LIEBSTER FRIDAY

Friday, 28 February 2014
Last week (or the week before? Time is flying!), Jo nominated me for a Liebster Award! I've seen a couple of posts about this and it's such a fun way to get to know other blogs that you might not have heard about; it's not so much an award as a way of supporting other bloggers and also a chance to be a bit nosy, I suppose! The other posts I've seen are accompanied with lovely photos, so at first I thought it was some kind of photography award; you'll have to put up with instagrams though!


1. What is your favourite thing to do on a weekend?
Breakfast! During the week, I eat porridge at my desk when I get into work, so making a proper breakfast is a real luxury for me and it’s usually a batch of creamy scrambled eggs, avocado toast and a pot of tea. Since I bought a new computer at the beginning of the year, it also means watching BBC iPlayer in bed, which feels so indulgent. 


2. What would your last meal be?
I’m constantly either eating, or thinking about eating, so this is really hard for me! I could eat Thai food for days on end, so it would probably have to be my favourite takeaway: fish cakes, Pad Thai, yum woon sen and beef massaman curry. {cue stomach gurgling}


3. If you could try one job out for the day, what would you do?
Thai beach bar owner, please. 


4. If you could learn one skill and be super amazing at it, what would it be?
I’d love to have a creative skill and I always wish I could be an illustrator or graphic designer. It would be so fun to create book jackets or draw pictures for children’s books.


5. What would your super power be?

Control the weather. When the sun’s out, everything’s a little bit better, but being able to create a massive thunderstorm when I’m curled up on the sofa with a hot chocolate would be pretty cool too. 

6. If you could live in any city where would you live?
I’ve been lucky to live in Tokyo and New York, but so far London is my favourite! I’ve always said I’m staying put from here on out, but the temptation to up sticks, rent out my flat and live in Australia for a year is seriously fueled by Tania’s travels at the minute.




7. What is your happiest moment?
My happiest moment is stepping into a steaming hot bubble bath. Nothing could be better for the soul. 


8. What is your guilty food? - the one where you're too embarrassed to admit to anyone that that is really what you ate last night
To be honest, I don’t feel guilty about anything I eat because it’s ALL SO DERICIOUS. I think people normally have their embarrassing meals when there partner is out for the night and can’t be bothered to cook, but if I’m in on my own I always treat myself. I suppose my guilty food is an ‘everything meal’, when all I can decide on is that I want to eat all of the food. I used to work in an American diner-style greasy spoon and after seeing all the orders go out, I’d want it all and request the weirdest meals: bacon and egg burger with a jacket potato and coleslaw on the side, 1 chicken nugget, 1 scampi and sometimes a sausage. This, btw, was in the days when I had a 16 year old’s metabolism and I was on my feet all day so I never got fat. Oh, the injustice.


I've nominated a couple of blogs - both new-to-me and pals - and can't wait to read their answers! Over to you, girls xx
Ruth
Charlie 
Tori
Teffy

What made you start your blog and what’s your favourite blog moment so far?
What’s your first childhood memory?
If money were no object, describe your perfect holiday.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
What would you say to yourself 10 years ago? What would you say to yourself 10 years from now?
What would your winning Come Dine With Me menu be?
Finish the sentence:
My friends would describe me as…
When I’m sad I like to…
My simplest pleasure in life is…
Birthdays are…

p.s. you can follow me on Bloglovin'!

COOKBOOK CHALLENGE: nigel slater's aubergine and chickpeas

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

My brother gave me Nigel Slater's little box, Eat, for Christmas. I've flicked through a couple of times and love the simplicity of it, with humble recipes such as gratin of kale and almonds, cucumber fennel and ricotta salad and basil prawns. No '15 minute meals' claims here, just good, honest meals that take little time to prepare and, using a limited number of ingredients, also fit just fine into my 'frugal recipes' category. I made aubergine and chickpeas on a cold Monday, when my boyfriend and I both had the day off, and it was satisfying and lovely and warming. I broke my Cookbook Challenge rules a little and improvised part of the recipe, plus we didn't have any garlic and it was tipping it down outside so we made do without.



Slice a large aubergine into thick rounds and place them in a single layer in a grill pan or on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, scatter with a tablespoon of chopped rosemary needles, salt, black pepper and 2 cloves of finely crushed garlic. Cook under an overhead grill, adding a little more oil as necessary, for 10 minutes or so, until the aubergine is golden brown and tender. Turn each piece and allow to brown lightly on the other side. 



