Guys. You may have noticed that I've not been blogging much recently.
I'm currently doing a part-time distance-learning course and trying to fit it around my full-time work. Needless to say, I have very little time for anything else. (Not even cooking fun stuff. I miss it so much *sob*)
The good news is that the course is only until the beginning of January, so if I don't make it back on here in 2013, you'll be sure to see me in 2014, along with lots of excitement and jabbering about the new series of Sherlock (which I'm assuming will air about that time).
In other news, I was watching The Great British Bake Off recently (one of my few weekly treats while it lasted) and this happened.
Suffolk, Essex and Constable Country
I was away on holiday with my parents last week.
We didn't go far, just to a village in Suffolk, very close to the border with Essex. It felt like miles away, though, compared with the rough and tumble of London. The joys of hearing birdsong, having a whole detached property to yourselves and being able to see the stars at night should not be underestimated!
Oh, and the weather was great too. Now I'm back home, we seem to have descended into the first blip of autumn, but last week was a different story. It was warm and sunny and I hardly saw a cloud once!
Here's a recount of what we did.
The village we stayed in was were John Constable grew up and the surrounding area is known as Constable Country.
I got to acquaint myself with Constable's work while I was there. Many of his paintings are of a rural idyll bathed in the warm light of a sunny afternoon. They're pretty in a calm sort of a way and are subsequently very popular. If you don't know someone who has a Constable picture on their wall, I will be surprised!
This was Constable's studio.
And this is a village over the river, where Constable went to school. I'm not entirely sure, but I think the school he went to was the building on the left. We certainly found graffiti in the brick-work that could be his: "J.C. 1787".
This picture was taken just outside of one of the mills that was owned by Constable's father. The building is Willie Lott's House (not 'Lots of Willies House' as I liked to call it); Constable painted it in The Hay Wain (not the 'Wayne' as I also called it; God I was annoying that day).
And this was taken inside the parish church at the village where Constable went to school. Up top there is his painting, The Ascension. A bit different from his normal subject matter!
It was lots of fun to walk in Constable's footsteps. The area doesn't seem to have changed much since his time so it's quite easy to imagine it as he saw it. Oh yeah, and Constable seems to have been quite the attractive gent too, so that helps.
Following on from that last photo, here are some more photos of churches. I love wandering around a parish church because they're normally one of the oldest buildings in the village. They always seem to be filled with hints and puzzles about what was there before.
This is part of the parish church in the village we stayed in. It was built in the 15th Century. The most striking feature is its tower; or rather, its half a tower. For some reason, presumably a lack of funding, the villagers stopped building the bell-tower when it was only half-way finished. This photo shows an archway that was meant to run underneath the tower. But the walls don't go much higher than this, and as you can tell from the sunlight between the arches, the tower doesn't even have a roof.
Without a tower to put the bells in, the villagers put them in this (what they had initially thought was temporary) bell cage.
Inside the bells are left pointing upwards, waiting to be rung by hand.
I think this tower contains a staircase. The star was the emblem of a local family.
And here is the church that contains Constable's picture of The Ascension. It was also built in the 15th Century. This photo shows the tower that the previous church was trying to copy. Only these guys actually managed to finish theirs.
This tower, like the failed one, has an arch underneath it. Only this one actually has a roof, and very pretty it is too.
The area seemed to be very heavy on the puritan side during the reformation. According to the story, this font was found in the churchyard where it had lain for centuries after being dumped. You can even see where it had had angels on the outside before they were struck off.
What with recent TV documentaries and the Anglo-Saxon history book that I've been reading, I am on such an Anglo-Saxon kick at the moment. The dark ages are fascinating because I know next-to-nothing about them. But it was a time when all sorts of traditions and governmental structures were laid down. Shire boundaries! Manorial landholding systems! Place names! Ahhh!
And so I forced my parents to take a trip up to Sutton Hoo and its famous Anglo-Saxon burial ground.
Here's the entrance to the exhibition. It wasn't a large exhibition, and all the original finds are at the British Museum in London, but it was really interesting nonetheless.
This is one of the burial mounds. It's been reconstructed up to the size it would have been when it was originally made. Imposing. And eerie. You can tell why later Anglo-Saxons thought it would be good to use the place for executions.
These are the mounds as they are now. Some have been completely flattened by ploughing.
And here's a replica of the famous helmet. It may well have come from the grave of Raedwald, King of the East Angles and High King of all the Anglo-Saxons in the south of Britain. Whoever it belonged too, it's some serious bling.
So there I was, wandering through the countryside and caught up between Regency painters, 15th Century church-builders, and dark-age warriors. It was nice. I like to feel the roots of a place when I'm there.
And, well, it was all rather pretty in the sunshine. The ground is quite flat so the views stretch a long way. There were green fields, a lush river and grand cottages that were painted 'Suffolk pink'. You can tell why Constable wanted to paint the place.
Summer's still going strong
Summer has been so nice this year! Where are the cold temperatures and the endless rain that we've had to put up with for the past few years? I have no idea!
I've mostly been spending my time having picnics and going to the theatre (more on that later). And yesterday Claire was visiting and we took ourselves off to Notting Hill Carnival. I don't have any photos because I wasn't sure how safe my camera would be in the heaving crowds, but it turned out to be a good experience. The whole of Notting Hill was like one massive street party fuelled with dancing, bright colours and the smell of jerk chicken. We had fun.
