31 July 2013

Foodie Penpals - A taste of Norway

I was so excited to open this month's Foodie Penpal parcel, I didn't even wait to get home. I opened it in a quiet corner of the train station. Geek and proud baby! This months' parcel came all the way from beautiful (and so far unexplored-by-me) Norway from my lovely match for the month, Elise-Renee at Food by Elise.


There is a special thrill when I get a European package, it seems like a mini-holiday on my doorstep. So far in addition to some fabulous British packages, I've received parcels from The Czech Republic (via London), Greece and a very special package from Philadelphia.

Enough navel gazing, and on with the reveal. I actually don't know how she managed to fit so very many goodies into one box. Are crazy good packing skills a Norwegian archetype? They did seem to invent the matpakke which may explain it somewhat...

There is something fascinating about not being able to understand the name of what you're eating without the enclosed lovely guide note.

Elise-Renee's Foodie Parcel did present me with a quandary though - deciding my favourite item. Was it the Goldfish crackers that made surprisingly awesome Pate scoops? Was it the Stranda Skinke (ham?) that melted in your mouth?

 Our Norwegian summer picnic plate.

Was it the Lesfe Godt, Elise-Renee's soft cake from childhood that has such a delicious filling that it almost didn't make it home on the train? The 3 varieties of Porridge (so far my favourite it's the 'Great.' porridge with it's gingery notes - perfect for winter, and how can you not smile at the name?)


Was it the Kvikk Lunst (much like our Kitkats) that is mandatory on ski trips, or the scrummy Lime muesli bars that I wish we could get here?



I simply can't pick - that and I've still got tasty tidbits to try. Thank you so much Elise-Renee, what a fabulous taste of Norway!

This month I sent a package to Helen. I hope she enjoys it!

30 July 2013

Thud! Terry Pratchett

Always witty, surreal and a very clever satirical comment, the Discworld (bar being flat and carried on the back of elephants, is not unlike our own). Oh, and it's peopled by wizards, dwarves, policemen, thieves, beggars and witches.


How does one introduce a Terry Pratchett book? On a light level, it's a very funny fantasy novel, this one set in the Discworld's main City Ankh-Morpork, a whodunit theme this time. Look a little deeper, and it's a political commentary on racial tensions, equality and height-ism.

Thud! is a boardgame of skill whereby dwarves and troll figures are placed on a octagonal board (for more info see here). It serves as a metaphor for the tensions brewing on Ankh-Morpork that only Sam Vimes and the watch can solve (hopefully in time for Sam to get home and read his son 'Where is My Cow').


 

Whenever I read a fantasy book, I think I'm always expecting a Pratchett level of detail and imagination. The characters springing from the authors mind to his pen and keyboard always seem to be really well-rounded. And eccentric.

“Little fussy Otto, in his red-lined black opera cloak with pockets for all his gear, his shiny black shoes, his carefully cut widow's peak and, not least, his ridiculous accent that grew thicker or thinner depending on who he was talking to, did not look like a threat. He looked funny, a joke, a music-hall vampire. It had never previously occurred to Vimes that, just possibly, the joke was on other people.”  

The jokes are quite intricate at times, for instance some trolls are made of sedimentary rock and trolls who have taken the forms of more solid minerals are sometimes prejudiced against their sedimentary kin. Brick, a drug dependant troll so named for the city bricks he resembles, is so down and out that even his lichen is fake.

"War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?" he (Fred Colon) said.
"Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?"
"Absol--well, okay."


I think that if you're a new Pratchett reader, it's best to start with the Colour of Magic, Night Watch, Mort or Wyrd Sisters. All 35 (to date) books you can read out of order and stand alone, but to really be able to appreciate the subtle building of jokes it's best to read them in series, or at least in arcs. That said, they are all still very funny, and the footnotes, oh the footnotes! They are almost the gem in Terry Pratchets diadem.

“Vimes had got around to a Clean Desk policy. It was a Clean Floor strategy
that eluded him at the moment.”  

Tell me about it!


29 July 2013

Bushy Park

For a city that boasts a population of 8 million residents (in 2012) which increases by a few million workday residents who commute from in and around the surrounding counties, it still always manages to astonish me how green and leafy it is.
 


From the sprawling acres of Kew Gardens to private garden squares, where ever you turn there seems to be small oasises (oasii, oases, troubled 90's bands?) of green where you can go to get a breath of fresh air and relax, shielded from the busyness of London.

Bushy Park is slightly farther out than the Queen's backgardens of Green Park & Kensington Gardens but still retains the title of a Royal Park.


The Park has long been popular with locals, but also attracts those from further afield. From the mid-Nineteenth Century until World War II, Londoners came here to celebrate Chestnut Sunday here and to see the abundant blooming of the trees along Chestnut Avenue, discovered and resurrected in 1993 by Colin and Mu Pain


It's the second largest park in London, beaten by it's almost neighbour Richmond park and has many areas and gardens within the grounds to take a picnic and mutter sweet nothings.

