Monday, 24 August 2009

A Cup of Tea

This post isn't about a recipe for anything baked, fried or otherwise, however, I was just pondering the wonders of tea and wanted to tell you about the pleasures that I've gotten from drinking this popular beverage in Britain. Pictured above are photos of very important tea mugs which deliver tea to special people morning after morning. It's what goes in these mugs is what I'm here to discuss.

Before I moved here my friend Deanna gave me the best advice. She told me, "When in doubt, drink tea". I think of her telling me this often and always always accept a cup of tea. It's an absolute must. It's one of the small wonders on this island that makes living here pretty amazing.

I'm going to express my gratitude for tea and it's many rituals, but first I'm going to list a few facts that Americans may not know about tea, plus how to make a good cup.

-First, you may refer to a cup of tea as a 'cuppa'. Not, a 'cup-a tea' (by trying to say a 'cup of tea')by just being lazy with your words, but it's acceptable to say or write, 'Would you like a cuppa?' Also, you may refer to your cup of tea in casual conversation as, normal, proper, char, builders or brew, just to name a few. All of these are acceptable and won't get you strange looks. There are some discrepancies though, like 'builders tea' is really strong and made with more milk than usual. But when having casual conversation or when ordering, throwing these terms around is completely appropriate, so just let the lingo flow.

-Also guys, it's not hot tea, it's just tea. The trend of iced tea hasn't really caught on here (the weather is whole heatedly to blame for this) so if you ask for hot tea it's like asking for wet water. Of course your tea is going to be hot. How else would you drink it?

-When lounging around with Brits in your home, it's very appropriate to say, "Shall I put the kettle on?" This means you're going to make tea. Other flavors of tea may be introduced here but that's pretty straight forward and just like how Americans make any other sort of 'hot tea'.

--Americans have somewhat of a reputation for not being able to make a decent cup of tea. So pay attention- I'm about to tell you everything you need to know--

What I've been describing above is just black tea, what American's would recognize as Lipton tea or something similar. And like I said, it's always hot and it's something that everyone has in their house. Probably even if they aren't tea drinkers (an anomaly to say the least....) they have some proper tea in the kitchen. And here's how to make a good cuppa at home:

1. Boil some water, preferably in an electric kettle.

2. Put one tea bag in a mug. Putter around the kitchen or rooms close by until the kettle boils. You know, tidying up or sticking your head out the window to check the weather.

3. Once the water has boiled you may pour the water in the mug until it's about 3/4 full.

4. At this point, you will probably want to add milk. Most people do. A couple of tablespoons does the trick. Apparently the amount of milk is pretty important. I would stick with small amounts first- remember the marmite situation???

5. Leave the tea bag in and putter around some more. After a couple of minutes you are ready to take the tea bag out (with a tea spoon if you have it!). Squeeze the bag with your fingers or against the side of the cup to get all the good bits out.

6. The tea is ready to drink when cooled enough. Slurping and sighing/moaning is completely appropriate when drinking.

There are tea ceremonies and rituals all over the world, but my favorite so far is the morning tea ritual a lot of Brits adhere to. It is not uncommon to wake, make a brew according to the directions above and get back in bed. While your tea is cooling and you begin to slowly sip it, it's nice to listen to the radio, read a newspaper or lightly surf the internet. Books usually aren't introduced and while you may check your email, responses are usually saved for later in the morning. Responses need coffee. The best though, is having someone in bed with you to chat with, or to just stare at the wall with them in silence as you hang onto your warm mug with both hands coping with waking up. I've heard of families enjoying their tea together in bed in the morning and anytime I'm spending the night with a British friend, I always get a cup of tea in the morning. I must say too, it's just as satisfying being the one to wake first and make the tea as it is being the one who gets to lay in bed and have tea served to them. It's less harsh on the stomach than coffee and has a lighter flavor- perfect for gently waking up. Once your cup is empty it is then appropriate to make coffee, respond to emails and contemplate more difficult things like breakfast and showers.

My friend Amanda just visited from the States and I would make her tea every morning. We would sit in bed and discuss the day. But only trivial things like, "Hmmm...should I wash my hair today?" or "Wow, I should really cut my toenails" or "We should make some Yorkshire puddings for dinner". It seems meaningless and trivial, but those were some of my favorite moments of her visit. Spending that luxurious time, if only ten minutes, with a friend or family or lover, can make all the difference in ones day. Of course you can argue that this ritual is possible with any beverage but I have to admit, it's kind of nice to let years of tradition and culture take over my morning- a tried and true recipe for a successful day. And if you get into the day and things aren't going just right, hey, go have a brew and try again!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Buttermilk Biscuits

I have a challenge for you. Try explaining an American biscuit to a Brit. They know biscuits as what Americans know as cookies. They have tea and biscuits (cookies) in the afternoon, sell dainty tins of biscuits at novelty shops and eat them to soothe a sweet tooth. And when looking through British cookbooks you always have to remember the difference between the two- otherwise, you find yourself confused and frustrated with a seemingly helpless cookbook index. I was recently trying to get a Brit excited about me making biscuits and got the response, "Oh! Awesome, homemade biscuits. Oh wait, you mean, your kind of biscuits, don't you?" Yes, my kind of biscuits. I normally go with the, 'they are similar to scones but better' response. I often wonder if I'm alone in the Southern biscuit defense battle here in the UK.....