In other things of note. This:
I received a birthday card from Linda! It deserves a special mention because it's travelled to London from Luxembourg twice. Originally ending up at the wrong address it got returned to sender and Linda was kind enough to send it out again. What a well-travelled card!
And as for the rest of this blog post, here's a run down of things I've been watching and listening to recently:
The Great British Bake Off
Not much to say about this yet because the new series has just started. I'm so happy it's back on TV though! It's like everything is right with the world when there's a mixture of cakes and Mel and Sue making bad puns on my TV.
King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons
I've come to the conclusion that I love every one of Michael Wood's history documentaries. This one is about the Anglo Saxons and is just as fascinating as I was hoping for. Watching it is my weekend treat.
A Field in England
I watched this film when it premièred on the TV. Here's the trailer. I enjoyed it! The direction was very nice to watch (bar one overly-long strobe sequence) and the story kept you on your toes. Bear in mind, though, that you will get to the end of the film without having any idea of what it was about. It's not an easy film to decipher. The best part though? I liked the historical feel of it; it was very 'show not tell'. Other films might have made a meal trying to explain what the Civil War was all about, but this film didn't even touch on it. The setting didn't need to be explained; it just was.
All in all, very enjoyable, and the only thing preventing me from purchasing it is that I can't bear to watch that strobe sequence again.
Welcome to Night Vale
So, I've gotten on the band wagon and have started watching this podcast (links to where to listen to it here). I wouldn't call myself a super-duper fan, but it is certainly fun, often laugh-out-loud funny, and shockingly cinematic for an audio-only medium.
The premise of the podcast is that it is a local radio show based in a small town in the US where every single horror cliché and stereotype is real. I'd call it a cross between The League of Gentlemen's radio show (only less of an obvious sitcom) and Blue Jam (only slightly less creepy).
I'd say give it a go if you're interested. Make sure to listen to the episodes in order though because they often refer back to things that have happened in previous episodes.
Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
I'm sure you've all heard the super catchy Get Lucky, right? Daft Punk's new album seems to be a trip back to their slightly more funky roots and I am all for that. Some of the tracks are a little slow and a bit too experimental for me, but some of them are great.
For example: I was listening to Lose Yourself to Dance while hanging up my clothes from the washing machine and before I knew it I had stopped what I was doing and had started dancing around the room like a weirdo.
So, yes, I approve. Once again Daft Punk prove that they are what we know them to be:
Sexy sexy disco robots.
The Sound of Music
I went to see this show at the Regents Park Theatre with James, Eppa, Steve, Heather, Eppa's sister and Heather's brother. Luckily, with it being an outside theatre, the weather was nice and not rainy in the slightest. We even had a picnic before the show!
Now, here's where I admit I've never seen the film before. Embarrassing, I know. This meant that I got to enjoy the full force of the plot, while somehow recognising all the songs anyway.
Overall, I really enjoyed this show! The songs were very uplifting (there's a reason why the film is so popular) and the actors had great singing voices. I actually felt energised after watching it, and I was left humming My Favourite Things for days afterwards. Oh, and Captain von Trapp was rather hot totty too, which I hear from a good source always makes the show more enjoyable.
If I've learnt anything from this show it's:
1. If you're expecting a happy ending, watch out. It's likely to be ruined by Nazis.
2. Nazis can be defeated through music.
Handy things to know.
And another musical! I saw this one with Claire this weekend at the Aldwych Theatre. Once again, I'd not seen the film, but most of the songs were familiar already.
I have to admit, I didn't enjoy the singing in this one as much as The Sound of Music. And while the dancing was good, I couldn't help feeling that it probably wasn't quite the same as Fred and Ginger.
That said, I enjoyed the show, especially once the farce got going. I love a good farce.
Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
I've just finished reading this book and I was shocked by just how much I enjoyed it. I wouldn't say it wasn't without its flaws (see also: God, Dickens really hated America back then; the gratuitous use of American stereotypes gets a bit boring to be honest. And also: none of the female protagonists appear to have much of a personality at all.) If you can overlook those parts, then it is a good read. The plot's a bit odd in places, but the characters are mostly great and the book is really really funny. There's a lot of physical humour in it, which I didn't even realise was possible in book form!
For example, take this scene, just after Mark Tapley has knocked on Mr Pecksniff's front door:
A person of Mr Tapley's observation could not long remain insensible to the fact, that Mr Pecksniff was making the end of his nose very blunt against the glass of the parlour window, in an angular attempt to discover who had knocked at the door.
Did I mention that I loved the characters? Of particular note are the good guys, John Westlock, Mark Tapley and Tom Pinch. John Westlock is endearingly romantic, Mark Tapley is pretty much the only person with any sense in the whole thing, and Tom Pinch? Well. I haven't been such a fan of any character for a good couple of years.
At the beginning, I thought Tom Pinch was going to be a joke character, but he pretty much turns into the main protagonist (or was that all in my head?) Once I got halfway through the book, I found myself feeling rather frustrated when reading any chapter that didn't have Tom Pinch in it. As a character, he's foolish, certainly, but he's also utterly adorable!
And here's the part where I descend into spoilers. Click the link below for more:
Hold on to your hats. I haven't blogged about my cooking adventures for the past month and a half. This is going to be a long one.
