Sunday, 29 April 2012

South American Banquet (*no llamas were hurt in the making of)

Yesterday a few of my friends were wandering about London, going to amazing exhibitions and hanging out.  I couldn't make it because I was hosting a banquet. ("Best excuse I've ever heard for not coming!") Every year, we hold a four course banquet as a fundraiser. This year the theme was South American, and I enlisted Middle B and Miss H as my sous chef and serving wench respectively.  We were also helped out by a friend of Miss H who was the most extraordinary dish washer I've ever seen (and went on to thoroughly clean the hob as well - it's like a work of art now, none of us want to cook in case we get it dirty again.)  So between the four of us, we served up four courses of deliciousness.

As the chef, I get to draft the menu.  This is one of my favourite parts of the whole thing: what will I serve people? what will people like? how is the balance of the flavours working out? what can I actually cook?! I accidentally made most of the dishes vegan and gluten free.  I'm not exactly sure how this happened but it meant I hardly had to modify at all. I took most of the recipes from World Food Cafe cookbook.  It's one of my favourite cookbooks in the whole world: it's vegetarian (so I don't need to modify anything too much), it's varied and it has travel tales and photography in it too.  What more could I want!  When I discovered that there is an actual real life World Food Cafe I was so excited. Carolyn Caldicott was working behind the counter and I told her that I use her recipes for our banquets and she was chuffed.  

We usually have a fair few people, but this year it was pretty small, with only 10 bookings.  On the day, a couple of people cancelled so we had even less.  It still worked out ok, I'm told that all the guests had a lovely time.  And I know that the kitchen hands had a good time - a little bit of music and a lot of laughter, and surprisingly some nice pauses where we got to sit down as a group and eat our food together too.

The food, the food, of course, the food. For the first course we had Potato Cakes with Cucumber Relish. (I used soy milk and soy spread instead of diary and they worked just fine). These were sticky and gooey and a bit of a pfaff to make but they taste lovely...  one of the guests said that as they came out they thought it was just potato with some relish, and then they bit into it and found the filling inside and it was like magic!  It did taste really good, but I think I'll leave this course for special occasions.  The relish was pretty spicy, so it cut through the stodginess of the potato wonderfully. 

For the second course I served up a Crunchy Salad from Costa Rica.  This has a bit of everything in it: crunchy cabbage, bitter watercress, creamy avocado and sour sweet mango, amongst other things.  The lime juice in the dressing gives it a nice little kick.  It's easy to make, and a delight to eat.  If you have any bring and shares/ pot lucks coming up this is a nice one to do because it's light and yet so satisfying on so many levels, and all you need to do is chop things up and throw them together.

The main course was a Black Bean Stew with Mango Salsa and rice.  This is a tried and tested recipe I've made time and time again and never once had a bad word said about it.  The fresh, crunchy salsa cuts through the heaviness of the stew.  Sweet potatoes are one of my favourite things anyway, combined with black beans makes a really heart warming dish.

Last but not least the desserts.  We had a choice of three desserts: there is always a chocolatey one, a vegan option, and a themed one.  So: we had individual portions of Chocolate Mousse Cake which I sprinkled with red and purple edible glitter and raspberries.  We had a fruit salad for the vegans: pineapple, papaya, asian pear, kiwi, persimmon and raspberry, which I garnished with cinnamon and gold glitter.  And the themed dessert was home made Alfajores.  When I spent time in Chile, I ate quite a few of these and I've long wished that I could get hold of them here.  These sweet, slightly crumbly, confections are a cross between a cake and a biscuit and they are usually filled with chocolate, fruit sauce or dulce de leche.  It never occurred to me that I could make my own until I sat next to a lovely girl on a plane once who said that she would email me a recipe.  She never did, but when I was planning the banquet I remembered that conversation and looked up a few recipes online to see if they were crazy difficult.  They're not! Hooray! Luckily for me, Middle B did a lot of the actual sticking them together and rolling them in coconut, so they were mostly intact by the time we had to serve them. All I had to do was sprinkle them with icing sugar and blue glitter and they were ready to go out. They tasted really good! One bit of advice though: make sure the dough is cold from the fridge when you roll it out, it makes everything a lot easier.  Yum.

