Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Oh, Play That Old Thing

A few days ago they were doing engineering works through Waterloo so I hightailed it up to St. Pancras to catch the train home.  I was a bit disgruntled at having to travel across London and then wait half an hour for a train, and I tried to get a coffee but places were just closing up, so I decided to just walk about.  As I was strolling I was delighted to spot someone sitting and playing this piano.  I noticed a few other people strolling past and glancing at it.  After a while, people came back to have a tinkle when they thought no-one was looking. And then that inspired more people to stop and play. As I stood and listened, I got some jazz, some Beethoven, a bit of rock and roll and a tune that reminded me of the theme from The Snowman.  It reminded me that sometimes those detours are worth it.

And I even found a sister piano at the other end of the concourse:

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Halloween Happenings

This weekend I went off the visit the lovely Mr and Mrs-is-Thinking. All sorts of exciting things happened:
I got to see Mandarin Ducks in the lake, I'm told that they are quite common in Britain but I've never seen them before:

Mandarin ducks

I got to do a ridiculous amount of shopping in the Korean food shop and in Lush:

I got to eat vast quantities of cheese that they brought back from recent travels to France:

Mr.-is got a blazing fire going for us (with a blow torch...):

And most excitingly I carved my first ever halloween pumpkin!
The first thing to do was to carve off the top, and keep it so that it makes a lid.

Then, we emptied the gunk from inside with a spoon (I had the aid of a melon baller, which was quite handy) and made air holes in the lid with an apple corer:

Then we started carving.  Mine was pretty traditional, being my first one, but the others were a bit more original:

Mrs. Im made a puffer fish:

Behold, the pumpkin puffer fish

While Mr.-is got a bit of text speak in there:

Here are the three of them playing happily:

And more happily as the night wears on:

Drunky pumpkin always has a good time

It was so much fun! I'm looking fwd to next halloween already!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Curiosities of the Day

Today various things made me happy:

 * a gentleman in one of my lectures was wearing a hoodie and also a bowtie.  I was charmed. I have no idea what your name is, but Mister I salute you!

* I was getting coffee at lunchtime and I looked over at one of the staff behind the counter and she was having herself a little sing-song.... at the same time as me! We both spotted each other and giggled.

* I was walking down to meet Middle B for dinner and my shadow cast in front of me looked just like Mary Poppins - especially with my umbrella up.

That is all.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Adventures in Seaweed

There is so much change going on right now, quite fitting for autumn, no? Various people coming in and out of my life and things are in flux, it feels like I'm on shifting sands.  Hopefully, things will start to take a coherent shape soon.

In the meantime, I've been having more adventures in cooking.  Today I got together with the girls and we hung out and made nori rolls.  It was so much fun! 

We rinsed the sushi rice, brought it to the boil and then simmered it for 25 mins. Then we laid it out in a big dish and Julie stirred in 3 tbsp mirin (rice wine vinegar), 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp salt. While she was doing that, we fanned the rice as much as possible so that it would cool down super quick. I think we did a pretty good job, but it was kind of a weird process!

the sushi rice having been fanned and ready to go
Then we made fillings for our rolls: we chopped up strips of cucumbercarrot and avocado, we also had cream cheesesmoked salmonfish sticks (specially for Mini Julie) and a teriaki tuna concoction which involved frying up some onions and tuna in a pan with mayonnaise and soy sauce, and we made thin omlettes with soy sauce that we cut into strips.

starting to get our fillings together
Then came the messy part: we put our sheets of nori (seaweed) shiny side down, smoothed some rice at one end of the square loaded up some selected fillings and then rolled them up and sliced them into rolls.  We ended up with three piles of rolls: the vegetarian ones, the ones with avocado in them (Mr. Julie doesn't like avocado) and then the rest.
a hive of sushi based activity

Then we cleaned up our mess, poured out some bowls of soy sauce for dipping in, and got Harry Potter Cluedo set up and got stuck in (I was Luna Lovegood).  What a lovely afternoon!

messy food and board games, could I be happier?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Watch Out for Those Pistachios

It was M's birthday the other day, and it's traditional that I bake him a cake every year. When I asked, he said he wanted something with chillies and pistachios in it. Funnily enough, I got this recipe from him a long time ago and then tweaked it a bit - it was yummy then, and I'm happy to say it's still yummy now.

I went out shopping for this and I remember bringing the ingredients home, but when I came to making the cake I could not for the life of me remember where I put the pistachios.  I looked in my food cupboard, in the communal cupboard, in my room, in my handbag, everywhere. I asked all my flatmates if they had seen a stray bag of pistachios hanging about the place and they all agreed they hadn't. I think we concluded that my bag of pistachios has clearly gone to another universe together with several door keys, some odd earrings, and a few of Miss H's socks.  Since they were integral to the whole situation, I went and bought some more, but if you see a bag of pistachios looking forlorn and lost, please let me know.  I mean, how would you like it if you were a pistachio who never got eaten?!

Chilli and White Chocolate Cake

200g butter 
300g white chocolate
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
250g caster sugar
200g plain flour
150 ml water
2 large chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

- Set the oven at 180 C
- Melt the chocolate in a bain marie, or in a bowl that is balanced over a saucepan of boiling water. When it is melted then take it off the hob and leave to cool.
- In the meantime, put the chillies, the water and 100g of the sugar in a saucepan.  Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes til the mixture becomes more syrupy.
- Cream the remaining 150g of sugar and the butter together til they are fluffy and completely mixed. Then add the vanilla, eggs and sugar.
- When white chocolate is completely cool, mix it in.  After that add the chilli mixture, and any optional extras.
- Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, til a fork comes out clean.  If it starts looking a bit brown on top way before the rest is done, then cover it with tin foil and carry on cooking.