Strawberry and basil salad with balsamic reduction
This salad is really quick to make and looks so summery! Unfortunately, I was a bit wary about eating it because I normally don't like sweet and savoury mixed together, or raw onions, or feta. Good job. Luckily for me, I got a pleasant surprise when I took my first mouthful because the taste is actually pretty nice. Well, nice at the beginning anyway. It's still a bit too sweet for me so I started to feel a little ill once I got halfway through but let's not dwell on that part.
Panzanella Tuscan bread salad
I don't have much to say about this one. It's nice enough to eat (filling too) and is good for those hot days when you want to eat salad and nothing else.
Lemon and herb crusted fish
Oh God, this dish is so good! It's a bit of a faff to make and if, like mine, the fillet is smaller than suggested then it can break up when you try to take it out of the baking tray, but it's so worth it anyway. The fish is nice and goes really well with the potatoes and, man, that tarragon mayo is the jewel in the crown. I get the feeling it's not so healthy but who cares? I could easily eat it seven days in a row.
Colin McGurran's chicken fajita kebabs
Is this the most beige meal in the world or what? Don't worry; the fajitas are colourful on the inside. Point one: the recipe didn't say what to do with the rice so I just ate it on the side. Point two: I think I grilled these for longer than I was told too, but I always like to make sure my chicken is cooked through. Point three: I was scared this was going to be far too spicy for me, but actually it turned out to have a pleasant mild heat and nothing more. In fact, with the lime and everything, they were really tasty and nice; far better than my photo would suggest.
Love hearts gingerbread (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
Can you tell that I iced these at midnight? I think you can tell. I didn't have a heart-shaped cutter, so I made a stencil from some baking paper, which seemed to work well. The icing though; I think I made the icing for the middle too runny, because it took ages to set (you can see that it's still a little wet in the photo). In fact, I didn't wait for it to set fully because it was goddamn midnight already, so I just piped the rest of the icing on top with frequently terrifying results. Thanfully, they tasted absolutely stellar so there is that.
Vanilla macarons with caramel cream (recipe from I ♥ Macarons by Hisako Ogita - a birthday present from Mariya!)
Making macarons is possibly the most stressful thing ever. There was one part, about an hour and a half in, where I discovered that I hated everything in existence. Thankfully, I persevered and ended up with something tangentially related to a macaron. Now, before you tell me that these don't look too bad, let me point out that I hid all the ugly ones at the bottom, and that there were many of those. One of my problems was that I'd used a wet finger to smooth out the points on the macarons; this meant that they didn't dry very well and led to a lot of them cracking in the oven. My other problem is that they were a lot more brown and more hard and chewy than they were meant to be. This was all down to the oven temperature; I must have been using a different type of oven to the one they use in the recipe book because the cooking temperature was far too high and the cooking time was far too long for me. Oh, and I need to work out size as well. I tried to follow the size guidelines in the book and ended up with macarons that were ridiculously tiny (I hid those ones at the bottom too). So, all in all, I don't think I ended up with anything that looked, felt or tasted like a macaron, but actually they were pretty nice to eat anyway. Time for more practice I think!
Turkey and rosemary skewers
This is one of those meals that looks better than it tastes. The taste was fine, yes, but it wasn't mind-blowing. Oh, but the smell of rosemary when you're cooking will make your whole house smell great; I bloody love the smell of rosemary. As before, I grilled these for longer than I was told to because I wanted to make sure my turkey was cooked through.
Caesar chicken pasta salad
I normally find Caesar salad a bit too rich for me and this was no exception. I'm also still not sold on the taste of anchovies. Overall, this wasn't my favourite dish in the world, but making the parmesan crumbs was fun.
Herby chicken with lemon and almond rice
Again, I grilled these for longer than I was told to because I wanted to make sure they were cooked through. I liked the chicken; chicken legs are always nice and moist. And I get the feeling that the rice could have been really tasty if I'd managed to not burn the garlic to high heaven. How embarrassing.
Birthday time :D
Things have been rather exciting around here because it was my birthday this week! Unfortunately I've also had a bad cold, but I enjoyed the parts where I wasn't feverish or hacking up half a lung (actually, to be fair, the feverish parts were quite good too; feeling cold and getting goosebumps on a day when it's 32°C outside is kinda pleasant).
So, firstly, Steve and Heather and Nick came to London and then with James and Eppa we all went out to eat BBQ ribs in Hoxton.
Man, I've wanted to eat ribs again ever since I had them in New York. I went for the pulled pork and the ribs here. They were nice, but not quite as nice as the NYC ones. Expensive too, but the portion was so large that it managed to feed me for two whole days. Good work.
My milkshake was jolly nice though. It was basically a load of ice-cream in a bucket, and for a boiling hot day it was lovely.
A few days later my parents came to visit and we went for a wander around Greenwich. We got there quite late so most of the museums and things were closing, but it's a pretty place to walk around regardless.
First we saw the Cutty Sark.
Then the Old Royal Naval College.
Then the National Maritime Museum.
And finally we went up into Greenwich Park to see the view across to Canary Wharf.
All in all it was a nice day and my cold was stating to wear off by that point too. Score!
Not to mention, everyone has been so nice sending cards and presents! Thank you, guys!
A selection of my cards. Very impressed with the Moonpig card from Sam and Gemma, showcasing photos that we'd only taken a few days beforehand. So on-the-ball!
Cookery/food presents. (I've actually had the food processor for a few weeks now, but I've been keeping quiet about it ohohoho.)
