Month: November 2008

Well, this has proved to a fruitful reading weekend. Since Friday night, I’ve read books four to eight of the Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampire) Series by Charlaine Harris. I have not read the first three (and was spoiled by a friend) yet, but I will get back to rereading the series. They are quick reads, and I, like many others were attracted to the series by the HBO TV adaptation of it “True Blood”. The series is addictive (hence the reading four novels in less than 48 hours). I can not help compare it to the Stephenie Meyer Twilight series, and the Souhern Vampire series is advantaged in its older themes, but it is a better series all around, no doubt about it. The characterisation is well thought, the plots intriguing, the tone both humorous and dark. I can not wait until the book nine comes out in May.

As I said last week, I have begun rereading Hamlet slowly. I’m still in Act One, taking my merry time on bus rides and whenever I find myself free. This is probably my second rereading of the play. I do like Shakespeare (especially the sonnets); I like being able to read it aloud and hearing the iambic pentameter. I have read more tragedies than comedies though, but I do think Hamlet ranks highly among the ones I’ve read because it has some beautiful soliloquies. I dislike or am indifferent to all the characters except Horatio (only because he seems to be the most decent guy of the bunch). I do like the construction of the play, the use of the Mousetrap and the meta play within the play. Reading has made me more excited that I will be seeing it in a month on stage, and it will be a serious performance by the RSC. Of course, this was why I bought the book in the first place. More observations of the play as I continue to reread it. In the mean time, I bought my a few more books this week.

Project 259/365 - Dickens Book Haul

I did indeed buy A Christmas Carol and other Christmas stories by Charles Dickens. I really need to read up on some Dickens especially considering how English his works are. It’s debatable if I will actually read all these books. Little Dorrit was just adapted on BBC. I bought The Old Curiosity Shop simply because I actually pass buy it weekly when I’m in Holborn; the building looks the same more or less. I much prefer Penguin, Oxford or Everyman classics to Wordsworth, but each of these was only £1.75 eac at Lovejoys on Charring Cross Road. As much as I wanted to go for the 3 for 2 fiction deal at Borders, my frugality won out in the end. But with prices like that, I can get a few more classics there and save up for contemporary books later.

Next week, I will have reread more of Hamlet and maybe go past the first page of Year of Wonders. I want to start A Christmas Carol soon, but I’m starting to think I can wait a few more weeks before starting to. I want to read a lot of it on Christmas Eve to get in the real mood.

Have a good week!

Literary Links

FictionalCities – Recs of books set in Florence, Venice, Berlin, and London.

The New York Times 100 Most Notable Books of 2008 is out.

Schmoop is a new literature student guide. I read the Pride & Prejudice guide, and I liked the informal style of describing the books themes and characters. It made me really want to reread P&P (not that it is difficult to want to reread P&P).

Highlights for this week include mashed sweet potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches (cheddar and goat cheese versions), spinach, tomato and egg stir fried together.

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Project 252/365 - My Old Place Chinese Restaurant

My Old Place: Authentic Northern Chinese
88 Middlesex Street
London, E1 7EZ
020 7247 2200
Tube: Liverpool Street Station, Aldgate

The Cost & Date: Thursday 20th November 2008 :: £65 for 5.

Food & Drink: We had soup, lamb on skewers, pig’s feet, fried crab, celery- mushroom- shrimp stir fry, this other dish I can’t remember and white rice of course. We had aloe vera for a drink.

Setting: Laid back Chinese style. No place mats, mandarin speaking staff, and 80% of customers were young Chinese. Apparently there’s a big basement with karaoke too. Type of place that is busy most nights with regular customers.

Service: Busy, but food came quick and fast. Card machine was broken. Good to bring cash to restaurants like this which are more on the laid back and unpretentious.

Story: One of my flatmates has been in London for five years and invited me and a few others to this place. She first went to this restaurant’s other location in Bethnal Green, but apparently that place is very small. I like this place, and the portion sizes are bigger than what you would pay for in Chinatown. The grilled lamb on skewers was really good; I definitely recommend it. The pig’s feet weren’t bad, but I’ve had better (at home and in China). We were all stuffed though and it is honestly a very good deal compared to some other places. We had leftovers and it was on the spicy side too which is nice.

Overall: Recommended for Northern Chinese food. Bring cash, and call ahead if you’re more than four any time and probably good to call ahead in general. People often line up for this place.

