Tagged: 2013

Cooking and some cookbook recommendations

We’ve been cooking again, really cooking. It has been glorious. Finally trying new things, creating delicious dinners, odd but tasty leftovers and everything in between. Partly this is because we’re trying to be a little more frugal so cooking at home is the way forward. Partly this is also because for my birthday this year I received three wonderful cookbooks. I love cookbooks and often flick through them for inspiration but I recently realized that I was getting into the habit of falling back to cook what I knew, rather than trying new things. So new recipes from new cookbooks it is.

The Jewelled Kitchen by Bethany Kehdy This is a beautifully written book with fabulous images to accompany the recipes. Recipes from across the middle east which I really like and inspiring flavours and colours.

The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage  This is almost as much a reference book as a recipe book. Full of a huge number of recipes, some variations on a theme but all simple, straightforward and most importantly delicious. I made a lamb and aubergine stack last weekend which was yummy.

Ottolenghi by Yohan Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi  I’m sure everyone has already heard about this but this cookbook is a delight. Full of great flavour combinations in the recipes, straightforward, good instructions and beautiful mouthwatering illustrations.

Ottolenghi

Getting lost in the house purchasing maze

The purchase is still ongoing… We have filled in a lot of forms. We have spoken to solicitors, estate agents, surveyors, an architect and countless friends and family about the purchase. The latest hold up is our mortgage provider not telling us they needed additional documentation and then wondering why we hadn’t provided it when I called to ask how everything was going?! Grrrr.

We agreed with our vendor to do a delayed completion. I had no idea this was even an option before we heard about it. Basically we’ll exchange contracts sometime soon and then next year we’ll actually complete on a set date. This gives us time to plan which is most important as there is a lot of planning to do.

In the meantime we’re going to move from our current place to another one, closer to our new house and *shock horror* outside of London! We’re going to be proper commuters, in the main because to afford anywhere vaguely like what we were after we have had to make the decision to make the leap. I’m sad and excited. This is the next step in our life, the next place after the next one will be one we own and that is just immense, overwhelming. On the flip side we moved back to England to be in London and then are moving away from it. That bit I’m sad about. We’ll still be in the city, coming in for work and seeing friends up here, so all is not yet lost.

The whole affording to live in London is a conversation we’ve had many times over, both between ourselves and with friends. Some of the house prices I see astonish me, it is eye-watering to see how much it costs to get so little. Concerning too, I do wonder how long this can all last. But that is a longer discussion and probably one best over a bottle of wine with some heated debate.

Next steps

We’re currently trying to buy a house. We said that when we came back to the UK we would buy somewhere that was ours and was somewhere that we wanted to live and we could paint the walls and make it look and feel like *ours*. Then between April and the end of September my work travel went mental again and I was hardly ever around to even try and look for a house.

We kept getting asked about when we were going to buy a house and we kept putting it off. Until one weekend we finally got to go and look and realise what we could afford and what this all actually meant.

Now, we’re beginning down the long journey. Offer accepted, solicitors involved, survey done, ticking things off one by one. I’m learning something new practically every day and having to work out what all this new language is. That and having to spend the most money we’ve ever spent in our lives. It’s going to be a journey. We have very much made it that in our decision to purchase somewhere which is quite the project. Way to take the easy road.

I have a feeling this little corner of mine might become more about house renovations and trials and tribulations of such than anything else. However that will be my (our) life for the next many months so apologies in advance. If, and when, I manage to get to this space I apologise now that it will be considerably focused on houses and DIY.

It is both equally exciting and terrifying to be embarking on this next step.

It’s been a while

I haven’t really felt like blogging. Haven’t really felt like the things I want to say can be put into such a public sphere. I don’t know when my head changed about this, about when I felt like this wasn’t the place to say some of the things I want to talk about, but it happened.

There’s been a lot going on. I think we’re through the other side of the move tumult and life feels more settled. London is my city again, the city I come *home* to and the city I feel happy in. Work is there, complexity exists in my work status but nothing which can’t be worked through some how or other.

I’ve been travelling a lot in the last few months too. Since April 15th I’ve spent about 7 weeks away. Pretty much all of it good travel including two wonderful holidays which I really should write about.

All of this is to say that I think I might be ready, might be ready to try and put fingers to keyboard a bit more again and start revisiting my little corner of the internet again.