The macaron recipe book is from Mariya and I am so excited to try it out. All going well, I'll attempt my first batch of macarons next weekend. Pictures to come later I'm sure.
Oh, and a special shout-out goes to James and Eppa for getting me the picnic blanket. I now have everything I need to be a fully-functioning adult. Hooray!
Other presents. The Horrible Histories box set is from Nick. Aaa! I haven't seen series one or two before so I can't wait to get my teeth into them (especially now that the last ever Horrible Histories series has finished showing on TV D:)
I asked my parents for Moranthology. I've been champing at the bit for the last year to read this book. Caitlin Moran is so funny; I am a mega fan.
And thanks to Steve and Heather for the book of Tom Gauld comics! I've just finished devouring all of them.
Other things I can't wait to get my chops around? Adorable moustache-shaped lip balm from Maryia and new Daft Punk album from my parents :D :D
Thanks again, everyone! I hope your weeks have been as lovely as mine!
I hope the weather has been nice where you are! Here, it's been mixed. Sometimes cold, sometimes windy, sometimes rainy, oftentimes muggy, and always with a high pollen count (just in case you like a bit of mucous with your summer).
This weekend though. This weekend the weather was gorgeous! Sunny and just the right temperature. If only it could stay like that always, rather than get all cloudy and rainy like today.
Still, good weather or not, I have been gallivanting around and trying to enjoy summer (and sneezing lots along the way. Seriously, what is up with the pollen count this year?)
1. Victorian cemeteries
2. Norfolk broads
3. Stuffed animals
4. Sunny picnics
1. Victorian cemeteries
I visited an old Victorian cemetery with James and Eppa a couple of weeks ago. It stopped being well-tended some time in the late-20th Century so now it's really overgrown with the headstones listing all over the place. Probably not what the first people to be interred there imagined would happen to their graves, but it does add wonderfully to the Gothic feel of the place.
2. Norfolk broads
After that, I went to visit Theresa and Colin and their 16 month-old daughter, Rosie. They live in a village on the Norfolk broads and the place is so pretty and peaceful!
We spent the weekend playing with Rosie (I was on drawing, pushing the ride-on toy car, and Winnie-the-Pooh duty), having a barbecue, and visiting model railways.
Oh yeah, and walking along the waterside.
3. Stuffed animals
The week after, I went with my parents and my Nan to go visit a museum full of stuffed animals.
It's a fascinating place. I love learning about evolution, so being able to compare the different species was great. But as the stuffed animals are all about 100 years old, we got to learn a bit about the way people saw animals and museums back then too.
4. Sunny picnics
This weekend, Susan, Helen and I took advantage of the nice weather and went for a picnic.
I love strawberry season. These strawberries were from Kent and were so sweet and juicy. I stuffed my face with as many as I could manage.
And Susan gave me a belated house-warming present! Very bright a cheerful. I hope I can keep this one alive, unlike all the other plants that have been entrusted into my care over the years. (Even my long-lived poinsettia is looking a bit ill these days.)
I've been watching a lot of TV series recently, and not one of them is a cooking programme! What's happened to me?
The internet tells me this is going to be the last series of Horrible Histories. How sad! It honestly is one of my favourite shows. What can be better than history and jokes? In particular, the songs this series have been great. My favourites:
Marcus Licinius Crassus
The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England
This documentary series was so fascinating! The presenter, Ian Mortimer, has written a book of the same name that I'm hoping to read soon. (I read his earlier book, The Time Traveller's Guider to Medieval England, last year and it quickly became one of my favourite non-fiction books.) What makes this show so interesting is that it pretends that you are going to visit Elizabethan England and tells you what to do, what to eat, what to wear, where to stay and what to expect (all very every-day kind of stuff so very relatable). I really enjoyed trying to imagine myself in the Elizabethan mindset. Fun fact! Most people in Elizabethan England had never heard of William Shakespeare. And how would they have heard of him if only the folks in London could go see his shows at the theatre?
I just loved this show. Can't wait to get my grubby paws on the book.
Rise of the Continents
And another good documentary series! I started watching this on a whim but it's turned out to be really fascinating. Taking each of the continents in turn, it uses the geology and the animals around to show how the continental plates have moved and changed over time. If you know almost nothing about geology, like me, you'll find it really interesting. Fun fact! It's not Antarctica's location but the seas swirling around it that make it so cold. When it was still attached to Australia, and so the sea currents around the land mass were different, it was lush and wooded.
Ahhh! Things in the past were different to how they are now! I can't get enough of this stuff!
Thanks to Eppa for letting me borrow her DVD. I'm halfway through the series now. Personally, I would class it as a comedy-drama rather than a pure comedy, because the laughs are thin on the ground. It works well as a comedy-drama though and has more of a feeling of reality to it than a lot of dramas do (see: characters living in believably tiny New York-sized apartments). Ok, and they might be thin on the ground, but I did laugh at the jokes too.
I've been busy doing various things and enjoying the summer these past few weeks. More about that later. Because today is food post day.
Did you know: it's been over a year now since I started this massive cooking spree? And I still haven't gotten bored of it yet! It's so much fun, it really is.
Shaun Hill's popcorn chicken
I couldn't find any popcorn kernels, so I bought a bag of normal salted popcorn instead. I was worried it would make the chicken too salty, but luckily it didn't. This dish is delicious by the way. The chicken is moist, crunchy and you can taste the popcorn. The pesto potatoes, meanwhile, are possibly the best way to eat pesto ever. I am a fan.