In conclusion: I love cooking dinner for people, the more the merrier.  I will say though, that I couldn't have done it without help, the kitchen hands were superstars.  If you have any suggestions for future themes or recipes to pass on feel free.

Monday, 23 April 2012

In which Old Friends are Encountered and everyone Rejoices

Recently I've been running into and reconnecting with various people from my past.  (Not literally, though I am quite clumsy so it's bound to happen one day.)  I bumped into an old friend in a coffee shop the other day and had a good natter.  A couple of separate people contacted me on facebook who I haven't heard from in ages. And also, some good friends of mine got in touch and said they were coming by this weekend.

I met Bendy in my first year of Uni when we both worked for a secret organisation. (If I told you, I'd have to kill you. Joking.  Honestly.)  The first time I met him he had a rubber chicken and didn't say very much. Which should have had some mysterious allure or something, but we were at the bar, and I don't remember very much, so my main impressions were a bit hazy.  But suffice to say we got to know each other and eventually lived in a shared house together in my fourth year.  We had many fun times watching Spaced and having competitions about who could fit in the kitchen sink and seeing how many things we could balance on Bendy's head and dancing around with the Bear in the Big Blue House and all sitting round the kitchen table reading the paper together.

I was a bit nervous when I first met Jamface because Bendy is amazing and I really wanted him to get together with someone who didn't squish his quirky goodness into some sort of bland normality.  Instead, he got together with someone who is just as amazing as he is.  When they told me they were getting married, I was so ridiculously happy!  Both of them are librarians, so the wedding was held in the Town Hall and the reception was, naturally, in the Old Library downstairs. Jamface is very crafty and hand made all the wedding invites, designed her own Victorian themed dress and made the bridesmaids Regency style dresses as well.  She sews and knits and paints and now she has an allotment as well.  ("I call it Lottie. I tell Bendy I'm just going down to see Lottie") Soon, she'll be making jam, not just eating it. She is nothing short of a crafty marvel.

The wedding was fairly much the last time I saw them, which was quite a while ago now, so I was really excited when they said they were visiting, and desperately hoped that it wouldn't rain all the time at least. They came on down this weekend, and I got to have lunch with them on Sunday (We had soup and the cheeseboard.  Quell surprise!) and a stroll about town, past the crazy antiques shop that is only open for a few hours once every three Saturdays and the big leaning house (It's mentioned in Dickens, don't you know) and generally had a catch up.  Jamface notices fabric and wallpaper and clothing more than I do so it was lovely to to chat to people who know what I mean when I go on about this print or that mix of colours.  They both recommended me blogs and books.  We discussed which Doctor was the best.  We decided that we should clearly meet up in London and go to Liberty.  (And then go and actually buy fabric in Goldhawk Rd which is much more affordable but equally as lovely). And we should also go to the V&A.  And we should also knit in many exciting places. And go and see the Harry Potter studio.  And a few other things.

The next day, we met for breakfast.  Let me say now that I adore going out for breakfast. I might have lunch with anybody and dinner with anybody, but I never meet anyone for breakfast unless I really like them. We met at 10am this morning and had a long leisurely breakfast, with two rounds of tea, and mostly discussed old friends and new music, and whether they were going to make me a mix tape or a mix cd ("Yeah tapes are great, but when I put on some 10 minute avant garde track on there, at least on a cd, she can just skip it."). Then we went for an explore round some charity shops and into the sewing shop, where Jamface got herself some lovely fat quarters to make exciting things from. It was really inspiring talking about all our arts and crafts, it got me thinking about loads of projects that I could start.  (Once I've finished the Periodic Blanket of Elements of course.) Then as the day was getting on a bit, I just had time to point out a couple of beautiful views, and then it was time for the lovely couple to get themselves to the station.  With a heavy heart, I waved at them as the train pulled away from the station.  Still, there are plenty more charity shops to explore and views to see, so hopefully they'll be back. I hope we don't leave it too long this time.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

