31 March 2013

Foodie Penpals - The Czech Edition

I love Foodie Penpals, it's definitely my worst kept secret. This month that adoration hit up a major notch when I was paired with a) one of my first and longest friends here in London and b) the lovely Jade at Wild Pickings whom I sent a box to (she runs a foraging walk business in Wales - why oh why don't we live closer?)

{Ps. London & UK based foodies, I've got a giveaway of Foodie Festival tickets in May, details here!}When we used the box as an excuse to catch up, I also fell in love (sorry puss).

Forget Royal Mail, Puppy Post is THE BEST 

My first taste of proper Europe was spending 10 days in Alena's hometown of Prague, and it will always have a special place in my heart - between the history, beer, Svickova and friendliness (I've found the key in any country is taking the time to learn the phrases: Please, Thank you, and I'm from New Zealand hehehe).

Thank you again Alena, such a lovely and thoughtful foodie package!

  
My favourite meal whilst in Prague was Svickova; a Czech delicacy of Slow cooked Sirloin, Cream Sauce, bread dumplings and jam; closely followed by Pork Knuckle and Goulash served in a hollowed out loaf of bread that you eat with the Goulash. We've found a couple of pubs in London that do the above, but Alena kindly has included Svickova with Pasta (a quick alternative) and Goulash sauce mix. They have been a perfect antidote for the winter weather we are still having.

Did I mention the freshly baked Creme Egg cupcakes which may not have made it home, or even to the Shard later that night?


I received a plethora of goodies including snacks ready for eating; delicious Chocolate Waffles Tatranly, a Chocolate coffee bar Kofila, Kinder Easter Eggs (which lasted all of about 3 seconds) and Cocoa Pudding which I've not had a chance to try. I'm intrigued by the Cocoa Pudding as Alena says it has a tangy note to it (much like salted caramel I suspect?)

A few weeks ago they kindly hosted us for dinner, which included homemade cheese balls (below) that we ate with Czech Tartar Sauce Tatarska omacka which is delicious. Lighter than the UK version this is softer and lighter, going perfectly with fish fingers.
Savoury snacks were also on the menu; Smoked cheese that looks like baled hay with a lovely tang Parenica, naughty string cheese Korbacik and Tcinky which are similar to pretzel sticks.
To add to my spice cupboard Alena also included a 7 pepper steak sauce (black, green, white, red, cayenne, jalapeno & sechuan!) and Lovage Libecek a herb that I've quizzed her about several times, which she uses in soups. I can't wait to try them out!
On top of all of this was included a beautiful card, and recipes for the ingredients.
It's just a shame I couldn't fit puppy in my bag too!


Alena and I have had quite a few adventures together, and I look forward to the next ones we have in the near future!

Camping during the Olympic Opening Ceremony

30 March 2013

Guest Post Q&A with Kit, from What a Peach!

Hi, I'm Kit and I blog over at What a Peach! I'm a fellow ex-pat, but from America, and I moved here with my family when I was just turning 16. When Emma suggested a guest post, I thought a swap of interviews would be fun. Emma gave me some great questions and I had lots of fun trying to reflect on my life now.

When you first came to the UK, what did you feel was your biggest adjustment and is it still a big part of your life now? How do you know identify yourself nationality-wise?
When I moved here, I had just completed my Freshman year at a really fantastic high school where the students all wanted to learn. We came here and none of the schools knew what to do with me. I was at an awkward age for the education system and I was slotted in with a year group that was really below me but would mean I would be better prepared for taking my GCSEs. The way of learning was very different (we were very specifically learning for a test and no one seemed that interested in learning just for the sake of it) and we were treated like children. The school I had just left had treated us all as adults with respect and so I was quite taken aback by calling people 'miss' and 'sir'. I have no problem with respect at all, I always have respected my teachers, but it just felt really false to me. I guess it's still a little bit apart of my life because my schooling has affected my future, I think overall in a positive way though my gaps on both American and English history (they are taught at different stages in both countries which means I managed to miss out on quite a lot) are quite shocking! 