I introduced you to Jenne a couple of posts ago but I'm going to take it a bit more personal and explain that while we met in London we are both American Southern Gals, she from Florida and I from Tennessee. I can't put into words how nice it is to meet someone of your nationality, specifically, from your region, when you live abroad. I adore London and all its ups and downs, but nostolgia can pull at even the toughest of heart strings so while I may boast about my 'seamless move' (ha!), the idea of blazing summer weather, sickenly sweet iced tea and hot water corn bread sometimes brings a small tear to my eye. And finding a friend who shares these small pleasures and nostolgia with me, well, makes a lovely kitchen companion and a dear friend.

Time was ticking because Jenne is leaving (she's gone now...:( ) the UK for a bit and it's still unclear as to when we will be in the same town to share a kitchen. So, temporarily, I had a partner in my biscuit defense battle. It's in our genes to make biscuits. We can do it in our sleep. However, turning the batter into a dough to roll out fold and create delicious little clouds of layered butter and flour takes time and patience and practice. Over several pints one night we confided in each other this slight Southern disability that neither of us in fact could make a decent roll out biscuit. And before we could continue to represent all things Southern we decided we must set things straight. So, armed with bags of flour, giant sticks of butter and a wine bottle to use as a rolling pin, we embarked on our big roll out buttermilk biscuit adventure.

We used this video for guidance and followed the recipe almost exactly. Thing is, buttermilk is a lot harder to find here so we did the ol' adding vinegar or lemon juice to milk and let it curdle. It's easy, and works almost the same. Almost. There is a certain tang lacking with the make-do option, but it still does the trick. Just add one tablespoon either lemon juice or white vinegar per one cup liquid, whisk for a few seconds and let it stand for about ten minutes. Yes, it will curdle so don't let the chunk factor gross you out- it's all worth it in the end.

Transforming the batter into a workable dough is a bit tricky. It's about adding just the right amount of flour and resisting from kneading it too much. Overworking the dough will release its gluten and leave you with hockey pucks, not heavenly pillows of delight. Jenne and I still have some practice to do in the roll out biscuit realm, however, we are well on our way to becoming experts. If you are doing this for the first time I have a bit of advice. A.) Be prepared to get your hands dirty. Just chuck yourself into it. B.) Please please don't over knead. C.) Try if you can to roll the biscuits out on a cold surface. This will keep the butter solid while working on it with warm hands. It's similar to pastry crust....but oh so much more satisfying!

I'm prepared to fight the biscuit battle alone. It's gonna take a whole lotta butter and whole lotta explaining, but I'm prepared to introduce Brits to the joy of Southern buttermilk biscuits. One Brit at a time if I have to- it's for their own good, really. And honestly, so far, I've gotten nothing but praise.

The recipe as it appears on the video link above:

4 C white flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks (16 oz) butter
1 1/4 C buttermilk

-preheat oven to 375 degrees

-cut the butter into chunks and let chill in the fridge (minimum of ten minutes)

-mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl

-work in the butter until it resembles course meal and has pea sized bits of butter throughout

-add the buttermilk (or make-do mixture) to the flour

-stir together gently (careful, it's a pretty wet batter)

-once it starts sticking together plop it out onto a floured surface and work it together into a soft dough

-roll out to about a quarter of an inch thickness and fold the dough in half, then in half again, like a piece of paper. repeat if necessary

-roll out again and cut the dough into circles with a cutter (or coffee cup) or cut into squares as pictured above

-bake for 18-20 minutes or until puffy and golden brown

-let them cool on a cooling rack and eat immediately. get ready to live!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Transition to Fall Couscous

Sorry to drop the F-bomb on you like that. I'm not here to tell you how much I like Fall and that horrible, unmentionable season that follows, I'm only here to tell you about a lovely little couscous dish I made that sort-of reminded me of Fall. It's around the corner, but let's not talk about that part. Ok? Just couscous, that's all.

My usual dishes consist of no more than five ingredients. That's because I'm broke, honestly. When considering my meals, it's like, hmmm, 'Should I amp up this dish by sauteing this onion with the rice and adding spinach at the end?' I usually opt to leave it out and save it for the next nights dinner. Things are less complicated in my kitchen. Don't go taking pity on me though, I eat well and often and spending money on good food is just as important as paying my rent. It's mainly about stretching here- which has resulted in creating some spectacular dishes I would have otherwise overdone. That being said, I did not hold back a bit with this dish. Avocado? Yes! Tomato, of course. Pickled peppers? Olives? It's all in the mix and boy did it feel luxurious!

The reason this dish reminds me of Fall is because of the sauteed garlic and celery. Not very distinctive, I know, but something about the smell of it with a bit of chili and pepper reminded me of stuffing, which reminded me of Thanksgiving. And the color and texture of the couscous was very much like the bread part in stuffing. And with the addition of vegetable broth, well, it was spot on. Almost got me excited about the holidays. Almost.

You're skimming this post wondering when I'm going to bring up the fact there are blackberries in the above picture, right?

So yes, I added blackberries to my Fall-ish couscous dish which makes no sense at all. Or does it? When reading Mark Bittman's blog the other day, he talked about the weirdest pizza he had ever made which included blackberries in place on tomatoes and some other lovely garden vegetables all topped with blue cheese. Mark Bittman can do no wrong in my mind. He's my go-to cook. Some people refer to the bible (Mastering the Art of French Cooking), others refer to the Joy of Cooking. I refer to Mark. Plus, he's kinda sexy. No? After reading the post I marched right over the grocery store and purchased blackberries then sat and waited to do something extremely strange/awesome with them.