I'm sooooo excited because I finally went to Waterstones and pre-ordered my copy of Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess. It's already out in the States, but it comes out here on May 10th.  This is entirely amazing because a) this is the best title for a book ever and b) I completely love reading her blog, it's so ridiculously funny and brutally honest and it makes me feel like the quirky weirdness in me is really not that rare.  Especially if you read the comments page, which is full of just as much hilarity as her blog posts.  I think you should all go out and buy it.  As soon as possible. Really.  And if you can't afford it, read her blog.  And if you can afford it, buy the book and read her blog. Yes. In fact, I had this conversation with the shop assistant at Waterstones where I tried to convince him to read this too.  Somehow this ended up in us talking about hats (his head is really quite big, apparently) and the amount of imagination in girls names vs boys names (nearly every man I know is called Dave or John). Then he decided to enter in a different name for me in the notes on the screen so that when they ring me to pick up the book they'll use a different name, and hopefully I'll have forgotten about it, and then I'll be really confused.  As if I'm not confused most of the time anyway.  And then we had to stop talking because his manager kept looking over at us and I didn't want him to be fired.  I'm not entirely sure how I get myself into these situations.

Apart from that, what I really wanted to post was the most delightful text conversation I've had for a while, but then I started to type this post and it felt a little personal, you know? But I had to mention it anyway, so I will tell you that it started with a text that said: 
'How's it going? The ducks are dancing.'
Feel free to imagine ridiculously fabulous conversation that follows from that.  Really, this is the type of text that makes me fall in love with someone.

Friday, 13 April 2012


Today, one of our long standing residents, who is also on the management team of the Centre, moved out to go up to Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre for a special teacher training course for six months.  After that hopefully he'll be qualified to run his own centre somewhere. It's the end of an era for him, but also for the Centre.  I'll be taking over his duties, and I found another lady to take over the legal and financial stuff hooray! I wish him all the best!

To say that I'm not very good with change is not entirely accurate.  I'm alright at dealing with it, all the more so if I've instigated it, but unexpected changes are....well, unexpected.  We've had so many changes in the house recently, (two long standing residents have moved out, the management team is changing) and we're bound to have some more soon (a new resident is coming in - and he's male, woo), and it just takes me a bit of time to adjust to everything that is happening - not just circumstances, but the shifting tides inside of me as well.

So I'm sorry if my posts seem at all dishevelled over the next few weeks, it's just that sometimes everything needs to break apart for something new to flourish.  And I'm a little bit terrified of the unknown - dealing with something current is definately easier for me than trying not to worry about the future. I know it's just a little bit of fear in the end, and the dust will settle eventually.  Until then, I'm trying to imagine what beautiful possibilities will become real for all of us through all of this.  

In the meantime, we had a lovely going away party for him on Tuesday, many many people came and celebrated with us.  I had no idea you could get that many people in our kitchen! If you were there, thank you very much.  If you weren't, come on over, there's still lots of cake left in the fridge.

Well, who wouldn't want sparkly, glittery cake?!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Animals Inside Out *Updated*

I've been a bit up and down and all over the place recently, it hasn't been much fun, but luckily for me I have some great, great people in my life.  Hence, I was very tired this morning from a marathon three hour call last night with Mrs J. - thank goodness for skype!  We hadn't talked for a long time and it was long overdue and both of us have been feeling rubbish and hiding out inside our heads rather than talking to each other about it which is clearly what we should have done to start with, but hey, who said stress was rational?!

So, yesterday, I headed into London to see Mr. & Mrs.-is-Thinking with their friend JonBorg.  Mr. and Mrs. are pretty funny in themselves, but teamed up with Jon Borg they all had me in giggling in no time.  (It must be said that JonBorg uses words like cracking and spiffing and I don't think it's ironic.  I did ask him if he read lots of Enid Blyton.... he said something suitably scathing.)  We had tea in a little cafe near St. Pauls, called Tea, and sat outside cheekily ate lots of picnic type things that Mrs. Im had packed for us, like houmous and chilli sandwiches, much to the interest of all the passing tourists.