Drain a 400g can of chickpeas and warm half the contents in a small pan with a little olive oil, salt and some black pepper. Blitz in a blender or food processor with half the grilled aubergine to give a soft, quite smooth puree. Fry the reserved chickpeas for a few minutes in a little oil in a pan tip hot, then stir, whole, into the puree. Correct the seasoning then serve with the warm, grilled aubergine and some torn sesame bread.

My puree came out a bit dry, so I expect I didn't use enough olive oil, but when it comes to aubergines and oil, one can ask 'how long is a piece of string?' Obviously they taste best doused in the stuff, but in the interest of waistlines, I was a little reserved. I also fried the remaining chickpeas in a little cumin and actually cooked them until they were quite brown and starting to stick to the pan, which gave a really nice, smokey taste. I served it with kale, because I bloody love the stuff.





KITCHEN SNIPPETS

Last Friday I shared the exciting news that my kitchen renovation was featured on The Kitchn! I thought I'd post a few close-up details. I'm embarrassed to say I've had those beer postcards for years, so now I'm pleased they have a nice new kitchen to hang in.






FRUGAL RECIPES: entertaining for friends

Monday, 24 February 2014
I love seeing friends, but towards the end of the month, when everyone's waiting to get paid, it can be hard to arrange a get-together. This weekend I decided to have everyone over for brunch so we could have a good old catch-up without waiters clearing the tables and asking if we'll be 'ordering another coffee'. I wanted it to be a nice treat for my pals, so didn't ask them to bring anything, and kept costs low with an easy breakfast burrito bar and fresh fruit pudding, plus plenty of tea and a Bucks Fizz to kick things off.

I made a quick slaw with half a white cabbage, a handful of radishes, half a carrot, coriander, salt and pepper, a squeeze of lime and a couple teaspoons of sour cream (with tasty leftovers for later!). For the fresh salsa, I chopped a few tomatoes with half a can of black beans, spring onions and some sprigs of mint. We topped our burritos with coriander, cheddar, avocado, sour cream, hot sauce and a fried egg. Yum!

For pud, meringue nests with blueberries, sliced oranges and double cream. I'm gonna throw this out there, oranges and meringue might beat a classic Eton Mess for me!

Everything came to under £20 including a bottle of prosecco (!), which is what we would've each paid for brunch in town, so I'm quite pleased with that. I think breakfast is an easy way to have friends over without breaking the bank or asking people to bring things and it frees up the day for other very important Sunday tasks such as bubble baths, blogging and going back to bed to watch First Dates with a cup of tea!

p.s. Hey weekend, come back quickly, okay?

HAPPY FRIDAY VIBES

Friday, 21 February 2014
This week has been hard. I can't put my finger on it, but lately I've been feeling anxious and finding it hard to relax, which is so unlike me. It’s definitely time for a holiday. Just 2 weeks to go and I’ll be off to South East Asia for 10 days to purely enjoy spending time with family, recuperate, swim and eat at my favourite places!

In the meantime, I got an e-mail on Wednesday from one of my favourite websites, The Kitchn, saying that my before & after kitchen makeover would be up on Thursday! Wanna see? I submitted it about a week ago and I’m so excited, though I can't stop checking the comments! I think I’ll share a few close-up details next week as I’m so proud of everything we’ve done to create the perfect space to cook and eat together.

Here are a few foodie links to celebrate: 
An easy recipe to try this weekend
Celebrating 8 years with my boyfriend with a Thai feast 
Movies and popcorn in the perfect off-duty top
Getting excited for this weekly recipe site
A tasty gallette for using up fresh, seasonal produce
Make your home smell amazing with this clever DIY
An interview with the an awesome health food blogger

PEACE AND QUIET IN MARRAKECH

Thursday, 20 February 2014
Life has been a little hectic lately, but these pretty pictures from my trip to Marrakech last September are a reminder that there are always  pockets of peace and quiet to be found amidst the humdrum. Take five, everyone!










KUROBUTA LONDON

Monday, 17 February 2014
On Valentine’s Day, I treated my boyfriend to a meal at Kurobuta, the latest pop-up to charm London and handily located (for us) on the Kings Road. A preview of the main premises opening in Marble Arch this year, the pop-up is in its second innings and, I’m pleased to add, is available to book online. How refreshing.