My time came when I was preparing the couscous. It was not at all pre-meditated which is what I was going for in using the blackberries. Everything was just coming together spur of the moment and at the last moment, with visions of Mark dancing through my head, I immediately knew what to do.

The couple of people who tried this dish were very hesitant at first. My roommate, who was making her own lunch, kept side-eyeing the bowl and not with a hungry side eye. More of a, 'What the fuck' side eye. She tried it to be polite when I offered her some and then sheepishly said she loved the paring of sweet and spicy together and could she have some more please? Then Jenne (see previous post) came over exclaiming she was hungry and did I have anything to snack on? You bet! I could see her trying to get out of it once presented. 'That's ok, I'll just drink this beer for lunch'. I almost had to beg her to take a bite. Then ten fork fulls later she was a believer. It's just the blackberries that puts people off. So, if you make this dish you're going to have to be on top of your convincing game. Don't take no for an answer and bring extras because it will disappear in an instant.

Serves 4-6

2 T olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 chili pepper- diced
1 1/2 C couscous
3 C water
1 T instant vegetable stock or 1 cube of stock. alternatively, use liquid stock in place of water.
1 large tomato- de-seeded and diced
1/2 large cucumber- de-skinned and chopped (seeds are ok)
1 ripe avocado- chopped into bite-size sections
10-12 green olives- cut in half
*6 pickled chili peppers- cut into thirds
10-12 fresh blackberries
salt and pepper for seasoning

- heat oil over medium heat in sauce pan and saute the garlic and pepper for about 3 minutes

-add the celery and continue to cook for about 5-7 more minutes

-add the couscous and toast until fragrant. about 3-4 minutes

-add water and cook the couscous according to package directions

-meanwhile, chop the vegetables

-once the couscous is cooked, fluff with a fork, put into a serving bowl and add the rest of the prepared ingredients. continue to use your fork for mixing and do it lightly and quickly. couscous mashes easily and i would hate for you to end up with mashed blackberry weirdness!

*pickled chili peppers are amazing! try to find them if you can. usually with the olives and capers and such in the grocery. if you can't find them, red chili flakes would make a nice substitution. perhaps about 2 teaspoons.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Jenne's Birthday Cake

"Hi, this is my friend Alexandra! She can't ride a bike!"

This is how my friend Jenne (pictured above) introduces me to her bike forum buddies. So when I walked into the pub bearing a pink flowery birthday cake, wearing three inch glittery heels and flawless eyeliner, needless to say the bike posse was less than impressed. I suddenly felt the shift in atmosphere. They were all thinking - "Someone near me doesn't like bikes. I don't know how to feel about that." There were many shifty glances and people found themselves huddled together, all hoping the freak with no sense of anything hip would not try to talk to them.

It's not that I don't like bikes per say, I just never learned to ride one. My parents did buy me one which I lamely attempted to coast down a few hills before giving up to go play with my barbies or dance around my room singing to "Get into the groove" at full volume. (Yes, I was doing both at ten years old) And as the years went by it became clear that riding bikes was not my thing. I've made it to twenty-seven years of age without riding a bike. Jenne is determined to change that. I'll keep you posted.

In the end, the bike posse was really great. That's because, pink birthday cake brings everyone together! Once the cake was cut and eaten (devoured! sixteen pieces gone in an instant!) the gang started to warm up. Guys wearing silly (trendy?) bike hats with one pant leg rolled up started sheepishly coming up to me saying things like "Hey, you made that cake, right? Um, I just wanted to say it was really delicious. Ok, bye." Then their tuff girlfriends with scary looking gloves and beat-up velcro bike shoes would come say, "Hey, that cake was awesome! Are you really going to wear those heels all night?". To which I replied, "What else would I wear??"

The after party was a bit away from the pub and everyone, of course, was going to ride their bikes to the party. Everyone except me. Those who had not heard the terrible introduction were asking me, "So, which bike is yours? Are you going to bike to the party?" Then one glance at my shoes answered their question. It was decided that I would take a bus and the bike gang would follow me. So, in busy East London, I hopped on a crowded bus to the party with a posse of bike forum folks following me. "Just get off at Brick Lane next to the giant wall of graffiti and we'll meet you there!" So I hopped on the bus, and with several flashing bike lights behind me found my way to Brick Lane. Even though I felt a bit out of place, I had to admit I felt special ("I have a bike posse following me. Don't fuck with me" Is what I wanted to say to all the drunk Brits on the bus), and I have the feeling that this pink birthday cake was the reason they felt inclined to follow a giant double decker bus through the busy streets of London to meet me for the after party.

Just a few of the bike posse....

The cake which solved all of my problems for the evening is one in the same as the birthday cake I made for Ben and I. Jenne had high demands for her cake. She originally asked for strawberry mouse cake but I knew that would not travel well through the tubes and trains of London so I had to re-evaluate. (Or whip up mouse at a seedy pub in East London) She wanted pink, she wanted strawberry, she wanted layers and she wanted strawberry filling in the layers! Damn woman! So I went with what I knew best and happily accepted the challenge.