the view from the cafe, sans tourists

Then we headed off to the Natural History Museum to go and see the Animal Inside Out exhibition. It was so exciting!  Basically, they preserved animal bodies by embalming them and then taking out all the liquid and replacing it with a type of plastic, so all these animals are effectively laminated I suppose. ( Can I stress at that the museum have a really strong adherence to ethical standards and the animals in question were not under any stress or duress.)  So, effectively the exhibit was various animals with muscles and organs exposed so you could see relative sizes of various body parts and even things like blood vessels and capillaries and nervous systems. It was really extraordinary, I can't imagine how carefully work like that would have to be done, and it was genuinely fascinating.  I had no idea cat brains were so small or that gorillas had such a big intestine. Or that, in terms of their innards, sheep and goats are fairly much the same, only the size of their tail is different. Or that some chickens' bones are hollow.  They had a really wide variety of creatures: octopus and a bull, reindeer, sheep and goats, chicks, fish, cats, squid, horses and all sorts of others. We couldn't take photos in the exhibit, but there was a camel hanging out at the front, (near the big diplodocus skeleton):

It was the first day of the exhibit and also the Easter bank holiday, so naturally there were a lot of children. Many, many people, it was quite stifling.  We did manage to go into the shop though, which is usually one of my favourite bits of any museum visit, but we weren't in there for too long because the place was heaving with people.  This is the front cover of the book sold in the shop... That ostrich was massive! (Never mind the elephant and the giraffes...)

We headed out and sat on the benches and finished off our picnic lunch.  Mrs. Im had made some spicy rice that we shared around, and we had pringles and JonBorg shared round his fruit sticks while Im tucked into another couple of plums.  A plan was formulated to genetically engineer pigeons so they can eat plastic. Somehow, JonBorg ended up dubbing Im 'the plum eating monster' and a while was spent trying to find an appropriately monsterly noise for her, I mean what's a monster without a proper growl? I think it was a growl crossed with that 'myam' sound you make when you're slurping juicy plums.  Which, unsurprisingly, was what Im was doing at the time.  Anyway, the slurpy plum theme remained for the rest of the day fairly much. Then we strolled for a bit and looked at the outdoor photos that are up in the grounds of the museum.

This is a Katydid insect.  I love the fact this even exists.
JonBorg: 'If the Phantom of the Opera was
a bird, this would be him'.
As we were heading into the tube, there was a busker playing some swinging jazz, so Im and I and a few other passers-by had a little dance around while we were going down the tunnel, while the boys looked at us as though we were insane.  Then we jumped on the tube and headed to Studio 6, a little restaurant near Embankment, which is a traditional haunt of ours on jaunts to London.  Mrs. Im pulled out the paper and pencils and we had a good doodle, which is also a traditional activity for us in London.  This time we were collaborating for an art project in honour of the vicitms of the natural disaster in Fukushima, Japan so Im and I set about creating a collage, while the boys messed about with a more technological form of art involving grids and squares... but hey, if it got the boys involved in art it was good enough for us.

Caution! Art in Progress!
Stand back, the boys are Doing Art
The boys did hand over their work so that we could finish colouring in, partly because we like colouring things in, but mainly because it gave the boys a chance to make filthy innuendos involving us handling their pencils and using some short quick strokes to get the job done quicker, etc etc... the porn alarm was a-ringing, oh yes.  Actually, at one point, Im laughed so hard she cried and I did wonder if we'd broken her....  I'm sure you'll hear more about the art work we created in a post soon.

So all that was left of the day was for Im to stop Mr.-is-Thinking from going into Nando's on the way home.  He tried, he really did. In the end, we settled for going into Starbucks at the station before we all parted ways and I headed home.

Happy, happy days.  There are so many exhibitions on at the moment, I'm sure we'll be back in London doodling again soon.

*Update* I promised you a pic of the square we made, so here you go. The end result:

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Grass glistens in the sunlight

Today has been a beautiful day.  I started off the day with peanut butter and beetroot on toast, a combination given to me by the lovely M, which has become one of my favourite things to eat for breakfast.  Especially with crunchy peanut butter.  He uses pickled beetroot, which I've yet to test out, I use boiled beetroot which is a little sweeter. Yum.