This is a very mild, unassuming dish. Nice though; I normally find carbonara too rich for me, but not so with this one. Really quick and easy to make too.
Roast chicken and tarragon sauce
jsyk I left the wine out of this one. The chicken came out very moist and tender. The sauce? Whoa. The sauce certainly packs a punch. It's nice, but it's been reduced so much that the taste is very very strong. I hope you like it that way!
Gluten free almond cookies
I made these to take to work because a colleague of mine can't eat gluten. Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about them. My colleagues seemed to like them, but personally I found them a bit dry and mealy. The main reason, I think, is because the mixture seemed too wet to roll out, so I added tonnes more flour until it seemed more like a dough consistency, which probably put my sugar/butter/almond/flour ratio out. They came out a bit like shortbread but not as nice. Oh, and all the almonds fell off the top too.
Tasty chicken tikka masala
As curries go, this was ok. Nice, but nothing to write home about. It was sweet and not too hot but perhaps more tomato-y than I normally like my curries. Then again, tikka masala has never been on my top favourite curry list.
Sugary doughnut muffins (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
These muffins were a massive success. They do taste like doughnuts! And with the sugar on top and the jam inside, they feel very decadent too. The bonus is that they're easy to make; the recipe is just weighing, mixing and spooning (with a bit of brushing on melted butter and rolling in sugar at the end for the topping). I literally can't praise these muffins enough!
I've just finished watching all 7 series of Ideal and I have to tell you about it because it's so good! In fact, I may have told you about it before, but let me try again.
Ideal is a sitcom from BBC3 (no, hear me out, it's actually a good sitcom on BBC3). It stars Johnny Vegas, who plays a cannabis dealer called Moz. The show started in 2005 and ran until 2011 when it was apparently cancelled. Boo. I didn't start watching until a couple of years ago, when I started from the very first episode and then blitzed my way through the lot.
Guys, how can I convince you how good this show is? I never saw it when it was originally on TV because I thought you never got good comedy shows on BBC3. How wrong I was! My parents were fans and they persuaded me to give it a go. I was hooked immediately. It is possibly one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. Really! It's dark and strange and weird and the jokes are good but the best part are the characters.
If you start watching this show from the first series (and I highly recommend you do) you get to meet each character in turn. They are all great (if sometimes scary) and it's a joy to watch them grow and change as the years go on. Not to mention, you can become so familiar with their individual quirks that sometimes I only need someone to appear on screen for me to start laughing.
My favourite is Psycho Paul and his gang. His accent always cracks me up. Here's a clip: http://youtu.be/XDXFVTZCZwI
Jenny is very good too. Here she is at her best: http://youtu.be/nbNl9zntR-M
And here's the trailer for series 5. No spoilers but it gives you a good feel for just how strange and dark Ideal is: http://youtu.be/Iq9w0RZnmNg
Just watch it. If you like comedy shows that are a little on the dark side, you'll like it. As a bonus, the first series contains the best executed pun I've ever seen.
Italian burger bang
I ate these in normal sesame seed buns rather than ciabatta rolls because that's what I had in the freezer, and I grilled the burgers for longer than suggested because I like mine well done. Taste-wise, these burgers were confused. They tasted nice, yes, but there were so many different herbs and flavours in the meat and the garnishes that it all came out being a bit of a jumble. So, yes, nice, but could do with being toned-down a bit.
Piri piri style sausage
I thought these might have been a bit too spicy for my liking but I was wrong. They were mild and sweet and tasty. A success!
Broccoli, chilli and tomato spaghetti
This came out rather boring and, maybe I made an error in the cooking somewhere, but rather dry too. I want some sauce!
Fig and hazelnut breakfast bread (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
This is the first thing I've made from this book that I've not been very impressed with. One part is my fault. Rather than buying new yeast, I was lazy and used my old stuff, which meant that the dough didn't rise very well at all. The main problem though, and I don't think it was to do with the yeast, is that this bread was too sweet for my tastes. The figs were sweet enough on their own, let alone with extra sugar added too. I've since found that the best way for me too eat this bread is toasted and dry. The addition of butter spread on top (or cream cheese like the book suggests) makes it too rich for me to handle.
Chocolate and porridge
Just a quick post to share a couple of things with you today.
The first is that I cat-sitted for James and Eppa a couple of weeks ago. (I really need to show you a photo of their cats at some point; they're great.) Anyway, I was given some holiday souvenirs in return. Thanks, guys!
Yup, that's right. Those are Henry VIII chocolates! You will be glad to know that I ate the wives in the order of their deaths. And tasty they were too; they went down right nice with a cup of camomile tea.
In other food news, I've just finished eating a free box of porridge that I got from Graze. Like their other stuff, it was tasty but not something I could afford on a regular basis. The good news is that I've got some codes for free boxes. If you've never had a Graze box before and want a free one, or if you've had a Graze box before and want a free box of breakfast, then hit me up and I'll see what I can do.
Spring bits and bobs
I've got a few things I want to talk about, so here's an odds and ends post today.
3. American Gods
Spring is finally here! I've turned off the heating at home and have changed my morning commute so I can walk part of the way through the sunshine and spend less time on the train.
