31 December 2013

Good bye 2013, Hello 2014.

As you read this, New Zealand is already embracing the new year of 2014. Here in the UK we are planning how to welcome it in, getting into our glad rags (in after the last two we experienced - 2013 on the Southbank, and 2012 drinking celebratory Sake in Japan - I'll probably settle for fluffy PJs this year) and thoughts are beginning to turn to the new dawn.
 
London, New Years Day 2013 
 
Both personally and blog 'professionally', it's been a wonderful year.
 
Kyoto, New Year's Day 2012

The top 13 posts of 2013 (I did 12 last year... see where I'm going with this?) The first six are chosen by you, my lovely readers, and include a few great surprises...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
... the posts I enjoyed writing the most...
   
 
 
 
 
 
...and a little bonus of a post by my other half and partner in crime; The Anglo-Kiwi Experience - The other side of the Expat story. I've also had some wonderful guest posts and guest post-ers.
 
Thank you.
 
Blogging for me this year can be summed up in the word community. 2013 has been a year of afternoon teas, Tweetups, discovering there are more nooks and crannies of London than even I thought were possible, many many cups of tea, cooking, baking, brunching and some really wonderful new friends, blog and otherwise. So many more things never made it to being blogged, but that's life, hey?
 
 
 
Here's to 2014 - may it be wonderful for you! 

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30 December 2013

Monopoly Toilets - Marylebone Station

London is a little mad. London also seems to have a 'thing' about the loos. Not only was the flush toilet invented in the English capital, but London features The Attendant where you can buy your coffee in a former loo, the V&A Museum Loos built for Queen Victoria, and the Marble Urinals in the Weslyn Chapel, rumoured to be London's oldest Gent's loos. This doesn't even mention the Art Loo in St Mary's churchyard in Soho or the stunning toilet tiles in the Paddington Street Gardens, not far from Baker Street.

  
Let me assure you, no one I know frequents establishments for the quality of their loos (a notable exception might be the restaurant Sketch, they are so notoriously interesting) but it is fun when the owners use them as a unique opportunity to show a classic British sense of humour.
Enter stage left the recently refurbished Gents loos (EDIT: And now the Ladies, gender equality in action!) at Marylebone Station.



  
On a trip out of the capital (slaking a touch of Donkey on the Edge Syndrome) recently, the intrepid Mr Kiwi reported his find, and offered to share the awesome artwork that us ladies are unable to enjoy, while zooming through the station that acts as the London gateway to the Chiltern Hills.


At 30p a time, it's getting more and more expensive to spend a penny, but I wholeheartedly love these.

 
And at least it's not £200 and you don't have to pass go.

Did you know (according to Wikipedia);
In 1936, Parker Brothers began licensing the game for sale outside of the United States. In 1941, the British Secret Intelligence Service had John Waddington Ltd., the licensed manufacturer of the game in the United Kingdom, create a special edition for World War II prisoners of war held by the Nazis. Hidden inside these games were maps, compasses, real money, and other objects useful for escaping. They were distributed to prisoners by Secret Service-created fake charity groups



I think the traditional game is best played at home with great friends, and homemade Mojitos. Funnily enough, it's also a London pub crawl; one firmly on the 2014 to do list. We'll be genteel though, and spread it out over a full weekend at least.

So, at last we have recognition of Marylebone's prominence in the world's most famous board game. Still missing though is recognition of the station's place in Beatle history - with the Fab Four appearing here at the beginning of A Hard Day's Night... one day, one day.

Who'd have thought a train station could have such fascinating connections? (Apologies for the pun).
What's your favourite board game - or loo for that matter?!?

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28 December 2013

101 in 1001 Goals and resolution update.

This time of year is synonymous with goals and dare I say it, resolutions. I don't make them at New Years because I'm a rebel without a clue I know I probably have even less chance of keeping them if I make them at a predetermined time as I'll doubly misbehave in the meantime. 
 
 
As you may be aware, I set myself a 101 in 1001 goal list. As you may not be aware, I've just realised that I now only have 426 days before the time is up. Only 14 months to go *deep breaths, deep breaths*. 
 
