon it would taste fantastic.

I couldn't be bothered to buy any mirin for this, so my yakitori was a bit bland as a result (it tasted like chicken and soy sauce and spring onions). I couldn't be bothered to buy bamboo skewers either and just used my normal metal ones. That said, I tried this again the next day and cooked the skewers for longer and they turned out much better. The sauce got all caramelised and chewy with the longer cooking, and that was rather nice, especially with the spring onions which had turned rather sweet themselves.

Italian traybake (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Well done to Nigella for this one. It's really easy and really nice. You basically throw chicken thighs and some sausages together with lemon, rosemary and olive oil, then bung it in the oven for an hour. Job done! It comes out really nice and brown, with plenty of juices that leave everything moist and tasty. There's a lot of meat in this, which is rather indulgent, so it's filling even if there aren't as many potatoes as I'd normally eat (well, the recipe was for four to six people, and I gleefully decided on making it do for four). Nigella recommended bread alongside, but I'm glad I didn't bother with that. What Nigella did recommend as a side, though, was roasted peppers with parsley, olive oil and vinegar, which I went for. This was really nice, and helped to counteract and greasiness from the meat. Overall, this dish was filling, tasty and easy-peasy.

Food post - 20 September 2015

by Janine  

Gosh. It's been a while since the last food post, hasn't it? Sorry for the wait! My cooking slowed down at various points over the past few months, and even when I had enough recipes under my belt, it took me a long time to write about them (mostly because I wanted to prioritise the writing of the birthday and holiday posts first). So, yes, things have been slow. I started a new job a while back and it's taken some time for me to find a new routine. I couldn't stop trying out new recipes entirely though. I found that if I left it too long, I'd start getting all sad and antsy, so I'd have to make sure to get a top up here and there :D

But who cares about all that? You just want to see the food photos, right? I just want to see the food photos. Let's get on with it!

Beef pizzaiola (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I'm not sure how I feel about this recipe. It was... ok? Let's go with ok. I didn't use any vermouth as suggested by Nigella, but I don't think that was the cause of my troubles. Nigella says you can use sirloin or rose veal with this one, and I went for sirloin (because I am uncertain about veal), but I don't think that was the cause of my troubles either. Or maybe it was. You see, this recipe calls for the beef to be fried for 30 seconds per side. 30 seconds! What resulted was beef that was too rare for me. Perhaps my cuts of beef weren't good enough, but they were so rare that they were tough and chewy in places, which is not good. Add to that the fact that the capers and the olives and the anchovies made this dish really salty. It wasn't disgusting by any means, but it's not something I'll consider making again.

Salmon soboro
I don't think I get any marks for presentation for this one. After I'd dumped everything on top of the rice, I looked at it and realised that that's not how Japanese people would do it at all. (I imagine they'd have it in a smaller bowl, and arrange the toppings neatly on top while keeping them distinct from each other. I mean, I don't know for sure, but that's what I imagine.) This recipe said to use red chard, but suggested using spinach as an alternative; I did just that, because red chard was nowhere to be found. Either way, and presentation aside, this was really tasty. Yummy yummy. For me, the best part was poaching the salmon in pineapple juice, soy sauce and ginger. It made for such tasty salmon! I liked it so much that a little while later I cooked some more salmon the same way and then rolled it into sushi (which was nice too).

Tagliata for one (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This dish is actually called "Tagliata for Two" but as there's only one of me, I halved the recipe and it seemed to work just as well. This dish might look similar to the previous one from Nigella: a rare beef steak with cherry tomatoes and stuff on top. But they were worlds apart. Because this one was so good! I still think back on it happily. As before, this steak was more rare than I'd normally like. It's super-duper rare. Look at the photo! It's practically mooing! Oddly, I didn't find it a problem this time. Perhaps it was because I spent a bit more money on the beef, but it was not chewy at all. It was soft like butter! Just melt in your mouth stuff! Oh God! And then the toppings for it weren't nearly as salty as before; in fact, the tomatoes were really sweet, and with a little tang from vinegar too. (Nigella suggests adding dried oregano with the vinegar and then fresh oregano for a garnish. But who can find fresh oregano? Not me! So I used dried oregano for both.) The beef was soft and juicy; the dressing was delicious; I was mopping up every last drop with my bread. Yum yum yum.

