30 September 2012

Family Weekends

With most of my family in New Zealand, it's really lovely to be able to spend time with hubby's family who have pretty much adopted me as their rugby loving, chitter chatting, token antipodean.

As weekends go, this was a good-un. One we got our chores out of the way, it was full of ...

... Pumpkin Spice Lattes (they have been finally brought over here - I'm going to see if I can get the syrup/spices and make my own - yum!)Very soft, rather sweet they are a cross between vanilla and chai lattes... right up my alley.


... snatched sunshine, and the drafting of a cat excercise regime as she has put on half a pound - too much sleeping not enough of anything else ...


...birthday dinners of beautiful Lamb & Mash - food of the gods...


... fairly disappointing Creme Brulee ...


... refreshing beverages, though a worrying amount of Christmas menus - it's only September people! ...


 
... surprisingly ostentatious golf clubs, hidden behind a road bend ...



... sunsets ...


... and random blurs (I'd like to think it's because I'm so fast buuuut lets be honest...).


How do you like to spend your Sundays? Curled up with a book warm at home? In the pub?

London Living - A Donkey on the Edge (Escape to the Country)

One of the hardest aspects, and at the same time the best aspects - about living in London is the grey city-fied-ness of it (yes, I'm making up words again, sorry). London is incredible, but on a daily basis to earn the money that keeps you able to travel to lovely destinations, eat scrumptious meals and generally enjoy yourself, you wake up to the alarm, do your work-day trudge, work, go home, complete chores and then sleep, ready for another day to begin. This is most definately a "first-world problem" as some of my Twitter buddies chat about, but after awhile sometimes the mad rush and coporate ladder can get you down. To be honest, living in both Auckland and Wellington, in New Zealand I used to have the same urges, but it's easier as in New Zealand you're never more than a 3-hour drive maximum from beautiful beaches.


I've found (and much to my delight, I'm not alone) that every so often I have to see some greenery, get some fresh air in my lungs and hear nature. Leah, a Twitter buddy puts it beautifully, and slips in a Shrek reference - score, here in a post on her blog Naturally, Leah (go, it's such a well-written blog) - calling it the 'Donkey on the Edge' feeling. Hubby doesn't seem to get the same urge, but happily lets me drag him along where ever takes our fancy.


This evening satisfied my Donkey on the Edge need quite by accident, as we were taken to a pub with quite the most beautiful view I think I've ever seen so far. Set up on the side of a hill, The Orchard in Harefield is quite something. A busy, well staffed Gastro-pub with a resident Basset-Hound we were really pleasantly surprised - it really seems to have it all.


The below images really don't do the scene justice - I'm going to go back, soon, with my proper camera, and try to capture the beautiful lakes and Grand Union Canal better.
 



The Landlord even knew how to make a Vodka Lemon, Lime & Bitters with Angostura Bitters (though a half point deducted as we were later served by one of the other bar maids, who had never heard of Bitters). Heaven in a glass. The boys in our party can vouch for the beer being kept beautifully, and the owners really seem to have a passion for the beautiful pub and it's roaring fires.


That's another facet of London life I love though, when you do get the urge to get out and away, it's so easy to jump on a train/bus/car/tram/cable car/whatever is near and more often than not it can take you to green pastures, running canals and amazing English countryside. This place is a little harder to get to for Central Londoners by public transport - from Marylebone Station it's a train to Denham (about 20minutes) then a 30min walk/bus, but it's totally worth it.

The continuously updated  menu-du-jour alone looks like it's worth another trip, that and to see the pub dog. Such a friendly fellow.

I am no longer a Donkey on the Edge. For now.

Where do you go to escape? Is it as simple as a window box or backyard, or do you like to mix it up and make your breaks more stimulating? Have you got any recommendations for me?

28 September 2012

Foodie-In-Training: Figs

It's funny. For the last six months, we've been really focussed on changing the way that we eat and live our lives. We've lost a fair amount of weight on a calorie-counting programme, and it's interesting because the relationship we have with food has totally changed. Whilst still enjoying all of the treats available, it's no longer imperative to over indulge. Understanding the calorie values that everything is worth really changes the way you view treats. I still enjoy everything I like on a regular basis - nothing is off limits because I'm of the mindset that as soon as you make it off limits, you crave it and go overboard - but we are also taking more pleasure in the simple acts of cooking, preparing and trying new things.


