Friday, 13 December 2013
Last weekend saw our annual Uni Christmas lunch. After hosting last year it was my turn to kick back and relax. There was no cobbling together a table from MDF and packing boxes, or running round my neighbours to borrow chairs.
We had a lovely day down in Lewes at Jo and Matthew's new house, a gorgeous Victorian property they only moved into a couple of months ago. You know you are in the countryside when Christmas trees are sold with names. When we arrived Matthew was in the front garden cutting the lower branches off 'Tina' so that she would fit into the stand.
Times are changing, and there were three children at the lunch this year. We had tinsel trains, pet chickens and tree decorating were new features to our Christmas lunch.
Even though I wasn't hosting I couldn't resist getting involved in the cooking and offered to bring along desserts. Inspired by the café tres gourmand we had in Paris, Becks and I decided to make a small tasting plate.
A Sunday flick through the cookbooks we decided to make Annabel Langbein's chocolate and cranberry slice, Donna Hay's maple brulée tart and some fresh pineapple to cut through it all.
The maple tart required me to get some more lighter fluid from my blowtorch so that I could caramelise the top of the tart. I had no idea what to buy and had to purchase two canisters before I got one with the right attachment to fill up my torch.
The desserts all went down really well. Some people preferred the tart and others the chocolate. Two and a half year old Toby stole his mum's forkful of the chocolate start and stuffed it straight in his mouth. His face was a picture when he realised how dense and sticky the chocolate he'd just popped into his mouth was. After a few minutes of quiet concentration he'd scoffed the lot and looked quite pleased with himself!
Thursday, 28 November 2013
|On the top deck of the Big Red|
A couple of Saturday's ago I visited the Big Red Pizza Bus in Deptford. I was hearing good things about this place even before I came back to the UK, but it has taken me eighteen months to finally get there.
The Big Red is a deceptive venue. Tucked behind the Birds Nest pub it doesn't look like the most promising location in Deptford and, being frank, the bus looks a little shabby too. However, stepping into the venue it opens up into a large covered courtyard which has been done out with chunky wooden furniture. It was larger and quirkier than the outside would have you believe.
We were offered seats in the courtyard, but it had to be the bus for our first visit and we took a table on the top deck.
|Pizza of the day: goats cheese, beetroot and rocket|
The Italiano had the same thin base and was draped with parma ham.
The two girls who run the place were telling me about their plans to set up cookery classes next year. I was doing my best to encourage them.
30 Deptford Church St
Sunday, 24 November 2013
There are some days which just done seem to go for you. Being woken at 3am by the neighbours having an argument leaves you tired for the rest of the day and doesn't get the ball rolling too well. A mild headache, mouth ulcer and a few ongoing issues from my stomach ulcer put me off colour.
I was meeting Becks for lunch and we decided to use our National Trust passes and visit Mordon Hall Park that we passed on the way to my last cross country race. The NT does pretty solid cafés in a homespun kind of way and we thought it would be a good lunch spot.
The tram from Wimbledon drops you at the far side of the park. We walked past autumn leaves that are now falling in earnest on our way to the property. The large rose garden looked like it would be impressive in summer, but there were only flowers still clinging on in the middle of November.
We followed signs to the café and entered a restored courtyard containing the visitors centre and second hand book shop. We were both hungry so headed straight into the café.
It was a little underwhelming. I was looking forward to something hot, but they only had a selection of sandwiches. We made a couple of selections and it was perfectly pleasant, but not really what I was looking for.
After lunch we walked across to the snuff mill (closed) and had a quick walk round the outside Morden Hall which lies outside of the part looked after by the NT (we assume) and was falling in a pretty decrepit state.
Having exhausted what seemed to be open (not much) we headed back to the tram stop. It hadn't been a particularly entertaining visit.
Back at the tram stop we had a quick look at the map before departing and noticed that there was another café and shop on the site. Presumably the main café, it would have served me the homemade hot food I was hoping for.