Moroccan-spiced roast chicken
This recipe was a success and a disaster all in one. The success is that it was really tasty. The gravy could have been thicker in my opinion, but it and the chicken were really nice: all sweet and buttery with a little bit of spice. The disaster was entirely my fault: the chicken wasn't cooked enough because I hadn't defrosted it well enough before I stuck it in the oven. I had thought it was cooked when I first ate it, and that's because the breast meat I ate was cooked, but when I went to carve up the rest of the chicken after happily eating it, I realised that other parts of it were worryingly pink. Thankfully, I didn't get ill and I reheated the leftovers thoroughly before I ate them anyway so there was no problem. Schoolboy error on my part though. Do you know how long it takes to defrost a chicken in the fridge? No; turns out I don't know either.

Meatzza (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
After my disastrous attempt at a cauliflower-based pizza in the previous food post, I thought I might try making pizza again. But still not normal pizza! Oh no! That would be far too sensible! This time it was "meatzza", where the base, rather than being bread, is made of minced beef. It sounded like it would be nice. Why bother with all that boring bread when you can have beef instead? But, unfortunately, I found this one a little bland. Loads of tasty stuff goes into the beef: cheese, parsley, garlic. But where all that taste goes in the oven, I don't know. Do you ever get that thing where you try to make beefburgers at home but they come out bland no matter what you put into them? I had the same problem with this. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't the taste-explosion I was hoping for. Maybe I just find the taste of minced beef boring? Who knows! Oh, and a word of warning: if you try to make this in a springform cake tin like I did (because it was the only cake tin I had that was about the right size), then make sure to put a tray underneath it in the oven, because beef juice is going to drip out of this one like crazy while it's cooking (is that where all the taste went?)

Shortcut sausage meatballs (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This was tasty. Once again, I left the vermouth out of this one but I didn't feel its loss. Nigella suggests Italian sausages to make the meatballs. I found some "Sicilian-style" ones and they were very tasty, which helped the overall dish. I've not got much to say about this, to be honest. It was a bit of a faff to make (rolling the sausage meat into balls then browning them takes time) but it was good to eat.

Cauliflower pasta
Ok. I'm not going to lie. I was scared before I made this dish. The fact that I've already referenced that bloody cauliflower-based pizza in this post shows just how much the (horrific) experience of eating it has stayed with me. I'd already tried to get back on the pizza wagon; now it was time to get back on the cauliflower wagon too. After the cauliflower-based pizza experience, I'd convinced myself that I didn't actually like cauliflower and only liked it when it was smothered in cheese sauce. So, with that in mind, was it really a good idea to make a pasta recipe that showcases cauliflower as it's main ingredient? And roasted, almost burnt and bitter, cauliflower at that? I was scared, guys! I was scared! As always, I left out the white wine in this recipe. That left just me and the cauliflower; there would be nowhere to hide. Thank God, then, that this recipe is actually super delicious! It's really really nice! I was in shock the whole time I was eating it. It turns out that I do like cauliflower! And I like it roasted! I actually love it roasted! Why have I never roasted cauliflower before? Guys, the roasted cauliflower goes all nutty and a little bit chewy, and then you have these chewy nuggets of strong pecorino cheese, and it's all garlicky and just a little bit hot from the chilli, and guys. GUYS. The look of this dish (overwhelmingly beige) does not do the taste of it justice. It is good. It is so good! (I feel like I've had an epiphany.)

Sausages with beans and peppers (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
You know the drill: I left out the vermouth from this one. It was still nice without it though. I used the same "Sicilian-style" sausages as I had done for the meatballs, so the taste of this dish was similar (i.e. good) but it had an extra smokiness from the roasted peppers. When cooking this up I had expected to get a stew, but what I got instead was more like a really hearty soup. And yummy soup it was too. Dunking my bread in it was good stuff. A nice, warming meal for the winter, this, I reckon.