We love Japanese food so it was a real treat and, I might hasten to add, one that we would love to repeat again, finances permitting. Kurobuta is an informal, izakaya (pub)-style restaurant headed up by former Nobu head chef, Scott Wallsworth, and food is served in small plates designed for sharing. Like Nobu, the food is insanely fresh and well-prepared, with interesting flavour combinations like soft shell crab sushi with kimchee mayonnaise or a jalape├▒o dipping sauce with the herb-spiked salt and pepper squid. Also like Nobu, the prices can easily run away with you. We only ordered four dishes and could easily have eaten another four, but our budget didn’t stretch that far so we had to be very restrained!

First up were flamed edamame beans with lemon and salt. These were nothing like the perfectly tasty boiled ones you get in your average London sushi joint - they were juicy and sweet with a tantalisingly salty crust and such a rich depth of flavour I had to ask the waitress if they were cooked in beef fat as the first bite tasted like a steak (they’re not, btw). For our main dishes we had delicious soft shell crab tempura maki with kimchee mayonnaise (my favourite), paper thin beef tataki with spring onions and garlic crisps (his favourite), salt and pepper squid, which I felt there could have been more of, given the portion size I saw of the rock shrimp tempura and the much-hyped about pork belly buns which were a great filler, but not particularly Japanese. D also had a bowl of steamed rice for a little extra bulk (boy’s gotta eat!).





The total bill came to £90, including (seemingly non-optional) added service. To drink, I had a Chelsea ice tea cocktail and my boyfriend had a pint of Kirin and a small glass of sake. The sake was a little disappointing as we thought for £10 it might be a small flask as you would get in Japan, with perhaps two small glasses in it, and I think he would have preferred to spend half the money on another beer instead. The drinks definitely pushed the price up, but added to the festive occasion. If you want to spend less, go at lunch time. I also wanted to add that this is by no means a regular occurrence for us, but I felt that the meal was worth it. The food is so delightful and, though some of the dishes are a little on the small size, I don’t feel that they are bad value. They are just pricey. 



The restaurant has a lovely, cosy and informal atmosphere and the service was nice and relaxed. We were sitting in the downstairs part which felt a bit like a thoroughfare as it was right next to the open kitchen, but I really liked seeing the chefs at work, and even think head chef Scott was there himself, casually chopping tuna tartare!

VALENTINE'S FRIDAY

Friday, 14 February 2014
To Livy on her thirtieth birthday
Hartford, 27 November 1875
Livy darling,
Six years have gone by since I made my first great success in life and won you, and thirty years have passed since Providence made preparation for that happy success by sending you into the world.  Every day we live together adds to the security of my confidence, that we can never any more wish to be separated than that we can ever imagine a regret that we were ever joined. You are dearer to me to-day, my child, than you were upon the last anniversary of this birth-day; you were dearer then than you were a year before - you have grown more and more dear from the first of those anniversaries, and I do not doubt that this precious progression will continue on to the end.
Let us look forward to the coming anniversaries, with their age and their gray hairs without fear and without depression, trusting and believing that the love we bear each other will be sufficient to make them blessed. So, with abounding affection for you and our babies, I hail this day that brings you the matronly grace and dignity of three decades!
Always Yours
S. L. C (Mark Twain)

COOKBOOK CHALLENGE

Wednesday, 12 February 2014
As my cookbook collection continues to grow, I find that I acknowledge them less and less. I appreciate their colourful covers and have a flick through over a cup of tea every now and then, but when it comes to cooking, I usually make my own recipes up as I go along or find a recipe on the internet when I'm finishing up at work. This year, my goal is to cook a new recipe (following it to the letter) at least once a month, cooking one from each book before I continue adding to my collection. I can't wait to discover some new dishes that will hopefully make their way into my regular rotation.

A ROMANTIC (and free!) VALENTINE'S DATE IDEA

Monday, 10 February 2014
Whether you'll be marking the occasion or not, I thought this would be a fun date idea for Valentine's Day. If it's a clear night, grab your love, throw on some cosy layers and head outside with your phone for a bit of star gazing. My brother showed me the awesome Sky Map app that logs your location using your phone's GPS and helps you spot the stars, planets and constellations that sparkle above you. Knock up a flask of Rosie's salted caramel hot chocolate and enjoy the view.

Plus, a few cosmic-inspired gifts:

{1 / 2 / 3 / 4}
Sky Map is available on iPhone and Android.