Thoughts from the airport

I’m currently in Dallas Fort Worth airport waiting for my flight to Salt Lake City. The sun is setting through the windows and I’ve found a quiet corner to while the time away. Airports are kind of funny places in someways, at once so transient and yet always there watching people come and go, seeing the emotions, the ups, downs and everything in between. That and the fact that quite often you get stuck in them for more hours than you might care to be and have the time to think, dream and switch off from day to day life.

I’ve been in DC since Wednesday, working and catching up with friends. It’s funny, everyone asks me if I’ve missed it and the truth is, not that much. The people yes, very much so, but living in DC I don’t really miss. It was odd going back though, at once so familiar and yet no longer mine.

I was nervous before coming over, I wasn’t quite sure why but there was definitely an unsettled feeling which came over me a few days before flying. It was fun though and nice to be back. It really is a lovely city and right now at it’s most beautiful. I’m looking forward to returning again with J, hopefully in the summer, a trip longer than 2 nights when we can really enjoy being back.

And now on to Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormons, the Rocky Mountains and apparently a lovely city. I’m looking forward to exploring somewhere new. Those itchy feet of mine have been on familiar soil for too long it would seem.

Lemony courgette pasta

This is one of my all time favourite dinners. So simple, quick and tasty. Recipe:

2 largish/3 medium courgettes
1 lemon
1 small garlic clove
Chilli (if you want)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Linguine/tagliatelle/spaghetti

Take a vegetable peeler and peel the courgettes into ribbons in a large bowl. After each one is peeled drizzle over a generous drizzle of olive oil. Zest the lemon into the bowl then cut in half and juice. Grate the garlic clove in (I find this helps to spread it around a bit more plus saves me chopping it). Add the finely chopped chilli, more olive oil and salt and pepper. Mix around and put to one side.

Courgettes

Cook your pasta, al dente if you like, or however you enjoy cooking. When the pasta is about five minutes off heat a saute pan or frying pan and quickly saute the courgette mix, try to cook so there is still some bite in the courgettes and you cook off a little of the garlic and the lemony/olivey/courgettey juice too. Drain the pasta, add to the pan and swirl around so it gets coated in the lovely juices.

Serve with a large heap of grated parmesan and maybe a glass of red!

Dinner

 

Moving and sorting (forever sorting)

We’re getting there. Slowly but surely things are getting sorted and it feels like finally this is home, this is where we live. Although of course the sorting, jeepers, there is so much to go through to sort, to do. The whole process makes me think that we need less. Always less.

There has been a lot on the internet recently about less, from ths excellent New York Times article Living with Less to Sui writing about clearning out her wardrobe and an old post by Peonies about living with only 33 items in your wardrobe (including accessories!) Each time I have read something along these lines I have thought about the concept and liked it, yet never actually done anything about it. Until this move.

Somehow this move came at the right time in my life. We sorted, we started sorting about a month before the actual move and have kept on going until now. So far we have taken 11 bags of clothes to the clothes recycling bin, 3 boxes of stuff to a charity shop, sold a lot of furniture in DC and not replaced it all here. Thrown away an awful lot of stuff. Sorted, resorted and shredded a lot of paperwork and just generally begun to get stuff in order. It is quite astonishing how much two people can acquire and what you really actually need.

To be honest it has been  a delight having our kitchen stuff back and I am so enjoying my cookbooks, pans and other kitchen gadgets. Cooking is one of life’s pleasures. But it has also been so good to have finally got to a point where my wardrobe doesn’t overwhelm and sadden me. I can see what I have (or don’t have). I am wearing the stuff I do have, each piece of it, no matter how ‘special’ that piece may be and I am looking forward to buying less but better when a piece of it finally dies.

Moving away from this relentless consumerism has felt refreshing, we have everything we need and I no longer need to buy. Instead we can save, we can spend on holidays, meals, experiences.

I am hoping that this whole long experience of moving and sorting and sorting and sorting will be  turning point. That somehow I will manage to keep on this track, to avoid the relentless acquistion culture shoved in our faces all the time. To keep our house freer of clutter. To get that kick out of getting rid as I have found myself getting. We’ll see but for now I am enjoying the small amounts of serenity this is bringing.

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Six suitcases and a rescue package

We have been living out of six suitcases and a rescue package since early January when we landed back in London. At first it was fun, it was like an adventure camping in our own homes then the reality of not having more than two plates begins to set in…

There are pluses, like the peace you get from having an uncluttered home without heaps of stuff everywhere. Having a very minimal wardrobe which forces you to wear everything you have and makes you realise how little you really do need. (This one is a huge bonus and is making me think I need to keep with the cutting down of clothes and moving towards an ever more streamlined wardrobe).