Last Sunday, my internet was down and I could not do any work so I read and finished Sense and Sensibility, but was unable to post a Salon entry. Today, I am reading for school (of course), but I am going to try and squeeze in the first chapter or so of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.

Been very busy the last two weeks, but on Friday, I finally managed to take a long bus ride to Marylebone and headed to Daunt Books. Lovely, bookstore with a galleria of books by geographical location.

Project 253/365 - Daunt Books

Today, I also took a walk between the rainy periods to go to the Globe Theatre to buy a very tiny copy of Hamlet.

Mini Hamlet

Yes, my hand is small. It is bound in leather, unabridged, and only £4. I have a normal paperback sized copy back home in Canada, but this is a nice souvenir. It’s so small that I will have to take it with me everywhere. I’ve already read a couple of the first ickle pages, and it will offer some companionship in boring lectures perhaps.

The holidays are fast approaching which means more time to read again, and I think I will be buying copies of JKR’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard and A Christmas Carol. I have always wanted to read more Dickens, and being in England now, I think it’s essential he’s at the top of the TBR pile. Too bad, I left Bleakhouse back in Canada, but I will scour Charring Cross Road and Hatchard’s for some cheap Dickens in the coming months.

Have a good week.

Literary Links:

The Europeana site, Europe’s digital library, had to be shut down after its release this week, but will be coming back mid-December. I’m anticipating it.

Based on the Book – a listing of all books, plays, poes that have been adapted. The site also has some other good booklists.

BBC News had a piece for World Philosophy Day. While not very literary, still very interesting.

A page of other literary links.

Project 244/365 - Roasted Sweet Potatoes Project 247/365 - Chocolate Truffles Project 243/365 - Las Iguanas

Highlights this week include baked apples, truffles, and dinner out at a latin restaurant.

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This review will contain spoilers to this book and its adaptations.
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Stealing the idea from The GirlAlive British Food Experience, here is the first list of “British” foods that I’ve tried and my thoughts on them. You can get a lot of them in North America and elsewhere, but they are probably not as readily or popular as they are here.

Digestives: While most of the foods in this list will not carry over when I move out of the UK, digestives are not one of them. I liked them before coming here. I had the McVittie’s Dark Chocolate digestives the first couple weeks here, and I love them. Pricey at around £1.20 (and regular ones just below that), but I had them on sale at the time. Like many people, I dunk mine in tea, but I also like them plain. Great with Earl Grey (which I will always think of Jean-Luc Picard and now, living in the UK).

Cadbury Chocolate: It deserves it’s own line because it’s ubquitous and different from NA Cadbury. In Canada, I never really ate store bought chocolate bars because I prefer dark chocolate and those were always too sugary. The chocolate here is sweet, but just a bit more richer. I think there is more milk content in these. I prefer these to NA chocolate bars if I had to choose. I don’t have them regularly, but I like Buttons and the Milk Chocolate line.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread: Specifically the one made by Green & Blacks (fairtrade chocolate brand now owned by Cadbury). If I am going to have so much sugar on my bread, might as well be organic sugar. I opted for this instead of Nutella which I never bought back in Canada since it was so sugary/I was indifferent. G&B’s spread does have its first ingedient as sugar, but it is lot better than I remember Nutella being. I have spooned it out of the jar when I had cravings for chocolate or sugary. It is that good! I am trying to make my jar last though. I would continue to buy the G&B when I leave here if I could, but not chocolate hazelnut spread in general.

Mince Pies: My first time with these were the Sainsbury variety. Then I recently had the Starbucks version; the latter were actually just a bit better since they had icing sugar on top. They are good, but not required for my Christmas enjoyment. Maybe if it gets more festive and I try some more expensive ones.

Flapjacks: 2 for £1 at the convenience store. While these were sweet, I am very eager to try to bake my own as I like this concept of chewy, sweet oaty goodness. More later as I am going to use honey instead of golden syrup.

Banoffee Pie: An English dessert cake of toffee, bananas, and chocolate. I had this in a restaurant drizzled with ginger caramel. It was excellent. I need to store this at the back of my brain so I can remake it for myself one day. Otherwise, I just had a really good version in the restaurant

Crumpets: Less than £1 for six. Very nice, soft and buttery when toasted. I am a girl who likes carbs after all. Probably not as good for you as whole wheat bread or pita, but I like the texture and the crunchy underside.