 
 
I have been determinedly working away at these, and with some updating just now, and a little help from my awesome friends actually I haven't fared too badly. 46 completed and 11 in progress - a few of which are scheduled to be sorted out in January.  
 
 
I can't really believe that I'm still so enthused about completing these goals - but then again, they are causing me to have the greatest of fun!
 
 
Important question; Is it cheating if I revise a few of the goals that I don't really want to do anymore? Does that make the whole premise pointless?
 
Are you a New Years Resolution kind of person?

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27 December 2013

Christmas Afternoon Tea at the InterContinental London Westminster.

One last wisp of Christmas cheer. One last twinkle of tinsel. One last morsel of festive indulgence. And one more sip of champagne whilst sugar plum fairies dance overhead.  
Buckle in for a detailed rundown - you might want to have a cuppa to hand. 


 
We thought we would sneak in a trip to the InterContinental London Westminster just before Christmas - and before everyone panics about their Christmas weight in the New Year and becomes ridiculously heath conscious in the New Year. A state usually lasting until the 4th of January.
As a sidenote, we were sadly unable to secure a table at the Intercontinental Park Lane for their booked out 12 days of Christmas afternoon (but we did try their meltingly scrumptious Botanical afternoon tea - more to come in the New Year.)  
This is a hotel with a difference.
Parliament, as portrayed by Evil Robots
  
Many luxury hotels are very nice but lack certain something, call it a character or soul. Gleaming marble entrances, helpful doormen, lovely fittings and nice upholstery... blah blah etc. etc. Maybe that's what a lot of people want, but I like something with an x-factor (and not an ability to sing - though more on this later). The art in this hotel captivated me.
Situated a stone's throw from Parliament and the Houses of Westminster. It's so close that the Blue Boar next door is within hearing of Parliament’s famous eight-minute division bell. Basically, if something comes to a vote, a bell is rung in the nearby bars and pubs and MPs have 8-minutes to get back to Parliament to vote before the chamber doors are locked. More here, but stay with me (and did I mention the unlimited champagne with our afternoon tea? Oh, oops.)
The art on display throughout the hotel lobby has a decidedly political twist. A statue of a lifesize man by Tom Clark climbing up a ladder hauling a model of parliament, a bowler hat display and the above - Parliament as portrayed by Evil Robots. Just so fun in amongst the usual luxury (more art information here, I'm in a caring sharing kinda mood).
First, the sandwiches. My favourite course hands down. Beautifully explained by the fantastic staff, we thoroughly enjoyed every flavour, and couldn't pick a favourite. (And yes, I couldn't resist the stomach ache of gluten... you'll see why in a moment).
Roasted ham and mustard
Cream cheese and cucumber
Smoked salmon and creme fraiche
Slow roasted English beef with horseradish
The champagne was definitely free flowing and generous - I ended up saying no to the last offer of a top up as I'd had enough, and the tea menu extensive and delicious, supplied by Jing.
The teeny scones (plain and fruited in case you were wondering) were served in the sweetest napkin envelope, alongside Devonshire clotted cream, homemade strawberry jam and fresh lemon curd. They were only too happy to bring out more on request.
  
The best sweet item were hot eccles cakes each, and they were simply divine.
The rest of our cakes were of the most excitement (and the reason we picked this festive tea at the top of the budget) until we realised the kink in the tail of the beast. We were both offered Christmas cake slices and 'spice cookies' in festive shapes each, but the main, piece de resistance tier we had to share. We didn't mind, and are good enough friends to happily do so, but it seemed a little mean for the price tag. The snowman that we decapitated was so fun and delicious, the chocolate mousse I had was nice, and my blate said that her mince pie was good but the reindeer Macaron was a let down. The Mango thingee in the shot glass actually had no taste and to this day we don't really understand it's purpose.
Coconut teacake snowman
Mini mince pie with clotted cream
Christmas pudding macaron
Chestnut & milk chocolate present
Spiced sponge & candied mandarin mousse
Eccles cake
Fruit cake
Christmas spiced cookies
The service was brilliant though; friendly, well timed and unobtrusive. Our champagne glasses didn't run dry the whole time we were there (and due to a cabbie holding my blate hostage briefly, I was there for a wee while) and the feast tea plates removed in a timely manner.


 (Again, please excuse the terrible images, I desperately need a new camera, especially now it's Winter).

