Saturday, 29 June 2013

Jive Night: Piccadilly Bullfrogs

We had high drama on Weds at our dance class when the legendary Phil left his phone on the bar for a minute and had it stolen. A lad stole it while out drinking with his boss and some colleagues, when he was confronted he hid it a few streets away and couldn't find it when the police came. Luckily a lovely person found it and handed it into the police, so Phil has all his contacts and photos and whatnot and all is well.

This was the last Jive Night for a couple of months as we have a summer break - and it was a corker! I walked in the door and they were handing out cupcakes which is always a good start to the evening. I paid and then a stroller happened to be on so we were all up dancing before I'd even gotten a drink. Miss V looked lovely in a blue polka dot dress with an eiffel tower brooch and her hair backcombed... and she wasn't the only one, most of the ladies were dressed up and looking gorgeous. Luckily I remembered my fan, it got mighty hot in there - when we weren't dancing we were all sat around on the sofas fanning ourselves trying to get our breathe back.

Once the DJ set finished the band came on. They were a fantastic rockabilly trio the Piccadilly Bullfrogs. They were amazing to dance to! They have been on the scene for years and their experience shows. They formed in 2008 but they are part of a larger band, The Stargazers who have been going since the 80s. They played quite a lot of rockabilly and boogie woogie but with a few more swingy numbers as well so there was plenty of variation in the dancing. They generally chatted a little between the songs and did a good number of covers.

In between the two sets there were a couple of ladies, the Tutti Fruities, who did a burlesque number - they were so cute! It was nautical themed and they came out from behind a cardboard ship and did a little strip tease number.

The band came on again for a second set and everyone got on the dance floor. There was quite a significant amount of alcohol around by this point so the dancing was getting a bit more exuberant - which might explain a mysterious bruise I have on my arm this morning! I had quite a few dances with all sorts of people, particularly with, Red and I also managed to get a few in with Phil which made me very happy. There was a drunken Scot called Tam who didn't know any moves, so Red taught him a few, and by the end of the night he was rocking it. I had a few dances with him too, he was so happy.... he finally nailed the round-the-back move and was whooping and fist pumping and everything. Then P grabbed him for a dance and he moaned, 'You can't tell a Scotsman to put his drink down! But then my mother always told me not to refuse a dance with a woman.... now I  don't know what to do!' P just giggled and dragged him back onto the floor. He wasn't the best dancer but it was so much fun! The band did at least two encores - the singer said, 'They told me Canterbury would be an easy crowd - I didn't realise you all dance this hard!'. I really liked the band's style - probably the most fun I've had at Jive Night yet - talk about ending with a bang! I'll just have to wait til the end of Sept for the next Jive night - at least I still have dancing on Weds to look forward to.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Daddy's Girl

I went up to London the other day to spend the day with my dad. We don't see each other very often - he lives in the States and I usually go and spend Christmas with the family but he doesn't get over to this side of the world that much so it was lovely to meet up on home turf.

We were supposed to meet at St. Pancras at 2.15, which gave me enough time to have a coffee and a little browse of the sale rack at Oliver Bonas beforehand... not that I'm obsessed with dresses these days, you understand, just somewhat infatuated with them. I like having some time in my day to have a sit down and watch the world go past and big train stations are ideal for that - you get the whole human drama: excited kids on a day out in the city, travellers passing through, couples saying goodbye, groups of teenagers, purposeful business types, all that frustration, delight, heartache, boredom, nonchalance and awe plays out. It's one of my favourite pastimes that I inherited very much from my grandma.

When we met we decided to go for a stroll - we started off inside the station because there is so much to see. The architecture of St. Pancras is magnificent, it was built in Victorian times in the Gothic Revival style, but it was refurbished in a big way in 2007 so it is a lovely mix of old world character with an airy modern feel. We went upstairs and looked at some of the sculptures, including an absolutely massive one of a man and a woman having a kiss goodbye.

Then we took a walk down the street and found somewhere for coffee. My dad had been doing some work in the south of France and then in Bulgaria, so he showed me all his holiday snaps. I've never been to Bulgaria, but from the photos it looked lovely - lots of Roman ruins, a bit of Ottoman with some Russian influences. Apparently there was plenty to eat for vegetarians too, which made me happy. We sat in the sun and chatted about the projects he is working on for a while and he told me all about the spread of Chagas disease and the mathematics of hip replacements.

