Friday, 14 December 2012

Desperately seeking ginger

It's that moment when you've just thawed out and you can't be bothered venturing into the cold again. But it's Friday and there is no wine in the flat (someone probably drank it when your back was turned). So you gaze hopefully into the fridge hoping a bottle of pink pinot grigio will materialise in front of your eyes.

It doesn't, sadly.

So you reach for the apple juice and prepare for a night of healthy abstinence. Then you notice the cooking brandy which is reserved for the Christmas pudding feeding. Looking alternately at the apple juice, the brandy, an idea forms.

Generously scoop ice into a glass and splash the brandy over. Making 'stuff you' signs at the Christmas pudding (the old soak) helps at this point. Add thin slices of fresh ginger to the mix and top with apple juice. Stir in the merest hint of orange flower water.

Sit back enjoy the music, blogging and rather lovely festive mix of flavours!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Contrary o'clock

We were chatting today, which, let's face it, is not exactly news, we chat every day. This time though, the capricious one decided that we should both blog this evening. Which is all well and good for her, but one of us was a teensy weensy bit irresponsible last night and is a bit tired.

The problem was... What to write about.

And the answer lay gently ticking on my wrist. Or at least would have done if I realised it had stopped this morning and needed a little persuasion to get going again.

Just like me then.

So. Time. My perception of time is vague at best. But I do know some things. First one is it's now been nine months since we moved in to Contrary Towers. Let's think about that. Nine. Months. And we've still not killed each other. I should point out that the nine months doesn't explain why I have a suspiciously large belly and get offered a seat on the underground. Oh no, that's simply down to pies.

The nine months was made of three distinct sections.

Firstly there was my Notting Hell period. This was mostly made up of me being deprived of culture and finding that if I booked anything then TFL would conspire to make me late, stressed and just a little bit cross. For time I also found everything was an hour. I simply couldn't manage the commute faster than that. Which was really frustrating. But I did get a lot of reading done as I slowly meandered my way from Mile End to Ladbroke Grove in those lonesome four months.

Next came the period of domesticity. And trying to find new work. For someone that had previously managed hours out of work the days turning to weeks then months became a little wearing. But it wasn't all bad and I took the time, in true contrary fashion, to think about stuff, make plans and then... Ignore them and turn my world upside down.

As you do.

The upside down turning happened near the end and was as quick as the preceding three months had been slow. Time has now taken on a degree of elasticity. For instance, no matter what I seem to do I am always late by roughly the same amount. This morning I should have been epically late owing to an extended discussion of last nights events, but no, same degree of lateness as normal. You see, I now have choices. I can significantly shorten my journey time if I'm prepared to travel the Central Line. A journey so pleasant that  it's listed in the River Styx guide to London as "best avoided".

Week in, week out I'm able to tweak my time experience with the careful stewardship of my watch. Except it's usually wrong. And today it stopped. I didn't notice.

None of this should be a surprise. The Contrary Towers dedication to time-keeping is remarkably lax. Take Saturday as a for instance. A good friend of the capricious one had arranged for her to meet the artist Chris Orr at his studio somewhere in West London. So I came along for the ride. The general plan was we'd go there for an hour come back, have a nap, and then go to our respective evening events.

We should have know there was a problem when we got there nearly ten minutes early after a mad panic before we left having realised that we needed to be somewhere near Penzance, or Chelsea, not sure which it was. The next bit went well too. Chris was an utter delight and certainly had me enthralled as he talked about his inspiration and technique. All too quickly we were finished and headed off to see if we could find food. By now it was noon and it's a truth universally acknowledged that my flatmate has to eat when she's hungry.

Luckily, we stumbled on the Battersea Grill which claims to be the best diner in Battersea. Ahuh. The food was wonderful, the portions... Crippling. As we still had loads of time, the decision was made to meander through Battersea Park, over the river to Tate Britain and then jump on the boat to Tate Modern and finally Canary Wharf. There would be enough time to nip in to Waitrose, grab some things and head home for that nap...

Which was why with the clock ticking oh-so-loudly we were both in a wild panic in Waitrose at 5:30 wondering where on earth the time had gone and, more to the point, who stole the promised nap?! And that's the thing with time. The sneaky bits add up, a ten minute wait here, a 40 minute stroll there, a minute or two at lights, a meandering walk by the river, thinking about collapsed scaffolding. All congeal together in to a singularity from which not even light can escape ensuring that what went on is actually hidden behind the event horizon.

It's the only possible explanation.

So with a quick hug I sent the capricious one off in to the Jubilee Line to head for an evening of tapas, whilst I sorted myself out and decided which 277 to catch up to Victoria Park to visit my bezzie. Now keeping in mind how much we had lost time during the day, you can imagine my surprise to arrive fifteen minutes before the agreed meeting time. Eh? It was my pesky timepiece again. It was by now so fast that the bus I thought I was catching was the one some ten minutes earlier. I thought I was doing so well.

The next day I had a plan. You can see already this is going to go well. I was going to wander to Wilton's Music Hall, then pop to Asda in search of a slow cooker. Then have a nap. I do like a theme.

A friend of mine saw I was considering Wilton's so suggested we meet up for lunch. Excellent idea, I like lunch. This then changed a little more and I was invited to a recording of Amnesty International's Secret Comedy Podcast. Oooh. I deleted my plan. It was a lovely afternoon, a meandering walk up from Fenchurch Street to Spitalfields, lunch at some fancy burger place and then a few hours almost in tears of laughter. Before I knew it, the day was gone and I was happily walking back to Tower Gateway and the trip home to Contrary Towers.

I think the problem with time is it really can't make its mind up. It's all about perception and, let's face it. my perception really can be epically bad without even trying. And even though I do try to pander to the demands of time and feign an interest in the passing numbers, it still somehow confounds me.

None of this matters. I got to spend real time doing what I enjoy best...

Being with friends

'Tis the season to be meh-ry

It's almost that time of year. Of enforced merriment, bogus bonhomie and a sackful of bullshit that makes my alcohol stream steam. If you haven't completed your Christmas shopping by the 31st July or got your baubles up by the start of December then clearly you are a miserable party pooper.

*party poops*

Which is very unlike me. And I've lost my tree fairy; she hasn't been seen since the move in March so perhaps she's contrarily scampered of to warmer climes and frankly I don't blame her. The only reason I can think of to feel so unfestive is sheer exhaustion. It's been a long drag since the summer and after a bout of back pain which is never to be repeated if I can help it, I've had enough. I'm even missing the firm's Christmas party because there is the vague chance that *somebody* mucked up and I'm off to the theatre instead. So even corporate festive is a little lacking.

On the bright side, this Friday afternoon sees me walking away from WC1 for nearly three whole weeks. I should be returning on the 2 Jan, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Some baubles this summer
Those of you who know me...and even those who don't, will be aware that I'm writing an essay about intellectual stuffs. But as this evening is currently demonstrating, there is something about the biting cold and freezing fog that wraps itself around your face and snogs the inspiration out of you. On an essay related note, happily last Saturday some thoughtful Lovely arranged for me to go talk to the artist I'm writing about, whilst this Friday I have a trip to the Royal Academy library. After that, it's fingers to the keyboard...

As for my festive plans, I shall see where I am on Christmas Eve. I shall procure a Lidl ham, I already have a pudding and a bottle of brandy; I mean, what could  possibly go wrong? Like writing a bah-humbug blog whilst sipping a gluhwein mugful of hot spiced wine, the inner glow may actually come out blowing a party hooter and surprise me.

