31 August 2013

Upsidedown Father's Day

With a Twitter timeline full of random blue lines (the new conversation joins, not pregnancy tests don't worry) and "oh shoot, it's Father's Day this weekend" comments from my Kiwi expat friends, well I have a confession to make. I had a wee moment of panic as it dawned on me that they were correct, and it was too late to send anything.

This is a key conundrum being an expat and living a long long way from home.

Luckily I had cheated. I absolutely knew I would forget, so when it was Father's Day in the UK (June), I pre-loaded a card to a greeting card website, and queued it to send the week before Father's Day. Whew!

Yes, yes, I know that these days are arguably one of the most success marketing ploys of Hallmark and a common victim of errant apostrophes, but I think the idea of Father's Day and Mother's Day is a fantastic one. I think you should celebrate the people-whom-without-you-literally-wouldn't-be-here everyday in the little things.

Father's are weirdly harder to buy for compared to Mum's. Mum's are easily sorted with flowers, chocolates and something embroidered. But with Dad's there are only so many Tie/Socks/Book combos that you can get away with. I tend to run with more random pressies to make him smile; a sheep that poo-ed chocolate raisins, golf balls that he could lose in the river play golf with, bookmarks that never got used 'because he didn't want to ruin them' and one memorable Christmas, we got him a potty putter. Trouble is, he got two of them.

I am a Daddy's girl. I don't mind admitting it and though I love my Mum as much as everyone else does (inspite of and because she's a little crazy, but that's just family hey!), my Dad is pretty awesome (though his jokes are a bit rubbish... just kidding Dad, this was a test to see if you really read this...)

On the plus-side living over here also means you get 36 hours of birthday fun. We have to weigh these things up. Anyway, Happy Father's Day on Sunday to all my Kiwi readers.

When is your Fathers' Day? Upon a little reading, I found out there are so many.

30 August 2013

Foodie Penpals - August

Man oh man, it's that's part of the month - Foodie Penpal time! A handpicked parcel of delicious goodies have landed on my doorstep from Rebecca at Really Nice Food, and I knew I was in for a treat.

A lot of the joy of Foodie Penpal packages is the care taken to enclose goodies, and I especially love the variety that you receive in packages with new products and flavours at the ready.

I can't actually make a call on the best part of this package; the lovely Yorkshire Lemon Curd, the deliciously naughty Raspberry Ripple Fudge, the indulgently rich mexican hot chocolate, the flavourful Chillis, Carribbean spices or the cute sushi kit. How to pick!?

Actually, I'm going to sit on the fence, and decide that it's reading the lovely notes accompanying each item from Rebecca (whilst eating the Sherbet ie. the very first thing I did on opening the box).

Thank you Rebecca, such a lovely parcel!

I sent a few of my favorite (and a couple new-to-me) items to Anna, who runs a business making and selling Jams and preserves in and around Derbyshire at festivals from her VW camper van, called Anna's Camper Jams. Wild Cherry and Amaretto Jam - need I say more, it sounds gorgeous!

Having a mooch for Anna's parcel also enabled me to discover Stem Ginger Curd. Utterly divine, and perfect straight from the jar. Ooopsy...

29 August 2013

Grimsby, Lincolnshire #travelthursday

Again, I know you're thinking 'Huh? Grimsby? Wha?'

Much like New Zealand, and most countries around the world, Britain is made up of networks of thousands of small towns, villages and hamlets that combined make us nationally who we are.

28 August 2013

Steel's, Grimsby

One of the most distinctive English dishes that tourist crave is one of deep fried potato slices, and battered and fried fish. It's also one of the most disappointing dishes that tourists are routinely served, soggy and pathetic with a hunk of flavourless mushy peas.
Well, you may think I'm crazy, but if you want a decent fish dinner, known throughout England the best Fish and Chip restaurant the best place I've found after thorough testing (IMHO), is Steel's. Found in a small former fishing port, Steel's is a bastion of the once thriving Great Grimsby, and only a short walk from the promenade. If only it was closer London - the North-East Lincolnshire town is a 3-hour drive away. It's just too far for lunch but then my waistline probably thanks the miles!