We then spent a good couple of hours just wandering about. We strolled all the way up to Russell Square and Holborn and then turned towards Farringdon and then back towards Kings Cross. We talked a bit about the family - my grandma died when I was about 6, so I didn't know her very well, and don't know much about that side of the family so my dad told me some stories about her and her time growing up in Poland and how they escaped during the war. We stopped into the British Library for a wander in the court yard there and then headed back to get some dinner.

I always like seeing my dad, we talk about interesting things, he has introduced me to many ideas and books and he is one of the only people that I can talk to about philosophy and culture and the world in general who has a similar outlook to me. He recently gave me a pile of books for my birthday about evolutionary spirituality and integral consciousness so we chatted about that quite a bit over dinner. 'You're smart. Eventually you'll find some people who think like you.' It was really lovely - and also really nice to have some time alone with him which is fairly unusual. I won't see him again for a while, probably about a year. As we were standing there waiting for his train to come saying our goodbyes, figuring out when we would next be seeing each other, he said, 'I'm already sad to be leaving you.' He went off to catch his train, and I went off to catch mine. I had a little cry on the train home - my own little slice of human drama.

Monday, 24 June 2013

In which our Intrepid Protagonist learns to be Somewhat Useful

My friend V is moving to a new house and asked if I could help with the decorating. I assumed she meant giving the walls a lick of paint, but as it turned out I spent a few days this week helping sand down and re-paint various bits of furniture. The theme of the house is red and black, so mostly we were painting things black and grey. I've never really done this sort of thing before, but hey, you live and learn.

Day 1: I spent most of the day sanding down fiddly knobs and ends on this old mirror. I drank 3 gins - which given that V was pouring meant that realistically I drank about 9. I also managed to get a bit of sunstroke and staggered home and promptly crawled into bed about 8pm with no dinner. Woke up in the middle of the night feeling sprightly so read for a couple of hours and then went back to sleep.

Is that a gin I see before me? 

Day 2: Woke up wondering if I'd be able to move, but as it turned out everything was in good working order so I trundled down to V's place ready to take up the sandpaper once more. I arrived and discovered that we were painting today. I studiously stayed away from the gin and drank an awful lot of tea and water. V's beau turned up to help put together a wardrobe and was very surprised that we were being industrious - I think he was expecting us to be sitting around watching day time television with some tea still talking about where the emulsion had gone to! I successfully managed to paint some small knobs for the dresser, a shoe rack, quite a lot of the patio and also my jeans. Was very proud.

Day 3: Back to sanding again, this time very small parts of a table. I have no idea where the parts go, but I'm only sanding not constructing. It was hot hot hot. I thought I'd escaped the sunburn but apparently not - much moisturizer will be used in the coming days, I feel. I did make lunch for everyone though, so never let it be said I don't pull my weight.

Indoor picnic - hurrah!
We managed to get most things finished off actually - window sills, dining room chairs, chests of drawers, wine racks, ornaments, bookcases and shoe racks were all sanded and painted and in the case of the chairs re-upholstered. Result!

Day 4: Thank goodness we were not working today because it is absolutely chucking it down. The great old British weather, eh?! A bit of rain never hurt anyone.... but I'm glad all the paint is dry nevertheless.

It's so pleasing to be able to look at something and say 'I did that!'. I think the house is going to look amazing once she's moved in and settled. It was a lot of fun, much more so than I thought it would be - although I'm not about to start a decorating business just yet, don't worry.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Book Club: 'The Hobbit'... well, in theory...

On Thursday, M&N and I got together for book club and were joined by an additional couple of people... it was so exciting that we fairly much forgot to talk about the book. We had gnocchi bake for dinner with garlic bread and salad, and I got chatting to one of the new people who I'd never met before - she only moved here about a year ago so she is still finding her feet.

After dinner, as is traditional, we decided to put a film on. You would think that since we had read the Hobbit this month, then we would watch the Hobbit, but as it turned out Middle B didn't want to - she said that she felt it might ruin the book for her, and I've seen it already anyway, and it's about 3 hours long which would keep us all up pretty late on a school night. (Never mind that we'll end up chatting to the wee hours anyway...) We ended up watching Looper, which made Middle B happy because she loves Bruce Willis, and made N happy because it wasn't a chick flick. I enjoyed it actually - it has a fair bit of gore, but it's definitely more action that horror. I liked some of the small twists in it, and it was well filmed.