Just like my tree fairy. She can't possibly miss a chance to dance over the lights...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

First mulled wine of the season

After an unfeasibly cold spell of exercise to assist with the back recovery (no running yet) I decided that flatmate and I were in need of a big cauldron of mulled wine. This would also have the added effect of increasing the oooo factor of the local council fireworks. My logic being that if we can see double, we get extra value for our council tax funded explosives.

Should you need a recipe because all super markets near you are lacking in 'mulled wine spice bags' this is what you should do instead.

Take some Bulgarian Merlot. Or Argentinian Malbec. Or Italian plonk, whatever you like. You get the picture, a couple of bottles of random red wine. Slice lemon and orange, add many whole cloves, a cinnamon stick broken in two, a grating of a knob of fresh ginger from the handy corner shop on Eric Street. Using a gentle motion, coax the ridiculously sticky lid off the honey and add as many dollops as you fancy. Add some water, this really helped ungloop the fragrant mix.

I also added a splash of Croatian prosek but any sort of fruit alcohol would be lovely. For extra warmth and aroma, a dash of vanilla essence and orange flower water was seriously nice. Let this come gently to almost boiling and then turn the heat off before you evaporate any of the alcohol.

Then sit back, drink and let the fumes embrace you. If you're lucky you may see some fabulous fireworks when you shut your eyes...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

No giggling at the back

I briefly noted in my earlier piece that I was unable to do more than do a cursory vacuuming at my friend's . Yes fine, you may scoff that is more than I usually manage but this was serious; I couldn't have done it if I'd tried.

The tweaky back had been coming on for a while and I'd ignored it, hoping that the odd bit of running and stretching would knock it on the head. A few months of really bad posture plus a 39 year old spine equals silent-screamingly bad back pain which was only relieved by lying on my side. An unorthodox position for a Contrary Towers inmate...I like to sup my martinis vaguely upright, not prone. Not the first one anyway.

This obviously had implications on my trip to Italy and I can now confirm that marble slabs, wooden benches, stone, airport seats are all extremely uncomfortable to lie on and should be avoided at all costs. And as for the actual flight that was the most comfortable part of the journey. The new slogan should be 'Ryannair: Better Than Backache'. So unless I was reclining like a Senator at a Roman orgy, then it was pretty sore.

A week before my trip, as I lay on the floor on my back like a wounded beetle, I realised something would have to be done to put my mind at rest. I suspected it wasn't anything more than a nerve being pressed upon somewhere but agony like this wasn't to be ignored. The following day I saw an osteopath. He got quite close for a chap who was meeting me for the first time. And to be fair, anyone who asks me to press my knees into their groin without having had a couple of bottles of something beforehand is going to raise eyebrows. It might have in a previous no-pain life but what he was doing was causing my eyes to water. Anyway armed with a brief of exercises and strict instructions to travel light and stop running, I hobbled off.

Ceasing the running was a mere inconvenience. Travel light to the style centre of the world?  My life was over.

As it happened the trip wasn't a disaster and I think I was only mildly drama queeny about it. I managed on 2 changes of clothes and the emptyish bag was an excellent excuse to pick up some gorgeous dresses. Being quite short woollen ones, they were light so no trouble to carry home. The trip to Kidderminster and the two bottles of champagne, that was slightly more problematic but I made it without resorting to drinking them.

Not what it looks like...
As the nice man promised, I've had a week of pain, a week of irritability (set to continue for a bit longer) and I think it is finally subsiding into a dose of sciatica. I'm following his instructions to the a little more. My bedroom floor now resembles a rubber torture chamber of toys, with prickle balls, overly firm gym ball, rubber stretch ribbons (no idea what the technical term is) and a cylindrical foam thing to roll up and down on. I've also started yoga at work and there will be gentle jogging as of today. The feeling of being utterly helpless when you drop your body scrub in the shower isn't great and I don't want it again. And also there have been moments in the past couple of weeks when the flatmate and I have been in giggling hysterics leading me to gasp out, begging for mercy.

So for all you bad postured people. Sit up now. You have been warned!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Just your average teen

Friends. It’s been a great time for seeing some rather lovely people. After meeting with a friend in Bergamo during the previous week, early on Saturday I was en route to Kidderminster to see more people. It was my old school chum’s hubby’s birthday and there was a party involved so when she asked me up there I leapt at the chance to eat, drink and be merry. As I was there early we rushed round being domestic which is a hysterical thought given that:

1. Gill is perfect CT material in knowing nothing about the alchemy of the cleaning cupboard
2. We are highly educated and sophisticated ladies and are happier dawdling around Morrison’s baconz department
3. My back was too sore to do anything other than direct others and do some light vacuuming
4. We couldn’t stop laughing at the disgraceful gossip we were exchanging
5. I was utterly distracted by the cheap VC in the trade supermarket and an executive CT decision was made… 

Anyway once we stopped fannying around in the supermarket we made ourselves look gorgeous and headed downstairs. Now I haven’t been to a good old fashioned Worcestershire bash since I was 19 – I recall there was an incident involving cider, a young farmer, a haystack and … So there I was again but 20 years later, mature and adult conversing sensibly with Gill’s friends. 

This is why I was drinking purple alcoholic pop in a room full of late-teens. They covered a mind boggling spread of interesting topics and it was thoroughly entertaining; we covered the universe, existence of God, girlfriends, cigars, time travel, computer games and how many beers we’d drunk. The other party I believe got out of hand and very smutty.

The following morning we all took a medicinal baconandegg butty (patent pending) and vats of coffee and shuffled around finding a place to sit in her huge convivial kitchen. When I got downstairs photos of puppies were being passed around and it was decided that we should go see them. As you do. So a trip to Malvern Wells, a batch of cute dogs, and we had a thoroughly lovely day getting lost in the dramatic shadows of the Malvern Hills. On returning to the house I experienced something called ‘Skyrim’ and a quiet family afternoon. I am destined to be everyone’s favourite Aunt!

Earlier on one of the young chaps had nearly left without his phone and there had been some shaking of heads. So what did this idiot do? I got as far as the car without my charger, phone, book…I remembered the VC though. Priorities! So we legged it to the station and I got to Brum rather breathlessly. A rather marvellous weekend even if it did confirm that I’m no better than your average teen.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

New and old

The reasons for coming to Bergamo are many; the art, the music and more personally and importantly, it was one place my dad recommended to me many years ago before he died. So it's more than just a random city break.

Tuesday is the day in Italy when all museums are open and so we had planned a fine balance between old and new, high and low town. We pottered around the old town seeing the Donizetti museum and the chapel of the condottiere Colleone. He clearly had no taste and a penchant for coloured Gothic marble tracery. And then some.

With this in mind I had an incredibly colourful pizza and then we headed down the hill on the funicular to the modern elegance of the new town. After a dead end and a detour avoiding the military zone, we were at GAMEC (contemporary art gallery), 5 mins before opening at 3pm. We waited in a public library installation and watched the doors being locked. Eh? After 20 mins we called it a day. Naughty contrary art. We performed a two person piece called 'Sulk' (2012) and then that concluded, headed off to a local park.