Project 243/365 - Las Iguanas

Las Iguanas
36-38 Dean Street
London W1D 4PS
0207 494 4716
Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square, Picadilly Circus

The Cost & Date: Tuesday, 11 November 2008 Dinner. £44.10 (with 12.5% service charge) for two, me and my friend M.

Food & Drink: We just made right as happy hour ends which meant we had two Caipirhnas for the price of one. Rioja Chorizo for a starter; we each ordered the paella and followed it with a chocolate banoffie pie. M also had tea.

Setting: This is a chain restaurant. Vintage meets modern explosion? It’s a big space, comfortable tables and warm atmosphere. It’s dark, but offers intimacy. Not crowded on a tuesday night which is typical, but not dead either.

Service: Pretty decent, but not outstanding.

Story: M and I were here for hours since we had not seen each other for months, and now she’s in Paris and I’m in London. We could afford to splurge, and I know £50 for two is not splurging in this town, but it is where we come from. We stayed for hours, and the best part of the meal was the drinks which were like mojitos, minty, limey and cool and the banoffie pie which was drizzled with really good caramel (and I’m, not even a big fan of caramel). The chorizo was a tad oily, but we were hunrgy and we both liked chorizo. The paella had two mussels, some chicken, some squid, and one big shrimp. It was not stellar, but not bad. I’d try something else if I were ever to come here again.

Overall: Really not that bad for a chain. Not as awful as Garfunkels (so bleh that I won’t even review that). Recommended for drinks (Happy hour 1700 to 1900), and they had a tapas special between 1600-1800.

Project 224/365 - Sushi for Lunch Soba at Sushi Hiroba

Sushi Hiroba
50-54 Kingsway (near Holborn station)
London WC2B 6EP
+44(0)20 7430 1888

The Cost & Date: Lunch for 2 was £12ish. Dinner for 4 was £50ish I think.

Food & Drink: For the lunch session, I had salmon maki. For dinner, I had the soba noodles. Tap water for drinks.

Setting: Nice decoration. I like the ladies washroom. The sushi bar has revolving mechanism.

Service: Nothing to complain or rave about.

Story: Both times, I was with this one friend who goes here quite often for the Udon. Due to the central location, this place is busy most times for lunch and dinner. The maki was actually good in that the salmon did taste fresh. The soba was way too salty for me though. I love buckwheat noodles, but there was too much salt in it.

Overall: Meh. The decor is pretty nice.

Project 247/365 - Chocolate Truffles

A basic ganache really only needs two ingredients: dark chocolate and heavy whipping/double cream. Something to roll the chocolate truffle in would be good too. To test the Cooking for Engineers chcocolate truffles recipe out, I used a 200g bar of Cadbury Bourneville Classic ‘Dark’. Actually, it wasn’t that dark as the first ingridient was sugar, but I did not notice that until later. In any case, this was to test a recipe and I needed an inexpensive bar of chocolate. I used a little over 100 mL of cream.

The most annoying aspect about the experience was cutting the chocolate. You need a sharp knife, but cutting took a good portion of my time because of the melting chocolate and lack of good knfie. Afterwards, I scalded the cream in a saucepan and poured it over the chopped chocolate, let it stood for 5 minutes, and then started mixing them together. I put it in the fridge, but I was unsure if this would actually work. Two hours later, I found it did harden somewhat to a thick cream, but not too hard. Still, I haphazardly scooped, chilled, and rolled the chocolate in my Whittard’s 70% dark hot chocolate (ingredients: cocoa 70%, sugar, flavouring). While they are deformed, they did not taste half bad, melted in my mouth, and proved that the recipe did work.

The Cadbury chocolate was too sweet for my liking, and next time, I will definitely use Valhrona (one of my favourite chocolates in the world and excellent for truffles and baking). Very easy to adapt and add liquer, nuts when dusting and so on. The problem is that now I have all these truffles which are too sweet for me and not enough people willing to finish them. I am glad I only used 200grams. Too rich for me! I can barely resist eating them just to experience that melting effect. These should last a month in an airtight container for up to a month, but I am currently putting them in the fridge.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I have always liked this poem since memorising it as a little girl. For more information, read the wikipedia entry on it. Have a good Remembrance Day, everyone.