(It's no mystery I'm not the best at photography, but I blame this suckiness on the terrible lighting at the pub. Yeah, ok, and maybe the pints I was drinking had something to do with it too)

It's not close to being vegan, low fat or sugar-free, but it makes you friends fast which is essential when you are an American living in London (and hanging out with bikers). I did four layers instead of two because I knew I was feeding a small crowd and, really, I wanted to be dramatic. In reference to the last post, I just used strawberry jam for blueberry and omitted lavender- and discarded pistachios in the batter. For two layers I made just plain vanilla sponge cake and the other two I made the same thing but added real chopped strawberries. I made a simple cream cheese frosting and decorated it with cute little sugar flowers. Easy peazy!

The cake recipe is in the post referenced above and for the icing, well, I didn't follow a recipe but I used an 8oz container of full-fat cream cheese (soft cheese as it's called here. confusing!) mixed a tablespoon of milk and just started whisking in powdered sugar. I probably managed to whisk in about 10oz of sugar. It should be a nice creamy consistency free of any sugar lumps.

It goes to show you that you can do basically anything with this cake. It's my new standby for when I need an impressive cake fast. Now, if only riding a bike was as easy as baking a four layer cake......

Decorate as desired and go win some friends!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Blueberry Lavender Birthday Cake

London and surrounding cities are experiencing something of a heat wave at the moment. So what does that make me want to do? Right, turn on the oven. In a house with no fans or air conditioning, nonetheless. But it had to be done so I answered the calling from above, strapped on my apron and got to work.

The very original idea for this cake came from Nashville when I ate a piece of Blueberry Lavender cake with my friend Leah at Fido Coffee shop. It was fragrant and sweet and tasted much like a spring dessert should taste. I've since kept the idea in the back of my mind hoping that one day I would make my own version.

Skip to a few months later where I'm sitting out in the sun with Ben (remember Marmite guru?) and we are intensely discussing our birthday cake options. Since we share a birthday (June 25th) and are both obsessed with all things confectionary we had to come up with the perfect cake to make for ourselves. Fresh lavender is abundant at the moment and can be smelled all over the place. I am noticing more and more lavender everyday and am always the nerd who stops to smell it while nearly snorting bumble bees up my nose. It's always worth the risk, trust me. At the very least snag some and make a tiny arrangement with it in your house: I have been putting little stalks in clear glasses here and there which have significantly improved the decor (and smell) of my mismatched, 'on the go' student house.

Chocolate lavender cake was on topic for a while- it's one of my favorite flavor combinations- but then the light bulb went off in my head when I remembered the cake shared with Leah. From there the important bit was how to go about it- how to make it original. Maybe white chocolate pieces in the batter? Icing or no? Pistachio's were insisted upon and to make the cake layered was a must. Then there were the discussions of exactly how to infuse the lavender flavor so it would not overpower, yet still have a presence. Whew. In the end we added some chopped pistachio's which gave a nice subtle crunch to every bite, and by mistake only put dried blueberries in the mix. I had the idea of putting in fresh berries for color but clearly that has to wait until next time. That was all my fault actually. Drinking wine while dancing around the kitchen sometimes leads to losing a train of thought.....but! it turned out to be a great mistake as we had blueberries for garnish and the dried ones stood up nicely in the batter and still added pretty flecks of blue in the cake. The infusion of lavender in the jam center layer was perfect and as was later discussed, maybe a hint of citrus zest was all it was missing.

The basic cake recipe came from this great little bake book I have called '200 cakes and bakes' by Sara Lewis. It's the perfect little book full of wonderful recipes and photos to match. The measurements are metric, but easily converted thanks to google calculators. The recipe I used was for a victoria sandwich cake which is just a plain vanilla cake with jam filling. I have made the recipe for you here in American measurements, but they stay true to the original recipe.

And guys, this is no vegan, sugar free cake. In my defense, vegan baking is much harder in London as health food shops require special trips all around town, the items are quite expensive and I am lacking a lot of the equipment necessary to pull it off. That being said, I'm not upset about eating this full fat, full sugar confection with conviction. It was the perfect dual birthday cake and I suspect it's one that will become a tradition.

And even if this is not for a birthday celebration, I know this cake would be welcome at any summer party. They would make nice cup cakes too. Decorated with tiny flowers? Yeah, that's just over the top adorable. Don't do it!

This cake will take you about 30 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook. Serves 8.

You will need:

2 8 inch cake tins, greased
one large mixing bowl

For the cake:

3/4 C butter, at room temperature
3/4 C caster sugar (white or brown sugar is fine)
3/4 C unbleached white flour (the original recipe calls for brown rice flour, but I used white and it turned out fine)
3 large eggs
1 T baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 T milk


1/4 C finely chopped pistachios
1/3 C dried blueberries
1 T fresh lavender chopped into the smallest possible pieces

for the jam layer:

3/4 C good quality blueberry jam
1 large sprig of lavender

fresh blueberries for garnish, approximately 1 C
powdered sugar for dusting

To make:

-Heat the jam in a sauce pan on lowest possible temperature. Place the lavender sprig in and coat with jam. Gently press the top of a spoon on the lavender to release the flavor. When throughly heated (about ten minutes) turn heat off but keep it on the eye, and keep pressing the lavender when you get a chance.

- Cream the butter, sugar and milk together. set aside

-Whisk the flour and baking powder together

-Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir a couple of times. Add the rest of the ingredients until just mixed. Please don't over mix!