As it happened Parco Suardi was a pleasant place to waste time; established trees, fountains representing the bergamesco landscape, children falling off scooters, a couple of kids in said fountain, and simply lying on a bench was good. The weather looked down, saw I had no brolly and decided to have a giggle. We headed back to the funicular as it started to rain - performance piece number 2 'Soaked' (2012).

The need for contemporary art had evaporated as quickly as the rain so we headed for the town hall and an extract of the best art from the Accademia Cararra which is currently under restoration. This exhibition 'Vincere il Tempo' in the palazzo Ragione was stunning and the mix of styles suitably wide as a taster. For me the Jacopo Bellini Madonna was worth the entrance fee. Poetry hit me!

The day concluded with drinks at the local and a polenta dinner. Doesn't get much better than that. And I agree with my dad, it's a beautiful place and not to be missed.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Storms, battlements and danger!

Monday is a bit of a cultural non event in italy because galleries are usually shut. Even the shops here weren't opening any time soon, mind you they were lovely when they did open. But as this town was still quite new and uncharted territory, after a splendid breakfast, we headed off eith a map for a planned perambulation.

Actually breakfast: over coffee, choc croissants, cherry jam rolls and a spectacularly messy orange, we chatted to the other person in this B&B, a israeli/US lady called Laura. She has been here for a few days longer than us so we asked for some travellers tips. Always useful. She is travelling alone so I think it was nice for her to speak English. After Syrian politics, travel, the weather etc, we departed.

The direction was chosen by taking a road we hadn't gone down before and headed for the walls of the city. The view was incredible, the new town spead out below and the roads coming up to the old town clearly visible. What a place to defend! As we walked under the old leafy battlements, there was a mysterious thud and chestnut trees had decided it was time for a game of conkers with humans and were dropping their fruit with impunity. Beautiful brown conkers were sat in the cobbled areas, smiling up glossily from their fresh white casing.

Apparently from Istanbul to Rome the pavements are awash with conkers!

We were heading to the botanic gardens however we got distracted by a funicular going up hill. It was just in time for the last one before lunch so after being shown how to use the ticket machine by the well travelled one, we hopped on excitedly. Ok, I did. He just looked at me as if I were a child. And we went up. And up. And as Bergamo receded we arrived in St Virgilio, a village on a hill.

We headed for the Castello and after commenting on the newness of the gardens and fountains 'work in progress' we found more stairs to climb. Because we clearly weren't high enough. Oh my. Our vista of Lombardi from the exposed lookout was suberb. Just little towns, forested green hills as far as you could see. The weather however was starting to turn interesting and we thought it wise to head back down into town on foot because gravity Watson our favour.

We prevented a group of French students marching briskly up the hill from going further. The sensible older man at the back with the map asked where we were and, yes they were heading the wrong way. Didn't chuckle at all...

After pizza in an increasing dark town square, the rain threatened. Street lights were on, car headlights was 3pm and twilight. The view of the storm rolling in was marvellous so we watched it through the open window of our high up room for as long as possible. The constant thunder and lightening rumbled around and we were glad we weren't on that exposed castle roof.

At that point I had a nap!

You really don't want to hear about my shopping trip or the deliciously falling apart osso bucco with cheesy polenta. Or the Campari spritz in our favourite bar. I mean, I don't want to spoil you. Today we are hitting the galleries and more trains on hills.

Monday, 24 September 2012

All about the food

The theme so far has been food. I arrived here quite hungry and since then the shops, trattoria, and even the lovely host of the B&B have tempted my appetite for local viands.

The mountainous north of Italy is all about meat, mushrooms and polenta. Last night was a perfect example of elegant trattoria cooking with traditional ingredients. The wine list was bigger than the actual menu which can make decisions impossible so the lady recommended a local brew, a Cascina del bosco bonaldi cantoalto 2008. I'm now looking at a vista which includes the vineyards at Sorisole, just north of Bergamo.

To start was a well flavoured soup of barley, sausage meat, carrots topped with crispy scallops. Mopped up with loads of bread and washed down with the almost black fruity wine, an utter hit. My friend's casonsei rabbit stuffed pasta with pinenuts looked amazing. I followed mine with beef cheek on chickpea purée. Frankly I'd eat that as my last supper; utterly melty, crispy and mouthwatering. With desserts of mixed sorbets and an appley thing the whole meal was exceptional.

Today I'm hoping for some kind of tasting menu and wines at an enoteca. Also a trip to a patisserie for the speciality polenta cake. The 'polenta e osei' looks like death by sweet... marvellous. Not sure I'll be buying that size 12 just yet!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Grand tours

Here I am on my travels again; it's just me, 3 pairs of knickers, a hair drier (priorities darlings) and an ability to fit into an Italian town using a smile and a well placed grazie. I've not got my phone charger, guidebook or marbles but I'll muddle through.

A friend of mine is doing a European Grand Tour, hopefully avoiding the worst excesses of Venice and Naples and not shipping back vast historical paintings of dubious quality so I thought I'd pop out to say hello. To encourage excesses and bad art. Obviously.

This is why I'm in Bergamo and playing bus bingo when all transport seems to be heading to Milan. An encounter with an automated ticket machine 'no notes' when your smallest change is 20 euro note was discouraging. So I eventually found a man and a ticket and hopped* on a bus saying Cittá Alta.

Corsi of width and true Italian shabby chic opened up vistas of the old town high above. Clearly the instructions of the back doc earlier in the week regarding no mountain climbing were going to go awry. First impressions are of an incredibly beautiful Venetian town with some fab clothes shops...

So we're staying in Mediaeval canary wharf and Octoberfest fever has hit Bergamo. A couple of Augustinar beers in a clay stein in a brick cellar has made me feel very autumnal. Coupled with the orange gnarled pumpkins sat on the bench opposite, the feeling of summer is evaporating.

I hope that the autumn colour continues in the botanical gardens and the water continues to sing and dance like the grasshopper blithely ignoring the match of winter.

*ascended with true grace and deportment due to back being more than unusually sore after 2 hours sat down

When the going gets tough, the contrary get cooking. Or go to Italy.

I was supposed to be in Contrary Towers this weekend, however, for reasons best known to the inmates I'd decided to not be here for at least part of it. Which means I needed some place else to be. Bugger. I decided to go to Norfolk. Which, given the damage the ever disintegrating relations with the nearly-ex are causing, was a pretty stupid decision.

Off. The. Scale.

Which was why when my dear friend Michelle suggested I should finally accept a long standing invite to visit Somerset I leapt at the chance. Almost literally.

It turned out she was having a couple of friends round to dinner, the lovely Sarah and her hubby Jon. I could do this, I might be a hermit, but I can be a sociable hermit. Yes? *gulp*

So this sounded brilliant.

Michelle then asked if I had any ideas of what to cook. Oh. Food. I like food. I came up with a couple of suggestions, both of which (as a starter and main course) would be relatively quick to prepare. And, obvs, I offered to do the cooking, after all she was going to put up with me for 24 hours, it was the least I could do. Besides, it saved having to actually create a usable recipe. Which would never do.

As you may be aware, I have issues with public transport. It always conspires to ruin my day, especially if I have to be somewhere on time, and, by definition, this was such a time.

Are we nearly there yet?
So I left early. And brought Monty.

The public transport was wise to this skulduggery and sneakily mucked up the signals around Reading. But all that meant was I became slightly less ahead of schedule. Transport wasn't going to be stymied by this and created traffic issues, delayed meetings and anything else it could think of to ensure that when Monty and I arrived...