On the minuses cooking with two saucepans and a frying pan does rather limit one. That and only having one kitchen knife, two plates, four mugs and a few knives and forks. The things I have really missed have all been to do with the kitchen and cooking and eating. I cannot wait to eat at a dining room table again. Nor to have my recipe books or my kitchen gadgets, like a really good grater, it is surprising the things you miss. Or to finally be able to invite people over for dinner and hosting dinner parties again.

We are moving ever closer to having our stuff again though so this shouldn’t be for too much longer. I’m sure soon enough I’ll be rabbiting on about how much crap we have and how we really need to get rid of it all…

Adventures with Gnocchi

 

For some reason I decided I wanted to try making potato Gnocchi. I have never made it before, it couldn’t be that hard could it?! Well yes, as it turns out there is definitely a knack to it. One which with practice I will hope to achieve.

If you read everything on the web you are led to believe that potato gnocchi is almost like the devil incarnate, it will never work how you want it to, you will always over flour or cause some other trouble. Most recipes recommend an egg, then say that the real way is without an egg. Navigating potato gnocchi land is not so easy.

I found an excellent video on Saveur where the chef Cathy Whims talks you through making gnocchi. It looked easy enough from her video…

So I cracked on, boiled my potatoes with their skins on, peeled them warm, grated the warm potatoes (this was not so much fun, those hot little bastards hurt your fingers) and then mixed in the flour. And this was where it all started going a little wrong… I didn’t use enough flour, not at all. Even with the generous dusting I had put on the counter, even though it came together and rolled nicely it was not really a dough, more grated boiled potato with a tickling of flour.

I didn’t realise this though, they looked like they should they were gnocchi sized and shaped! But upon putting them in the pan for the briefest of time and pulling out gloopy little starchy falling apart-y blobs I realised the error of my ways.

So gnocchi, you had not defeated me yet, I will try again, I feel like this is one of those things that when you master it you’ll never turn back and it seems like a good dinner thing. Onwards with culinary adventures!

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Guinea

I went to Guinea for work recently, it was the first time I had been to West Africa and the first time I have been to a country which is as poor.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve been fortunate to have travelled a fair bit, but nothing quite like this. To start with there are the medical concerns, the yellow fever vaccination, the anti-malaria medication, the warnings about food hygiene, water safety and everything else you have to think of. Guinea is one of the countries where the mosquitoes carry cerebral malaria, the kind that kills you within a couple of days of contracting it, the kind you really really don’t want to get. Then there’s the cholera epidemic they are just coming out of the other side of. When you start to read about all the things which you can contract and which can cause you trouble it is easy to worry (or for me it is at least). Thankfully work and my client were excellent in preparing me and ensuring we had the necessary.

We arrived in the afternoon, it was hot and humid, a stark change from the cold and grey I had left behind in London. The airport was easy to navigate and we swept through quickly. The hotel we were staying at was a short drive away and we got our first chance to begin to get a feel for a Conakry. Unsurprisingly it is a low-rise city, with houses along the road and as we drove along we saw children playing football on make-shifts pitches, family gatherings and the ebb and flow of people’s daily lives taking place. Conakry has no sewerage system, so you also see piles of rubbish on the side of the road and the odd burning pile of rubbish where someone has decided that there is a more than enough and it needs to be got rid of. I also saw goats, cats and dogs wandering along and vendors walking along with their dead chickens or fish ready to sell.

Most of the week was taken up with work so we didn’t get out and about very much, in fact we spent all day working and then had dinner and a beer before crashing out under the mosquito net. However on the final day there my colleague wanted to buy a couple of things for his kids so we were taken to a local market to try and buy a football t-shirt and a dress. As soon as the vendors saw us we were surrounded, everyone wanting to sell us their goods, everyone knowing as soon as they saw us that we had money and could afford not to drive such a hard bargain. As we drove away we had kids knocking on the window asking for money, for a drink. It made me acutely aware of all that I had and how very lucky and privileged a life I lead.

I came away from the week away thinking about what could be done, about how when a country is somewhere down at the bottom of the GDP per capita table there is so much scope for change and how hard it really is to do that. It was a reality check seeing the poverty and the life that goes on and meeting people who were warm, friendly and full of optimism. I’m pretty sure I won’t be going back anytime soon unless work takes me there again but I am glad that I got the opportunity to visit a corner of the world I might never have been able to get to and to be able to reflect on what it is I have and how lucky and blessed I am.