THE WORLD'S EASIEST TOMATO SOUP

Saturday, 8 February 2014
Apart from opening a tin of Heinz Classic Tomato and sticking it in a microwave, I think this tomato soup is not only the easiest, but the tastiest one going. It’s a recipe from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals, but I like to cook it longer to let the flavours really intensify. 

Grab a selection of tomatoes - I like lots of sweet cherry tomatoes, a few plum varieties and some fat vine-ripened ones. The beauty of this soup is that you can add whatever you like and you literally just throw it in a large tray with a glug of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper. I usually follow the recipe and use a couple of small red onions and lots of garlic. Roast in the oven at around 190C for as long as you like (at least 20 minutes), until the tomatoes start to burst and your home smells heavenly (thanks to the garlic for that one!). 




Then, simply transfer to a blender, or use a hand blender if you have one, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins, throw in a handful of basil, whizz up as smooth as you like and transfer into a pot on the hob to keep warm until serving. We usually eat ours with cheese on toasts or a hunk of crusty baguette. You could even squeeze a few of those molten roasted garlic cloves onto your bread. Trust me, it’s awesome. 




The best part is you can easily switch up the ingredients for a different flavour - add chilli for a bit of heat, switch out the basil for coriander and you have yourself a Mexican version or throw in a few bell peppers for extra sweetness. 

WANDERLUST FRIDAY

Friday, 7 February 2014
I bought my boyfriend a scratch-off map* for Christmas and it's been an awesome present that we both love. Currently hanging behind our kitchen table, it fills us with wanderlust every time we sit down for dinner. I travelled a lot as a child, moving every couple of years with my parents, and despite having family in South East Asia and Canada, by the time I was 16 I just wasn't that keen on heading outside of Europe. But D's excitement for discovering new countries has inspired a new passion for travel in me, made all the more intense by sharing the experience with the person I love. In a couple of weeks I'm heading to Kuala Lumpur and Cambodia to visit family and in October, we're planning a trip to Vietnam!

Here's a few travel-inspired links I loved this week:
Tania's first thoughts on Sydney
This holiday (and a photographer boyfriend), please
I could read Ashley's travelogues for days
Jenny's SE Asia career-break in instagrams
Breathtaking pictures of India

*the map works like a giant scratch card, where you scratch off the countries you've been to. As a couple we are quite well-travelled, but after scratching off the places we've been, it's completely apparent that there's still over 90% of the world to see!

READING LIST: the food memoirs

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Food memoirs are one of my favourite genres, and I regularly read the books above again and again. Offering totally immersive and utterly delicious accounts of life from some of the world’s finest foodies, they are so easy to dip in and out of. Reading them just feels like a big hug.

Toast by Nigel Slater – “It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you. People’s failings, even major ones such as when they make you wear short trousers to school, fall into insignificance as your teeth break through the rough, toasted crust and sink into the doughy cushion of white bread underneath. Once the warm, salty butter has hit your tongue, you are smitten.” My ultimate comfort book, I read this whenever I’m feeling a little sad.

Sharks Fin & Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop - This colourful memoir of a journey through the cuisine of China is so amusing and it is testament to Fuchsia's writing that even the most unsavoury dishes (duck tongue and frilly kidneys, anyone?) are described in a way that makes your mouth water.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl - Ruth's stories of her time as the chief restaurant critic at the New York Times is a riot of hilarious disguises and obnoxious dining experiences, peppered with comforting recipes that melt away the stresses of a trying day at the office.

Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch - The other side of the coin to Garlic and Sapphires, Phoebe draws on her experience as front of house staff at one of New York's most prestigious establishments. A fascinating look behind the scenes at a top notch restaurant, I love wondering whether she and Ruth might have crossed paths at one stage or another.

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PLASTER WALLS

Monday, 3 February 2014
Bare plaster was never something intentional that we chose for our bedroom, but when they say that living with a builder means your house is always the last on the list, they aren't lying! While we were getting around to re-painting our bedroom after a much-needed fresh coat of plaster (me deliberating about the colour, him getting around to doing the undercoat), we kind of decided that the plaster was a thing of beauty in itself. A craft in its own right, done well it is beautifully smooth and patterns develop as the walls continue to dry over a matter of months. With a fresh coat of paint on the skirting and cornicing, I love the way it looks perfectly undone, while our lofty high ceilings look extra regal. I kind of like that it feels like a French palace in disrepair, don't you think? It reminds me of this magical blog post by sfgirlbybay.