How is day to day life similar to Oregon (bar getting up for the daily school/work grind)?I don't think I can say my life now is really at all like my life in Oregon. Partly because I moved here when I was just turning 16, so in Oregon I was a kid- babysitting, doing a lot of dance classes, hanging out with my friends at the mall, working hard at school... Now I'm 28 and I work full time (6 days a week actually!). I work in the arts, so still have my links to the dance world, still hang out with friends- just not at the mall! I'm still really close to my parents, they're my friends, so I talk to them most days by phone or email so that link hasn't been lost (they're only 2 hours away anyway). But I do sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I had stayed in Oregon. 
What are your most favourite and least favourite aspects of London?I love London so so much. I think it is just such a fantastic city for culture (I'm a big theatre goer), it's great for getting lost in and I love feeling like I'm in the centre of it all. I really enjoy wandering around Barbican or the South Bank if I'm at a loose end. One of my favourite views in London is about 3/4 of the way across Waterloo Bridge. To the left is the OXO Towet and The Gherkin, to the right the London Eye, Southbank Centre and Parliament.
I'm not always a fan of the people- it's really easy to get grumpy and caught up in the rush of it all and my family have noticed that I can take on these traits, so I perhaps need to work on being nicer myself! There's all the pushing and shoving you get on your commute which is not pleasant.

What aspect of reading keeps you going back for more, especially the books that you re-read and want to delve into them in for more indepth reading?
I've always loved reading and was a big writer when I was younger too. I like interesting characters and situations that I can either relate to or that feel so different they provide an escape and a sense of 'ooh, that's new'. I'm a big screen head and so have found that a lot of the books that I enjoy feel quite cinematic. They have rich, lush descriptions, clear dialogue and are written beautifully but in an accesible way so that it's easy to read and get really involved in the story. Some of my favourite authors currently are Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Waters. I got really into Daphne Du Maurier for a bit as I loved the gothic and fantastical routes her stories take. I also keep meaning to read the new Mark Haddon as I loved his previous two books- he really seemed to understand the characters- and I've just got into John Green as well.
Re-reading books can be really comforting and exciting. When I re-read a book, it's interesting to see how my memories have altered the plot, but I love coming across favourite lines. Books I've enjoyed re-reading are: Pride and Prejudice (maybe a bit of a cliche?), Cold Comfort Farm, I Capture the Castle and all my old illustrated children's books when I'm back home and pulling through boxes!

Finally, Chocolate or Vanilla, and why?
A bit of both really! I have a dangerously greedy sweet tooth and generally will eat pretty much anything! I love really dark (85%) chocolate as well as super cheap milk chocolate. Love both flavours when choosing ice cream and same for cake too! I don't think I could choose...

29 March 2013

Good Friday - A few Sailors, a drink and a Hot Cross Bun

Hot Cross Buns have a colourful and lengthy history. Amongst the superstitions, sailors would take Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday with them on their voyages, as it was said to prevent shipwrecks. Located not too far from the East End docks, the associations with the Widow's Pub in Bow in East London are incredibly strong.



The legend goes that in the early 19th Century a widow lived in a cottage with her only son. Her sailor son left for the sea but promised to be back on Good Friday, 1824. Awaiting his return, his mother baked him a hot cross bun, but he never arrived. Every year until her death she baked a bun on Good Friday, hoping to welcome her son home, but she never saw him again.


In the 1840's a pub replaced the cottages called the Widow's Son and the tradition has been carried on with a Hot Cross Bun baked every Good Friday and hung in a net above the bar. A service is held in the pub and a member of the Royal Navy adds another freshly baked to the net admist singing, a few jovial drinks and a lot of goodwill.

Another story says claims the Widow was the publican of a pub already on site - but we will possibly never know.

