Proust Questionnaire

Since posts are have been few and far between lately (I’ve not been cooking at all :( ), I thought I’d post something a little different, my own version of the famous Proust Questionnaire.


What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Reading a good book at sunrise or sunset in Sandy Cove, with either a cup of coffee (former) of glass of wine (latter).

What is your greatest fear?
Inadequacy.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Jackie Kennedy! Ha.

Which living person do you most admire?
I can’t pinpoint one. I admire a lot of people. But I’ll give an example: I admire my partner for choosing a career that he knew wouldn’t be easy but one that he loves and brings joy to a lot of people.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Perfectionism – a constant battle against – and the feeling of needing to please others.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Arrogance.

What is your favourite journey?
The 101 SW bound.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Certain forms of temperance and patience. But only certain forms.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel.

On what occasion do you lie?
To protect feelings, occasionally.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My front teeth and pointy nose (from the side).

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
According to one of my grandfathers, “okay.”

What is your greatest regret?
I have made a few poor choices with regards to my career, but ultimately don’t want to think of them in terms of “regret.”

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
H. and my family. And books.

When and where were you happiest?
It is impossible to choose a time, but if forced I’d say South Africa, August 2008.

Which talent would you most like to have?
More upper body strength and the ability to read music.

What is your current state of mind?
Overworked, rather chaotic, but calmer now that it’s the weekend.

Which living person do you most despise?
Difficult one. Hard to pinpoint. I’ll choose a category instead: those who exploit the vulnerable for personal gain.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be better at managing guilt or rather not have it at all.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Distance.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My education to date.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A person!

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
It might be fun to be a bird or whale.

What is your most treasured possession?
Some of my jewelry, books, and some of my late grandmother’s things (perfume, sweaters, and scarves).

What is the quality you most like in woman?
Humility, sense of humour.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Awareness of sensitivity (does that make sense?).

What is your most marked characteristic?
Don’t I have to ask someone else that? My organizational skills?

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Complacency.

Where would you like to live?
In a house by the (Atlantic) ocean.

What is your favourite occupation?
Book critic.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My grandfathers, JMM & JWR.

What is it that you most dislike?
Injustice.

How would you like to die?
Quietly and peacefully (wouldn’t we all?).

What is your motto?
“Press on regardless.”

April 2015 Favourites

Guten Tag von Deutschland, where I’ve been since Wednesday. It’s slight strange to be here when the UK is in the throes of election campaign and now baby celebrations.

April was a busy month, bookended by short trips (one work, one play), and filled in the middle with visits from good friends and lots of other activities. I also finished the first draft of a chapter of my thesis (yay!). Here are a few tidbits for your perusal.

Beautiful maps.

◌ Speaking of beautiful, saw this fantastic musical and would highly recommend it.

◌ Great collection of recipes for Cinco de Mayo from one of my favourite blogs.

Do I have a child or have a career?

◌ The 40 best restaurants in Britain (apparently!).

◌ Anyone who hasn’t seen The Jinx yet MUST watch it as soon as possible — sooo chilling, and very well done.

Oldest known video footage of London.

◌ Book: I sped through No Expenses Spared, about UK MPs’ expenses scandal, and am currently reading Crow Lake and loving it.

◌ Quite enjoyed Jancis Robinson’s wine for invalids.

Guide to Asian noodles.

Finally, do whatever you can, beg, borrow, or steal(ok, maybe not the latter), to watch this documentary:

It’s the best film I have seen in a very long time — simply amazing!

Tahini Cookies

Over the last couple of years, tahini has become one of my favourite ingredients. I have used it in everything from cheesecake to salads to smoothies and the results have always been good.

I’d had my eye on the recipe in Jerusalem for a while and finally got around to making them one evening last week. The cookies are easy to prepare with only a few ingredients. Here’s how to make them:

Tahini cookies, from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (note: I found this a little high and would recommend 180).
  2. Beat together 130g caster sugar with 150g unsalted, softened butter.
  3. Once creamed, add in 110g light tahini paste (nb: I used regular), ½ tsp vanilla essence, and 25ml double cream. Then stir in 270g plain flour.
  4. From here, the recipe says to knead until smooth. I found this wasn’t really necessary as the dough came together quite easily. It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen kneading in a cookie recipe.
  5. Shape the dough into cookies, press down with a fork, sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon on top (I forgot to do this), and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.*

*The baking time says 15-17 minutes. I had my first batch in for 14 mins and a few of them came out very black on the bottom (see below!). The second batch was in for 11 mins and still a few of those were ‘over-coloured.’ I am blaming my ancient oven for this one but, as a forewarning, make sure you keep an eye on them.