- Bake in greased baking tins for twenty minutes or until golden brown

-Let cool in cake pans for about ten minutes, then turn onto cooling racks and let them finish cooling- about 30-40 minutes

- Decide what your bottom layer is and place on desired serving plate. Gently and evenly spoon the jam in the center, being careful to discard the sprig of lavender.

- Add top layer and decorate as you wish. A nice dusting of powdered sugar and blueberries worked for me- but I'm sure there are tons of great spring and summer options. Happy eating:)

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Marmite Strategies 101

"Next time you spread Marmite your toast, I'm going to need to see a little bit more conviction"

The above quote was said to me during a lesson in Marmite strategies of consumption 101 by a certain Marmite guru named Ben. Several mornings had passed by of me opting to put everything but Marmite on my toast. "Would you like some Marmite?" No, I would not. "Do you even like Marmite?" Um, no, I don't. Usually, when it comes to food, I can get by without the British rolling their eyes at me and thinking "Stupid American", but claiming to not like Marmite is a situation you don't want to be in when there are a bunch of Brit's around who love love love their Marmite. "Try it with meat!" Some stickers say.....yeah, probably not.

I was peer pressured into trying it and I had no valid reason not to eat it. It's vegan, high in B vitamins and is sort-of unassuming in it's brown bottle with yellow stickers. Why not eat it? Well, smell it, that's why. Put your nose to a jar of Marmite and instantly something in your spine will tingle and there may or may not be a certain lurch in your stomach. It's dark and sticky and smells of old yeast and musk. Not impressive.

I've been avoiding Marmite since I moved here. My roommates don't eat it too much and my British friends thus far have not pressured me into eating it. Not liking Marmite is one of those secrets you can hide pretty easily. But when all eyes are on you and you must speak truthfully, it can be a sticky situation for sure. Especially when you are trying to impress people!

So, there happened to be someone at the table who took pity on me (Marmite guru Ben) and was pretty proud to show me his Marmite Strategy. Eager to please, I complied. What's the worst that could happen? And here's how it went down...

1. If opening the jar for the first time, make a wish before opening it. Very important.

2. Lightly butter your toast which should be warm, but not too hot. Either white or brown (yeah, they say 'brown' for wheat. strange) toast is okay.

3. Dip your butter knife into the jar and lift out enough Marmite to cover about a centimeter or two of the end of the knife. It was pointed out to me from another table member, "Remember, you can always add more, but you can't really take it away". No pressure or anything.

*Note- it's ok to not clear all the butter off your knife before inserting it into the Marmite jar. Often remnants of butter are found in the jars and this is not at all considered a taboo. I imagine that toast crumbles are not okay though. Just don't lick the knife or anything.

4. Evenly spread the Marmite on the toast creating a nice marbled effect with the butter. It will be a nice brown and yellow (sort of like the bottle???)

5. Enjoy your by-product of beer brewing on toast just like a true Brit!

I did all of the above with a lot of concentration knowing that I was being closely watched by the other natives at the table. "Don't fuck it up" I kept telling myself. "But be honest, that's all you can do at this point".

My first bite was ambitious and big. A large portion of white toast, butter and Marmite went down the gullet....chew chew chew....hmmm, not bad! Honestly, it just reminded me of soy sauce. (Which is quite similar, actually)

My liking the Marmite took reign in excitement over the table for a few seconds. Whew. Yes! I like Marmite! Watch me take another giant bite! But then, as quoted earlier, to really be convincing of my love for Marmite, I need to learn to spread and smear with more conviction- more authority. It's one thing to say it, it's a completely different thing to show your love. Life lessons in a jar of yeast extract. Who knew?

And of course, it's not just enjoyed on toast with butter (or on meat???) but another favorite way of eating it is with cucumbers. I tried this in the comfort of my own home, alone, and found it really delicious. The salty flavors of the Marmite combined with the cool cucumber was reminiscent of how the flavors of feta and cucumber pair so nicely. Salty, cool, crunchy-a nice combination indeed. Which reminds me, I've also heard it's good with cheese. And of course, Marmite advertises snacks of cheese, cashews and rice cakes flavored with it. I imagine they are pretty amazing.

So when confronted with a jar of Marmite and a bunch of pushy Brits sitting around the table egging you on- don't be scared. Kick ass, smear that shit with confidence and wipe the bread crumbs from the corners of your smile. It's good, dammit, and you don't have to have a silly accent to enjoy it.

Also, I'm sure there are millions of strategies for enjoying Marmite. I've seen it smeared on thick (barf), without butter and on various foods. Everyone will have their way of consuming it (just google it- everyone has their own firm opinions on this matter) but I agree with Ben that this is the best way; for beginners and novices alike. Do you love it or hate it? Let me know!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Spitalfields Market

After having a long night of fun and debauchery with my roommates I woke in the late morning in search of the perfect hangover cure. The sun was out, I had nothing to do with my day and Spitalfields Market was calling my name. I stumbled to the train station and soon found myself at Liverpool Street where my cure awaited. How comforting it was to be surrounded by other hungover folks having a bit of the hair of the dog and eating good street vendor food. Only the biggest and loudest sunglasses would do and the warm weather seemed to really inspire everyone to look their best. There are vendors selling everything from vintage clothes to handmade cards to beautiful screen printed lampshades. I can't even begin to describe all the amazing food that is sold there. Hot curries, homemade crepes and doughnuts, authentic Thai and gorgeous Greek food just to name a few things. The vibe is young and trendy- four out of five hipsters agree, Spitalfields Market is THE place to be seen on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