Ok, so it's not all sunny, hot fun-times constantly; today, for example, it's cold and wet. But it's not cold cold. Not snow and woolly hats cold, just I'll throw on a light scarf and turn on the heating a notch cold. After all that time when I thought winter wouldn't leave us, this is still wonderful.
Last weekend, being a bank holiday weekend, I went to visit my parents. We took advantage of the nice weather by going on a walk through the countryside.
The attempt was to go find some bluebells but we were about a week too early. There are bluebells in this picture, but not enough to give the ground that purple haze that makes bluebells so nice.
The trees were gorgeous though. It was a beech wood so the trees were all tall and straight and the leaves were so fresh and new that they were a vivid green. All in all it was rather majestic.
Oh, and we found this cool old gate too. We figured that it was probably part of a much nicer, grander door at some point in the past, but then it got broken and so was relegated outside for gate duty.
I have been watching so much TV recently! Let me run down the main ones.
This show is my guilty pleasure. It's so over-the-top that it's very funny to watch. I like the crazy dance music used to heighten the tension; I like looking at all that food; I like cheering on my favourite contestants; but most of all I love to watch Gregg Wallace pull a million faces.
BBC's glossy drama about the life in one village during the First World War. It was beautiful to watch; well-acted with writing that was often subtle and clever in the best way. But. Jesus! It was so depressing! I know it was dealing with a tough period of history, but I think I can count only two happy things that happened over the whole 6-hour course of the series! If you want to feel miserable, then watch this show.
Game of Thrones
If I ever watch all of this, it's going to take a long time, because I only watch it at my parents house. I've only seen the first three episodes of the first season so far but I have been enjoying it! Very well made. My favourite part though, might just be the opening sequence; that theme tune is epic.
I've got nothing to say about this one. The show continues to be as silly as ever, as rickety as ever, and as great for light-hearted, escapist fun as ever. p.s. The ghost episode gave me the chills.
Kevin Eldon's sketch show was disappointing. It had some funny moments in it, like this sketch, this sketch and this sketch. But it wasn't as funny as I had hoped it would be, given all the talent that was in it. A part of it may have been down to the style of the show, which I think was meant to be corny in a tongue-in-cheek way, but actually just came across as corny in a corny way.
The surprise winner though, is Plebs. Here's a clip. I am still shocked that ITV3 has managed to make a sitcom that's worth watching. Apparently, it's a bit like The Inbetweeners, but having not really watched much of that show, I can't say. What I can say about Plebs is that it's set in ancient Rome, is not ground-breaking as far as comedy shows go, but has enough good jokes in it to make it worth watching. Oh, and the ska music ties everything together really well. If you get the chance, give it a try!
3. American Gods
I just finished this book, which I'd borrowed from my Mum, and I need to tell you about it. It's a thick old thing and thoroughly enjoyable to read, down to every last page. It's very good! I spent most of the book trying to work out exactly what made it so compelling. Neil Gaiman, it turns out, writes very well. The world-building is great, in that things are only hinted at and half-spelled out, giving the sense of this mysterious other world that could easily be studied if you could just grasp hold of it. Meanwhile, the plot has this kind of momentum that's not obvious but is still there in the background, driving the story forwards.
That's too wordy. tl;dr what I'm trying to say is: this is a great book and I really liked it a lot and if you read it I think you would like it too.
After that, I moved onto Dickens, which is very different but no less enjoyable. Maybe more on that later.
Have I told you how much I'm loving my new kitchen? Because I'm loving my new kitchen.
This came out a bit more bland than I was expecting, but it was nice enough. The one thing of note is that the recipe says it feeds four but, God, I reckon it could feed eight! That's one hell of a lot of egg and ham in there.
Tomato pasta salad
And another bland one; I'm sure it's not because I substituted the Red Leicester for Cheddar or used a different shape of pasta either. There's nothing offensive about it but it's a bit of a chore to eat if you're not a massive fan of peas. I'm not a massive fan of peas.
Asian salmon with stir-fried noodles
This was pleasant, if not quite as sticky-sweet as my own recipe for Asian-style salmon. Using the marinade in the stir fry was a great idea though; tasty noodles ahoy!
Blueberry lime friands (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
Everything I've cooked from this book so far has come out great. I'm impressed! Friands are new to me and they were terrifying to make because I was certain that I'd knocked all the air out of them and that they weren't going to rise at all. Happily, I was proved wrong. I had to chop the hazelnuts by hand, which added a crunchy texture, but I don't think that detracted from anything. In fact, the hazelnuts gave a nice undertone to the sweetness of the lime and the blueberry. And they are sweet; you will feel a bit ill if you try to eat two in one sitting.
Indian lamb burgers
I used a red chilli instead of green and they didn't come out hot at all (luckily for me, that's just the way I like it). These burgers promised to be more tasty though. They're fine enough, yes, but I always find that burgers without onion in are a little lacking. That said, I cooked these under the grill and they came out super juicy, which is rather satisfying.
Visiting Mariya in New York
Hi! Things have been exciting around here.
Last weekend I went to visit Mariya who lives in New York. Mariya and her parents kindly let me stay in their apartment and a good time was had by all (at least, a good time was had by me; I can't vouch for anyone else).
It's been about three years since Mariya and I last met up so it was great to see her again. Chatting by email is fine but it doesn't beat seeing each other face to face :D
Be warned: this is going to be a very long, very image-heavy post. Not only is Mariya an enabler when it comes to indulging my penchant for taking photos, she is also very good at organising time and knowing good places to go. Despite only being in New York for four nights, we still did tonnes of stuff.