Naturally I rose to the occasion and made cake - I found this recipe on Domestic Sluttery and had to try it, and luckily for me, everyone was happy to be my cake guinea pigs.

Twister Ice cream Cake.... oh yeah!

Twister Ice cream Cake

300ml double cream
100g caster sugar
2 limes, zest and juice
a few drops of green food colouring
250ml vanilla ice cream
1 lemon, zest and a squeeze of juice
1 raspberry or strawberry swiss roll
3tbsp raspberry sorbet

- Take the ice cream and sorbet out of the freezer so they have time to soften up a bit.
- Beat together the cream, sugar, lime zest and juice until stiff. Add a few drops of food colouring at the end and stir in.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the vanilla ice cream and the lemon zest and juice.
- Line a 14cm glass bowl (make sure it's freezable!) with cling film. Cut the swiss roll into 1 inch slices. Arrange the slices around the edge and inside the bowl so that they completely cover the inside and base of the bowl, try and fill in all the gaps.
- Place half the vanilla mix into the bowl, on top of the cake slices. Spread it right to the sides. Then using a piping bag swirl some of the lime cream over it. I didn't have a piping bag, so I went more of a layered effect.
- Spoon the raspberry sorbet in a circle in the centre. Then pipe another swirl of lime cream around the sorbet.
- Cover with another layer of vanilla mix and another pipe of lime cream across the whole cake.
- Cover the top of the dish with cling film. (This will be the bottom of the dish.) Place in the freezer for 3 hours for it to set.
- When it's ready, turn the bowl upside down on a plate and gently remove the cling film.
- If there is any left, just put it back in the freezer.

It was a pretty easy cake to make, and there is no baking in the oven so it's quite fast too. I was surprised by just how lime-y the lime cream was! Altogether it's pretty fun dish to do. People had seconds so I think I'll be doing this again.

We then went on to eat an awful lot of popcorn and a few crisps - but hey, what's an action film without popcorn? Altogether it was a lovely night. M hasn't liked the last couple of books, in fact I'm not entirely sure she read the Hobbit at all, which would account for the lack of discussion, so she got to choose the next book. I have no idea if she will like this one, but I guess we are all broadening our horizons!

Next month: Animal Farm by George Orwell. I've read this already, but not for many years so it'll be nice to have a refresher. Maybe I'll see it with new eyes as an adult, who knows.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

As if I needed an excuse to look at amazing fabric...

So I was chatting to one of the ladies at Jive the other day about how I'd like to learn how to sew.... and then yesterday she delivered this:

A sewing machine! Not just any sewing machine but a vintage Singer!

Now I just have to learn how to use it!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Losing my footing

Life is definitely making me learn how to gallop, and I have to say I'm feeling more than a little saddle-sore. I've had more up and down emotions than a see-saw lately and I'm struggling to find the nice, calm centre. Miss H has moved out and is going to London in September, Miss V and her beau are also heading to the big city, a couple of other friends are emigrating to Canada in August, Doc is moving out too. My hormones are going crazy - acne, just in time for summer... boooo! Not to mention that after months of intense flirting, I finally approached my crush about it - only to have him tell me that he is starting something with someone else. I saw them in the supermarket together the other day and I had to go and hide in the cheese isle until I was sure they had left. My word, doesn't life like to throw things at me - usually a lot in a very short space of time! The saddest thing is that I'm not the only one. It seems like a great deal of my friends are struggling with various things at the moment - most of which are far worse than a bit of heart-ache and bad skin. If I could take all that suffering away from them I would.

So yesterday I did what I do when I don't feel well: I spent a day on my own wandering around town, drinking coffee, sitting in the sunshine, trying on dresses, going into bookshops, reading, thinking and people watching. Hours and hours staring out of windows, letting things settle, letting myself feel all those feelings that I am usually too busy to deal with. And this is what I saw: a little boy and his mum holding a bubble blower and letting the wind blow bubbles right the way down the street. Instead of running indoors and hiding away from the wind, make that gusty day into something delightful. Instead of letting these feelings drown me, I will open my heart and let them wash over me until they subside and I come up sparkling.