The newly restored Baroque Water Gardens

A popular park with dog walkers, you will also see many pups gambolling along the grassy fields fetching, running, bowling their owners over in excitement (yes Murphy, I'm talking to you!) and generally loving the freedom in which to chase anything and everything through the long grasses.


It was developed from 1529 by Henry VII as a deer-hunting ground, and thereafter some of the more picturesque features added such as a 19km canal supplying water to nearby royal residence Hampton Court, the Diana fountain and Chestnut Avenue.

It's also still home to the disused Brew House that used to supply the ale to all the estate workers.


Wouldn't this be a cool venue for a bar?


There are still herds of fallow and red deer that roam the park, and whilst they can be a little dangerous in rutting season, they also make excellent fielders for the cricket clubs that are based in the Park.


The fields are beautiful expanses, and stunning even a little brown in the heat of our heatwave.

For further info, check out the Royal Parks website.

27 July 2013

Celebrating Milestones - 101 in 1001 Update

I can't believe it's almost August already. When your work day seems to drip by, it's always a shock to look at the calendar and realise how far along in the year you are.

Having started my 101 in 1001 challenge on the 1st June 2012 I'm 421 days (as of today) & I can't quite believe that we are still sticking with it, and in fact are progressing pretty well. I admit it, I'm a great starter of things, but trying to complete them eludes me more than I should admit (except Ice Cream, but then no-one ever has trouble finishing Ice Cream, right?)


With 42% of the time elapsed, and with 34% completed plus another 10% in progress, it's coming on nicely. It comes into it's own on rainy weekends (though we aren't due to have any of those dpon woohoo!)

I have still have a few of the biggies to complete - Hot Air Ballooning, Sky Diving, holiday with my siblings, walk behind a waterfall, swim 50 lengths and cook an entire cookbook. Does anyone know of any really short cookbooks?


Surprisingly, one of the hardest ones to complete has been booking in to donate blood. It's really tough to find a day that they are open and they are nearby. In additional they only take blood until around 4pm. Combine this with flying an average office desk, doesn't really make it very easy.


I've also been looking through my 'Improve the 'How Foodie Are You' score by 15 items. Well, it seems that whoever wrote the list of unusual food items added several in twice so now it's missing 8 items. I would love your suggestions to add! Comment below, Tweet me or pop me a message on Google+.

Did you know 421 days is 36,374,400 seconds?

26 July 2013

(Mostly) Wordless Friday

This week has brimmed with adventures of the page and the plate, and spanned Hackney, Richmond and Ealing - all in the same one day no less.
 

Oh yes, that's a fresh handmade Lamington, jealous much?
You can get them at the Broadway Market in Hackney. Oh yesh!
 
It's also been a frenetic week in London itself with the new Royal Baby. I'm not moved to write a post about it because I feel that it's probably been covered by every angle, but I have loved hearing about the New Zealand landmarks being lit up in the little guy's honour, it's just so cute. I hope the hubbub dies a little now, and the new family have time to rest and recover in some peace!
 
 
Oh, we meet again Mr Fitzgerald
 


 
 
 

 


We also popped into to see the folks at Newton & Pott... I can never resist!



What are your favourite discoveries - new foodie treats, random art or market stalls that sell nothing useful only wonderful?

25 July 2013

Kyoto, Japan - #travelthursdays

For us, Japan was a country of two halves (oh, and they're getting pretty good at rugby) the old, beautiful traditions and a new modern world adapting itself to the future. It's all the more amazing for how easily they seem to meld the two.
 

 
 

For us it was the most apparent in our friends newly built home - having a  traditional Tatami mat room (the majority of the family played, read, slept and relaxed there) in addition to the Western style dining room and heated toilet seats which fascinated us endlessly.


Kyoto is a beautiful city, full of the wonderful nooks and crannies I especially love, perfect for losing more than a few afternoons down it's markets and temples...





(stopping for the all important fuel of a snack)


in bendy-windy and steep Old Town shopping and dining.

Don't the hills in the background look just like painted porcelain?
 

This a great example of the dichotomy which so struck me.

We spent over 10 days exploring, catching up with friends, celebrating our 3rd Christmas Day with expat friends and then a proper Japanese New Year (with a few side trips) before heading to Tokyo, and had the feeling that we had only tasted a tiny iota of it's charm.


I also definitely approve of their Karaoke selection - who knew!

24 July 2013

Natural Kitchen: disappointing Eggs Benedict in Marylebone

Hello everybody, I'm an expat from New Zealand, I am an Eggs Benedict snob and welcome to this instalment of Kiwi brunchers anonymous.



Out for a lovely leisurely morning brunch with a good friend of mine, we picked the Natural Kitchen, which I discovered has a plethora of deliciousness last year (Oh Natural Kitchen Tomato and Chilli Jam, you ARE the jam!) as a return visit was much overdue.

We began well, with a delicious berry smoothie, and a blackened salmon salad for my lovely lunchdate.



I, as any true blue Kiwi does when espying Eggs Benedict on a menu ordered my favourite (and trust me they do - a couple of weeks ago having brunch with some lovely Kiwi lasses there was not one, not two, but six orders of Eggs Benedict on our table some form, and a croissant - but she's young still.)