Both H. and I loved these, as did some special overnight visiting guests we had, and I think I’ll definitely be making them again soon, possibly experimenting with a little less sugar (I think they’d be just fine with 80-100g). The texture is very similar to shortbread but the taste is smooth and unique — just the right amount of sweetness for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.

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February & March Roasts of the Month

In an effort to catch up on my blogging (I am horribly behind), I’m combining my final two roast posts. As you’ll know, I pledged in November to cook and share a roast a month. While I’ve been slightly off on the timing sometimes, I’m pleased to say I followed through with my plan. I did pork shoulder, roast beef, duck, and I’m finishing off with beef brisket and lamb shoulder.

FEBRUARY: THAI BEEF BRISKET
I’m cheating a bit with this as I guess it’s technically not a roast, but a braise. I spotted the recipe in delicious magazine and it had my mouth watering immediately. Thai flavours, peanuts, beef, are all things we love. It’s also a good combination of comforting winter food and fresh spring-like flavours. The sauce makes for a really juicy dish and the added crunch from the peanuts and heat from the chiles is perfect. With the beef we had veggie egg-fried rice, a recipe from my beloved Thai bible that I’ve posted about before.

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MARCH: EASTER ROAST LAMB SHOULDER
Over Easter my sister and her boyfriend visited us in London. I had never done a roast lamb before. In fact, neither H. nor I count lamb among our favourite meats. But we decided to give it a go. I am really glad I did because this roast was absolutely delicious. It exceeded my (admittedly on the lower side) expectations. I used a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Everyday. I followed it pretty closely. The lamb was in the oven for about 5 1/2 hours and came out juicy, falling off the bone, and sooo tasty. I was nervous about this one, especially as we were cooking for guests, but it turned out extremely well. I’d definitely recommended it as a fool-proof method!

Roast carrots & potatoes
Roast carrots & potatoes

Easter lamb 2015

 

So what’s the verdict on the roast project? Well, I cooked 5 roasts and I have to say that while I’m still slightly trepidatious about them, I have learned a lot through this process. I am very proud of both the pork and lamb shoulder, my two best roasts to date. I bought all of the meat from local butchers and so feel positive about supporting local shops as well as local products.

Not sure what my next ‘project’ will be, but stay tuned. ;)

Smoked Haddock & Leek Risotto

To me, this is the perfect late winter/early spring ‘transition’ meal. I know some of my Canadian readers will want to scream when they read this, but here in London it’s felt like spring for about a month now. Daffodils are out and trees are blooming. But it’s odd: we’re into spring without ever really having had winter — in my mind anyway. We had no snow other than a few days of flurries, and maybe 1 or 2 days below freezing temperatures.

Anyway, onto the risotto. This recipe is adapted from….wait for it….Lidl magazine, which I received free with my Saturday Guardian a about a month ago (yes, I made this at the beginning of March!). For some reason it caught my eye, and I ordered some smoked haddock in order to try it out. Here’s my version:

Smoked Haddock & Leek Risotto

 

  1. Cook the haddock (300g): I followed the method used in the original recipe, a warm milk bath. This is not a method I had used before, but it seemed it work: “place the fish into a dish and cover with the hot milk [250ml], black peppercorns and bay leaf. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes then flake the fish into pieces discarding any bones or skin, strain the milk and reserve.”
  2. Meanwhile, start the risotto: melt 1.5 tablespoon butter in a saucepan and add in a large handful of chopped leeks as well as one chopped shallot. Cook gently for ~7 minutes.
  3. Add arborio rice and lightly toast for 1-2 minutes, until the rice begins to look translucent. Then deglaze the pan with a cup (~230ml) of white wine. Continue cooking, adding in vegetable stock one ladle at a time, until the rice is your preference of done-ness (I like mine slightly al dente).
  4. When the rice is finished, stir in some grated Parmesan and 2 tsp wholegrain mustard, along with the fish and a bit of the milk for extra creaminess. Garnish with some finely chopped parsley or chives.

As risottos go, this was a fairly rich one, even without the mascarpone that the original recipe called for! However, it was delicious, and definitely one I will be making again. H. claimed it was his favourite risotto I’ve made, and there have been quite a few of them. The smokiness of the fish mixed with the leek worked very well together. My stomach is grumbling just thinking about it!

