Friday, December 30, 2011

Sichuan orange beef

Not one to try new things in the kitchen, for a change this week I have tried out a couple of new recipes. On the bus home the other night I found a recipe for potatoes where you boil them, scoop out the middles, make a roux, add some blue cheese and bake in the oven. With limited success and Pip having to save the dish I decided I could do better.

I click back onto the BBC food page and came across a little gem called 'Sichuan orange beef' and my brain spoke up and said "We can do that stevie boy". Now I am one to listen to blind encouragement from my brain so I jumped on a bus and headed to the supermarket with my shopping list.

One hour later I have almost finished finding everything but I can't track down 'Shaoxing rice wine' or 'groundnut oil' so my brain reminds me that I live in a part of London that has a huge ethnic range and that I should be able to find even elephants toes if I needed to. With renewed vigor, I stepped onto an over crowded bus and smiled with purpose through the steamed up windows on my way back home because I was a cultured genius!

Over the next hour I walked in the wet through the marts, grocery shops, and 24 hour mini stores covering all sorts of regions from African to Indian. As my socks got uncomfortably wet through my Primark shoes, I settled for substituted western alternatives and hoped that I could get at least somewhere close to the flavourous meal that my brain and I had decided to cook.

Pip suggested adding an Oxo cube to substitute the Soya which I had forgotten... and once cooked, the Sichuan orange beef was a treat. The grissly beef was a bit of a let down but overall, I managed to pull of a dish that was just outside of my comfort zone.

So what's next?

I think it's Pip's night to cook tomorrow :)
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Christmas in London

As December 25th drew closer, the idea of Pip and I being by ourselves for Christmas seemed less appealing. We decided to pull together a makeshift family of other friends without families on this side of the world.

Bradley and Olivia had also found themselves in the same lonely predicament so were more than happy when we suggested spending a couple of days at our house over Christmas. We also had a last minute addition when Pip's former workmate from Belmont Thornton, Tennille, broke up with her partner and needed somewhere to spend Christmas day.

On the 23rd, Pip and I went grocery shopping. The Sainsburys across from the Finchley Road tube stop is huge and is housed in a massive shopping center. I finished work first so I called in on my way home and picked up the heavy things to make the trip with Pip a bit easier (Mistake). Why I didn't get these things from the Sainsburys down the road I'll never know. I lugged two very heavy bags of potatoes, soft drink and Vodka through the pouring rain and when I finally got home, my shoulders were in pain and I knew I had caught a chill. I jumped into the shower and wrapped up warm as I still had one more trip to complete that night.

I met Pip at the Finchley Road tube station and we went for some chicken cottage dinner, followed by an hour of food shopping at the massive Sainsburys.  Can you believe that we were able to buy enough food and alcohol for 5 people at under 50 pounds? A very nice surprise when we got to the checkout (yes it included my previous solo trip).

Bradley and Olivia came around on Christmas Eve and when I got home from work, they were already through one bottle of wine. We had a great night catching up and having a few drinks. When we woke on Christmas morning we all felt pretty good except for me who had a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold. We jumped onto Skype and said 'hi' to our families. Mum, Bryce, Gran, Grandad and Uncle Kevin were all together for Christmas and we also talked to Pip's Mum.

For Christmas, Pip and I had made a video about London which we sent to our parents, when they all finally got it working, it went down a treat. I believe Pip's mum watched it at least 4 times (Its duration is about 15 minutes...)

For breakfast we had french toast and then... present time! We did secret Santa so the we all got extra things (I got a union jack t-shirt and a London shot glass...). The big presents were what I'd been looking forward to for weeks. Pip's mystery box for me, which I had not a clue as to its contents, was a very nice surprise. A Diana F+ camera! Possibly the coolest present she could have got me. Thanks babe! I got her a framed limited edition picture of Morrissey which we saw at the Uncut sonic editions exhibition a few months back at the Royal Albert Hall. I also got a bottle of Calvin Klein cologne and I gifted Pip a couple of things from Hotel Chocolat.