So, to make things a bit more clear, let's have a table of contents:
1. Itinerary and general touristing
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art
3. High Line
4. Bronx Botanical Gardens
5. Bronx Zoo
1. Itinerary and general touristing
Here's the story of my trip:
I arrived late on Thursday evening after my flight had been delayed for four hours and after an excruciating amount of time spent going through immigration (we'll not talk about me missing the bus as well). Thankfully, Mariya was at Grand Central Station to meet me and she brought pastries too! Mariya, I am so sorry I made you wait for so long!
On Friday I woke shockingly late considering my jetlag. After a big breakfast (a staple of every day, it turns out) we went into the City for a massive day of museums and culture. We made it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and Shake Shack for fast food burgers (and great shakes). Then we failed in our plan to go to an extra museum. Instead, we took an impromptu decision to go to a show on Broadway.
This show though. It wasn't a big production. It was, in fact, in a tiny theatre many stories up in what appeared to be an unassuming office block. The show? Shakespeare with burlesque. (Yes, that's right: people reciting Shakespeare and taking their clothes off at the same time.) It was funny in parts and ramshackle and strange in others. I can honestly say that I'd never seen Henry V give his (or rather, her) St Crispin's Day speech while naked before but, oddly enough, it worked (I imagine I'd have enjoyed the BBC version last year a lot more if they'd gone down the same route).
Finally, there was just time to go to Whole Foods (as part of my supermarket tour of America) before heading home.
The next day we went and walked along the High Line, which is a disused elevated railway track that has now been planted with plants and made into a walkway. The weather was rather pleasant and the walk seemed to fly by, especially as we stopped at Chelsea Market along the way. We then walked further south and down into the West Village in search of a café that turned out to be closed when we got there. Dizzy from hunger, we stumbled east (passing through a shop selling macarons as we went) and finally found ourselves in Blue Smoke for BBQ.
Once sated, we headed up to the Lincoln Centre to watch the new Studio Ghibli film, Up on Poppy Hill. It's a very sedate film full of nostalgia and rather odd plot twists, but it was pleasant enough to watch. When we were done and thinking of going home, we happened to see loads of people wandering into the Metropolitan Opera. Completely on a whim, we went in to see what was showing and ended up with two tickets to Rigoletto (set in Las Vegas, would you believe). For my first trip to the opera ever, I really enjoyed it! I never realised quite how much the music would compliment the action. Very good, especially the third act, even if my jetlag was making me fall asleep a little during that part.
Another late night so the next day we set off at around noon. Mariya's parents drove us to the Bronx Botanical Gardens, which are very pretty. Unofrtunately, spring in New York seems to be as late as spring in the UK, so there were very few trees in blossom about. Oh, and we spent ages going around the orchid exhibit, which was stiflingly busy but worth it.
On the way back, we persuaded Mariya's Dad to drive us to Trader Joe's for another stop on my supermarket tour of America. (Here, I discovered that an English accent works well in the US, because I was given a free chocolate bar from the guy at the checkout. Score!) Dinner was a quiet family affair, followed by the very pretty photos of Mariya's recent trip to India.
And then it was my final day. We had time to wander around the Bronx Zoo in the morning and early afternoon. It's a good zoo, but with maybe more ducks than is strictly necessary (seriously, I can see ducks anywhere. Give me a lion instead!) After that there was only time left for a quick dinner, some quick goodbyes, and then I was off to the airport to catch my flight home!
Speaking of flights. Life of Pi was meh, considering how much I'd enjoyed the book; Rise of the Guardians was far more fun and far prettier to watch than I'd expected; Skyfall was apparently easy to fall asleep to at 1am in the morning; and The Hobbit was comforting for a very tired me considering the tube journey home from Heathrow (Bag End is my ultimate comfort food).
So, as you can see, we did a lot of stuff but not much specific sight-seeing. Any sights we saw along the way were rather incidental (and I forgot to take photos for a lot of them). The ones I did remember to catch on camera are below:
Empire State Building
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art
I love this museum so much. It's like the British Museum and the V&A all rolled into one with even more stuff. And the exhibition of late-19th century dresses was particularly lovely.
If you're hoping that I can remember what exhibits I took photos of, you're out of luck.
3. High Line
Very busy, but a jolly nice walk all the same.
4. Bronx Botanical Gardens
This place is great for taking photos. You might not believe me, but I've been very restrained with the amount of photos of tree blossoms I've put up here. And then, when you're tired of taking photos, the tram tour of the gardens is a great ride to fall asleep on.
5. Bronx Zoo
Zoos are great for feeling 10-years old again. The animals are always asleep, hiding, or moving too fast (See also: the red panda. Adorable adorable creature but it would not stay still for one second) so I'm shocked I got as many photos as I did.
I did some very good eating on this trip. American food is so full of fat, sugar and salt that it's super-tasty by default.
The highlight is right below.
American BBQ! Oh, I have never had proper Southern-style BBQ before (well, it's up to those of you who know better to decide if this was proper or not). I didn't even know it was a thing! But those ribs. Those ribs! There must be a place in London where I can get this kind of food, right? Right?
(I'm going to sound like a heathen and say I'm not sold on the cornbread though. It's so sweet! It's like eating cake with your dinner!)