  
Thanks to a tip off by the lovely Miss Regula Foodwise, we couldn't resist popping along, and chatting with the friendly locals (proper proper Cockney Sparra's) - some who have been attending the service for over 50 years and Navy members - some fresh from a 6 month voyage.
 
 
 
Sadly there was a fire about 15 years ago in which many of the age-old buns were burnt, but a few were saved and have been treasured with their fresher counterparts.

It's a real festival atmosphere; everyone crowded in at 3pm glasses in hand, rock music pumping and the buffet kindly laid on (over the billiard table) and such a nice atmosphere.




The legend is such a heartbreaking tale, can you imagine what the Widow would have to say if she knew that the tradition is still being carried out over 125 years later? Maybe as the MC said “Another year, another Good Friday, another bun.”

We especially loved the sign hanging above the pub of the Sailor returning many years later to the pub, with the many buns hanging in their net. The old Facade can be seen here.


There are many superstitions surrounding Hot Cross Buns and Easter:
  • Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be" is said at the time.
  • Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover
  • If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly.
  • Eggs laid today will not go off
  • If a child is born today & baptized on Easter Sunday they will have gift of healing
The Hot Cross bun has very contested origins, with Pagan claims, some claiming a connection with Eostre (a Germanic god, the namesake to Easter), some to the Ancient Greeks but the most widely accepted seem to be the Christian origins, with the cross on the buns representing the Crucifixion.

Awesome fact: the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of hot cross buns and other spiced breads, except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. The punishment for transgressing the decree was forfeiture of all the forbidden product to the poor.

If you fancy joining in next year, the pub address is The Widow's Son, 75 Devon's Road, Bow, London, E3 3PJ.

I hope you are having a lovely Good Friday!



28 March 2013

Top Ten Books

Inspired by Erica at The Sweet Life , I thought maybe a top 10 might be a cosy way to spend an hour or so over Easter (in between sneaking over to the lovely What a Peach! for a guest post and errands that never ever seem to finish).

Books can be amazing companions, always available in a tight and boring spot, they can create adventure when you are stuck in the day-to-say doldrums, they provide never-ending conversation with other bookworms and can change the way you think and view the world.

Our wee beastie loves curling up with a good book. In fact she likes to nibble new ones..

I've usually got a few different books on the go (and haven't quite managed to stifle the habit of using anything lying around as a bookmark - TV remote, socks, receipts. I've got beautiful bookmarks that sit in my pen jar, gorgeous but unloved, they seem to have a habit of shimmying our of sight when there's some real work to be done).

At the moment I'm reading:
- The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
- The Crimson Petal And The White (R18, but the language and writing is sumptuous and some phrases and paragraphs you have to read it twice to really savour them properly)
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is  newly started and looks promising

I try to vary what I'm reading, much like flavours of chocolate - your mood suits different treatments and temperings. Also, this way if I get sick of a book or can't find it because it's being used to turn the TV Channel over I can dive into another one. Ahh, a positive side to commuting!




After some lengthy consideration (aka. the most memorable, well paged or most recommended) my top ten, in no particular order, at the moment are:

- The Secret Garden (free on Kindle at time of writing) Beautiful tale of an incredible spoiltchild raised by servants, who discovers a secret garden and goes on a journey of learning to make friends and take joy in simple things. A timeless Children's tale.

- Twilight I know, I'm sorry, but I loved it. Bella is quite a bit spineless, but there is something spellbinding about the story that weaves a blatant suspension of disbelief.

- The Night Circus I simply couldn't put this down. It was fascinating, captivating, mysterious and funny. Two magicians are training apprentices, and have set the circus as a playing field for the apprentices, in a duel that, unknown to the duellists is one to the death. Reviewed here.

- The Longest Crawl Witty, informative and thirst-inducing, this is the authors journey both personal and researched, reflecting an integral part of British Life - the Pub. Reviewed here.

- I Am Ozzy "People ask me how come I'm still alive, and I don't know what to say." I don't think much else needs to be said, bar that hubby & I kept reading bits our to each other they were so insane yet matter of fact.