What made it really festively special was the gorgeously voiced Reverie who angelically sang carols for the duration of our tea, and the realisation that the Christmas decorations had a sugar plum fairy theme - complete with fake (I tested them) sugared plums, and ceramic fairies.
The most difficult aspect was the knowledge that a friend was staying in the hotel that night with her parents, and we discuused the odds of talking our way into her room to cuddle up for a much needed nap. What a Christmas surprise that would have been!



Overall? The InterContinental London Westminster hotel is fun (the bathrooms are utterly gorgeous), the carols were a stunning festive accompaniment and the service fantastic, but to make it utterly luxurious and worth the £45.00 + service, I would have lost the Christmas Cake slices, cookies, and mango thingee and let us have a snowman each. It is Christmas after all.
Is this the trouble with a themed afternoon tea? I think the Willy Wonka one at the Chesterfield and Chocolate Week at the Ampersand proved that you can balance fun and taste. I will however be back to the Park Lane afternoon tea which was divine. Watch this space.
What do you think about themed afternoon teas? Is it a step too far?

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26 December 2013

Boxing Day, Oh Boxing Day.

Tradition: The day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a "Christmas box", from their bosses or employers.
 
Modern Day:  Throwing out Recycling present boxes and wrapping paper, nursing hangovers and stomach aches with Turkey and/or Ham Sandwiches, playing games with family, watching the Football, Shopping (if you're crazy and want to queue for the Sales from 3.30am or face horrendous crowds or enjoy shopping in your PJs at home) and generally feeling sad that Christmas is done for the year. 
 
Favourite part of Christmas Day? Gathering for Roast Turkey & Beef, Christmas Pud, Pavlova & a lot of laughter.
 
 
Favourite memory of the Day? It's a tough split between Skyping with my Kiwi Family (Dad, Brother & Sister at various points), and toasting the Queen's Speech with my London Family.
 
(I'm going to be in SO much trouble for this... good thing I live 10,000+ miles away from my Dad and his camera shy Kiwi Bird.)
 
Favourite Photo of the day? It's the lead up. This counts, right?

 
Boxing Day leads to much reminiscing, and planning for the New Year.
Queen leaving hospital
Credit - Sky News
 
We have made so, so many wonderful memories, and started planning many exciting new things for next year. I can't wait to share them with you.

How was your Christmas? Full of everything you wished?
 

25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

This Kiwi is signing offline for the day, to spend it getting merry with friends and family I hope you are enjoying the day wherever you are, whatever you have planned.

 
 
My Christmas gift to you? A sleigh-full of Christmas Carol suggestions. Just remember, you won't get to play them for a whole 'nother year...
 
 
I've shortlisted a few below. I'll see you tomorrow!





Thinking of all our friends and family across the globe, especially in Japan.


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24 December 2013

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens and holiday cheer - Reading Review

It's raining, but I'm playing Christmas Carols, admiring our wonky Christmas Tree, and feeling very thankful for the wonderful people in my life. And gluten free Mince Pies.
It occurred to me, that despite watching the several incarnations of the film (the Muppets Christmas Carol is a special favourite) and calling myself a bookworm that adores Christmas, I've never actually picked up the classic heart warming tale, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Published originally as a novella in December 1843, everyone knows the basic story, right? Bitter old miser Scrooge is visited by his passed away business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of 'Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come', who scare him into being a nice person.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”  
It's a tale warning all and sundry to enjoy the seasonal spirit (regardless of your religious beliefs - oh wait, no that's my spin), spending time with your friends and family, of being generous to people who have less than you and above all understanding and treasuring the gifts that you have, that is the people who surround you and love you.
I'm going to tie this book 'review' (I highly recommend it by the way - A Christmas Carol is so amazing, it's never been out of print) into a linkup with the lovely Lou's Lakes Views.
Ojos WorldWhat are my reasons to be cheerful?
  • Wonderful friends and family
  • Fairylights
  • Fantastic opportunities that blogging has presented
  • Small things that make me smile
  • A purring cat
  • The ability to pass joy on to all and sundry
  • A public holiday that everyone in Britain/America/mostly everywhere can take advantage of inspite of their religion
  • Warmth
  • Having two homes in my heart
  • Being able to be cheesy
  • Knowing that the festive season is so much more than material possessions
  • You!
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I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day tomorrow - hopefully full of whatever brings you the most pleasure.


