With Blackjack and Hookers "I'm going to write my own blog. With blackjack. And hookers."

4Jul/160

Shakespeare’s London

The White Tower

The White Tower

Yes, I'm falling down a little on the blogging. It's hard; I'm both very, very busy and also not, in part because some of what I'm doing is boring life admin stuff, and so much is just... 'and then I saw this'. Things continue to go well, by and large. Friday was a difficult day - I had a job interview that did not go well, and it shook my confidence a little - but I turned it around: the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are wonderful places to go to regain one's zen. I also went to the Tower of London, and... and other places. I'm finding it difficult to keep up. So many places, so little time!

Saturday was effectively a day off, because Australia had an election and my present location on the other side of the world was no excuse not to follow it. I did go for a walk first, though: down towards Kensington, a direction I'd yet to wander in. This eventually led me to Kensington High Street, where I discovered T.K. Maxx (I'm not sure why it is T.K. in the UK and T.J. in the US, but I digress). I'm trying not to do too much shopping, but that place is amazing: big name brands for often half price. Buying a proper raincoat had been on my list, so I was delighted to buy a high quality one for half its normal retail value. I also, later, made some purchases on Amazon UK: merino wool is my new best friend. This was exciting in part because, with Amazon Prime, I can get next day delivery (or even same day delivery), and that just about blew my mind. In some ways, yes, Australia is a backwater.

I digress.

(Also, it is somewhat ridiculous that I have travelled halfway around the world to start buying up New Zealand merino. It's just... I never really needed it, in Sydney!)

I digress again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching election coverage. All of it. I admit, it is something that is more fun watched with others, but I had a lovely time all the same: I drank some T2 tea (I hadn't realised that T2 is an Australian company that has spread to the UK, but I'm so glad: going in to that shop and smelling the lemon myrtle tea and so on was delightful, though I ended up buying raspberry rush and french early grey instead), ate some chocolate biscuits, and gorged myself on it all. Another hung parliament. Yay.

At some point during the day, I registered a facebook post from my friend Kat, in Canada, in which she talked about the poutine she'd just eaten. This... this encouraged a craving. Which in turn led to a quest: good poutine is not easy to find in Sydney. Is it easier to find in London, a much larger city? I found the answer quickly: yes. In fact, my timing was perfect, because every Sunday there is a poutine truck at the Brick Lane markets in Shoreditch. My next step was clear.

Street art in Shoreditch

Street art in Shoreditch

Thus, I found myself at the Brick Lane markets this morning. Actually, this turned out to be an excellent decision, because those markets were amazing. Shoreditch is cool; there is a lot of street art, and the whole area has an artsy, alternative vibe. I'm told that it wasn't like that ten years ago, that it used to be quite a downtrodden and dangerous area. There are still some hints of that - and it is still heavily multicultural and very very different from, say, Notting Hill - but it hasn't turned 'trendy' so much as alternative. Newtown before it was gentrified, I suppose.

Those markets are, too, a food lover's paradise. In addition to the poutine, I saw duck-fat chips with truffle mayonnaise, crepes, sushi, all kinds of vegan goodies, and food from every possible ethnic group you can imagine. There were rainbow bagels. And... The Cereal Killer Cafe. Which, yes, serves cereal. Just cereal. Finally, of course, I can't forget to mention Dark Sugars, which had some of the most amazing chocolates I'd ever seen - with some of the best presentation, too. Big, beautifully carved bowls of truffles; a huge array of fancy chocolates; shiny chocolate pearls; an impressive collection of vegan chocolates, too. Reader, I died. (Read, I hyperbolised.)

The markets are also full of antiques, home made wares, and general random market junk, but for me, it was mostly about the food. The weather was perfect; it was a lovely morning.