My flatmate says that she feels like I deal with things so well, I've turned a corner, that good things are coming my way, that I will go far, that someone is coming who will accept the whole package. I hope she is right. In the meantime, would anyone like a slice of cake and a gin?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A Little Bit of History

My dad has been visiting Europe for a bit so I got to spend some time with him at my sisters place in St. Albans. I've never been before and it was really lovely to have a good look around, especially since the weather was glorious.

I have a slightly bizarre relationship with my sister as an adult. We have almost nothing in common, she is very different to me, but also we have never been a close family so spending time at her house was very strange. My dad and I did get some time on our own so I got some meaningful time with him, which was lovely.

In any case, St. Albans is very beautiful and steeped in history, so it was fascinating to have a wander around all the Roman ruins and the Cathedral.

St. Albans Cathedral

A fabulous tile floor

They do some kind of procession representing pilgrimages to St. Albans, so there were all these massive puppets about the place. They were amazing.

Then we went to visit the Roman ruins. We started off looking at the mosaics that were discovered and then moved onto the theatre.

the floor of a roman house

a Roman theatre

I had a really nice day out catching the sun, and we even managed to spot some of the more elusive locals.

a heron comes out of play for a bit

I'm not sure when I'll visit again, but it is a very pretty city. I'm glad I caught it on a lovely sunny day.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

.... And then I cooked a four course Banquet. Yeah.

Once a year, the centre hosts a banquet as a fundraiser and I usually do the cooking. This year the theme was Portuguese. There is not too much traditional Portuguese food that's vegetarian, they are more famous for their cod and meat, so I had to be a bit creative in my menu choices.

I went shopping during my lunch hour and then made two of the courses and set up tables when I got home from work. Then on Saturday I had some help chopping vegetables in the morning, by the time G came round we were swimming in a sea of chopped onions, mushrooms and kale. 3 lb of mushrooms is quite a lot, as it turns out! It was a fun day of getting messy, gossiping and drinking tea. G seemed to spend the whole day humming - at one point it was Thomas the Tank Engine and at another point it was the Eastenders theme, but for the most part it was Sesame Street - I'm sure that every time I hear that tune I'll think of food, like some Pavlovian response. In the evening, two of my housemates joined me to help serve and wash up. We made four courses for 11 people - between the four of us we rocked it!

First course was Caldo Verde, a potato and kale soup served with warm baguette and butter.
Caldo Verde
serves 6

5 medium potatoes
6 1/4 cups of water
3 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
1/4 lb cabbage, finely shredded
salt and pepper to taste

- peel and chop the potatoes and boil in salted water with the garlic. I roasted the garlic first - chop the top off a bulb and put on a few drops of oil, then wrap in foil and put in the oven for 30 mins at 180 C. When they are soft, mash and add the olive oil and cabbage. I took a portion of the soup out and blended it just to give it a bit more substance.
- boil uncovered for 3 mins
- season to taste. Serve in bowls with a drop of oil in the bottom.

Next up came the salad course.
Chickpea Salad
serves 6 - 8

1 head of garlic
2 x 15oz cans of chickpeas
1 tbsp fresh basil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

- roast the garlic (See the above recipe).
- boil the chickpeas. Mix with the basil and balsamic vinegar. I ended up using some raspberry balsamic vinaigrette that I had lying around. I also used green beans as well as chickpeas which worked really well.
- when that has cooled down, mix in the garlic and toss in the tomatoes and season with spices.

For the main course I made a Cauliflower Marranca from the Moosewood Cookbook. It's not a particularly Portuguese recipe, but it sounded good so I gave it a go. We made two trays with cheese and one without for the vegans / dairy intolerant people. Both dishes were pretty yummy and very filling. I used millet, but you could easily use cous cous or quinoa or anything else. We served up with a salad garnish.

And finally we had a choice of either almond lemon cake or fruit salad for dessert. For the fruit salad I just chopped up some pear, some orange and some strawberries and added a bit of lime juice and some cinnamon and garnished with some fresh mint from the garden. Interestingly, I accidentally made the whole banquet gluten free without realising it... I guess that's how I roll.