We had snacks all day, watched the Queen's speech followed by a beautifully cooked lamb roast with Yorkshire puddings. We probably all had a little too much to drink after that. Especially Bradley who made a bit of a scene and Tennille who passed out for a while. But everyone was in bed by 11pm and when I woke up the next morning to go to work I had no hangover at all, just a cold...

So a fantastic first Christmas abroad. No snow because it was about 10 degrees but there is always next year.
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Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Maccabees

After missing out on tickets to the Horrors sold out London show in October, it was announced that the band would play Xfm Winter Wonderland on December 14. There was no way I was going to let them get away this time. I snapped up a ticket each for Pip and I and waited for the day to roll around.

Having not listened to Xfm, I wasn't really sure what the whole night was about. I knew that there were some bands playing that I'd never heard, that Miles Kane might be playing (He didn't) and that Kaiser Chiefs were headlining (How they can headline over The Horrors I'm not sure).

The day of the gig and I'm enjoying my day off work, just out of curiosity, I check the venue website and the Xfm website. I was greeted with a piece of cruel news. Faris from The Horrors is ill and therefore the band will not be playing tonight at the Brixton 02 Academy. So that left an expensive ticket to see a band that I know one song from.

After breaking the news to Pip, we had dinner and headed to Brixton on the tube. The Brixton Academy is a fantastic venue. It reminds me of the Powerstation in Auckland except it has more of a theater/arena look to it. The sloping floor means the wherever you stand you're sure to have a good view.

After starting at the bar for a quick Vodka and lemonade, we entered the crowed to the end of the set from 'Band of skulls' (Nothing special). We'd missed 'Tribes' and 'We are Augustines' and then had to sit through a very middle of the road acoustic set from a guy we'd never heard of.

The next band made the night worth every penny. The Maccabees are a band that I've heard only one song (Pelican) from, I think Pip's heard a few. It was like the whole vibe of the night changed and we were treated to a tight set from a band that have a lot of excitement about them.

After The Maccabees, we were ready to enjoy the rest of the acts but what followed was a bit of a let down. An awkward presentation of an Xfm award to James-Dean Bradford from the Manic Street Preachers who played a couple of acoustic songs. I guess it could be because we don't listen to Xfm but the whole thing seemed uncomfortable, almost as if he got an award because he was the only person they could get to turn up, and with the Manics splitting up I guess he wanted to remind a few people that he still had it. That may be a bit harsh as I don't mind one of the tunes he played 'Your love alone, is not enough' but this morning I woke up still feeling sorry for everyone who had to see that...

To end on a downer, Kaiser Chiefs came onstage to the intro of 'Money for nothing'...  They started with their best song 'Every day I love you less and less' which sounded a bit flat, and by mid-set, Pip and I realized that we were not enjoying Ricky and his band so we went home.

Don't get me wrong, we had fun but without The Horrors, it felt like a low budget Radio promotion. We do however walk away with a new favorite band. Thank you to The Maccabees for saving the night!

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fernandez & Wells - Beak Street, Soho

I had to write about this little cafe in Soho. Fernandez & Wells and I were first introduced under different circumstances back in September. I had just completed my coffee course and was dead set on finding a job. After chasing interviews and cold calling my way around town, I was referred to the Beak Street establishment, Fernandez & Wells. I talked to a guy who sorted me out a trial, but soon after I had to cancel as I managed to score my current job. I left Fernandez & Wells without buying a coffee and since then have been meaning to go back to satisfy my intrigue.

The opportunity came after I had a couple of hours to kill before I could pick Pip up from work. I found myself in Soho with little to do so I headed for the cafe whose charm had set up camp in the back of my mind.

Fernandez & Wells has three sites, including the Beak Street one aforementioned, which are 'Food and Wine' and 'Espresso Bars', but Beak Street is more of a small, traditional cafe.