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March 2015 Favourites

Happy April!

The fourth anniversary of this blog passed on 10 March, without any acknowledgement on my part. (I believe this is the second year in a row this has happened). I’m pleased to say that I’ve moved on from my very first food post, fajitas, and feel a need to once again thank everyone for reading what I’ve got to say over the past 4 years! The blog has changed focus a bit in recent months, but I still hope my friends and family enjoy reading it.

Here are some links for your Easter holiday weekend perusal. Sadly for me only Sunday will be a day ‘off’, as I am catching up after spending 3 days at a conference earlier this week.

◌ 20 “seriously weird” (according to Rough Guides) places around the world.

Unplugging from social media.

Michael Ruhlman talking so much sense: “Who then to listen to? Yourself, your own body, and common sense. Everyone is different. If we cook our own food, if that food is whole, as opposed to being stripped of nutrients to make it cheap, then you can pretty much eat what you want.”

◌ These Brown sister portraits are very moving.

Inspirational.

This list of where to shop in London’s Chinatown is revolutionary for me!

Books about the North.

◌ I don’t like the Daily Mail but I do like this list of the world’s best luxury hostels!

Upcoming interesting films.

After the crash = heartbreaking (and no, this is not the most recent crash, but the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down over the Ukraine last July).

◌ The Mordecai Richler Library is long overdue!

Cows on the beach.

◌ Book recommendations: Sylvanus Now.

Bird sitting atop the peace memorial in Riga
Bird sitting atop the peace memorial in Riga
Sun sets in Riga
Sun sets in Riga

Eating & Drinking in London

Since this is mostly a food-related blog and I live in London, I thought I should do at lease one post on some of my favourite food-related discoveries in the city. After all I have lived here 2.5 years now. But before I go into that, I should outline a few of my ‘rules’ /expectations when it comes to eating and drinking out.

There are a lot of places I have left off this list because they fall victim to my biggest gripe about eating out in London — bad service. My reasoning on this — and this is mostly only true for central London — is that a lot of them seem to cater to the one-time tourist visitor: they do not entice you to return. Food may be ok, but if service is awful I will not return somewhere.

Another point, and I’m not quite sure how to describe this, regards value. At the end of a meal out, I have to feel that it’s reasonable “value” — i.e. I don’t want to feel cheated for paying for a meal that is mediocre. I’m a student living in London and don’t eat out very often so that is important to me. This isn’t about money necessarily, since it applies even if I am not the one paying. Basically, I have to feel it’s worth it. Unfortunately, it’s happened too many times when I feel it’s not, and none of those places made my list (Dishoom, Polpo , I’m looking at you).

This city is FULL of restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, food stalls — so full that choice often becomes overwhelming. So, this is a mere drop in the ocean. Perhaps I’ll post an updated version someday in the future.