Almond Lemon Cake

4 eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup / 100g white sugar, divided into 50g and 50g
1 1/2 cups / 170g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white or cider vinegar
pinch of salt

- preheat oven at 175 C. Line a 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease it.
- in a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the lemon zest and 50g of the sugar until smooth.
- add in the almonds, cardamom and baking powder, and beat until smooth.
- in another bowl, beat the egg whites, starting on low and then increasing the speed. When bubbles start to form add a pinch of salt and the teaspoon of vinegar. As the mix increases in volume, sprinkle in the remaining 50g of sugar a bit at a time. Beat until soft peaks form.
- fold the egg whites into the almond mix.
- bake for 35 mins.
- let it cool and then take out of the springform.

We got quite a few compliments, it was lovely. A few people asked for the recipes, and one lady said I should be on Masterchef! Everyone the other side of the wall seemed to enjoy themselves. I know the kitchen staff did. Naturally I fed everyone (we were taste testing, what?!) so we all got four courses as well, just with a lot more running around in between. To finish off we served up coffee and mints, so while the guests had those we did all the washing up and cleared away most things. I took the table down and cleared away and was in bed by 11.30. Fantastic!

Dessert is served!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Love Letters and Tea Cups and Frocks, Oh My!

I threw a belated birthday celebration yesterday and luckily for me the weather was splendid. Every year I try and do something I've never done before: on my 29th I painted pottery, on my 30th I had Tea at the Ritz, on my 31st I went to see Torvill and Dean ice skate, on my 32nd I went to Poland for a weekend with my dad, and on my 33rd I explored some local history. This year was no exception. I think the world needs more love letters, and since I'd never written one, that was my challenge this year. We decided to write love letters to strangers and leave them around the city for people to find.

I asked people to dress up - and most obliged! We had some truly wonderful dresses and red lipstick and the Fairy Princesses got me a tiara so I even had a crown (albeit plastic, but still). Miss R came in a navy cocktail dress (I brought her a blue and white tea cup to match). Miss V came in a swishy black number that is a replica of Audrey Hepburn's dress in Sabrina that her mum made for her by watching the film (when she put her sunglasses on she looked like a celebrity trying to hide from the paparazzi). Miss H came by in a lovely red 50's number, having knocked up a bow tie for her young man on Saturday night so he was suitably dressed. One of the lads came in a three piece suit. So we ran around town on a Sunday afternoon being incredibly dressed up, it was so much fun!

Some of us met for tea and cake in a cafe to start off with and wrote some love letters. It was quite interesting to see what kind of letters we all ended up writing - we had some long, soppy ones, some inspirational ones, some soothing lovely ones and some funny ones and some slightly post modern ones... (even one of the Fairy Princesses wrote one and she's only 6!).

By the end we had about 25 letters to scatter around town in various places. We left a few around the Cathedral and the grounds, we left some in cafes and some in random places around town.

Then we met the others in the park for a picnic. Everyone brought a dish, a cocktail and a tea cup. Most people were quite inventive, particularly Miss V who made me lavender and white chocolate popcorn and earl grey and lemon cupcakes. The drinks were even more inventive - Miss V brought some rhubarb vodka (lovely with lemonade) and some earl grey vodka (she just put an earl grey tea bag in a bottle of vodka), I made some spiced rum (by infusing a bottle of rum with yogi tea) and ginger beer, someone else made gin and elderflower fizz, while Middle B made up a cocktail just for me by adapting the recipe for a London Calling Martini by Hendricks:

The Thursday Night  Natini: Infuse gin with orange peel, fennel, cardamom, coriander, and gentian drops and leave for a day. Strain. Add lemon juice and some sparkling wine. Consume. Ice and tea cup optional but recommended. 

Quite a few of my friends had never met each other, so it was lovely to see them all getting to know each other and putting faces to names. We lounged about and generally had a giggle in the park, ate and drank and were merry... and since I had a really swishy frock on I did insist on having at least one dance, even if we had no music! Towards the end of the day it was getting a bit chilly so the few of us who remained went inside and carried on drinking gin. I must say that I consumed an awful lot of gin. This is no bad thing.

It was such a beautiful day, I'm so lucky that I have friends who are happy to run around town in ridiculous frocks spreading love everywhere. It made me really happy! I get the feeling this won't be the last time we'll be writing love letters... and certainly not the last time we'll be drinking gin!