We had to find a bus.

Have you ever used Google maps? It's brilliant. It tells me full route stuff, including which bus to find. Except for here... No information about local transport. I tried several times. Monty looked quite ashamed at my stupidity. I was trying not to hyper-ventilate. Eventually I worked out that there was a local information system. Which told me the best route was... via the next station. WTAF? So I told it to ignore trains and it said... nearly 2 hours. And I'd just missed the next bus. Feck.

It's not the size, it's the lack of taxis.
It might have whimpered at that point.

Okay. That wasn't acceptable, I needed plan B. I would travel as god intended. In a taxi. Or would have done if the queue wasn't a human model of the Great Wall of China except with more rather polite middle class people.

And middle-aged. Which was a problem as one of them, let's call them "me", needed to attend to a personal matter. *sigh*. So I left the queue and went in search of a loo. And coffee.

Coffee proved tricky. Fortunately I was distracted by a flower stall, so picked up a selection of rather bright flowers and then, in the distance... Spied a coffee place! Hurrah!

By this point Michelle had regained power and suggested I try going via Midsomer Something Or Other. She was having a laugh. There was no way I was going to go to a place called Midsomer, I might not have a telly but I do know how damaging that can be to the health!

So I went back to the Great Wall. And waited. Patiently. Ish.

Eventually it was my turn and, even more fortunately, was picked up by a lovely lady taxi driver. Which was brilliant. This meant that not only did I not see any of the scenery coming down (yacking to a lady sitting next to me) I missed all the Somerset scenert (yacking to the driver), before we knew it I was at my friend's house and ready to...

Go to Tesco.

We'd arranged that owing to the day going away from plan we'd do the shopping before picking up the friends, my taxi driver even offered to drop me off at the Tesco, but it was a different branch. She really was lovely.

So, shopping done (you'll be pleased to know we forgot the red onion) we picked up the friends. Which was hilarious. It turns out my old 911 wasn't the only car with difficult back seats. Oh dear. It all worked out though, after a shaky start and we bounded back to chez sorbet listening to constant chatter of life in France, which I really enjoyed, but couldn't really contribute as I was having an attack of nerves.

As you do.

The starting of dinner was slightly delayed as I had to speak with the nearly ex about a number of things, which I would like to say went well. But it never does. As I mentioned earlier this was meant to be quick fix so we had Pea and pesto soup with Fish finger croutons (aka Kermit the soup) along with another Contrary Towers favourite of Harissa chicken and chick pea salad. The soup recipe was pretty much as in the blog post, but I'd used a have a teaspoon of medium curry powder and half a teaspoon of flaked garlic as well. This wasn't some cunning development, more a case of I couldn't remember the recipe, didn't read what I wrote and had to recreate it.

The only problem with the soup was I'd overdone the stock so it took a while to reduce. And the guests looked slightly nervous at my description. The Harissa chicken and chickpea recipe is pretty simple, I'll give the measurements for two, for five people I simply double the amount. Except for the chicken, where I used 5, obvs.
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • Harissa powder (I got mine from Sainsbury I think), or Harissa paste
  • A lemon
  • A 400g tin of chickpeas
  • A 250g (usual size) punnet of cherry tomatoes
  • A dash of olive oil
  • Half a red onion, chopped. Or, in my case, not bought. Pfft.
  • Fresh parsley
So sliced the chicken in two, to make two very thing slices, though as it was the Tesco ones seem to have extra bits, odd. I rubbed the chicken in the olive oil before sprinkling with harissa powder both sides and setting aside to infuse. Next I, or rather my lovely commis chef Michelle, sliced all the tomatoes in two. These were mixed with the drained chickpeas. Next the lemon was sliced and then squeezed over the rest before hand mixing. Later in the evening, Michelle's daughter, was roped in to chop the parsley and add to the tomatoes and chickpea just before serving.

So, with most things prepared I split and blended the soup before chopping the fish fingers and delivering the lot to the table. I wasn't going to do portion control. I'm not sure whether the guests liked the food, but Sarah might have been using a spoon to remove the last bits of soup from the pan.

With the soup starter done I used a griddle pan to cook the chicken, about three minutes a side. Maybe. I'd had a couple of drinks by this point. Again, I lazed out and didn't do portion control, which was okay as the Tesco bits made it possible for people to have fine control over what they had.

And then the food was over. And we could have cheese. And a few more drinks. And talk.

A lot.

Party bear.
As it turned out, one hell of a lot. You see Somerset, as it turns out is nothing like E14. And there isn't a handy app to hail a cab. In fact, contrary to what the local guide said, there were no taxis at all. I know because all through the night we kept trying to call them. And I mean all through the night. Some time after 7am we eventually got one so Jon and Sarah could return home. It was fabulous to meet them and I'm really looking forward to seeing them again some time!

At this point a sensible person would get some sleep.

Which was why Michelle and I sat and chatted until 10am. And then it was too much and an hours sleep was needed. It turns out the only sensible person was Michelle's 15 year old daughter, not only could she hold her own talking with a group of adults, helping with the food prep and providing some fabulous art to look at, she also went to bed and had a sensible night's sleep instead of chatting in the garage at 4am because somebody wanted a cigarette!

Anyway. Some time later, we went for a walk. I'd been told the night before about the local farm shop. Where you could get botox. This I had to see. And it's true! You could. It was an impressive demonstration of diversification in in a farm, and it was obvious they were going to do more, I was quite impressed. After this we walked. And walked. And walked. And some miles later, wandered in to a pub. As you do. But not for a drink drink, Michelle had lemonade, I had ginger beer. Because it was on tap. Oh yes.

The downside of walking is you have to walk back, but really, it was hardly a chore, the area was quite beautiful and my companion was fabulous, the only silences were companionable and pondering rather than lack of conversation. Which is no more than you can ask for. Absolute bliss.

Sadly I had to return to Contrary Towers as I really didn't want to overstay my welcome. The trip back was far less troublesome. If you ignore the idiots at the station that drew the attention of the police. My flatmate was in bed by the time I got in so I sat and pondered quietly before eventually seeing whether I could manage to sleep, given I'd had just over an hour.

I couldn't. As ever.

The morning was rather rushed, unfortunately my flatmate couldn't stop for the baconz I'd got as she had to get to the airport for her quick break in Italy and after the briefest of conversations she was off.

I feel quite bad about this. I'll admit I was by this point not being as sociable as I could be, so not only am I missing her horribly, I also feel it wasn't the best way to wish her a bon voyage.

Anyway. At some point in the day I decided I needed to make bread. We'd actually talked about it in the night so I skipped off to Tesco to get some yeast and more flour. When I say skipped I should say waded. It was chucking it down. Great.

So, today's bread recipe...
  • 500g strong flour
  • 7g of fast yeast, or 2tsp if you use the pots (as I did)
  • 3tsp of the herb salt Clare brought back from Croatia, which I then ground down with the mortar and pestle, so about 1.5tsp of normal salt I guess
  • 3tbsp of olive oil
  • 300ml of tepid water (100ml boiled, 200ml cold)
Second prove, just before baking
Yes, I didn't use sugar, stick a tsp in if you prefer. I mixed the flour, yeast and salt, made a well, added the oil then the water before mixing. Once mixed I kneeded on the Contrary Kitchen worktop until it was nice and smooth before putting in the only decent bowl we have and covering with cling film. The bowl was placed in the warmest area in the apartment (the downstairs loo as it turns out) and left for an hour, by which time it would be about twice the size. I knocked the air out of it and shaped it in to a long lozenge on grease proof paper , dusted with flour before leaving for 45 minutes to prove a little more.