(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)

23 December 2013

Year of the Beef Wellington / Food & Wine Matching

Every year we like to try new festive traditions. Anything from hand making éclairs, testing eggnog recipes or duck fat potatoes, to our annual addition of a meaningful ornament to the Christmas Tree.  
This in mind, and as neither of us (controversially, I know) adore turkey, we decided to kick the festive celebrations off a little early and complete another 101 in 1001 goal. #72. 'Cook a Beef Wellington'. Thanks to the lovely people at Waitrose, we were also able to indulge in a delicious wine matching the luxurious main, and a stunning port to finish dinner in style with a few cheese delights as dessert. 
Disclaimer: We received ingredients for participating, but no positive reviews were requested in exchange. My (many) opinions are only ever my own.
Armed with my extensive shopping list, I turned to the 'Food and Wine Matching Guide' Waitrose kindly sent to me (see at the end of this post) and their wine website. I decided to match the cheeses with a lovely tawny port, and the Beef Wellington with a Craggy Range Merlot (from New Zealand of course). [As a side note, did you know you can search their wine list by typing the main ingredient into the Search field?]
  
It was surprisingly straight forward once you separate the steps. I researched a few different recipes, and stitched the recipe together from several I found on the internet. It. Was. Delicious. We used ingredients that were ready and raring already in my cupboard (thank you to my Foodie Penpal Fikir), a selection excellent fresh ingredients (mushroom pate and pastry) and the most insanely melt in your mouth beef fillet, as recommended by the Waitrose butcher.
Ingredients (bar the pate) assembled & cooling. 
I decided to not use the usual pancakes as they seemed to be too much of a carby intermediary layer, but instead used blanched savoy cabbage leaves to seal in the beef juices (cheers baking brothers for the heads up). No soggy bottoms around here.
Ingredients in hand, I invited my in-laws over for dinner (as I seemed to have decided that there wasn't enough pressure on) and began preparations. It is a good dish to prepare with company as you can complete steps 1 to 6 beforehand, and the rest with stops for wine and chatter in between.
It not only got Mr Kiwi's eye's-shut-seal-of-approval but mine and my surprised in-laws.
Beef Wellington
 
Ingredients
  • 20g dried mushrooms
  • 800g good-quality beef fillet
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • A knob or two of butter
  • 1 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Flour for dusting (around 1/4 of a cup)
  • 1 red onion finely chopped
  • 250g fresh mushrooms (chestnut, oyster, shitake, flat black) roughly chopped
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 150ml white wine
  • 6 Savoy cabbage leaves
  • 500g block of all-butter puff pastry
  • 1 pat of pate, flavour of your choice
  • 1 egg, to glaze  
Method
  1. Rehydrate your dried Mushrooms by pouring boiling water on them, and leave to soak for a moment.
  2. Heat your oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.
  3. Season the fillet liberally and dust with flour. Heat a large pan, add the butter and garlic, and brown the beef on all sides. This is not to cook it but to just get as much colour on the meat as possible – about 2 minutes on each side. Then pop in the oven for 20 minutes for rare, 30 minutes for Medium.
  4. Remove from the oven and place on a plate to chill and rest.
  5. Melt the second lot of butter in the same pan (to deglaze) then add the garlic and strip in the thyme. Drain the rehydrated mushrooms. Add the red onion, rehydrated and fresh mushrooms, frying until they have colour. When the mushrooms are golden and most of the moisture has gone, season to taste, take off the heat. Set aside to chill.
  6. Separate the cabbage leaves and using a knife cut out the middle of the stem from the thick end. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and blanch the cabbage leaves for 2 minutes, then remove and plunge straight into cold water. This is just to cook the leaves through and chilling them quickly helps to keep the vibrant green colour. When cool, drain and squeeze out any excess moisture.
  7. Roll the pastry into a thin rectangle and cut it into one large piece and one smaller piece – two thirds and one third. The smaller piece is what the beef will sit on and the larger piece is the piece that will go on top and cover everything.
  8. Lay the cabbage out overlapping each leaf in a shape big enough to wrap the whole fillet in. Lay the pate pat in the middle of the leaves, then thinly spread half the mushrooms over the middle part of the cabbage. Place the fillet on the cabbage and top with the remaining mushrooms.
  9. Wrap the cabbage leaves over the whole parcel making sure there are no gaps. This helps to keep the juices away from the pastry. Brush the edges of the pasty with egg, then turning it as you move to keep the mushrooms are on top, cover it all with the larger piece of pastry. Using a rolling pin, push the pastry at the bottom of the beef to seal it in and then using a fork, crimp the edges. Put 3 slashes into the top of the pastry and brush with egg wash.
  10. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes so the pastry can firm-up. Otherwise when you bake it, the pastry may shrink. I then reglazed with egg wash to get it really golden.
  11. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6 with a baking sheet in the oven already, until it's hot.
  12. Place the Wellington directly onto the hot baking sheet. This stops it getting a soggy butt. Bake the Wellington for 20 minutes then turn down the heat to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4 and bake until the party is golden - I found it was another 30 minutes in total.
  13. Remove and rest for 5 minutes somewhere warm. Slice and serve.