- The Flavour Thesaurus It's a mixture of taste pairing information, science, experience and a few recipes accompanied by some lovely memories and restaurant recommendations. You could just read it cover to cover, forget the Foodie side! Reviewed here.

- Emma Classic, she is quick-witted, beautiful, headstrong and rich and above all has a great name. My copy is well thumbed, and I can probably blame most of my worst traits on Jane Austen, except the rich thing. Must work on that.

- Almost anything by Terry Pratchett. I live for his footnotes. Mort, the book and stage show is reviewed here for your interest, featuring the Grim Reaper taking a working holiday discovering dancing, drinking, his new-found skills as a short-order chef and a love for kittens).

- Belgariad 1: Pawn of Prophecy My favourite favourite series as a teen - when the horrendous hormones flew about and everyone started to slag each other off, I just retreated into this fantastic made-up world.

- The Little Book of London The ultimate Loo Book - chock full of halarious and downright random facts of London.

When writing the above, it struck me as weird that there is a little bit of self-social pressure to look educated and a bit high-brow. I know I don't, and I'm cool with that.

via Google Plus through +Terry McNeil 

(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 and it adds nothing to the price of your book. This helps support my book addiction, so if you are interested in buying the book, please click through the top link)
Any suggestions that you think knock out one or more of the above? What is your most paged through book?

27 March 2013

Brookes Counter & Table: Restaurant Review

This is an old favourite spot from when I used to work locally. I had to return (quality control you know, oh the things we have to do for blogging!) and check that everything was as delicious as before.

How can you say no!?

Happily, Brookes seems to be going from strength to strength if the queues are anything to go by - basically the process seems to be bags a free table, line up, order your coffee/munch/brunch/lunch either from the counter selection of delectable items or from their menu.

The biggest problem I have is deciding what to eat. By the time the queue (which moves fairly quickly) shifts you to the front, I normally have my options whittled down to 3, and hope that 2 of them have been eaten by other people so I don't have to choose.


I used to lunch here weekly with a friend, I've brought hubby here and my discerning Aunt whilst on a pit-stop from her flight to New Zealand to Edinburgh - this is a mark of how tasty it is. Hubby and today's brunch date, a connoisseur of all things Sausage Roll and meaty declared their Sausage Roll the best they've ever tasted(I must remember to get hubby one from the Ginger Pig as they are immensely delicious too!).


I enjoy their Berry Shakes and Eggs Benedict (actually, I seems to have a predilection for Eggs Benedict - maybe I should have a sub-blog and call it 'Adventures eating Eggs Benedict in London', not much of a catchy jingle though). It's much lighter that several other places do, but it was utterly perfect for the wee hangover I was nursing whilst my friend and I gabbled away.


Our favourite lunchtime treat was to wander into Brook's, get a Sausage roll and a coffe and stroll onto the grass on Brook Green Park in the sunshine. Bliss.


Located in on Shepherds Bush Road in the heart of 'Brooks Green' an affluent (Estate Agent named) area tucked between Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, Brook's is a local haunt that you wouldn't nessecarily know about if you weren't in the know. It's stuffed to the gills with foodie stuffs (fresh bread, a dairy fridge, RJ's red liquorice stuff with white chocolate!?) and their counter meals, a lot of them Vege, are truely scrumptious and change daily. It's not too expensive either.

Futher info can be found on their website. I haven't been comped & they don't know who I am, I just wanted to share the deliciousness.

Oh, hai.
 
Did I mention Kiwis (that have made it to the end of this post) that the Tesco's behind has recently started stocking Kiwi and Aussie fare in their ethnic section? Tomato Sauce, K Bars, Tim Tams, Shapes, L&P...
 
Ps.


26 March 2013

Toastie Pies - Kiwi Cooking

Disclaimer: These are really moreish - and health-wise, pretty well just the same as your average sandwich.