If you are going to make Eggs Benedict - and every weekend kitchen worth it's salt should do - in my book there are a few are cardinal rules and an order to things stacked together on my plate.

A dash of green
^
Hollandaise Sauce
^^^
Poached eggs softly seasoned
^^^^
Ham, Bacon, Salmon or Mushrooms
^^^^^
Softly toasted Muffins (or in the case of Ozone hash)
This is not Eggs Benedict (even Wikipedia backs me up). And the toast was rock hard.
The inherent beauty of this dish is normally apparent in the way the poached eggs ooze their gorgeous yellow yolks over the soft warm muffins and ham (my poison of choice), and intermingle with the eggy buttery luxury of the Hollandaise. I didn't get any of it here.
However Natural Kitchen, you do however get bonus points for softly heated butter (from the warmth of the granite-like toast); the best presentation of a bill I've ever seen (tucked in a cookbook);
...and a pretty delicious selection of cakes.
It was quick, the service friendly (thought weirdly got friendlier after I snuck my photographs), the prosciutto was a lovely counterpoint to the ham which I've not had before and it's pretty reasonable cost-wise. Would I have it again? Nope. My addiction wasn't sated by the disappointing presentation of my much longed for favourite.
Natural Kitchen has loads of other delicious things - I dare you to make it out of their deli without a lighter purse and bulging bag - but maybe it isn't one for the Eggs Benedict connoisseurs.

23 July 2013

Blood, Bones and Butter - Reading Review

The best way to be recommended a book is by a person whose opinion you trust. Kindly gifted to me by my June Foodie Penpal-er Fikir, it's a deeply personal journey about Gabrielle Hamiltons extraordinary correlation with food and her soul.

 
This kitchen memoir taunts and teases, and you never quite know what to expect next, and I must admit I rather enjoyed the fact that it's her real life - something that isn't going to play out in a homogenised start, middle, denouement & end fashion. I liked the variety of life experiences the author had and how vividly she experienced them.
 
Read it; if you're a foodie, love surprises and aren't of the squeamish variety because expected as a chef Gabrielle has to deal in the mucky in order to present the polished and beautifully plated hors d'oeuvres. She travels through her own American hometown, all over the States and one memorable, real backpacking trip through Europe. It's not all peaches and cream, and I enjoyed her journey from childhood to not being able to resist an all consuming passion.
  
 
It really reminded me a lot of writing style for the Flavour Thesaurus, the same richness, but without the practicalities. This novel is a journey & an education.
 
When I decided to start reviewing books on this here humble blog, I did think to myself 'who on earth cares about your opinion on someone else's novel that may have taken years in the planning and executing'? And then I dismissed the errant thought because I don't do anything in a nasty way, but you dear reader, allow me to indulge in publicly letting me work out why exactly I enjoyed or didn't enjoy a book in manner that pushes me to really think hard about what I'm reading. Thank you.
 
Do you enjoy Memoirs/Biographies/Autobiographies? 

22 July 2013

London Zoo (ZSL)

Missing out last year on Zoo Lates (Friday nights where the Zoo stays open late with drinks and foodstalls) I was so excited to hear they are back this year, I actually booked the tickets whilst on holiday in New York
 
 
I was as happy as a pig getting it's tummy scratched. Now that has to be an original simile. You're welcome.
 
 
 
I know that Zoos don't allow the animals to live carefree in the wild, and it's mean to have them caged, but in this day and age of poachers, hunters and predators it has to be nice to have a nice warm house with food on tap, right?
 
 
Heeeeey you!
  
My favourite places are Penguin beach (and fyi if you are ever stuck for a birthday present for me, a Penguin would be AWESOME and yes, I know, irresponsible) and watching the Giraffes. They are both such beautiful animals.
 
 
 
Funny story, at the risk of sounding like a foreigner & tourist (both charges of which I will happily accept), for a good while every time we caught the Bakerloo line we wondered what on earth we 'could change for ZSL' could be at Regent's Park. Thankfully it was the London Zoo (the Zoological Society of London, doncha know).
 

Zoo lates itself its hilarious. It usually involves an adult crowd who are invited to visit in animal costumes (except the Monkey House & Big Cats as they aren't sure how to react) who have a few bevvies and wander around the wonders housed.
 
 
 
Lions, Tigers and Bears Oh My!

  
Ps. I think I have discovered where Amy Winehouse picked up a few of her fashion tips from...

 
Sadly, Zoo Lates are over for another year unless they add another date to the diary (which I'm rather hoping they will) but I can easily spend 6 hours in there. Take a Picnic, a few fizzy drinks and settle in for a day of cuteness. Baby Otters anyone?

More details of the Zoo can be found here (and pssssst. you can quite often get 2 for 1 deals). Rocky the Rockhopper penguin, a star of Penguin beach even has his own facebook page. Rock on.

Top tip: Camden tube is actually closer to the Zoo than Regents Park, but it is a beautiful walk!

When was the last time you went to the Zoo?