Gaining weight while on holidays/changing where you live seems to be a fairly widespread problem - beautifully put by this article "Whether it's the dreaded 'Heathrow injection' or simple overindulgence, the fact is that many antipodean travellers return home carrying unwanted extra baggage."

But my our new improved outlook is introducing us to lovely new things. Take Figs for example. We never would have considered them, and now we're trying them. I like fig biscuits, and thought raw figs may have a trace of that flavour.
 


 
Yum. After very googling very intensive research, we decided grilling the figs with a smidgeon of Honey, and serving them with light cream cheese and waffles would be the way to go. They took about 5 minutes to make, the (pre-made) waffles popped in the Toaster, and fork at the ready.

Delicious - and one of our five a day, containing all sorts of vitamins & nutrients. Who'd of thunk it?

Have you tried figs? What is your favourite cooked fruit?

27 September 2012

Adventures of the Benign







26 September 2012

Before I Go To Sleep - Reading Recommendation

"As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me. . . ."

 
I couldn't put this book down. It literally went everywhere with me. When younger I was a Koontz fan and this reminded me of him - without the Sci-Fi. I enjoyed the almost disembodied-ness of the book; it really adds layers to how Christine feels. Whether it's intentional or unintentional as some reader thought, I enjoed it. Reading is definately a willing suspension of disbelief, and I'll admit that the twist in this book I didn't see coming, though I probably should have. The insular world that Christine lives in is very intense, and there were a few coincidences, but I'm willing to forgive them for the overall story.

The only problem is it finished. I could have kept on reading.


Definitely a compulsive read, and a great debut novel. A fantastic commuter read, and the cover is just beautiful.

(Please note any links to Amazon are through my Amazon Associates account, which means I make a little money (less than 5%) from any purchases made after clicking through these links without adding any cost. This helps support my book addiction, so if you are interested in buying the book, please click through the top link)

25 September 2012

Kiwi Care Package

It's funny the things that you take for granted when you live in your home country, that become more sought after once they aren't within a 10-minute walk to the nearest supermarket. I have quite a sweet tooth anyway, but sometimes there is a longing in my eye for the tastes of home that are a struggle to get, or are eye-wateringly expensive.


Take for instance the humble Squiggle. One of my childhood favourites, there isn't quite any replacement capable of giving you the same hokey-pokey induced sugar coma.



TimTams, even though mentioning these Australian biscuits make me feel a little like I'm betraying my Kiwi roots, are another such item. Hubby staunchly defends P-P-P-Penguins, and although they are ok in a pinch, they don't quite measure up to lovely Timtams. In the name of research, extensive blind taste-testing has been done by NZ based Kiwis, UK based English people, and a few random friends, and Timtams come out on top 8/10 times. Fact.

Just recently I have been lucky enough to recieve goodies from the fair Kiwi shores, and I'm happy to confirm that since I was last home, they haven't let the quality slip, thankfully.

My cousin who has recently come to the UK is missing proper Vegemite -the UKs version "is weird tasting and the texture of honey, just not proper tasting."

I have to admit the UK does a mean biscuit - Jaffa Cakes, Viennese fingers and Chocolate Fingers to name but a few, but sometimes there just isn't anything like a taste of home.
 

24 September 2012

Sunday Brunch at Kopapa

To round off the weekend, brunch was arranged with a new friend at Kopapa. I have to confess, we definately were keen to check it out, not only as the reviews are great and chef is Kiwi Peter Gordon; but also as afghans, good coffee, date scones and spirulina were calling - a varieties of good Kiwi fare.

We really enjoyed it; great food, good company and all out of the pouring rain.

Hearing so much about them, I couldn't not order the ‘Turkish eggs’ from Changa restaurant in Istanbul – 2 poached eggs with whipped yoghurt, hot chilli butter & flat bread. Delicious. I liked it so much (in between gossiping), I made my Mum try a mouthful over the table. Though not to her taste, I loved this twist on poached eggs. You dip your spoon into this warm concoctions of lovely oozy-ness, the chilli not being too hot but just enough for a zing (I don't think I'll ever be a food writer!).



