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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