While I have always enjoyed cooking and loved food, it was never really a big hobby until I moved to London. Now, I think about food, plan meals, and shop for food more than any other activity other than school work. I like to cook at home, and I try to be vigilant in terms of getting the right nutrients especially since I have cut a lot of meat out of my diet since my move. This new feature will be a food diary-cum-recipes/ideas book. I am not good at writing recipes since I just get ideas from friends, family, and the internet, and then adapt. I’ve been tracking my meals so I can get an idea for future meals and things to do with foods and to showcase ideas of food. I usually remember what I have for dinner, sometimes for breakfasts, and lunch I usually buy a sandwich/it’s not made by me. Enjoy.

Monday. November 3, 2008

  • Breakfast: Toast. Yogurt.
  • Dinner: Pan fried tuna steaks in garlic, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper, salt, oil, and green/spring onion. For vegetables, I had zucchini/courgettes steam-boiled with a bit of Chinese leaf/nappa too. White rice on side.
  • This day also marked a failed attempt at making lemon curd

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

  • Breakfast: Probably toast again. I can’t remember what else.
  • Dinner: Leftover tuna. I made two steaks and saved the other for this. On the side I had rice (leftover). For veggies, I had the Nappa again, this time steamed with a quartered tomato and celery.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

  • Breakfast: Toast? Oatmeal?
  • Dinner: Cantonese style steamed chicken. I boiled two pieces of chicken (one for the next day) with ginger, salt, and white pepper for about 1/2 hour. I heated up a store made Chinese stir fry mix (peppers, bamboo, water chestnuts, sprouts) to which I added soy sauce and oil. Rice on the side.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

  • Breakfast: I think I had toast and oatmeal (with cinnamon, honey, and raisins added in).
  • Dinner: I diced the second piece of chicken and I stir fried it with garlic and cucumbers in oil, pinch of soy sauce, and a tiny bit of the chicken stock from last night. Left over rice on the side.

Friday, November 7, 2008

  • Breakfast: Museli cereal with yogurt. Rye bread toast with Green and Blacks organic chocolate hazelnut spread (so much better than nutella).
  • I also had time so I boiled an egg for dinner and made edoes. I love edoes which are smaller taros. They are great steamed; I washed them, cut off the bad parts (I bought a bad bag), and boiled them with skin in lightly-salted water for 20 minutes/until tender. Drained the water, cooled, and popped them in the fridge. Later, I can microwave them, peel them, and eat them dipped in soy sauce.
  • Dinner: Store bought New Covent Garden Winter Vegetable soup to which I added a quartered hard boiled egg and about 40-50g of couscous. Tip: Couscous can easily be added to soup as a great alternative to pasta and rice. You can get your fibre when eating a hearty vegetable or meat soup or stew. Since I ate this earlier, I also microwaved new potatoes for a few minutes and dipped them in homemade garlic butter (chopped garlic to butter and added s&p).
  • In advance, I made a red onion and cucumber salad with garlic, grated ginger, s&p and olive oil (I don’t have white winegar). Chilled in fridge. This type of salad needs to be chilled at least 1/2 hour in advance of serving or up to 24 hours. 

Saturday November 8, 2008

  • Breakfast: Rye Toast with remaining garlic toast and the red onion/cucumber salad.
  • Lunch/Snack: The edoes dipped in soy sauce. I also had an apple.
  • Dinner: I went to a friend’s place. She made Jamaican spiced baked chicken.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

  • Breakfast/Brunch: Fried egg on rye toast and the remaining edoes.
  • Dinner: Whole wheat past and tomato sauce. I used red onions, green/spring onions, celery, dried parsley, and green olives simmer and sautee them til soft. I put in one small fresh tomato (because I have them) and one 100g can of chopped tomatoes with some minced garlic. I simmered it for 5-10 minutes adding chili flakes, pepper, salt, and dried basil to taste. I added some sugar, but it was not enough.
  • Baking: I made an apple crisp, my first baking venture in the UK. All my flatmates+guests had tiny portions. It turned out really well. I used one Jonagold, and I bought a big bag of Golden Delicious. I put too much lemon juice, but it was crispy.

This Week in Drinks: Twinnings Earl Grey Decaf, Twinnings Chai, Honeybush Botswana, Whittard’s of Chelsea 70% cocoa, Yakult, and on friday night, 1/2 pint of Leffe beer.