Step 1: Rehydrate the mushrooms. Mr Spock accent optional.

 Step 8: Layer cabbage leaves, pate, 1/2 the mushrooms, beef fillet. Add more mushrooms then more cabbage leaves to cover the entire parcel.
 Step 9: Cover with the rest of the pastry and glaze with egg. You should trim it around the edges for better presentation. I didn't. Blame the wine I was testing...
 Step 10: Rest the cooked wellington for as long as you can resist eating it, then enjoy with gusto and a beautiful red wine.
  
I cooked en croute (in pastry for us English plebs), rehydrated, blanched, deglazed, made a duxelles (mushroom reduction/paste) and wowed my In-Laws. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon of chatting and dirtying a few dishes. I highly recommend this recipe, it's more straight forward than you think it will be.
Cheers Waitrose team!  

21 December 2013

SantaCon (Guest post: Alana)

Does hanging out with thousands of Santas spreading good cheer around central London, sound like your cup of tea? It sound's amazing to me - right up there with the Christmas Pudding Race, the Hot Cross Bun ceremony and International Pillow Fight Day.

Sadly, I couldn't go, but luckily we have the lovely Alana, brunch buddy, Tweep corraller and in this instance intrepid Kiwi reporter presenting from the frontline for us!
 

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 SantaCon


  
When you're a kiwi expat Christmas takes on a different meaning. It's not about family, BBQs and summer anymore because you create new traditions with the help of your 'family' of friends and fellow expats. Three years ago I turned up in a £5 paper thin santa costume to what I thought was a themed pub crawl and discovered a whole new Christmas tradition.



Welcome to SantaCon. The primary rule of SantaCon is you must be in a santa costume. It doesn't matter if you wear a cheap suit off the internet or a fully themed getup. You can even be a bit alternative and dress as an elf or a reindeer if you want.



SantaCon is non religious, non political and there is minimal organisation. If there is a purpose of the day it's to join your fellow santas walking around London spreading christmas cheer, confusing tourists, posing for photos, visiting famous landmarks and handing out candy to children.



O Come All Ye Santas

O come, all ye Santas,
Joyful and a bit drunk,
O come ye, O come ye to Selfridges;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of Christmas;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Sa – anta Claus.

Sing, choirs of Santas,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Sa – antacon;
Glory to Santa
In the highest;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Sa – anta Claus




Santa herders help move people along to predetermined (but unannounced) locations throughout the day, gradually meeting up with Santas from other starting points round London until there are hundreds of us.



It's glorious. It's chaotic. Everyone is your friend because everyone is called Santa. If you get lost you can share a beverage with a new santa crew until your original friends find you again (which can take a while as everyone is wearing red and white too!). As far as traditions go this is a good one – in fact I'm already counting down the days until I can dress up in my next santa costume and do it all over again.

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This is why I love our crazy city, and it's crazy inhabitants. Thank you Alana, you are a legend.

Ps. If you're keen to dust off your red suit next year, read the Santacon website - whilst there I highly recommend you check out the Santacon What to wear section.

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