Monkfish wrapped in rosemary, lemon and Parma ham (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I made this one just a couple of days ago. Nigella said to serve the monkfish on radicchio or other red leaves. I can't find radicchio for love nor money so I used a red cos lettuce instead (which probably changed the taste quite drastically). My monkfish was maybe a little on the overcooked side (not that I mind that, myself); it was all down to the fact that I had no idea how to fillet a monkfish tail and so cut the fillets too small. I worked it out in the end though (thank God for helpful YouTube videos). I mean, to be honest, I didn't even know that you could fillet a monkfish tail! I've never cooked monkfish before, and I'm not sure I've even eaten it before. After cooking this recipe, I'm still not entirely certain what monkfish tastes like. I mean, this recipe was really tasty (all bacony and lemony and rosemary-y) but those strong flavours overpowered the fish a bit. But if you like eating fish without it actually tasting like fish (which, it turns out, I do), then you'll like this one.


by Janine  

Hi! I recently got back from a holiday to the Costa Brava in Spain. James and Eppa and Rene rented a house in Llafranc and invited folks to go stay with them, which was a very generous thing to do. Thanks, guys! Myself, Nick, and Eppa's brother Oscar took them up on their offer.

I haven't been on a proper holiday for two years, so this was lots of fun. And the weather in Spain was so beautiful! It was hot and muggy for the first couple of days (which I felt too English for) but by the end of the week the humidity and the temperature had dropped to something more reasonable. Rain was forecast for our stay, but honestly, if our experience was anything to go by, it seems like a rainy day in Spain involved a ten minute rain shower followed by a whole day of beautiful sunshine. When I got back to London after a week, I discovered that it is now autumn in the UK, which was a bit of a shock to the system, let me tell you.

So, what did we do in Spain? Well, there was sight-seeing and walks and beaching, as you might expect, as well as attempting to make ourselves understood in restaurants with our mangled Spanish. But it was very chilled too. There were chocolate croissants for breakfast, and lunches of bread, ham and cheese on the terrace. There was reading books to Rene and, apparently, teaching her to say the word orangutan. And in the evenings, because we often wanted to eat earlier than Spanish people do, we'd retire to our house to barbecue burgers and sausages or fresh fish from the market, and stay up chatting while the mosquitoes bit at our ankles. It was good stuff! (Except for the mosquitoes.)

I've got a million photos to share with you. Firstly, this is the view from one of our balconies (the house we stayed in had three!) Our house was up a super steep hill. (Walking up that each day was less fun.)

Here's the bay at Llafranc, where we were staying. Loads of boats!

And this is the beach next door at Calella de Palafrugell.

On one of the days we went on a trip to Girona. It's a really pretty city, with steep, winding streets, and buildings in the distinctive red, orange and yellow colours of the area.

The cathedral in Girona had writing on one of its walls. What does it say? I don't know!

This pole with a lion on it was something to do with an old building that had once stood on the site. I forget what it was now. But everyone likes lions on poles!

Next up on the day trip was a visit to Peratallada. OMG I fell in love with this place. I thought Girona had old, winding streets, but they were nothing compared to this! The old part of the town was was moated and walled and included a castle that was about 1000 years old. The church, however, sat outside the walls. I wish I knew why.

The rest of the days in Spain involved a trip up the hill on the other side of Llafranc to see the views, followed by time spent on the beach in the beautiful sunshine. (I don't think I've seen the sun since returning to the UK. Where have you gone?)

And so back to autumn. I'll miss you, Spain! But at least I won't miss the mosquitoes.

Birthday 2015

by Janine  

Hello everyone! I had a birthday recently. Let me tell you about it.

I am now officially into adult numbers that no-one can mistake for irresponsible youth! I rather like that. I was rubbish at being a youth anyway.

My birthday was on the down-low. I went to see a small comedy show and also went to the Globe to watch Richard II. Now, I had thought that I had enjoyed the BBC Hollow Crown version of Richard II because it was really well done. It was, but I think perhaps that I just really like the play as well. There's something very compelling about Richard's character. He's a spoilt brat and an arse, but you can't help but feel sorry for him as his whole worldview crumbles around him. Charles Edwards played Richard in this version and I think he did it very well. Also, they dropped glitter from the roof! How can you not love a play that drops glitter from the roof?

In other news, let me dump some photos of my lovely gifts on you. Thank you everyone for your well-wishes!

A whole bookcase full of cards. (I had a count-up: only four cat cards this year; I need to do better.)