In the afternoon, I was due to meet up with a group for a tour of 'Shakespeare's London', which I was very much looking forward to. It was a good choice: there were perhaps 20 or 30 of us, mostly locals, and everyone was very friendly and social. I ended up spending most of the walk talking to one woman in particular, and she and I got along very well, despite a fair age difference. The guide knew what he was talking about, and showed us all kinds of things along the way - and afterwards? Most of us went to the pub for a few drinks, where I ended up in the midst of a lively discussion about politics, among other things.

One thing I really like about meetup groups is that if you pick the correct groups, you know you're going to be meeting people who share at least some of your interests. Most of the people in this group are a good 20 years older than me, but we still share interests, and that made it easy to interact. Age is no barrier!

It was a good day. But now my feet hurt, so I am going to curl up and relax for the rest of the evening.

18Oct/120

Recipe: Caramel Apple Panna Cotta

I keep intending to make posts-- I even keep writing half-finished posts-- but I'm not doing too well at this point. Today, however, I have a recipe to make note of, and that gives me a more, uh, focused purpose.

This all started with a desire to use up some of the apples I have sitting around at the moment. You'll notice that the finished product... does not have any apples in it. I blame the caramel. It's distracting. Caramel usually is.

I used a lot of other people's recipes for this, and just... pulled them together into my own thing. Maybe one day I'll be making my own recipes, but... not yet.

Anyway. Onwards!

Step One: Cake (optional)

Source: Allrecipes

This is completely optional; it's really about whether or not you want to keep your caramel smooth on top, or sprinkle it with cake. Or you could just sprinkle it with salt. Really, it's totally up to you, but I used cake.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder (heaped)
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 175c (350f). Butter a baking pan. It doesn't really matter what size: this is a small cake, and you're going to crumble it all anyway.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder and then add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally, stir in the milk until the batter is smooth. Poor into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springs back at the touch. It won't take long, so do keep an eye on it.
  4. Set aside to cool. If you really can't resist, tear off a piece of it and eat it hot - it's ok!
  5. Turn cake into crumbs. You'll probably only need half of it, so put the rest aside. You'll eat it later, I promise

Step Two: Spiced Apple Panna Cotta

Source: Better Recipes

This needs to be made the day before you want to serve it (or the morning of, I suppose - you need probably 6-8 hours in the fridge, ideally).

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp gelatin
  • 1 tsbp cold water
  • 1/3 cup greek yoghurt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Directions:

  1. Combine apple juice, cinnamon stick and cloves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce apple juice to 1/4 cup. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water. Let sit undisturbed.
  3. Whisk the yogurt, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
  4. Add cream, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds to the reduced apple juice in the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, remove the vanilla pod and whisk gelatin into cream to dissolve, then whisk cream mixture into yogurt.
  5. Pour into martini glasses and refrigerate at least 6-8 hours, until firm.

Step Three: Salted Caramel Sauce

Source:Taste

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 300ml thickened cream
  • Sea salt to taste. (Optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine the caster sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Use a wet pastry brush to brush down the side of the pan to dissolve any remaining sugar crystals. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil, uncovered, without stirring, for 10 minutes or until the mixture turns a light golden colour.
  2. Remove from the heat and use a wooden spoon to stir in the brown sugar. Stir in the cream (it may splutter a little) until well combined. Stir in salt - just keep tasting it until it taste right to you. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until smooth.
  3. Pour the sauce into a jug of some kind and cool on the bench for at least an hour (covered with cling wrap). Then put it in the fridge.
  4. Scrape remaining caramel sauce out of the saucepan with leftover bits of cake. Or anything else you have. Trust me, it's delicious.

Step Four: Put it all together

After your panna cotta has had several hours to set (at least - I recommend 4-5), get the caramel sauce out of the fridge and microwave until it is pourable but not hot.

Pour the sauce over the set panna cotta - fill the glasses most of the way to the top with it.

Sprinkle cake crumbs over the top. If you want the cake to sink in to the caramel, do this right after pouring it on. If you want it to sit on top, put the panna cotta back in the fridge for at least an hour before sprinkling it on. Either way works.

Put it all back in the fridge for another hour or two, and then serve.

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