Finally... I heated the fan oven to 200C and chucked the load in for 25 minutes.

When it was ready (I did tap to make sure it sounded hollow) I left it to cool on a wire rack, actually one of the shelves from the oven.

Some time later... I ate some. It was delicious. And it's all mine!!!!!!

Actually, I'll give some to my bezzie tomorrow when she comes round. Unless I've eaten it all.


Monday, 17 September 2012

When a contrary one gets arty

This weekend was crammed with crazy sound art, meeting friends and going to the Pre Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain. Which is why on Friday evening I'd made the decision that I was really not an ICA fan, spent Saturday clad in a sugar induced hazed dressing gown and messed up the meeting of friends. Seriously, this is so predictable you can guess that I didn't get to the aforementioned exhibition either.

However there were definite pluses to the plan changes. The flatmate returned unexpectedly on Saturday which was rather pleasant as today I could rely on someone to help me navigate Tower Hill and Parliament Square junctions on a bicycle. That is why I leapt off the trusty stead as soon as possible and walked my way out of traffic trouble. I hate that part of cycling. We popped by Birkbeck Library and got the tube to Pimlico whilst I recovered my lost bicycle nerve. 

Mile End Horses
Galloping Horse
The exhibition of Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980 was incredible. Though the crowds of people meant pockets of photos were fairly inaccessible, the quantity of images meant that it was easy to get close to some of them -  if you were quick. It was organised in loose chronological order and within each room a few images were immediately striking. 

For instance the one that will stay with me is Izis Bidermana's 'Mile End Horses' (1951). This has the multifaceted interest of being near where I live, a socio-historical depiction of London, and as an artistic has a sense of eerie dilapidation. But most of all it reminded me of the futurism influenced painting by Edvard Munch 'Galloping Horse' (1910-12). Both are products of an era on the cusp of momentous change. That is all I'm going to say about this because I feel an academic tome coming on. How exciting to feel the thrust of academia and the anticipation building towards the first week in October...

Karla Black's 'At Fault', (2012)
Anyway after heading upstairs and the main entrance hall of Tate there was an odd collection of books, picture and 'stuff'. Which frankly baffled me. So I wandered off to a room and found something girly. And pretty. We giggled and peered at it and scampered off to the other modern stuff in the next room. This was terrible despite being part of Tate's programme of collecting contemporary art. The most interesting piece was a film Spill of the effects of dry ice in a factory environment; reminiscent of rivers, hair, waves, carpet. Quite beautifully hypnotic.

We headed back to the main hall to try again with Patrick Keiller’s The Robinson Institute. Once the clever one had explained one of the sections, the wit, intelligence and sheer insanity of the connections between art, video, photographs and books (maps, sculpture, government information films) were obvious. Each part was a journey by a fictional character called Robinson and designed to highlight cultural, financial, defensive, economic issues which affect us. Again, so much more to be said and I will return to this. Needless to say, we have a new reading list and decided we had no need of the rather irrelevant, uninteresting Pre-Raphaelites. Especially because they had fecking Christmas baubles in the tat shop. BAUBLES!

After causing hilarity in the fabulous Tate book shop (ok, the idea of a lenticular bookmark depicting various characters moving, unicycling, skipping was very chucklesome) we scooted back to a Boris Bike. Despite alarming saddlesoreness, went at speed back to Contrary Towers via the bucolic Wapping Woods. We whipped up a healthy vegetarian bacon soup *diet face* and hit the bread and wine. What a lovely day with thoughts, connections and giggles. The muscles may have recovered by next weekend...


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Time flies...

They say time flies when you're having fun. Which is rubbish, because time only flies when you are not making new memories as I discovered at a Royal Institution lecture in June. But still, time seems to have flown since I last wrote. I have to admit that I've been suffering an epic writers block. It really doesn't help living with somebody that is annoyingly talented, but, actually, the real problem has been I've also had something of a crisis of confidence that's rather kept me in a more pensive mood than is healthy. Maybe more on that later.

We've learned a lot recently. I've learned my flatmate is actually a witch. I always suspected, but her managing to make her phone light by the merest twitch of her nose was quite scary. Especially as we have planes from LCY turning right at Contrary Towers... My threats of her going in the canal have taken on a new perspective. We learned that whilst I can predict rain, she knows when there will be wind. Not that kind. Okay, so we're both witches. She just looks better in the uniform. I also have the uncanny knack of making people disappear once I start talking with them, though I suspect this isn't actual witchcraft.

This last week though has been eventful. We spent Friday evening in the National Gallery being utterly stunned by a musical interpretation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. What was even more amazing was discovering that Benjamin Britten had done cabaret music. And it was brilliant.

We wanted more.

Story of our respective lives really. In this case we came up blank, neither of us know about dirty jazz (though I was a member of Ronnie Scott's in the eighties), though we've both been to Proud Cabaret. We decided that, actually, what we didn't want was to be underwhelmed by some cheesy tourist rubbish (as we found in July) so we returned home. To champagne. Obvs.

What we didn't realise, as we sat sipping the Veuve Clicquot under the stars, was that Friday was the last day of our first six months here in Contrary Towers. So, without knowing, we celebrated what has been a fabulous period, certainly in my life.

I think that's pretty much what you would expect.

Anyway. We still want to do the sleazy jazz thing, we just need to find something deliciously inappropriate.

Friday also brought a new experience. I went to Asda. On a Boris bike. Now I've been to the Asda on the Isle of Dogs before, but not since the move from Westferry. And definitely not a bicycle. I even had a shopping list!

No giggling at the back.

The thing is, Clare had specific requirements and after the great melon/grapefruit debacle of whenever (I can't remember when it was but it was after March and before June, as I mentioned it in one of my blogs) I wasn't totally trusted with, well, details. Especially as we were talking baking. And baking is a precise science.

There was a problem. I normally shop in Lidl, which whilst being the Fortnum and Mason of E14, it doesn't exactly have a variety of stuff. Asda does. And then some. Now the plan had been I'd take the backpack, fill it with goodies and maybe have an extra carrier bag on the front of the Boris bike.

Which was why when I left with a full backpack and two full, large, Sainsbury reusable bags, I used Hailo to call a cab...

Oh yes, I had choice. I got stuff. I got extra stuff and I picked up things that seemed like a good idea, including dips for the Sunday evening when the adult guests, having put the children to bed, could sit and enjoy something fizzy (in the bags) and eat nibbles. Aces.

Or would have been if we didn't eat the dips, pitta bread and Doritos along with the champagne. Well, we were celebrating. Or something.

So, the very next day I went back to Asda. Not just for replacement dips, we realised we had no muffin tin. Which is quite bad. Especially if making muffins. So I left Clare making chocolate brownies and lasagne whilst I pedalled like the wind to fetch said tin. And milk. And champagne. Reusable muffin cases. And various other non-essentials that seemed like a really good idea. Oddly enough the dips were an issue... You see, I might be a bit of a ditz and I knew they were at the end of an aisle. Just where was a mystery. Pfft. Ditz.