After taking a walk around I decided first and foremost I needed to drink a pint at a bar called "The Gun". It was delicious and cold and what made it even better was that I got to take it outside and people watch. My mind kept wondering back this vegetarian Ethiopian vendor I had seen so I tore myself away from my standing post (a second pint was extremely appealing...oh still is appealing....) and go get some food. Five pounds got me an injera bread roll filled with lovely spicy pulses and a side salad of cabbage, greens, potatoes and beautiful shiny olives. I perched myself amongst the crowd and fell in love with the food on my plate. The heat of the pluses perfectly complimented the cool salad and while at first I thought it seemed strange to have olives on my plate, they turned out to be just what it needed. The texture, the flavors...everything worked. As I threw my plate in the trash can I noted my hangover was gone. Mission accomplished. I then wandered around, blatentley took pictures of unsuspecting hipsters and called it a day.

I have never been much of a market/festival type gal. Just ask anyone who's been to the Tomato Festival with me in Nashville. I always ruin the fun by whining about the crowd, making fun of the seemingly pointless crafts and getting irritated with people trying to sell me dumb shit. I am done after about ten minutes and make my friends leave their fun early to take me home. (Sorry Chris) But something about the markets here really do it for me and I think it's mainly to do with the food. I'm currently having a small affair with market food and am loving it. I now stop and ponder the crafts, enjoy the crowd (most of the time) and don't mind when people walk way too slow in front of me. It goes hand in hand with summer in London and I now look forward to the weekends when all the markets are in full swing. So don't be surprised if you see a lot more market food on here. One day I'll stay home and cook but right now, knowing there's a market full of cute hipsters and yummy food out there, I'm out the door in a flash with no regrets.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Borough Market

I have a new Saturday tradition of spending the afternoon at Borough Market, and it's a good tradition indeed. It's a market unlike anything I've ever seen! It's right near London Bridge and boasts some of the most amazing food vendors ever. There are surrounding pubs and cafes with lots of outdoor seating and people just hang out and laugh, drink, eat and look pretty. However, the vibe is not super hipster-y or upity as everyone is welcome at Borough Market. There are locals, tourists taking pictures right and left, cute families, lovers, friends coming together after a long weeks work or people like me, there on their own to soak in the wonderful atmosphere and perhaps catch a few rays of sunshine.

Twice I have visited the Market and twice I have eaten amazing food. There is food of ALL kinds there. The first time I went I got a homemade veggie burger made with quinoa, fresh vegetables and spices all tucked in a homemade wheat bun. It was all grown and made locally and cost me four pounds. The next time I ate a falafel which was equally as amazing and cheap. I've also tried the world famous brownies (there's a reason for that reputation. my god. those brownies....) and a fresh blackberry and apple juice. Again, all local and organic. There are stands that have giant pots of homemade curry. I mean, I could easily lay down and take a nap in them they are so giant. Other than hot meal stands there are lovely cheeses, vinegars, salts, granola, bread, tons of fresh vegetables and specialty liquors, wines and beers. That only begins to cover it. Oh, and since you can have an open container just about anywhere in London, people walk around with pints of beer, flutes of champagne and glasses of wine while shopping and talking. A grassy area hosts tons of people having a nice picnic or you can go sit by the River Thames and watch the cruise boats pass by. There are windy back roads that lead to other areas of the market and along the way are many ice cream trucks. I am interested in going to the Clink Prison Bar, where I'm pretty sure you can sit in an old prison cell and drink with friends. I don't know, something about that sounds pretty awesome. This paragraph only skims the surface of what Borough Market has to offer. Perhaps I'll continue to tell you my tales of Saturday afternoons spent there. That is only if you can control your envy.

I hopped into tourist mode and took some pictures along the way. Check it out!

Thames and Falafel and Bridge

A beautiful day indeed

I just doesn't stop being awesome...

The most amazing brownies in the world

The grassy area mentioned earlier. Oh, don't mind that church for stealing the spotlight

The clink prison bar/museum

More grassy area....

Giant pots of homemade curry

And finally, 'Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy'-Benjamin Franklin

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Costcutter

Costcutter markets are all over London. They are just little corner markets that sell booze, cigarettes, lentils, coconut milk, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, soy milk, organic coffee and many other tasty things you would never ever find in American corner markets. First off, it's still so nice to be able to walk into a corner market and buy food, a beer and a bottle of wine at the same time. Imagine that! And on Sunday! Before noon! Ahhhhh! You can also top up your Oyster card (public transit card) and buy porn. But the porn is not stashed in the back behind the counter. No. It's up front peering out the windows next to the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. Awesome.

Anyway, the particular Costcutter in discussion is on the corner of Lewisham Way and Florence Rd, right down the road from my house. I always swear I will never step foot in that market again after leaving because interactions with the Counter dude usually go like this:

Me: (Piling my grocerys and booze on the counter) "Um, Hi"

Counter dude: (long stare. nothing is said)

Me: "Yeah, I think I'm done. Can I pay?"

Counter dude: (another long stare. finally he starts scanning my items...) "Yeah, I guess you can pay"

-Did I mention he has large tufts of dark chest hair poking out his shirt and has styled his sort-of bowl hair cut with too much L.A. Looks hair gel?-

after he is finished scanning....