Sumptious Date Scones - the winners of the day - piping hot from the oven. These were like mana.



And a divine Spirulina shake. Spirulina, oh, how we've missed you! I've now found a couple of recipes and will be trying to recreate these little green machines.


The rest of the table ordered various forms of fry-up which were very much enjoyed - reviews were simple, delicious and great flavours; but possibly needed a wee bit more substance to be a 'proper kiwi fry-up'?



I must say I'm intruiged by Spiced banana French toast with grilled bacon, orange blossom labne, tamarind raisin relish & orange vanilla syrup and will definately have to go back soon to try it.

As an ex-hospitality worker, the service at Kopapa was great in some respects - the manager caught one of our table sadly eyeing a table empty of Date scones and nipped over to reassure us that more were in the oven; but patchy in others, being a little slow and the server getting one of the orders wrong and not being too happy. It's so so busy in there with hungry brunchers it can be forgiven to some extent, but it let down an otherwise delectable dinner. If you want to go for brunch on the weekend, pre-booking is pretty much essential.

The decor is very modern trendy, but fairly clean; and suits both brunching and evening soirres - and we were eyeing up their champagne cocktail list.

I love that the below greets you as you walk in - people gathered at the breakfast bar, drinking lovely flat whites, eating eggs, reading newspapers and generally catching up.



Right, I'm off to the gym now - I've got some work to do to make up for this weekends indulgence!

23 September 2012

Posh Afternoon Tea

Saturday was lovely. Champagne, tea, dainty treats and a lot of laughter (excuse the blurry photos, I didn't want to get my camera out as I felt enough of a berk with my phone on the table...)


Afternoon tea was a last minute decision, and as they go, sometimes they can be the very best. My mum and I have been saying for a long time that we should treat indulge ourselves. Through a series of tough eliminations (read: a quick read through website listings) we decided on the Reform Social Bar & Grill, in Marylebone Village.

The "50 Shades of Earl Grey" cocktail we were greeted with consisted of an Earl Grey tea infused bitters and sloe gin topped up with Champagne and elderflower. Oh my. Subtle, sweet and lucious.


We then picked Tea from the large range of loose leaf teas - Mum ordered the Whole Rose Buds Tea, and I opted for the Black Vanilla. Thankfully this was the hardest portion of the evening - deciding which Tea you had to leave off trying.



So, armed with individual pots of tea, our slowly disappearing cocktails and very refreshing champagne, we settled in for the afternoon, nattering and catching up. A really lovely Mother/Daughter afternoon - still buzzing about the musical we went to last night.


You are offered two menus - the Vintage Afternoon Tea Menu, and a Gentlemans Afternoon Tea Menu. As we are ladies of a delicate sensibility (and didn't fancy the idea of the hanger steak & Herefordshire snails sandwich which comes with the Gentlemans's Afternoon Tea) we picked the Vintage Afternoon Tea. Quite simply delish. After a wee delay much to our servers dismay and apologies (honestly we didn't mind as we had unlimited Champagne with our Afternoon Tea deal) came out the following lovelies.



Favourites you ask? The Salmon Sandwiches on Pink bread were scrummy and not just because they were on pink bread, the quintessential Cucumber sandwiches and the scones. Just delicious - so simple and presented so sweetly, what more could you want? Mum loved the Battenburgs, the wee Apple Pastry & the Scones.



We also made a couple of new friends - two lovely ladies whom I will definately remain in contact with. We ended up chatting so much, we scooted our tables together in order to speak - the only complaint I have about the restaurant was about halfway through our afternoon tea, the music was turned ona wee bit loudly - and you know ladies, we like to chat but we struggled to hear each other a bit.



I simply wanted to share what an awesome time we had, two Kiwi lasses on the lash in fashionable Marylebone. We had a lovely time. Great staff - attentive, friendly but not hovering, delicious food, flowing champagne and lovely surroundings. I will definately be back.

22 September 2012

Musicals

One of the things I love the most about London-town is the sheer opportunities that present themselves to you - growing up, as a family we have always loved musicals. I grew up on a diet of Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, South Pacific... which has fed my love and obsession with Musicals in the West End - we've been to Phantom, Les Miserables, Jersey boys (an amazing jem) dreamboats and petticoats (a bit meh) and loads of others (including Terry Pratchetts' Mort :))

We have also always loved Jesus Christ Superstar. We aren't religious family at all, and bar the religious overtone to it, adored the music. It's such a powerful score. When it was announced that Andrew Lloyd-Webber was going to launch Jesus Christ Superstar, I actually booked tickets the day that they were released.