Luckily, this time it all fitted in one bag. With clever packing. Maybe I shouldn't have got the Taittinger, but, well, we had no champagne left. That counts as a crisis. It did occur to me as I bounced back on the Boris bike that maybe this was a stupid thing to do with a bottle of champagne strapped to my back...

Sunday was a blur of activity. Well, we did a bit of tidying, then played music, lounged and pretended we were in a Sunday supplement. Right up to the point when a text arrived to say our guests were about 20 minutes away. I've never seen Clare move so fast...

...fortunately the E14 traffic scuppered our guests and time was in abundance. Ish. The rest of the day was remarkably straight forward. You can't really be too contrary with young children in tow. I made a fool of myself by spilling my drink in the Cafe Rouge we had late lunch in. We walked a lot. We looked at stuff and then we wandered back to Contrary Towers to collapse.

Monday found me at home continuing with operation find-a-bloody-job, which I'll admit is now starting to worry me. A lot. Meanwhile the rest of the gang disappeared off to do yet more stuff. All very adventurous. And certainly an awful lot more interesting than what I was trying to do. In the evening we actually managed to sit and do the grown up conversation thing. With winez. Crikey.

Not Contrary Towers...
Tuesday was to be the last day of the visit, unfortunately Clare had to scoot off and do work type stuff and the plan had been that I would do my thing whilst the troops went off to scour the science museum and give West London a hard time. Which was why I went with them. I was, after all, asked to by one of the little gentlemen. You can't refuse that. Actually, I'm glad I went, it's a lot easier to move a pair of push chairs around London if there are three adults! Plus it might have been good fun.

Sadly, eventually we had to return to Contrary Towers to feed everyone, bathe the children and make sure they left without taking any of the silver.

It really was fabulous to meet such lovely people and I do hope they come and visit again soon. Especially as they left a little something...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The 'Quiet' Nights

I noticed today that Contrary Towers has been quiet. That sentence has just produced a hollow chuckle. Are we ever quiet? It turns out that that only time we're silent on here is when we're so busy we haven't allowed our elegantly clad feet to touch the ground. Or filling our calendars with things to do to brighten the dark chill evenings to come.

As an aside, I recently had a momentary crisis of confidence which knocked me sideways and sent me scurrying for the nearest pillow under which to hide. So I've been quite gentle on myself and have done a stack of novel reading. I can recommend The Discovery of Witches and reckon I could give the heroine a run for her money in a 'magical twitchy nose making things happen' competition. I demonstrated this the other evening and as I nose twitched, to our giggles, my phone lit up with several messages and tweets. To be fair and for the avoidance of superstitious woo, I don't have to do anything for that to happen... 

During this quiet time I was lured out irresistibly to the Space outside the National Theatre. A lovely friend had supplied a savoury muffin and a pint of cider and we sat and watched Sirens and it was most entertaining. So apart from that, after a homely week of knitting at home, we were ready for some culture 'n' sparkles. We enjoyed an evening of erotic metamorphosic violence at the National Gallery and then we had a moment of 'I wonder if there is any dirty jazz on anywhere?' This could have ended badly but contrarily we came home. 


Ok so we hit the VC and chatted into the starry night. We also realised we knew nothing about sleazy jazz. This needs research and a plan if we are going to find something appropriate. 

What the actual...?! 

So we are open to offers on that score. 

After a day of cooking Clare's special lasagna (with added dirty sausage) and a slab of choc/orange brownie on Saturday, my friend and I headed off to the Southbank again. We spent much of the evening admiring the city lights from the Thames beaches. 

This tranquility was due to come to a fabulous end as the rest of the weekend saw an invasion of small people. And despite being child unfriendly, these little lovelies belong to oldest friends so they are more than welcome. The eldest is shaping up to have excellent CT  inmate potential with a charming smile, a whimsical mind, indecisive yet winning ways and a knowing insistence regarding holding hands with pretty ladies. 

There is a definite sense of a 'new term' at CT. Hope your pencils and wit are sharpened...because I'm raring to go.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Autumn fruits for dessert?

I had an urge for fruit this morning so rose from my sick bed and picked up all manner of sweet things from the local market. This inadvertently included some autumnal delights; figs, bramley apples and plums. I had no clear idea what I was going to do with them. I pondered ginger and lemon zest and came up with this fragrant, light Autumn number.

I cored, peeled and thinly sliced the 2 lovely tart apples, added zest and juice of a lemon (yup ones still left over from the party), grated a large knob of fresh ginger and a splash of water. Then covered the pan and cooked on a low heat, letting it fluff up gently and occasionally stirring. Put to one side.

Are those plums stalking me?
Take about 140g of ginger nuts and vaporise in a blender. Grind about 50g flaked roasted almonds and throw them in. Add more lemon zest and a handful of oats. I also added half a bag of mixed seeds and pine nuts for protein and crunch. Then get your fingers sticky by mixing about 80g butter into the gingery mix but don't let it get too claggy; do it quickly and lightly.

Taste the apple for sweetness and add sugar if you like. I don't, so I didn't. Pour into a gratin dish and then top thickly with the mix without pressing down too much. Top with more flaked almonds. Put in the oven at a sensible temperature. I hadn't realised that the oven had a non 'blast it to death' temp - 190 degrees. Who knew?

This is deliciously sharp, crunchy and zesty without being too stodgy. Perfect end of Summer 'build you up' healthy food. I didn't add the plums, I'll have them for breakfast tomorrow.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Feasts for all senses

Once again a quiet week at Contrary Towers. And when I say quiet, so busy we can’t actually remember what we’ve done. There was some study done over the Bank Holiday weekend, then actual work, a late night prom where it rained in the RAH). Thursday was an early night, followed by a very lovely Friday with librarian friends.
Friday was the start of a very busy weekend and there was virtually a timetable so I could fit it all in. Having recommended the consistently good Brindisa Tapas , it didn’t disappoint. We happily tucked into croqjettas de jamon, padron peppers, rosemary encrusted manchego, a plateful of cured meats and a very nice bottle of Spanish red Alaia 2009 Tempranillo. All very lovely, and accompanied by stirring political conversation, and the usual nonsense about kilts, knitting and cigars. After all, we are librarians.
On Friday another friend had invited me to the Saturday matinee prom as he had a spare ticket. What could be better than going to a prom not knowing who was on, what they were playing or even what we were going to do after? This is why for the second time this week I was in the Moet bar, exchanging gossip over yet another bottle of friendly fizz. The fourth member of our party turned up with literally a minute to spare and we tripped hastily over the already seated people in our row to get to ours. The late lovely had had the foresight to bring a fan; doubly important because it was quite sauna-like in there, and also the organist was very young and extremely fit. He also appeared to wearing a black fishnet vest and sparkly trousers. This was going to be no ordinary organ recital.
Cameron Carter tackled the large organ as if it was a wild animal to be beaten and subjugated; his mastery of this impressively complicated bit of musical machinery was incredible. How he made so many noises with it, using just his feet left me stunned, and though his re-imagining of Bach classics might annoy some organ purists, I actually thought it made organ music worth listening to. No simple annoying church plinky plonking here. As a self confessed organ obsessive, he left us in no doubt of his genius when he brought out the Toccata and Fugue in D minor and made it sound like a piece we’d never heard before. His rather funky Rule Britannia left the grey beards scratching their heads but I loved it. What an appropriate encore for a prom.
Cute bees!
After a brief regrouping we meandered off to a stunning little shop called the Sampler. On first sight it was rather a brightly lit bewilderingly busy little off licence but then you read the instructions. You get an ‘oyster card’, top it up with cash, and meander around the shop sampling a fabulous array of wines. The dispensers are like work coffee machines only far more magical. There are 3 sizes – a dribble, a goodish measure and a glass; these range in price from 30p for a dribble of ordinary to £50 for a glass of something rather extraordinary. It is a good idea because for about £15-20, you can get to try wines that you wouldn’t have the courage to buy in a restaurant. In order to keep the palate fresh and stomach lined, they offer excellent snacks of cheeses, bread and sausage. In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere, a dog chases a wine cork and the staff are infinitely entertaining.
Someone may have spilt a dessert wine everywhere but at least I’ve found a new eau de cologne. The scent of berries and chocolate followed me around all evening, watch out Jo Malone!