I'm a little biased, this is true being a Grims-barian by marriage, but I am also the daughter of a one-time fish & chip shop owner so I feel I have a little authority on the subject of fish and chips.

27 August 2013

Beloved Emma/England's Mistress - Reading Review

Intrigue, glamorous parties, gambling, exotic countries, class-smashing, national heroes, adultery and royalty. Just another average Emma.

In England, biographies and autobiographies sell like hotcakes. Maybe it's an insatiable curiosity, a written version of net curtain twitching, or just an extension of the glossy mags that everyone reads, but every celeb (a- to z-list) has one out detailing all the sordid details that they want to dish on their bandmates and ex-husbands. Well, Kerry Katona step aside with your rather sad life, and enter an astonishing figure - Emma, Lady Hamilton.

Born in a coal-mining village in 1765 to very average parents, after a spell as a domestic worker near home, Emma (originally named Amy Lyons) undertakes the rough journey to London to find fame & fortune. After a few service jobs (one notably in Drury Lane) Emma subsequently works as a model, dancer, working girl, hostess and entertainer before falling pregnant to Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh. Going to his friend as a mistress, Emma is tamed and domesticated, begins to find notoriety posing for the painter George Romney then sent to Naples where she eventually marries Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples.

File:George Romney - Lady Hamilton as Circe.jpg

In Naples, Emma becomes close personal friends with Maria Carolina, the Napoleon Queen and meets the British naval hero, Horatio Nelson whom she falls in love with. Emma Hamilton and Nelson were by now the two most famous Britons in the world, which ultimately leads to Emma's downfall. She meets Marie Antoinette, organises the Napolitan court to move out of danger, is bestowed her own title, moves back to England, bears Nelson two children (only one survives sadly) and rings up huge debts.
A few years after Nelson dies at the Battle of Trafalgar, Emma dies in France, penniless and almost alone.

What a life - sensational. You almost couldn't make it up.
I've gone a bit nuts, and ended up reading two biographies about her (I've had a lot of train and car journey time on my hands lately) and how the two books differ are really interesting. Beloved Emma, by Flora Fraser is more straight talking, factual and informative. England's Mistress, by Kate Williams is written in more of an easy to read romance novel style, and the author takes a few more liberties with situations that aren't able to be fully evidenced. Both are fascinating and insightful (though I will admit that I put aside the former initially for the latter.)

I have a confession to make - this seems likes it might turn into a new interest especially with Emma's links to London, and it's all @ypldn's fault - it's his turn to be chased by pitchforks.

(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) 

25 August 2013

Nottinghill Carnival - The London Kiwi's Guide

How does one sum up an event quite like the Notting Hill Carnival?

As you head towards Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove you can cast aside your map as you are guided towards the chest pounding beats of the bass, the tropical steel drum bands, the whistles and horns and excitement of the crowd. 

23 August 2013

(Mostly) Wordless Friday

I'm delighted to present the 'oop North' Edition of the week, a celebration of everything Northern English, Meggie and rather lovely. We travelled up for a 50th Wedding Anniversary. Can you imagine that, 50 years of sharing your life with someone - laughing, crying, life and the odd raised word.

I wish I could bottle the sound of the house chock full of family, catching up, music, laughter reminiscing, wine bottles clinking and the sharing & eating of delicious handmade goodies.

(Isn't this the funniest Golden Wedding hamper - they drank the beer that accompanied it)

22 August 2013

Rome, Italy #travelthursdays

Italy, to my antipodean viewpoint, is sun drenched vineyards, ruins as far as the eye can see and thin crust Pizza cooked with few gourmet ingredients bursting with flavour.

Florence stole my heart many, many moons ago, Venice has my soulTivoli my artisticly history drenched imagination. They were everything I thought they would be. Rome surprised me.

The view from a top St Peters, quite possibly the best viewpoint of the city.

I still loved aspects of it though. We did the usual touristy stuff; the Coliseum, the Trevi fountain (which was incredible, what a feat of sculpture), the Spanish Steps... they were everything I thought it would be.

Rome was known as the Eternal City even among the ancient Romans themselves. It was so called because the Roman people thought that no matter what happened to the world, no matter how many other empires might rise and fall, Rome would go on forever. 