In this case I added pistachios to the mix, but I have done this with sour cherries as well which was yummy (though if you want to do that I would recommend chopping them up or they sink to the bottom while the cake is cooking.) This cake is pretty dense and heavy so I went for icing made from golden icing sugar which is a bit more fudgy than white icing sugar.  On the whole I would say it doesn't really need a topping, but I really wanted to sprinkle it with glitter and it doesn't work as well on a plain cake.

We ended up going for tea and inappropriately eating cake.  A couple of the staff walked past but no-one commented on it... I'm supposing that it was because it was heart-shaped and glittery so it clearly looked like a birthday cake. And who's going to ruin your fun when you're eating glittery cake?! We went for a stroll afterwards and played on the swings and the see-saw til we were dizzy and then went for another cup of tea.  What a rock n' roll life we lead! M says his folks were impressed by the cake, which I'm really happy about because his mum is an amazing baker, so high praise indeed.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Stranger than Fiction

I was out for a walk in the graveyard the other day and I spotted this:

Is this a real creature?! 

I had no idea it was alive until it moved. I'm delighted that this creature exists in real life! I described this little chap to a wildlifey friend and she assures me that this is a Sycamore Caterpillar.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Leaves Turning

I love the smell of autumn, that slightly earthy, rainy smell that makes me want to wrap up warm and jump in piles of leaves... and sit inside by the fire with a book afterwards.  I loved having a warm summer this year, but I find it refreshing when the season changes.  And changing it is - the leaves are turning and falling off the trees gradually, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder.  It was crisp when I woke up this morning and I realised that I have a hankering for big, cosy knitwear rather than the t-shirts and cardies of a couple of weeks ago.  On Saturday, my hands got cold enough to notice for the first time this year and M had to lend me his (oversized) gloves to keep warm while going for a stroll.  But most of all I notice my body wanting soups and stews and roasted veg.  I popped into my greengrocers, the shop of wonder and delight, and they had loads of beautiful root vegetables which made my heart happy.  Amongst them I spotted these:

Orange beetroot! Yippee!

I had to go and ask the man behind to counter to check, but they are orange beetroot.  He seemed to think that they don't taste much different from normal beetroot, but I'm sure I'll investigate at some point soon, probably by roasting them. Now all I have to do is find my gloves.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The End of Rising is Falling, the End of Meeting is Parting

After a few deliberations back and forth about the fate of this little lady, last week we were told that the kitty would not be staying after all.  A few days ago, I found her a good home with someone I know who already has a cat.  I gathered her things together but couldn't find the cat basket anywhere.  I asked one of  my flatmates about it and bizarrely enough, the lady who left her on our doorstep originally, came back for her basket unbeknownst to me. So said flatmate came with me to hold the cat and make sure she didn't climb everywhere, and also so that he could give me directions (first time without a satnav, eeek!).  She looked pretty scared when we got there, but she was quite still and eventually started purring, so I think she likes her new owner and will enjoy it all once she settles in.

It was a pretty weird feeling coming home and not going straight to stroke the cat. I've been spending a lot of time with her and really enjoyed her company.  She used to nuzzle me as I worked on the computer, and climb on me, and lick my fingers, and touch her nose to mine, and sometimes she'd even put a paw on my face very gently. I'll miss her chattering when she thought no-one was listening - if you said her name she would turn round suddenly and start to wash as if to say, 'Me? talking to myself? never'. I'll miss finding her in really random places - she'd come trotting out asking if I was going to feed her, as though it was entirely natural for her to be inside one of the shelves in the wardrobe. I'll miss having unobtrusive company while I'm cooking, or a warm purring body on my lap while I'm reading. Most of all though, I'll miss the unconditional love of a kitty who was always happy to see me, always happy to be picked up and always happy to snuggle.  Today, I'm a little bit heartbroken.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Coffee Trippin'

I go into Nero in town when I want to curl up with a book. The other day, I got chatting to one of the girls behind the counter who has a bit of a foreign accent, and it turns out she is from Romania.  I've never been, but she said it was delightful and I should clearly go and visit.  I asked if it was expensive and she said compared to Bulgaria it was quite expensive but not too bad... a flight would be less than £150 return and not too pricey once we get there.  I said 'oh that sounds exciting!' in the way that I do, and then the other girl piped up and said we should clearly all go to Romania, and we started planning our trip about going to the mountains and drinking coffee and going to see castles and all sorts of other stuff.

So then I popped in today for a coffee and the same girls were working.  With no preamble whatsoever the blond one said '.... and we still haven't gone to Romania!'  I said 'Well, it was only a week ago that we started planning to be fair', to which she replied, 'I thought we were having a work trip there! I think we should just get on with it and go.'  At which point the Romanian lady cracked up, and the people I was with said, 'So are these friends of yours then?' and then I had to confess that I've only talked to them once. During which we scheduled a trip to a foreign country. Er, yeah. So, anyway, I wonder how much holidays to Romania would be at this time of year......