James and Eppa sent me a very pretty card. It looks home-made! Proper classy.

Mariya sent me a very expensive looking card. With a picture of John Watson on it! Bwahaha.

Linda and Tom also sent an expensive card. With a cat on it! No flap though. Unlike Linda, this card is not good at standing.

Nick thought he'd bought me a card with cats on it, but then realised...


It's owls.

Steve and Heather had no such confusion. They sent me a card with a cat on it. With Nick's face. (It's a Christmas card.) I have no words.

As well as cards, I got some lovely gifts. Feast your eyeballs:

Kitchen things! Including minions tic tacs (so cute) and some shifty-looking serviettes from Mariya. She also sent me the Japanese candy kit. This one was complex. It involved the use of a microwave! Thank God YouTube could tell me what to do with it. I made it today. It's a strawberry flavoured pancake in the shape of a panda! Tasty and cute.

Clothes and toiletries. (Not pictured: a nice bottle of perfume from my parents.) I got some well-posh Lavender smelling hand-soap and moisturiser from James and Eppa (from Liberty!) There's a Korean face-mask and some hand-cream from Mariya. And a plain long-sleeved shirt from my parents, which blends in rather well with my duvet cover.

Then there are the things that didn't fit into any of the other categories. Two lovely purses! The cool camera purse is from Mariya, who also got me the hamburger-shaped notebook (so I can feel hungry whenever I make notes). Also featured is a hair-brush cleaner; a blue-tooth speaker, so I can listen to music in the kitchen while I'm cooking; and a horror film staring Ross Noble??? Geordie comedian Ross Noble is in a slasher flick? I don't understand! My Dad choose this one, and he said, "I have no idea what this is, but I know you like Ross Noble so here you go". Has anyone heard of this film before? I didn't even know Ross Noble did acting! But his comedy is great, so this could be too?

The other film is one I requested specifically. I have been dying to watch What We Do in the Shadows ever since I saw the trailer. Vampires with dodgy accents living in a shared house in Wellington. I watched it a couple of nights ago. It's very very funny. I loved it.

This last photo doesn't contain birthday presents. The DVDs I bought myself, and the books all come from some book tokens I was given as gifts from the lovely people at my last job. I very particularly did not ask for any books for my birthday this year, because I already knew I had this motherload on the way!

So, the books kinda tie-in with the DVDs. Some books are Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell related, because apparently I can't leave it alone. A couple came from Emma's Strange and Norrell related recommendations. Jane Eyre is in there because I needed more 19th Century-based fiction; and then I stepped back a few decades and went for Evelina as well (I'd just listened to a podcast about Fanny Burney and she sounded like an interesting lady).

I got The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy because I've never read it and that feels like a wrong position to be in. And I got Life in the Middle Ages because I like to read light history books for fun (it's ok; I'm an adult now, I'm allowed to).

And the final book ties in with the Wolf Hall DVD. Oh look, is that a biography of Thomas Cromwell? Yes. Yes it is. I've just finished reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I really enjoyed them, and I couldn't bear to part with the world just yet, hence the biography, and the DVD. It was the TV series that actually started me on the books. It's not as long and as full as the books (it can't be) but it's still very enjoyable. Plus, it has a beautifully haunting soundtrack. I won't say that the show or the books are perfect (for example, I'm not sure how I feel about this choice of characterisation for Anne Boleyn) but they are really enjoyable nonetheless. I'd recommend them if you haven't checked them out! On a related note, during a conversation on a birthday outing with Susan, we discovered that we both have the hots for Mark Rylance as Cromwell. Rylance plays Cromwell as far more quiet than he's meant to be in the books (in my opinion), but he makes it work in a very compelling and oddly sexy way; even when he threatens to gouge out someone's eyes with his thumbs! (Especially when he threatens to gouge out someone's eyes with his thumbs!) It was something of a revelation to find out that Susan felt the same way about that scene; oh thank God it's not just me.

As for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, you already have my thoughts on the series. It's part great and part not great. But I'm too much of a fan of the book not to own the DVD. Also, I needed to have more Childermass in my life. Even if it comes with the extra baggage, I am not passing up the chance to own Childermass on DVD.

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