Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Nut Tree, Murcott

Well hey there, world! What's been happening with you while I've been a weird flux of childbirth classes, applying for my next residency visa, and immersing myself back in the world of cheese?

As a little reward for all my hard work growing a little person (37 weeks already, yikes) and a final last hurrah to adult weekends away, the CG, Miss J, Mr S and I headed for a shopping, spa and golfing weekend at Bicester. Total. Relaxing. Bliss. 

Made even better by being spoilt rotten - new handbags from the CG for my upcoming birthday and a super generous double birthday celebration dinner organised by J & S at The Nut Tree - a gorgeous village pub that just happens to have a Michelin star.

It's been a while since we've been for a proper three course (I know, I know, times are definitely changing) and this one did not disappoint.

Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle and cornish lobster salad kicked our meals off with a bang, while Mr S made me incredibly jealous with his smoked Loch Duart salmon - I cannot wait to fill my boots with sashimi as soon as the baby has left the building.

While the boys went for slightly safer options of beef and lamb for their mains, Miss J and I took the plunge and tried the stuffed pigs trotters - which weren't too pretty, but were incredibly tasty. Chicken wrapped with pork...what's not to love?

It's a good thing we have separate stomachs for dessert, because we were definitely not left wanting after our first two courses. Generous portions, all round.

We finished off with soufflé, sticky toffee pudding, and jaffa cake (which I don't recommend having if you want to avoid the bitter disappointment that will forevermore come with consuming normal jaffa cakes).

It might just be the hormones talking, but I feel so lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life - and so many that appreciate food as much as I do! I am one lucky, lucky lady.

The Nut Tree Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ben's Canteen, Battersea

I'm watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations (um, hello - food AND travel? Just two of my favourite things EVER) and a cold chill sneaks up my spine. I look down at my freaking ginormous belly and think "I am never going travelling again."

Drama queen? Who, me?

In fairness, I'm talking backpacker style, roughing it travel. Travel that requires no plans, just landing and deciding to go where your fancy takes you. Maybe it's me being narrow minded, or not really knowing what to expect, but I'm guessing kids and travelling without a plan don't really mix. Hell, I don't know many of my friends with kids who can get out the door for the afternoon without planning what to pack, where they're going, and when they'll be back.

Luckily, brunch requires slightly less planning than a trip to Honduras.

I've been meaning to visit Ben's Canteen for ages, and our only disappointment when we finally got there last weekend was that they had run out of chorizo. Oh, the tragedy. 

Mr and Mrs H opted for a burger (if it's two past midday, burgers are a-ok) and breakfast sandwich, which I was unfortunately too preoccupied with stuffing my face to happy snap.

Miss L and B went for the sweet corn fritters - a true indicator of any antipodean style breakfast menu in my opinion.

And the CG and I opted for smashed avocado on toast. I think I've consumed an average of 4 avocados a week the last few months. Might have to step up the pace.

Perfectly runny eggs, creamy avocado, proper hashbrowns, and a big old smoothie. Sounds like a good Sunday to me. 

There's way too much on the menu to choose from which means we'll have to pop it onto our list of local haunts and go back again and again. What a hardship.

Ben's Canteen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Franco Manca, Clapham Junction

I'm studying again. STUDYING. I don't even know how to study anymore. All because I need to pass a test about life in the UK so I can remain in the country I've called home for the last six years. Blergh.

Somewhere between the stone age and the formation of the coalition government, we managed to squeeze in a little visit to Franco Manca, which opened locally just recently (or maybe not so recently, given that my days and weeks have been rushing by sooner than I can say "do you think we could convert one of our cupboards into a baby room?")

The place was buzzing, although a twenty minute wait on a Saturday night isn't too shabby really.

The kitchen pace is frantic, but the staff still have time to smile. On a related side note - the CG reliably tells me (if it's on TV it must be true) that cycling for ten minutes at the gym burns 49 calories, while 100 laughs burns 150 calories. Henceforth I'm going to attribute his zero fat physique to his excessive (and often inappropriate) laughter.

The soft, chewy, sourdough bases had the boys declaring them the best "restaurant pizza bases" they'd had (a fairly clever distinction for them to make since they clearly intend on consuming my homemade offerings again in future).

Definitely one to add to our regular local rotation - although I might have to finish learning approximately 300 names of important British sportspeople, artists, architects, writers, musicians and film makers first.

Wish me luck!

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The year of the horse

Happy Chinese New Year folks! 'Tis the year of the horse, which I must say I'm most pleased about given our firstborn should be "energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able". No pressure.

The longer that I'm away from home, the more I miss the traditions that I used to find so trite. The sweet box that was always on hand for when visitors popped around, mandarins in hand, containing rock hard peanut brittle, round little biscuits with sugary icing drops on top, watermelon seeds you had to crack open with your teeth for the meagre reward of a bland seed to munch on, sugary treats in the shape of lotus roots...

I'm sure I'd have one mouthful and be cured of my nostalgia, but there are some things that I do wish I had more often than once a year. After the dim sum experience we had at Pearl Liang, we decided to head back to try them out for CNY so we could ensure a year of health, wealth, and family.

We kicked off with yee sang - which we "prosperity tossed" together standing around the table. 

The higher the toss, the more prosperity comes your way, so you can imagine the enthusiasm. 

Every dish you eat at Chinese New Year has meaning. 