Then I had quite a good driving lesson, and paid a visit to my little car.  My driving instructor suggested that it's a housewifey sort of a car and that I should call her Marge or Madge, which I think is great - I will get her a tartan picnic blanket for the back seat and some fluffy dice and one of those pine fresh air-fresheners. You know, in an ironic kind of way.  Actually, more because I like blankets and fluffy things and nice smelling cars. 

Then the afternoon I went into town to meet M and we had a coffee, well I had a coffee and he waited for me to finish because I take about an aeon to drink anything.  Then I steered M round the corner and we popped into the bookshop to pick up a copy of the Moomins cook book which the lovely lady, Claire, who works there ordered in for me.  We had a chat about it when I was ordering the Roald Dahl Revolting Recipes cookbook and when I came back she recognised me and asked if I was going to order the Moomins cookbook and so I did and then we chatted about many, many books and I came away with a whole list of reading recommendations, and the idea that I should maybe form a book club because it would be really fun.  So today when I came in I was supposed to pick up the book from downstairs but she went and got it for me because I'm special.  (In so many ways....) 

We picked up the book, and then we strolled past the Dane John and on through Wincheap and up round towards the boys school.  We stopped and looked out over the railway bridge, while M told me stories of his misspent youth.  We walked down little lanes and pathways and had a stop to look out over the fields and the orchards - the sun was shining quite particularly, every blade of grass was slightly illuminated, it looked like there were fireflies buzzing about slightly as the grass rippled in the wind. We went past a field of bulls, munching grass quite stoically, and M said that those massive bulls give him the urge to give them a good old slap on the rump. I could see what he meant, those bulls had pretty big behinds. We reached the boys school and M had a total trip down memory lane and told me lots of stories from when he was a school, and pointed out places that he used to go, and bits they had added on. I got a bit cold and M gallantly gave me his warm, snuggly jumper to put on.  (Admittedly both of us are still a bit germy from colds and have both been coughing and sniffling all day, but we've already smooshed our germs together by hanging out and sharing water bottles, so neither of us were too concerned about me contaminating his jumper further). Then we wound our way back through all the little streets, with the beautiful Victorian houses, and loads of blossoms falling from the trees.  We overheard someone practising their violin and M said hello to quite a few cats.  He is the cat whisperer! Really!  All the shy cats talk to him, whereas dogs are usually more interested in me.  We met this beautiful tabby who was very affectionate with both of us, and let me scratch her ears and give her a good old cuddle.  Funnily enough, she looked a lot like my old cat, and also like M's cat.  We carried on strolling down past all the magnolia in bloom and a big Monkey Puzzle tree down to the railway lines and suddenly we were in town again rather than feeling out in the secluded countryside.  By the time we got back to town the heaving mass of tourists had disappeared, we must have been strolling for at least three hours, I reckon, which is a pretty long stroll even for us.

I exchanged a complimentary goodbye to Mr. M, and then walked home to have some dinner.  It was a about 8.30 by the time I got home and I had a very inspired dinner of a bowl of muesli, courtesy of the communal cupboard. We have a cupboard in the house where all of us put random stuff we're not going to get through or communal stuff like salt and oil.  It is a cupboard of wonder! I suspect this muesli was once Miss H's as she does have muesli type tendencies.  Then I rang my friend Miss M, who was driving on the way down to visit her folks for a few days.  I was her companion on this drive, literally, since we were on the phone for over an hour!  It was well worth it though, she is an absolute gem and we don't talk enough really.  She is also studying to be a naturopath, and is therefore one of the only people I know who is interested in what exactly is happening to my body and in what way this links to my emotions (I'm talking to you, hormones).  She has given me advice several times that has genuinely saved my life.  And also, once, when we used to live together, she put out a fire that I accidentally started on the hob, so she has actually saved my life too.  (For the record, the day before I rescued her after she poured boiling water all over herself, so I think you could say we've got each others backs).  Anyway, it was a lovely phone call and a delightful way to end the day.

Sweet dreams, all of you x