  The Pantheon. I could have stood in this empty epic place for hours, musing the history.

I'm not going to share our travels of the normal, touristy Rome, but the snapshots and dinky corners of Rome that I loved and delighted in.

I found the city itself to be pretty busy, smelly, noisy and full of rude impatient people. I don't expect much of a city, but after all the delights of more rural Italy, Rome was a rude shock back into the real world.

The art blew me away. To finally see the Laocoon, the Sistine chapel and the Stanza della Segnatura tucked amongst so many other art gems it's almost becomes too much to process.

We also hung out with a few locals.

My best tips?
  • Go out of School holiday season - we went mind-end of September and the weather was still gorgeous
  • Find somewhere cute for dinner that doesn't have an English menu, and spend the night laughing at attempts to communicate
  • Line up super early or later in the afternoon for the Vatican
  • Set aside at least 20 minutes in St Peters to marvel at the Pieta and child that Michaelangelo carved when he was only 24.
  • Get lost in the gardens and churches of Rome's foothills
  • Don't be tricked into agreeing with your hubby to only see the Protestant churches 
  • If going to the Pantheon (which you aren't allowed to miss) check out the S. Maria Sopra Minevra it's breathtaking
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21 August 2013

Eggs Benedict - Foodie in Training

So, I sorta started a series on the blog where I was exploring the foodie-er side of life, learning and sharing the information and tips I came across to make life a life more interesting and eating your dinner a little more fun.

As with most things, it's an on-going haphazard adventure and I began to explore with posts like;
The next thing to clamour for attention on my random list has to be my beloved Eggs Benedict. Us Kiwis seem to adore them - walk into mostly any New Zealand café around 11am on a weekend and plates of these delicious babies will be flying out to the hung-over masses, and hungry families of Aoteoroa (along with a Flat White or two).

 The delicioso East End take of Ozone's Eggs Benedict with hash

Some proper history can be found here, and true to it's origins, in my book the blueprint of a well-ordered Eggs Benedict stack goes something like;

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)
Fair enough right? Well, I've found some mouthwatering varieties...

Surprisingly scrummy, though a little watery.

Eggs Blackstone substitutes streaky bacon for the ham and adds a tomato slice.
•Eggs Florentine substitutes spinach for the ham (and some older versions of eggs Florentine add spinach to poached or shirred eggs).
Eggs Mornay substitutes the Hollandaise with Mornay (cheese) sauce.
Eggs Atlantic or Eggs Hemingway (also known as Eggs Royale and Eggs Montreal in New Zealand) substitutes salmon (or smoked salmon) for the ham. This is a common variation found in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Huevos Benedictos substitutes either sliced avocado or Mexican chorizo for the ham, and is topped with both a salsa (such as salsa roja or salsa brava ) and hollandaise sauce.
Eggs Hussarde substitutes Holland rusks for the English muffin and adds Bordelaise sauce.
Eggs Sardou is a complex dish from Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans which originally replaced the English muffin and ham with artichoke bottoms topped with crossed anchovy fillets, and then, atop the egg and its hollandaise sauce was a dollop of chopped ham and a slice of truffle. A more widespread version of the dish starts with a base of creamed spinach, substitutes artichoke bottoms for the English muffin, and eliminates the ham.

Eggs Benedict with Yuzu (a small citrus-type berry) Hollandaise at the Modern Pantry

Americano Benedict replaces the English muffin with a pancake. Three strips of crispy bacon replaces the ham, the eggs are cooked to order, and the hollandaise sauce is omitted. Americano Benedict is served disassembled.
Artichoke Benedict replaces the English muffin with a hollowed artichoke.
•Country Benedict, sometimes known as Eggs Beauregard, replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with an American biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with eggs fried to choice.
Campfire Benedict replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with cornbread, bacon and barbecue baked beans. The poached eggs are replaced with eggs fried to choice.
Eggs Chaucer founded at Tiny Tim's Tearoom in Canterbury UK adds portobello mushrooms and replaces the Hollandaise sauce with a homemade rarebit.

Something masquerading on the Natural Kitchen menu as Eggs Benedict.