Rice for fertility, luck and wealth - it symbolises a link between the Gods in heaven and the men on Earth.

Lobster noodles for good marriage and unity (the lobsters) and long life (the noodles).

Whole steamed fish for prosperity, and turbot in particular for treasure.

Prawns just because everybody loves prawns. Especially when they're crispy, salty, and garlic-chilli delicious. Oh, and because the word for prawn in Chinese sounds like the word for laughter - a little sprinkling of happiness for the year. 

Black moss seaweed (nicknamed "hair vegetable") for good luck and wealth, with dried oysters for double the luck.

Abalone for definite good luck, just in case anyone was in doubt that the black moss and oysters would let them down, and shitake mushrooms to ensure you seize those opportunities.

Vegetables wrapped in beancurd, or "monk's parcel" with wood ear mushrooms for family harmony and longevity.

And a whole chicken for more prosperity, and togetherness and completeness of the family (yes, that is the head as well).

Next year we're planning on celebrating with my family for the first time in years. Not just because we'll have a little one to reap the rewards of red packets filled with money from all our married relatives of course. Although that certainly isn't a bad reason either.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Asian inspired wraps

You'd think that being a mother would start once you gave birth, but judging by the quantity of baked goods and homemade meals radiating from my kitchen in the last couple of months, it clearly starts way before any baby arrives. 

Now if only I could sew, I'd be the perfect mother. If perfect mothers had cleaners.

Things I've been mulling over while mooching around the kitchen this week:
  • Whether taking a newborn on a tour around Japan is a good idea
  • Why companies lose their humanity as they grow
  • If airfares to Savannah are expensive all year round, or just in summer
  • How to take better photos in the kitchen
  • Which restaurants I absolutely must take my mum to when she visits
  • What reason I could possibly have for trying to make my own pho when I can wander up the road and enjoy it for £6 without the hassle of cleaning up

Anyway. Make these wraps. Your husband will tell you it's the tastiest meal he's had in ages (until you whip up your next meal, obviously) and you'll feel like you're the healthiest kid on the block. Plus it's super simple, so you'll be free to allow your mind to wander (do let me know if you have answers to any of my questions above).

You'll need:
  • 225g rump or sirloin steak
  • Garnishes of your choice to wrap: we used spring onions, cucumber and coriander
  • A head of iceberg lettuce, leaves separated, for wrapping
Blitz the following in a mini food processor:
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 tsps of dark soft brown sugar
  • 2 pieces of jalapeno peppers (from a jar)
  • 1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • 2 tsps of sesame oil
  • 2 tsps of vegetable or groundnut oil, whatever you have on hand
Then thinly slice your steak into strips and pour the marinade over them, ensuring the steak is thoroughly coated. While your steak is absorbing the tasty goodness, whiz up your dipping sauce in the food processor:
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 piece of jalapeno pepper
  • 2 tsps of dark soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsps rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsps Thai fish sauce
  • 2 spring onions, trimmed
Sear your strips of steak in a smoking fry pan lightly brushed with oil for a mere 30 seconds on either side, and you're ready to wrap up your tasty steak parcels and dip. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted courtesy of Delia.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Pearl Liang, Paddington

Holy crap, I'd forgotten how hard full time work is. Most evenings I've barely kept my eyes open after dinner, I was so exhausted by having to use my brain again. You'd have thought I hadn't worked for a year, not just had a little break.

Hallelujah for Saturday. And dim sum. Two of my favourite things. 

Pearl Liang is definitely the new top of my dim sum list. Top quality taste, everything comes out steaming hot, and *drumroll* you can actually book. YES. Gone are the days of starving in line outside in the freezing cold until our number is called. Hello happiness.

I'll spare you the million pictures of dumplings, sticky rice, spare ribs and chicken feet that accompanies all good dim sum excursions but trust me when I say this is the place to go. For everything.

In fact, the CG claims their roast pork is the best he's had in any country. He could just be right.

And did I mention THESE custard buns? Steamed and then lightly fried. A-ma-zing.

Chinese New Year is just around the corner, which might be just the excuse we need to go back and try the dinner menu. Oh, who am I kidding? Like we need an excuse.

Pearl Liang on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Chapter 2014: here we go

Aaaaaaaand I'm finally pulling my finger out and getting back on the blogging bandwagon. I've been in a weird flux where what I've wanted to say I haven't been allowed to discuss, so I just....didn't say anything at all. You know how it is. 

Plus we had this massive 22 person Christmas to enjoy, and the week around it, which was a nice distraction.

So the quick update is that I finished one job this week, and tomorrow I'm starting another. I was all kinds of worried about being knocked up and not able to get work given I'm a ticking time bomb of baby birthing, but my old workplace miraculously got in contact with an opportunity that could not have worked out more perfectly. Now I not only get to work with Miss J (amongst others) again, but I'm back on a 21 minute train ride commute with a seat pretty much guaranteed in the mornings. BAM! No more sardine-tin-I'm-about-to-faint rides while heavily pregnant. Alls well that ends well.

I just know that time is going to speed by now, so I better get cracking on ticking off a few more to do's before life changes once and for all. Like making meringues. Which I did last night. Gawd, how my Saturday nights have changed.

So this is a happy new year from me to you - 2014 is going to ROCK. Albeit mostly soberly. And in a more "bouncing baby" than "crowd surfing at live gigs" fashion. Bring it on.