I blew in from the freezing cold and found myself standing in a beautiful cafe with lovely wooden floors, cool little seats set out so you feel like you're involved in everything that's going on, and the aroma of fresh coffee. I ordered an almond and apricot slice (which was to die for), and a Latte. While the Latte was nice, it was stronger than a latte should be (Not really a bad thing). The art was decent and the milk was also a pass. I took a seat down the back and took the opportunity to survey my surroundings. Although I was dressed up in some of my favorite clothes, I couldn't help but feel that I perhaps wasn't 'alternative' enough to be part of what was going on, or at least what felt like was going on. The thing I liked most about the cafe is it's ability to engage you with the experience, much like 'Notes' in Trafalgar Square did for us a few weeks back. To be fair, there was not a lot going on that was different to most cafes, yet I love that it made me feel like there was.

One draw back for me was the untidiness of the place. Upon closer inspection, there was a lot of cleaning up that needed doing. I certainly had expectations for this place and I must say that I'll be back for sure.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bradley's 25th

Bradley's 25th was two nights ago. What a fun night, if only I didn't have work the next day...

I worked from 7am until 3pm and then picked Pip up from work at Snap around 6pm. We went home, had some dinner, got dressed up all nice and headed off around 8pm. We'd never been to Clapham before and we had decided to take the bus from Westminster. London was beautiful from the top deck of the bus as we headed across the bridge and through the city. Then the bus decided to stop and force everyone off early. This was confusing everyone on board, a kid even tripped and spilled his biscuits all down the stairs. We were ushered onto another bus free of charge and our journey resumed. Once we reached the bus stop we took about 15 minutes to find his house in the freezing cold.

The night was now under way. Bradley's original plans had fallen through and so it started off with just Philippa, Bradley, their friend from broadcasting school Olivier, and myself. Then more arrived and the idea of being home by midnight went out the window.

I don't know what time we left but we must have taken at least 2 hours to get home. The tube was closed so we had to bus. Figuring that out while not sober is quite difficult. Made worse by a lack of public toilets we finally found a bus from Westminster to Willesden Station...

I awoke at the stop and Pip and I exited the bus only to realize that we had no idea where we were. 20 minutes or so of walking later, I spotted a Sainsbury's supermarkets that we'd been to before. We must have crawled into bed at about 3:30am and when my alarm went off at 6:15am, I was not very impressed. What followed, was the hardest day of work in my life. Hospitality is not the kind of work you can do when you felt like I did. I somehow made it through the day without people knowing how hungover I was. 8 hours of work, then home for a 20 minute nap...

Pip wakes me up and it's time to go to the work Christmas party. Oh no! A shower, a shave and a coffee and I'm ready. The Christmas party was at a restaurant called 'Prix Fixe' in Soho and was really nice. I had honey roast duck and Pip had pork. Despite all the drama's at work, it was a really nice evening. I even got a gift from my cafe manager Marie, a book about opening your own cafe. Very thoughtful! Although it was free wine all night, Pip and I were more than happy with water.

Now I'm on 2 days off!
London at night time is very pretty and there are not many people around.
Photos from Bradley's 25th.
Pip reunited with an old broadcasting school friend.
I think that was all of us so I'm not sure who took this photo.
Pip + wine.
Who would have guessed that Saisbury's supermarket has their own Vodka?
Singing the theme from F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
Pip tries to stop Bradley from teleporting to another universe.
Awww good friends.
A phone box on the way home.
Lets do the tourist thing at 3am!
In we go.
"Hello. How do we get home from here?"
I can't explain this one.
The tube is closed. Let's dance!
The London Eye is closed. Lets dance!
This is a photo of Big Ben. It sort of represents how we saw everything on the way home.
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Latte art and poses at work

This post originally got deleted by accident. So I have re uploaded the photos from an evening at work, plus some of my first Latte art patterns at the bottom.I can't remember if I'd written anything more of any importance.