I try not to eat too much bread anymore, trying to subscribe to the theory that White Bread is the devil, tempting you with it's delicious softness whilst providing very little nutrional goodness, but I have to make an exception for these babies. And not eating it often makes it oh-so-much scrummier. The golden crust of the bread, the melty cheesy-ness of the inside combined with whatever bridge ingredient you fancy to accompany your sandwich with - ahhh, carby heaven.


Quite a few people I know have toasted Sandwich makers which they prefer - it gives you more of a sealed in 'pie' but I like them a little more melted-cheese-on-toast style. We make ours in the frying pan - you just need to be careful when flipping them over not to spill out the insides.

My 'technique' is to lift the sandwich with a cooks' slice slid under the cooked side, lift the pan up, turn it over the uncooked side of the sandwich and then flip them both. Possibly an overly complicated method, but it works for me!

Method:
  1. Heat your pan as high as you can, but not smoking (oh Gas, how I adore thee)
  2. Butter a slice of bread - I prefer a medium slice, hubby prefers a thick (10mm) slice, and place it butter side down on your chopping board
  3. Add topping, then cheese evenly
  4. Butter a second slice, then add to the sandwich butter side out (this is important)
  5. Take by the diagonal corners to the pan
  6. Turn when the butter on the top begins to melt slightly/the underside is golden brown and the cheese is melting. I like mine slightly over golden as you can tell by the above photo
  7. Try to resist a second, I dare you
Ok, so it's best made with Cheese somewhere contained providing the golden melt factor, but if you also add another filling, a flavour 'bridge' if you will, it's a whole other level;

Kiwi Classic: Creamed Corn
The Italian Job: Tinned Spaghetti (found in the baked bean aisle)
KISS: Ham
Hawaiian Special: Ham & Pineapple or just Pineapple
Mouse Trap: Ketchup
Ye Olde English: Ham & Chutney or just Chutney
Orchard: Sliced Tomato

Peppers, cooked onion, cooked chicken, chilli... (I could almost list my entire fridge here, you get the idea)

Weird Tropical: Peanut Butter & Banana (sans Cheese). Don't laugh, it's actually delicious.

What's your favourite guilty secret snack/meal - pizza, dessert, fish & chips, curry?

25 March 2013

The Shard - Epic Fail

Sometimes London is a brat. Most of the time she is lady; elegant, amusing, enticing, busy, and, let's be honest kinda dirty in some respects. She does occasionally like to show her more tempestuous side, possibly just to prove that we are mere mortals inhabiting her shores and to treat her with the respect she deserves.



We tend to wax-lyrical viewing London in a rose-tinted spectacles manner (a bit of a love-in), sharing what we've enjoyed recently, until it goes wrong. Through our adventures, we try to share some of the delicious oddments and corners that we've found on our wanders, for instance the Worlds Biggest Egg Hunt (now back in London until Easter, be quick!) a 900-year old oak stump carved with elves, the Great Christmas Pudding Race and the fact that you can actually see Big Ben.

We do like to keep it real though. 



We planned a trip to the Shard about 6 weeks ago, thinking that weather in late-March should be pretty ok and if we were lucky, we might even get a little bit of blue sky.

The Shard is London's most recent addition to the fold of skyscrapers, and is currently Europe's tallest building. On a good day from the 68th and 69th floors you get the most amazing view over London for around 35 miles.

Ummm, snow, in late March?




Honestly, it wasn't an entirely wasted trip - we got to experience the Shard, get a taste of the view and be amused by their crazy lifts.

At £25 a pop, London's 'most eagerly awaiting new attraction' was a bit disappointing beccause of the murky London weather but we will re-book and go again.


Moral of the story? Don't trust the weather, and always have a back-up pub to go drown your sorrows in the worst case scenario.

What is your worst experience of bad holiday weather? Does it upset you, or because you are in more of a 'holiday mode' do you find that you can roll with it?
Ps. Instead of dwelling too much on the weather, check out my giveaway.