Oh, but we had actual proper cake afterwards too.
Would you believe that this is the first time I've eaten macarons? They're far more tasty than I thought they were going to be. These came from a shop called Sugar and Plumm.
(Handy hint: It doesn't go down well if you mention that they look a bit like vulvas. Just saying.)
In terms of cute food that doesn't look like ladies' bits, Mariya and I tried to make cute lunches for our trip to the botanical gardens.
The plates we used were cute.
As for the sandwiches, they started cute, but after travelling in a lunchbox:
OH GOD WHAT IS IT
This was meant to be a lion but it lost an ear, and our plan of holding everything together with cocktail sticks produced a result that was both creepy and highly unsuccessful. If anyone out there is experienced in the world of bentos, please let me know how to stick stuff onto bread. There must be a way!
The radish birds and apple bunnies made by Mariya were cute though.
And then there's the food I didn't take photos of. Like the pastries! Or Mariya's Mum's super-tasty green borscht. Or the Shake Shack burgers. Or even the cereal I used to love the most, back when I lived in NYC for a bit (hint: it's Honey Bunches of Oats).
All in all, the eating was very good, and has left me reminiscing very fondly about my trip.
Finally, it's impossible not to come back from holiday without at least some stuff. Here's what I arrived home with.
Mariya was so kind to get me these lovely gifts from her trip to India. There's a pen pot (which is something I'd actually needed for ages but hadn't gotten around to buying), a notebook, and a scarf that I've worn almost every day since I received it.
Then I bought some things for myself too. I told myself that I couldn't afford to buy any new clothes. Apparently, though, in my head, buying kitchen stuff that I will probably never use is just fine, hence the cookie cutters, piping bags and pastry brush. The moustache necklace cost me three whole dollars and so doesn't count. The body butter? Well, the staff in Sabon were so nice and it was so fun to try out their stuff in store that I couldn't help myself from getting something. This one smells of lemon.
And that's it. All in all, it was a great trip. Thanks again to Mariya and her parents for being wonderful hosts!
I've finally found time to make another food post! This one spans a couple of recipes in my old kitchen, then a long hiatus until I had the time to start cooking in my new kitchen.
And what a joy it is to cook in my new kitchen! the hobs aren't great but I love having so much space to myself. The one thing I haven't mastered yet though is the lighting in my new flat; it's all a bit dim, so apologies if some of these photos are a bit more murky than normal.
Exploding berry crumble muffins (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
I took these to work and they went down very well. They're raspberry muffins with a crumble topping and are really quite nice with the tartness of the raspberries matching the richness of the topping (and they turned out to be massive too). The one downside is that the crumble topping goes all over the oven when you're making them!
Fish stew with lemon and parsley
I used normal paprika for this instead of smoked, large potatoes cut small instead of new potatoes, and I couldn't find fennel seeds for the life of me. That's as maybe. This was still a nice stew; there was something about the fresh lemon and the parsley on the fish that took me right back to the seaside.
Oh, man, this is perfect winter food. It's claggy, stodgy and warming. Not to mention super tasty for what is essentially mashed potato.
The recipe is for a beef and Guinness pie, but I'm not keen on Guinness so I left it out. As a result, the pie was alright, but I think the Guinness would have given it a depth that mine was lacking.
Jam tarts (cobbled together from a number of recipes)
I'd bought some pre-made shortcrust pastry for the beef pie and it needed using up, so I did what any self-respecting 5-year old would do and made jam tarts. Without a recipe to hand, I cobbled together a few recipes that I found online. Overall, seeing as I've never made these as an adult, they came out well (of course, that's all down to the fact that I didn't make the pastry myself). Some of the pastry needed to be rolled a little more thinly and I didn't have a cookie cutter so improvised with a mug but, bah, I don't mind. They were sticky and sugary and just what I needed to keep up my energy levels during a cold week (there was no sugar in the pastry, so I went crazy and sprinkled icing sugar over the top too).
Egg-shaped cookies with melted chocolate
I made these for my parents for Easter. As biscuits go, they seemed to be a kind of chocolate-coated shortbread. They were also really really nice. I didn't have an egg-shaped cutter, so I made a template out of paper and cut round it, which seemed to work.
Marcello Tully's grilled sausage pasta
This one was ok but, God, it needed far longer in the oven once it was assembled; on eating, I found it had only been warm rather than hot when I had taken in out of the oven and the peppers weren't cooked. As far as taste goes, it was ok, nice with the cheese but nothing to write home about, and I'm still not sure how I feel about anchovies.
Adam Gray's salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes
These are a bit of an effort to make, especially if, like me, you don't have a food processor so you decide to chop up the breadcrumbs by hand. Tasty though; they're a little greasy but that's countered nicely with the tomato mayonnaise. But! Word of warning: they're really filling. If you make them as large as I did, don't eat four in one sitting otherwise you'll end up uncomfortably full all evening.
As promised, here are photos of my new place. It's not large, as you can see, but I like to think that makes it cozy.
Bed/living room. I <3 my new sofa.
Bed/living room. I told you it wasn't big.
The kitchen is a pretty decent size though. I've been having lots of fun in it already. (Pictures coming later.)
And if you were wondering why the light looks so watery and pathetic in these photos. Well. I took the photos a couple of weeks ago and the garden looked like this at the time.
Not that it's gotten much warmer since! Spring, where are you? ;_;