Irish Benedict replaces the ham with corned beef or Irish bacon.
•Portobello Benedict substitutes Portobello mushrooms for the ham, and is a popular alternative for Catholics observing the Friday Fast.
•Eggs John Scott replaces the Hollandaise sauce with HP Sauce.
•Oscar Benedict, also known as Eggs Oscar, replaces the ham with asparagus and lump crab meat.
•Eggs Provençal replaces the Hollandaise sauce with Béarnaise Sauce.
•Russian Easter Benedict replaces the Hollandaise sauce with a lemon juice and mustard flavored Béchamel Sauce, and is topped with black caviar.
•Eggs Chesapeake substitutes Crab cake for the ham.
•Eggs Leopold substitutes caramelized leeks, tarragon and smoked back bacon for the ham; a variant introduced in 2013 at Dreyfus, a cafe in Clapton, London.

Oh man oh man, I've got some trying to commence - except maybe the cheeky 'Eggs John Scott'!

Do any of these varieties tickle your fancy? Is it something that doesn't need tinkering with? Have you tried to make Hollandaise Sauce?

20 August 2013

Kane & Abel - Reading Review

A business and political intrigue following the lives of two men born on the same day, one in Poland to a poor farming family, the other to the head of an American bank. The compelling read by Jeffrey Archer is fascinating keeping the pages turning whilst the newest twist and turn is revealed.

Both of my parents are voracious readers, and sorry hubby, it's basically their fault for my addiction. Both parents are big fantasy readers which won't surprise anyone who reads these reviews, but from my Dad as a teenager I read many a political and mystery book too. From him, I have a deep appreciation for writers such as Bryce Courtney and Jeffry Archer. I guess I wasn't quite your average 15-year old girl!

This time I picked Kane and Abel up as part of reaching my goal of reading 60 of the BBC's 101 top books - just 11 to go!. Whilst thoroughly enjoyed it as a standalone book it kinda weirdly reminded me of echoes of balmy New Zealand evenings. (Why does a novel about business and revenge remind me of New Zealand? I'm not actually sure either).

Jeffrey Archer weaves a deft tale of business and revenge, creating two very interesting characters, both multi-faceted and intriguing. Spanning 60-years of childhood, marriage and eventually death it explores these highly powered, hard working men's lives and how they affect each other, directly and indirectly with a whopping twist at the end.

With the implied link to Cain and Abel in the Bible, there is a lovely depth to the story throughout, you never really feel like things happen just because the author felt like it, there is a reasoning behind all mentions in the book - characters, events and the compelling time period the characters live through.

I can't recommend it enough.

(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)

19 August 2013

A Loo fit for a Queen, Queen Victoria to be precise - the V&A

With approximately 4.5 million objects covering 5,000 years of art and design from four continents, the Victoria and Albert museum is one of a kind. It's absoloutely my favourite museum in London (so far - there is still room for more) and I could easily spend a whole day wandering through the corridors.

(The Ceramics Gallery on the 6th floor is a little known gem, check out great guest post here)

But, the museum corridors hold more than just exquisite artefacts, humourous installations and ancient statues.

When Queen Victoria visited the museum, she couldn't possibly spend a penny with the commoners, so a bathroom suite was decorated and allocated just for her use. Isn't the tiling gorgeous?

If you stop for a refueling tea and cake in the cafe, which I dorecommend (it's a little pricey as expected though), behind a modern timbered door to the right of the main cafe area, fartherest from the main entrance, is the prettiest bathroom I've seen in a long time.

A marble baby changing table fit for a Prince (George).

Open and free for use by the visiting public, it's well worth a wander in.

I do love the random amusements to be found in the strangest places.

16 August 2013

(Mostly) Wordless Friday

This weeks seems to be the treats edition of London; 
A cute restaurant/bar in Waterstones  fitted with books to read while you wait (though the rooftop view is a bit grim)...

... then down to the basement for the cutest Travel section foyer I've seen in a long time (possibly the only one)...

...some possible blackberries in my garden of all places...
...delicious cake treats beguiling the mischievous...

...sunshine for weary feet...

...a surprise New Zealand find...

and homesick dreams of these babies... #justsayin

It's a tough life!