It was amazing. Tim Minchin absoloutely stole the show, Mel C did really well (with a few OTT breathy phrases), Chris Moyles did a great job too. Bar the sound being a little bit loud, I loved the modern setting of the show, setting it in a modern world of rioting and social media.

There are much better reviews but we really enjoyed it. At the end of the day, the incredible music shone through and the voices of the performers were the real star of the night. We didn't realise that we were at the premier night of the Arena tour until Sir Lloyd-Webber came onto the stage after the actors took their bows and told us "I have waited 42 years for this to happen. 42 years for our work to be shown in a Rock venue".

Excuse the bad image - I was rather excited and camera-less.

This week has been preeetty boring

I've got to say Day Time TV is the best medicine for being ill. It's the pits. You want to get better just to get back to work. As I've been stuck at home for most of the week with a throat bug, this week has been fairly lame, but very cosy with the Cat loving a warm lap that's keeping her company.



Lovely store-made Chicken Soup, heated with lots of love by my lovely hubby. Not sure why I bothered asking for bread though - it was like eating gravel.


No concept of gravity whatsoever...


There have been a few lovely suprises though - my Foodie PenPals's package being one of them - luckily delivered one of the days I was at home. And my Foodie PenPal agrees that Chocolate Pop-Tarts ARE Medicine. As long as two of us agree, that's enough to be a medical opinion, right?


YesterdaysWorkout: Getting out of bed. Today, prancing to a musical. Yeah baby!

20 September 2012

American Dreaming: Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

As the nights are drawing in, American blogs are flaring up with Pumpkin flavoured recipes. I love Pumpkin, and have gone to many lengths in the past to track down Libby's Pumpkin Puree, last year making a Pumpkin Pie (which I adored and hubby liked). I don't what it is that first attracted me to Pumpkin; we've always loved in at home in New Zealand, it's a particular childhood favourite, and when I heard that you can make a dessert out of it, I had to try it and was hooked. The only downside is an old boss of mine found out that I loved it, and used to make mini-pies for me when she wanted me to work a particularily long or awful shift.

There is something subtle and rich I like about the taste; mellow and lovely.

When I saw that you can make a smoothie out of it, I had to get out my smoothie maker and have a try. I made a couple of amendments to it; adding Oats to it to make it into more of a breakfast item, adding more Cinnamon and Nutmeg and substitute ice cubes, as I didn't have any, for frozen Mango Chunks.

Feel like treating yourself for Breakfast? It's actually rather OK Kcals-wise if you use yoghurt instead of Whipped Cream; though you could do that too as a sumptious pudding or dessert.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie



Original recipe courtesy of Spoonful

Ingredients

1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup vanilla yogurt or Greek yoghurt (with half a tsp of Vanilla Essence)
50g plain porridge Oats
60ml milk
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. sugar
4 ice cubes (or in my case 50g frozen Mango Chunks)
  1. Combine ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.
  2. Pour the smoothies into small glasses (this drink is rich) and garnish each with a dollop of vanilla yogurt or whipped topping.
  3. For a fun touch, add a pinch of cinnamon or a few colored sprinkles. Serves 2.

19 September 2012

London living: M&M World

After date night recently with the hubby, we stumbled across M&M world in Leicester Square. I have sampled the delights a couple of times, but it still amazes me that they have built a 4 floor temple to all things M&M-y.







And it's a beautiful E-number coloured and popular world. It is an excercise in PR amazingness - as my hubby exclaimed "They are only sweets, this place is crazy."

They have everything from a replica London bus, a rehash of the famous Abbey Road crossing (on the Beatles album Abbey Road), every bit of M&M tatt (<English Word for rubbish) you can imagine and more.

Did I mention the wall of M&Ms?

Overall it's quite amusing, but I would advise you go off-peak as it gets buuusy, and be warned it will burn a hole in your bank account. Of course you can browse for free... But the siren call of mixing your own colour mix of M&Ms is very hard to resist.