A sample of quail was perfect
After more ridiculously frivolously foody conversation and organising a sherry and tapas night, someone mentioned Lahore, the best budget Indian restaurant in London. A date for dinner was discussed and dismissed with ‘why don’t we get a bottle here and go now?’ My heart sang. My friends can be as contrary as me! So off we popped to Aldgate East for a mixed grill big enough to feed the entire restaurant, quail, prawns the size of lobsters, mountains of lamb chops and a field of Bombay potatoes. Anyone with half a taste bud should come here. With the bottle of incredible Spanish Clio – the universal favourite from the Sampler, we demolished the lot. Even the picky member of the group who wasn’t happy with the food choice, declared it was the best Indian meal he’d ever had. We were four very happy and replete epicureans on leaving there.
What a day of delights. From friendship, musical perfection, and memorable food, we probably broke all manner of diets, health guidelines and dinnertime conversation taboos but do we care? Not likely!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Sweet sweet cherry pie

So this one isn't perfect but has the potential to be perfect. *sigh* haven't we all?

Take a measure of vodka, cherry liqueur, the dregs of krupnik, half a measure of white rum, teaspoon of vanilla extract and shake over ice. Pour into martini glasses and top up with apple juice. Float roasted flaked almonds on top.

The rum adds a certain spiciness but I think this needs the comfort of amaretto to turn it into a Bakewell tart martini. I think my flatmate would appreciate a Bakewell Tart... afterall, she is ... [redacted]

Clare's Raspberry Apple Pie

So for reasons now unknown to me, we were talking about pie. Why were we talking about pie? Apparently we'd had it for dinner not 3 hours earlier and someone felt that a chocolate steamed pudding wasn't enough for dessert.

Not being one to judge I applied some considerable intellect and surveyed the freezer. This is Clare's Raspberry Apple Pie.

I poured 2 measures of vodka, a measure of krupnik, a measure of chambord, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and shook vigorously over ice. Divide the mix between two glasses, add a splash of apple juice and stir with a cinnamon stick, leaving it to bob drunkenly

Quite frankly, this is lovely and perfect end of summer, Bank Holiday martini.  

Shaken and Stirred!

It's been very quiet at Contrary Towers. Now that we have a lovely set of candles on the balcony, carefully measured and sourced from the local market, the weather has rather contrarily decided to go off colour in the evening. Honestly. It's rather annoying when you want to sit outside, gossiping and watching the Cotall Street mafia go about its business.

Last week involved us working hard and plotting a few things. I had decided on a weekend of study. Which is why I found myself heading off to the Barbican 007 exhibition with a friend on Friday night. It was impossible not to, the website said:
Whether you like your drink shaken or stirred, you can enjoy a selection of Bond-style cocktails at the Martini Bar and experience the 007 lifestyle for real.
That clinched the deal. We got there in time for a drink before hand and as quips fell thick and fast the Vesper did interesting things to my co-ordination. Wobbling into the Curve, I was delighted by the Bond memorabilia; costumes, gold bars, gadgets, designs and story boards. Seeing the films all in one place showed how each Bond film was defined by its era. 

The exhibition appears to take over the entire Barbican complex, with 2 other rooms being filled with Bond baddies and a mock up of the Die Another Day ice palace. In that last snowy room I particularly loved seeing the cello case that Timothy Dalton and Maryam D'Abo used to escape in The Living Daylights. After that it was off to the bar for another classic vodka martini. Lightweight, fun and fashion-filled frivolity.

Saturday was a bit of a slow start; I blame the pizza from the night before. To shake out the cobwebs and disregarding the ferocious looking weather forecast, I got on a boris bike and headed to Academicland. I spent precisely 10 mins in the library before deciding coffee with another friend was a good idea. Now the weather was being rather beautiful; light was being scattered by jewel like raindrops through the Russell Square trees, non-threatening and ... oh. Coming down in buckets. All pretense was dropped so we stayed there until it suddenly stopped and odd shaped clouds bloomed above Bloomsbury.

We toddled off to the Southbank because I needed mead. And then as if the weather gods were mildly unhappy that we'd taken their threats so lightly earlier on, they really went for it. The food stalls at the back of the Festival Hall were suddenly inundated with water; awnings bulged and torrents flowed down the street. Thunder and lightning sent people scurrying for cover. If you were lucky you scarpered with Moroccan fancies in your hand and munched whilst the gods put on a show. It was brilliant. 

After no let up for half an hour, we became a little bored and cold. So sensing a slight lull I grabbed my bottle of mead and we headed for the underground. After a brief excursion to North Greenwich to see if the cable car was running ... er no ... we got on a boat and headed back to Contrary Towers. To warm up, we opened the mead and proceeded to talk about art which is always heating! We discussed a rather interesting sound installation which is currently on at the ICA and I made plans to see it - because looking at stuff is sort of like studying, only not reading and writing.

As it happens, I was blown away by it and I will be doing something a little more academic with Bruce Nauman's Days. I bought a book and everything. This student discount thingy is brilliant. I wonder if the local furniture/bookcase shop does discounts?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Lemons and limes

Post party we have an issue.

Specifically we have cornered the lemon and lime supply in East London owing to sending @obotheclown out to get more limes. What were we thinking? Obviously I wasn't because I believe at that point I had a wine in one hand and a cocktail in the other which, if you read my blog, is why I get in to so much trouble.


So we've been looking at recipes that include said popular citrus fruits. Which is why I sort of tried to make steamed lemon tilapia with teriyaki sauce. When I sort of I mean I'd best explain. I love living on the East End, but you can't get tilapia in Lidl. Or mirin for that matter. A recipe adjustment was the order of the day.

So salmon it was. Which Lidl do sell, freezer section if you want the unsmoked stuff. For mirin I could have substituted sherry, but Clare suggested I use Prošek as, like all respectable people, we have it in the fridge. Sensible lady my flatmate. Compared to me. As I'm neither sensible, nor... Oh you, get the picture.

What you need...

  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 75ml of mirin/sherry/Prošek substitute
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • half a tablespoon of honey
  • 1 lemon (thank goodness for that!) half squeezed, half sliced
  • 200g of rinsed basmati rice
  • 2 tilalpia/salmon/whatever fillets
  • piece of ginger, shredded. FFS Lidl, why didn't you have this?!!!
  • 1 red chilly (nom)
  • Spring onions, sliced and then left in the kitchen all forlorn.
So, preparing in advance... Glad I did as madam turned up with the ingredients for blinis, more later. Put the soy, mirin/sherry/Prošek, sugar, honey and lemon juice in a small pan, boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Maybe more as she turned up at that point and you know how we talk. Meanwhile, rice in pan, boil with 400ml of water for 5 minutes then put the fish on top and sprinkle the ginger and chilli. Add the lemons to look a bit flash Cook for another 5 minutes, which might be more as we had a lot to talk about (had been nearly three hours!) and...