Yalla YallaExcellent food (Middle Eastern/Lebanese), and good atmosphere.
♠ INDIAN: I love a good curry! :) Our local is Kiplings, but for other parts of the city, we’ve tried and liked Raj’s Tandoori, Berwick Street, Soho (discovered completely by accident way back in September 2012 during our first week in London!); Sitar on the Strand; and to splurge you simply can’t go wrong with Cinnamon Club.
Fernandez and Wells: One branch of this Spanish cafe-bar was a mere 30-second walk from my department at the university where I did the first year of my PhD. Good coffee, wine, and nibbles, and altogether maybe not always exciting, but dependable.
Gordon’s Wine Bar: Stuffy, dank, and you can usually never find a table (becoming too touristy?), but it’s a very unique experience and I think a must-do.
♠ Our favourite locals: The Angel Inn, The Flask, & the Bull (Wing Wednesdays – £5 for 1/2 lb of wings – is heavenly).
High Tea of Highgate: Speaking of local, it’s small, but cozy, and the perfect place for afternoon tea and crumpets. They also sell their tea in boxes which a few people reading this will have been gifted somewhere along the way. ;)
Nopi: Ottolenghi’s restaurant was a birthday treat in 2013 and still sticks in my mind as a very memorable meal. His Ottolenghi cafes are more relaxed, pricey, but very good food.
Vini Italiani: I first learned about this place during a wine tasting class at West London Wine School. They are the go-to reliable sources on Italian wines, always have a good recommendation and reasonably priced wines by the glass too, to drink in.
Ba Shan: tasty, reliable Chinese just off Shaftesbury Avenue.
Experimental Cocktaill Club: Make a reservation, and look for the door on Lisle Street in Chinatown. Expensive, but worth it because it’s … an experience.
♠ COFFEE: The app London Coffee is perfect.
♠ Immediately next to the legendary Gerry’s, where you can get any drink under the sun!, on Old Compton Street in Soho is a small and unassuming Tuscan wine bar/restaurant, Tuscanic. I have popped in here a few times on my own as a retreat from Soho’s very busy streets. The wine list is good and service friendly.
Leong’s Legends: Taiwanese YUM in Chinatown. Very dependable, reasonably priced, and excellent food.
Granger & Co.: I almost didn’t include it on my list, because I’ve had some truly awful service there, but the food won out. I think this is one of the best breakfasts/brunches in London.
Leon: Good for a quick, healthy, reasonably tasty meal that’s not Pret or Eat.
London farmers’ markets always make for a tasty and interesting visit (my Saturday staple is Parliament Hill).
♠ Maltby Street market – particularly the beef burger from African Volcano, wine from Life’s a Bottle, gin from Little Bird.
♠ Our pick for the best burgers in London (which has gone through a real rage) is Honest Burgers.
♠ Best ramen (similar, newer rage): Shoryu.
Quo Vadis: Elegant, simple, top-notch service — this place is definitely somewhere to take the in-laws.
Hubbard & Bell at the Hoxton Holborn: I’ve only been here once (with a second trip planned), but the kale salad was the best kale I have ever had, so I think it needs to be on the list.

Potato Skins, Two Ways

In North American pubs/bars, potato skins are, unashamedly, one of my favourite things to order. Crunchy, salty, loads of sour cream and cheese — yum. My perfect comfort food. I have never tried to make them at home before now because somehow thought they’d always be inferior. Some things are better left to deep-fat fryers eating out. However, I was in the mood for them and decided to give these two versions a go (not on the same night of course).

Traditional skins (Original recipe here)
Of the two, these were the easier to make. The most awkward part is cutting out the flesh after the potatoes are done — it has to be done a bit delicately otherwise the skin will break. With these flavours, and lots of sour cream!, you can’t really go wrong. No, it’s not the same as sitting in a bar and nursing a beer while you wait, but these definitely hit the spot.

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Thai-inspired peanut sweet potato skins (Original recipe here)
Sweet potatoes are more finicky than regular ones, as all of the sugar makes them sticky and harder to handle. It’s also harder to get them crispy (in our oven anyway — it’s a fine line between well-done and burnt). Taste-wise, these were excellent. The satay-type sauce worked well and coriander and spring onions balanced out the sweetness of the potatoes. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll make these again because it was simply too tedious with the sweet potatoes. They do make a nice change though and would be great as an appetizer if you have the patience!

sw pot skins thai

Barcelona

H. and I spent last weekend in Barcelona, a city neither of us had been to before. After a difficult 2 weeks it was just what we needed.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of this city is unpretentious. It is effortlessly cool without trying. The perfect city to walk around all day long stopping frequently for snacks and drinks, which is pretty much how we spent the weekend!

quimet

quimet2

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Tapas!
Tapas!

Recommended spots:
* Jai-Ca
* Crum (potatoes any way you want — or, like us, if you don’t fully understand the Catalan/Spanish menu, it’ll be a surprise!)
* Tainos (cocktails & tapas!)
* Bar Calders
* Bodega Vinito
* Quimet & Quimet
Stay in Sant Antoni or Poble Sec.

February 2015 Favourites

Happy March! In like a lamb here. :)
A short list this month, reflective of my new approach to social media.

Whisky-flavoured toothpaste?

◌ I’m going on a work-related trip to Riga next month week and although I won’t have too much free time, this has me excited! (This too).

◌ Canada’s human landscapes as seen from above.

In season in March.

◌ The doc Blackfish was terrifying and sad, but brilliantly done. I urge everyone to watch it and then discourage everyone you know from going to Sea World! As a counter, here are photos I came across of snorkeling with orcas in Norway.

The Notorious R.B.G.

◌ Negotiating, as a woman. I’m reading Lean In at the moment, and this struck a chord. Lots of contradicting opinions on this one.

Beach in Barcelona! Far too cool to swim, but still lovely.
Beach in Barcelona! Far too cool to swim, but still lovely.