Me: "Cool, how much do I owe?"

Counter dude: (talks to co-worker in a middle eastern language that i'm not going to try and identify. for a long time he talks. something about obama is said. i have been handing my cash to him for 20 seconds at least. he eventually takes the money, usually after not telling me how much i owe. i've learned not to ask because i can never understand what he says and if i ask twice, he tells me again in a mocking voice that makes my blood boil)

Me: (taking my change) "Thank you"

Counter dude: (said in like he is talking to a five year old. and he usually adds a wink and mocking hand wave.) "Thank you, see you later"

I usually storm out with my bottles clanking loudly in my blue plastic bag thinking to myself how rude and inconsiderate his customer service is and that I don't deserve to be treated so rudely and I will never ever go back again. Then I think that maybe I'm overreacting and by the time I get home (and drink a beer) all is forgotten.

I'm sure I annoy him as much as he annoys me with all my proper etiquette and my environmentally conscience bags and my wide eyed American demeanor. And I probably talk too slow and loud like he can't understand English. So it's mutual.

But no matter what I have to go through, getting whole grain pita bread, organic crackers and a can of chick peas at a local chain, seemingly ghetto, market store is completely worth the hassle. The grocery store I like so much is a little out of the way and when I can't be bothered to hop on a bus and go to Sainsburys, well, I'll just have to deal.

The two items I got from the Costcutter today are stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) and a mixed olive salad thing with black and green olives, cubes of feta cheese and tons of herbs and spices which was recommended to be eaten on a fresh green salad. Oh, and there is nothing strange in the ingredients. The brand name is Delphi and it is good to the last bite. Both containers combined cost me three and half pounds which is quite a deal for tasty olives and cheese and grape leaves. Pair it with one of the many specialty beers sold at the market and you have yourself a wonderful Friday afternoon snack which could easily (like in my case) be considered dinner. I have not found a Greek place to eat at in my neighborhood, but so far it looks like the Costcutter is it! Can you imagine the local corner gas station/market in America selling stuffed grape leaves and hummus? Ha.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


While I'm on holiday I bet I will eat some delicious food, but I regret to say that I probably won't be telling you about it. Instead, I will be opening the second bottle of wine and then sleeping until noon. When I get back to London, it will be business as usual- near the end of April and just in time for lovely spring weather and the first glimpses of home grown food. So please mind the gap and check back toward the end of the month. Cheers!



Thursday, 2 April 2009

Spicy Semi-Homemade Tomato Soup

Sandra Lee is really upset right now because she did not think of this recipe. It's 70% store bought, 30% homemade and 100% delicious, cheap and impressive. And came to me in a haze of sickness......

I'm positive I'm sick because I caught something on the London Transit. You can try all you like to avoid The Crud by washing your hands, trying unsuccessfully to balance as the train or tube or bus comes to a screeching halt without touching the rails (I always try and always end up looking the fool) or loading up on vitamins and supplements as to not get sick. Face it Londoners, whatever you do the crud will get you. Just succomb to getting sick at some point, save up your sicks days at school or work and go with the flow. Literally, the flow from your nose. It's not pretty because in London, your snot is black. Good times indeed.

Perhaps my body is adjusting to foreign germs, perhaps I am finally getting allergies for the first time in my life, or maybe I touch every gross thing there is to touch in London. (Keep those snide comments to yourself, please) Whatever it is that's plaguing my body I don't like it and I've been on the mend for several days now. The other day I was nearly out of food and could not possibly be bothered to go to the grocery, and here in London I do not have a sweet little Sailor to take care of me, so I did what any normal person would do and make tomato soup with a can of whole tomatoes. Ummm, maybe normal people don't do that.....they probably are smart and call for take-away.

But they totally should, because this soup is super easy and super tasty. I sauteed some onion, red chili and garlic, dumped the can of tomatoes in, threw in a cup of soy milk, lightly smashed the tomatoes to make for a chunky type soup, added a little pepper, powdered veggie stock and some dill ( both are optional) and ten minutes later I was eating the most delicious soup of the century! I would not have been mad at all had I paid someone five pounds for a bowl of it. But in reality, adding everything up, my large bowl of soup probably cost me less than 50 pence. The can of whole tomatoes here is important because you want some substance to stand up to the diced onion (remember, this recipe was spawned out sickness and no fine chopped onion here). Unless you ares suffering from a sore throat- then just stick it all in the blender.

This recipe is basically an outline for any kind of tomato soup you would like. Add some water, chick peas and curry powder for a wonderful Indian inspired dish (Chana Masala- ish), some more herbs and cheese would be nice, sauteed mushrooms leeks, boiled potatoes, add olives and capers for a pasta sauce (shout out to Julie B and her whore's sauce).....the list goes on and on. My point here is is not to underestimate that little innocent looking tin of tomatoes in your cabinet when contemplating dinner options. And don't underestimate that tin when grocery shopping and trying to fit into a tight budget. Most things that come in cans suck and you should usually avoid them at all costs- but tomatoes in tins rocks!