...put on a plate, which is bloody tricky I can tell you, add a drizzle of the sauce and forget to add the spring onions. Optionally you can add the spring onions. If you are conventional like that. We won't judge. Much.


So that was last night. Tonight we had a choice, the thai beef (now tomorrow) or the blinis that the Contrary One turned up with last night. With caviar. And champagne.


Don't get us wrong, I know there are some that thing we are frivolous, decadent and debauched social butterflies that have napalm on toast and carry chainsaws. It's not true, but in this case we, by chance, have three tins of caviar and a couple of bottles of fizz in the fridge. As you do.

So it was to be a Contrary Tuesday. And blinis. Lots of blinis.

The fizz of choice was Bollinger, which, unfortunately seemed to have had a little shake. So we now have a champagne flavour wall. I'm not sure exactly where the caviar came from, but I do know it keeps appearing in the fridge and comes from Belarus. So, sensibly, I don't ask questions.

I also won't mention the smutty thoughts that we both had regarding stray caviar as it explodes. Ahem.

Where was I?

Oh yes. So the trouble with champagne is, well, we only have a little fridge, and wanted to keep the yellow label for another night. So we had to move on to cocktails. Time for a new recipe, the Pippy No Stockings, which you can see in Clare's version of the evening. It is gorgeous. And used limes. And now we're both slightly squiffy. So time to hit twitter and be debauched...

Blowing Raspberries at the Week

Let it not be said I'm not persistent. Or bad at written English. Despite not having a party for which to prepare, I'm still inventing cocktails. 

We were a bottle of bolly down and then I was asked 'what shall we drink next?'. So I peered at the jewel like bottle of raspberry liqueur and thought 'vodka'. 

I took a couple measures of ice cold vodka, added fresh lime juice, a scoop of raspberry jam and shook over ice. I added the chambord and a slice of lime. 

I'm calling this a Pippy No Stockings because all the raspberry pips are caught in the shaker. And I'm not wearing any.

Tuesday is clearly the new Friday. See you next week!

Saturday, 18 August 2012


Just in case you thought my flatmate had finally done it and hurled me over the balcony, do not fear, I'm still here. And also for a change I'm writing this fuelled only by coffee rather than heady nectinis. Oh and a pie that I found in the freezer; if dirty food strays across my path, it's fair game. I was tempted by the bottles of beer in the fridge, given that it is finally that sunny time of year.


It's alcohol free. Thanks Andy! Never mind, I'll make a real drink after this coffee.

A diet update is required because we may have strayed off the curvy and wide recently because here is no doubt that we won't be fitting into the straight and narrow any time soon. I seem to be in exactly the same position as I was earlier in the year when I needed to get into a certain Karen Millen dress and attend a Christening. But this time it's even more drastic because it's a Wedding in three weeks and the lovely people getting married have been utterly dedicated to achieving their goals and are looking fab. Never mind, guests are allowed to look slightly porky and I will simply hide at the back of the photos!

Sausages 4 Sail
Exercise hasn't been entirely lacking. I managed a delicious bicycle ride last night from Hoxton to Poplar. I was in full cool elegance mode, so tucked my flowing white skirt into my knickers and wafted down the canal from Victoria Park. This was my first mistake. There were boats on the canal (shocker) but one was offering hot dogs with sauerkraut and I am weak. And it was fabulous to sit there in the melee, steed propped up, and watch the world go by. Eventually I remounted and headed home.

It was that magical time of the evening when all mundane things took on an extraordinary aspect. As I cycled a huge dragon fly flew parallel to me for a split second, the ducks swam through the calm water, with dancing flies just breaking the surface. There was also a beautiful, fully made up woman sat on a bench, clearly waiting for someone. What was her story? Why was she so thoroughly alone? The reflections of graffiti in the canal and the industrial brick chimney all glowed in the twilight.

I was sad to finally pull over into my local bike stand and exchange a bit of banter with a chap. At this point he'd watched me career down the bumpy road, big grin, legs flailing and squeaking a bit. I looked like I was enjoying myself apparently. And mama mia! I was. Exercise hasn't been this much fun in ages.

Today remains pretty good in the diet steaks (sic). I've had a run, eaten a pie and I've been promised cheesecake later so I think the dress fitting is going to go extremely well.

Who says I'm deluded?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Kermit the Soup

There was a certain delicious irony in Contrary Towers this evening, I was making a soup of the purest green whilst my flatmate was watching an arts programme about gold, with a mention of the alchemists, on her pooter. Why? Think Blackadder the Second. Obvs.

Anyway. A few weeks back we found this ace recipe for pea and pesto soup with fish finger croutons. At the time though we couldn't make it as we were missing a key ingredient. Namely peas. And pesto. And fish fingers. And spud. In short we had stock and we had water. And a pan.

Even I can't make a really decent knife-stands-up-in-it soup with that.

Post-party we had stuff. I hadn't realised that, importantly, we had pesto. And I'd got spud for turning the other party chicken in to soup. Sooo...

You'll need...
  • 500grammes of frozen peas. We had just enough *adds to shopping list*
  • About the same again in spud, 4 medium sized ones should do it
  • Half a jar of green pesto. Which, oddly enough was exactly how much we had
  • A veggy stock cube made in to about 3/4 of a litre of stock
  • A dash of cayenne pepper as it's a legal requirement
  • Ground pepper
  • Quarter of a teaspoon of cumin
  • 10 fish fingers. 8 to use as croutons, 2 to, err, test.
Give peas a chance...
Chuck the peas in the wrong sized pan, the soup pan is in the fridge with chicken soup in it. Peel and dice the spud so the bits are about pea sized. Add the stock. Bring to the boil. Add the cayenne, ground pepper and cumin. Then simmer for about 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, put the fish fingers under the grill after first arguing about whether grill or oven is best. You want them crispy so grill. This also means you need to remove the now concrete like dried pitta bread from the grill, tear and throw to the ducks whilst laughing at ditzy flatmate. The ducks liked this. Fortunately I managed not to burn them, hurrah. The fish fingers not the ducks. Though at one point some cheeky mare did ask whether they were ready because she could smell burning. Some people!

I think I turned them once. I wasn't really concentrating as the whole gold programme thing was fascinating.

When the pea and spud seem about ready, take out about a third of the pea and spud with a slotted spoon then blend what's in the pan. This will end up a disgusting smooth gloop that even the hungriest babies would turn their noses up at. But it is tasty. Add the pesto, blend a bit more.

Finally add the peas and spud you took out earlier and give it all a bit of a stir.

The fish fingers should now be about done. And not burned. Cut them roughly in to threes. Eat some, offer some to your flatmate, which she'll accept and then tell her it's time to eat...

Note the gap... Ask Clare why!
When she's got off the chair, ladle out the soup and add the fish fingers in an artistic manner. At this point she may lose all signs of resistance and eat another piece of fish finger...

Sit down.


It doesn't get much easier than that and, I have to say, it was really, really scrummy.

As we ate, Clare offered a thought. We were, essentially, eating fish, chips and mushy peas. Just rearranged. And more peas than usual.

Now that has to be a win.