23 March 2013

GIVEAWAY: Foodie Festival NOW CLOSED

I have something to brighten your day. With the dank, dark and snowy weather unrelenting, I think we all need something to cheer us up, and get us all through the rain/snow/wind/rain/rain/hail weather pattern we are having and it's a thank you for reading my little corner of t'internet. The organisers of the largest UK Foodie Festivals have kindly offered 2 of my readers a pair of tickets (each pair worth £30) to their London Foodie Festivals - meccas of delicious food, lovely drink and a chance to meet the people behind their products. 



We went last year (as independent paying, escaping from the office, excited-to-enjoy-the-sunshine customers) so how would you like to try a little of the below (obviously I can't guarantee the sunshine though!).





Did I mention the New Zealand wine stockists who exhibited last year? See, Kiwis ARE taking over the world.



 
Now in its eighth year, new highlights will include:
  • A Chocolate Theatre to showcase the world of chocolate and confectionery demonstrations
  • A Wine Village, bringing together international producers and wine regions, including English producers
  • The extensive Producers’ Market sells a vast array of artisan produce from the local area and incorporates the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Market’s award-winning British produce.
  • New dining and VIP area serving signature dishes from top local restaurants including pop-up versions of Ed Baines’ restaurant Randall & Aubin, Jamie’s Italian Kingston and Masala Zone, run by Veeraswamy, the oldest Indian restaurant in the UK. 
  • City Beach where families can chill out on deckchairs with an artisan ice-cream or an afternoon tea whilst children build sandcastles.
  • This year’s Children’s Cookery Theatre will be operated by local cook school Kiddy Cook who will run a series of workshops incorporating gastronomic experiments. 
  • Specialist tea, coffee and fresh juice vendors can be found around the site.
  • The entertainment stage features live music acts including Gloria Miller performing every day
  • A spectacular Bake and Cake Theatre in association with Electrolux incorporating a ‘bake-along’ with members of the audience invited to participate.
  • The new market section Homeware Village offers visitors the chance to shop for kitchenware and gadgets
Thank you to Foodies Festival for providing these tickets for the readers of Adventures of a London Kiwi, and for inviting me to the festival this year.


 I can't guarantee you will get these abs by attending, but the smile I can!

How To Enter:
  • Simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below to verify your entries
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  • Closing date -  12th April 2013 12.00 pm 

*Terms and conditions
  1. This offer is only open to UK residents
  2. Complimentary tickets are valid for one day only at your chosen venue.
  3. Tickets are non transferable. One pair of tickets per winner only.
  4. Complimentary tickets obtained through this offer may not be duplicated.
  5. All tickets will be scanned on entry to the show
  6. You may enter for both venues but will be required to complete the entries through both rafflecopters separately.
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Enter here to win tickets for

Hampton Court Palace – Saturday 25, Sunday 26 and Monday 27 May 2013
 

London Clapham Common: Friday 7, Saturday 8 & Sunday 9 June 2013
 

22 March 2013

(Mostly) Wordless Friday

Sometimes, I do wonder if this blog should be called 'Baking Misadventures of a London Kiwi'.


From careful planning and a trial cake (I somehow typed 'tria cakel'??), to successfully baking it, making Lime Curd from scratch, cutting through the centre and filling it with Lime Curd and tucking it away for decorating when I got home from work...


to:


Enough said.

This week did however have a few bright points: we saw the end of 'Marmageddon' (it even broke into the UK Telegraph news and the BCC)


(Not mine sadly, not yet)

Perused some interesting Tube Artwork:


And decided to have a week-long sugar hiatus. That's it, no more sugar. I think I may possibly be crazy, so watch this space! So far it's going well.


Bring on the weekend of adventures! Wine, a FPP personally delivered, a horrendously cute pupp, Steak, an exceedingly tall building and Football all await.
 
 
 
What would your perfect weekend entail?