To make you will need:

One can of whole, peeled tomatoes
One cup of soy or regular milk (water can be used as might want to up the seasoning though)
two cloves garlic, chopped
one small onion, chopped (any color is fine)
one or two spice red chilies, minced
a couple teaspoons of powered veggie stock (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
fresh or dried herbs as needed

-Saute the onion, garlic and chili on medium heat until the onion is translucent (about 5-7 minutes)

-add the can of tomatoes and crush them lightly with a spoon

-add milk, veggies stock and seasonings continuing to stir and press tomatoes

-bring to a light boil and simmer for another 2 minutes or so

-pour into favorite bowl and sip away!

and hey, don't forget to bring the tissues with you- this will get the nose flowing big time- but in a good way, of course:)

look closely at the bus above. that's for all you Twilight fans out there...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Pasty Time!

It happens often at the London Bridge Train Station. You look on the giant board to see when your train will be leaving, then look at the giant clock to see how long you have, then look back at the big board to see what platform you have to go to, then realize there is no way in hell you will be able to get all the way across the station in thirty seconds. On ambitious days, it's worth a sprint, especially if you are in a hurry, but when it's late at night and you know that sooner or later another train will come for you- well, it's not worth the extra cardio. In the fish-n-chips post a while back I mentioned something about eating a pasty soon, and the other night when I was in the predicament mentioned above, well I thought no better time than the present, right?

I felt as though I was entering a whole new world of London. I never, may I repeat never purchase things from the London Bridge vendors. Oh, there are plenty of temptations: delicious smelling cookie stands, gorgeous shiny olive bars, rows and rows of yogurt covered nuts and jelly sugary goodies, and on rough days- rows and rows of booze. It's just a little rule I set up for myself the first time I entered that station. I instantly saw all my hard earned money (aka- financial aid) being thrown away on snack food. I do enough damage in the snack food aisle at Sainsbury's (the grocery store), and I don't need to pay for overpriced junk food mid travel. Right? Right? But I thought, hey, this is part of my cultural experience of London. How can I possibly adjust to this place if I haven't eaten a pasty? And off I marched to the West Cornwall Pasty Company stand. Um, by the way, that website is really awesome.

I ordered a cheese, tomato and basil pasty and marched right back to the big board to see what time the next train left. There was a grueling fifteen minute wait and I told myself I could not eat my pasty until I got home and could take proper pictures of it. (I really need to stop with this personal rules, don't I?) I stood on the platform and cursed the entire time while skin piercing cold air pushed against my face. What made it worse was that I could smell the pasty and feel its warmth though my bag. While standing and contemplating why this was the longest fifteen minutes of my life, I started to reconsider my pasty choice, and by the time my train arrived I was really upset with myself for not getting the cheese and onion pasty, which at that point I wanted much more.

Finally I arrived home and tore into my pasty like a starving college student who has been traveling around busy London all day. Oh, right.... Which was when I realized the guy at the shop picked up the wrong pasty and in fact, gave me a cheese and onion one by accident! Ah- all was right in the world. And it was everything I imagined it would be. Flaky, cheesy, warm and extremely satisfying. It's a treat I don't see myself getting often, but I know that when a fattening food attack strikes, London Bridge is only two stops away from my train station. And of course, these West Cornwall places are absolutely everywhere.

I'm excited that they have plenty of vegetarian options- but the bacon and cheese pasty sounds amazing. Ah bacon, such a slippery slope for vegetarians....or people who pretend to be 'vegetarian' but cheat when necessary.

Pizza Express

As my classmates and I walk through the O2 center after viewing the Bodyworlds exhibit we find ourselves hungry and discussing lunch. Here's how the following conversation went:

Zoe- "I saw something about a two-for-one some where over here if we use our tickets to the exhibit".

Isabelle- "Maybe it's at the the Pizza Express"

Me- "I've never eaten at Pizza Express before"

Grace- (who up until this point had been quiet about lunch options), "You've ever eaten at Pizza Express! Well, welcome to London!!!! We HAVE to eat there for lunch if you've never been- it's the best!"

As we arrived at Pizza Express we were delighted to see that there was in fact a two for one deal happening so we sat ourselves down, and I for one, prepared to be amazed.

Pizza Express is a chain pizza place but not in the same vein as say Pizza Hut or Domino's. The menu listed many fresh ingredients, I could see the pizza guy behind the counter making our pizza and the cut flower on our table was real (hey, that says a lot in my book). I ordered something along the lines of a nice veggie pizza with olives, peppers, artichoke hearts, pesto and a gentle smear of tomato sauce. Plus, they served this amazing chili oil to go along, which I tried very hard not drown my pizza in. The crust was thin and crunchy and there was clearly more going on in the dough than just water, yeast and flour. Grace ordered a pizza absolutely covered in rocket (arugula) and ham which looked amazing. In fact, everyone's pizza looked lovely and I have been told to come back and try their amazing salads. I don't do much eating out in London but Pizza Express is certainly a place I would go back to. It was also one of the first times that my fellow students and I got to have a nice outing outside of the Pilates studio at Laban. We finished our day together fighting a bit of traffic then a nice walk through Greenwich (see previous post).

Here is a picture of the four of us taken by the waiter. Don't let the smiles fool you, just because we look happy and have just eaten a plate full of pizza does NOT mean we don't have bulletproof cores and legs that can snap steel bars in half. That's part of our training- looking innocent while planning our attack.

And here is Isabelle, clearly oblivious to the fact that I'm taking a picture of her. When she saw the picture, she exclaimed (in her incredibly lovely French accent), "Alexandra! You cannot post that picture. It looks like I'm holding my boob! Ok. Now. Put the camera away."

Sorry Isabelle.

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