Birthday time :D

by Janine  

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!

Summery business

by Janine  

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

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

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

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

***

1. Victorian cemeteries

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

***

2. Norfolk broads

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

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

Oh yeah, and walking along the waterside.

***

3. Stuffed animals

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

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

Antelope

Badger

Lion

Benedict Cumberbatch

***

4. Sunny picnics

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

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

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

***

5. Television

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

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

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

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

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

Food post

by Janine  

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.

Chicken carbonara
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!

Ideal

by Janine  

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.

Food post

by Janine  

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

by Janine  

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

by Janine  

I've got a few things I want to talk about, so here's an odds and ends post today.

Contents
1. Spring
2. TV
3. American Gods

***

1. Spring

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.

***

2. TV

I have been watching so much TV recently! Let me run down the main ones.

MasterChef
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.

The Village
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.

Doctor Who
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.

It's Kevin
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.

Plebs
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.

Food post

by Janine  

Have I told you how much I'm loving my new kitchen? Because I'm loving my new kitchen.

Rolled omelette
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

by Janine  

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:

Contents
1. Itinerary and general touristing
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art
3. High Line
4. Bronx Botanical Gardens
5. Bronx Zoo
6. Food
7. Souvenirs

***

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:

Columbus Circle

Flatiron Building

Empire State Building

Metropolitan Opera

Guggenheim

***

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.

***

6. Food

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.

***

7. Souvenirs

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!

Food post

by Janine  

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.

Colcannon
Oh, man, this is perfect winter food. It's claggy, stodgy and warming. Not to mention super tasty for what is essentially mashed potato.

Beef pie
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.

Finally unpacked

by Janine  

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.)

Bathroom.

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? ;_;

Wedding of the year

by Janine  

I'm back! Hi, internet!

Finally, I'm all unpacked and settled into my new flat, which I'm enjoying immensely. Photographs of the new digs will come soon, but first I want to share with you one of the things I've been doing in all this time.

At the beginning of March, Steve and Heather got married! We all went down to the west country for the wedding.

It's embarrassing that this is the best photo I have of the happy couple. Sorry, guys!

Here's the rest of the gang outside the reception venue. Left to right: Keith, Tom, Linda, James, Nick, Eppa, Natalie. Crouching in front: Tim.

Eppa and Natalie were bridesmaids. Their dresses were handmade (as was Heather's) by one of Heather's friends. Very impressive and very pretty. I loved the colours too. The whole wedding had a very vintage feel, which was lovely.

This is also a good point to say how lucky Steve and Heather were with the weather! It was sunny all day and I was never cold in any of the venues. It was a minor 'nice-weather' blip amongst all the cold and snow we've been having. Spring? Where are you???

Instead of a big wedding cake, there were lots of little cupcakes, all made by one of Steve's very-talented sisters.

The table settings were gorgeous. I mentioned the vintage theme, right?

But, even more excitingly, the place names were attached to tiny jars of jam! Apple and blackberry and home-made by Heather's Dad, I can attest to how tasty it is because I had some on my English muffin for breakfast this morning.

They fed us well during the day, including a very nice cheese and biscuit buffet in the evening, but a special mention goes to dessert. It was a chocolate-orange bread and butter pudding and it was super nice.

All in all a lovely day.

Congratulations, guys!

Guess what

by Janine  

I've been pretty quiet here because I've been preparing to move house!

My flatmate has been acting like a bit of a dick so I decided it was best to move elsewhere (and to somewhere without flatmates).

Normal service will resume once I'm all settled and acutally have stuff like, you know, furniture or an internet connection.

p.s. Don't talk to me about how crazy expensive it is to rent a place in London. Ok? Ok.

Food post

by Janine  

First food post of the year. Woo!

Salted caramels (recipe taken from my parents' Christmas TV guide)
Well, shape-wise, these were supposed to be balls. What I got instead was mini cow-pats. The context: immediately before making these I had just completely burned another set of sweets I was trying to make, so I was rather terrified when starting out. This means that I don't think I heated my caramel high enough, making it gloopy and not good for rolling into ball shapes. Also, I say caramels, but there was so much chocolate in the middle of them that they pretty much came out like chocolate truffles. The taste wasn't bad but, God, I put salt granules on top instead of salt flakes and they ended up being very salty. Almost sickeningly so. Merry Christmas.

Chinese beef stir fry with rice
This was ok, but to be honest, the normal beef stir fry I make without following a recipe is nicer than this. The amount of Chinese five spice made it very dry and it could have done with some more soy sauce and a few onions too. I didn't use wild rice though; maybe that would have made it all better. Maybe.

Parmesan fish fingers
This was fun. I have never breaded anything before; I feel like I've learned a new skill. I couldn't find white fish, so I used salmon instead, and I couldn't find pre-made dried breadcrumbs either, so I made some of my own using the only bread I had to hand, which was granary. Taste-wise, they were slightly rich and the Parmesan was hardly noticeable; this may be down to the salmon. But in terms of texture, they were so crunchy and nice! I had been worried that my breadcrumbs wouldn't work, so I was very chuffed when they did.

Lemon chicken bake
My chicken took about 30 minutes longer to cook in the oven than the recipe said it would. When the recipe says 'baking dish' I think it means 'roasting tray' because I had my stuff in a dish but everything was so piled on top of each other that they took longer to cook. I used slightly larger potatoes than Charlotte potatoes so I tried to cut them small, and I couldn't find bay leaves or fennel seeds at all so I had to do without. All in all, this is a very disappointing dish. It may be due to the lack of herbs but maybe not. I found it far too tart and lemony. Not disgusting, but nothing to write home about either.

The Hobbit: a review (kinda)

by Janine  

I also watched The Hobbit over Christmas (in 2D, if that makes any difference).

And I feel like I'd be doing this blog and myself an injustice if I didn't talk about it here so...

Click the cut for some rather unstructured rambling, complete with possible spoilers.

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