Some days just really aren't your days.
Image from the National Trust website.
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
|Jardin du Luxembourg|
Here's the final post from my recent trip to Paris, wrapping up our last three days in the city.
We had a lazy start to Thursday with a quick trip to a local supermarket that Kathryn told us had a good wine cave. We both picked up a few gifts for the office and a couple of bottles of wine each. We couldn't carry much and I don't know how to select wine even if I could!
After the supermarket we walked through the back streets of Bastille towards lunch at Bistro Paul Bert. I enjoyed walking through another new district; flooring, fashion and student dive bars seemed to predominate in the area. The hottest lunch spot in town seemed to be the Vietnamese Paris Hanoi restaurant which had a queue coming out of the door and down the street.
After lunch we caught the metro up to Montparnasse and walked across to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a look around the gardens and to enjoy some of the late October sunshine.
After the park we visited the Musée Maillol to see the Etruscan exhibition, a period in history that I know virtually nothing about. Some of the exhibits were incredibly intricate and well preserved considering they were nearly 3,000 years old.
In the evening we had our best dinner of the week at Au Passage.
On Saturday morning we decided to stay in our local area before heading back to the Gare du Nord for our train home. We started off by checking out a store we'd seen on Friday but was closed for a stock take; Merci. Our landlady is obviously a fan as we spotted a few items from the flat in the shop. Some shocking prices kept my wallet firmly in my pocket.
After Merci we had a drift round the northern back streets in the district of Marais. The northern part of Marais is filled with lots of interesting independent small shops and is a lot more pleasant than the bustling tourist streets in the southern area of Marais.
We popped into a supermarket chain called Picard. They are the M&S of the frozen food world and it was quite incredible to look round. You could easily cater a diner party from there as well as pick up a posh TV diner. With the right marketing I think the chain could do well in the UK. I want to buy the franchise.
On the way back to our flat we stumbled across the National Archives which had some small but lovely gardens and a more classical courtyard (above).
Back in the flat we had a bit of a shock when we realised that our train was an hour earlier than we thought. Clothes were thrown into bags and we were off to the Gare du Nord!
Saturday, 16 November 2013
|Terrine at Au Passage in Paris|
I knew the restaurant was located down an unpromising looking street. I liked the idea of lowering expectations and then arriving at a buzzing restaurant with a wow factor.
The first part of the evening went to plan as we walked past a couple of uninviting looking bars and into the nondescript Passage Saint-Sébastien. After the low, there wasn't the immediate high I had envisaged. We were the first first customers of the evening to arrive and the empty restaurant had more akin with an unheated concrete box than one of Paris' hottest tables.
I had a nervous half hour waiting for the restaurant to fill up and wondering where I'd brought Becks on her birthday. However, once other diners had arrived and the food began to roll I knew we were in for something a bit special.
Too much time has passed and wine consumed during the evening for me to remember everything in detail, but it was easily the best meal of the holiday.
The chalk board menu mentioned just the key ingredient of the dish rather than any fancy descriptions. From the savoury dishes the burrata was a highlight, as was the terrine with pickled chillies.
The desserts were pretty special too with a heavenly chocolate mousse and lovely pear crumble. When the crumble arrived I thought "oh no a deconstructed dish" but it was excellent. The yoghurt had been sweetened and lightened in texture. I suspect it had been fired through a foam / espuma gun.
|Pearl Barley Salad|
|Smoked egg with chard|
|Quail with labne|
|Pear crumble with yoghurt|
1bis Passage Saint-Sébastien
Thursday, 14 November 2013
|Alex Preston reading his story|
I wasn't sure what to expect from the evening as I'd booked tickets on Beck's suggestion rather than knowing anything about the night. It turned out to be different and enjoyable.
The small chapel was filled with people and lit by candle light it was quite atmospheric. Fireworks going off in the distance added to the atmosphere.
We were treated to four readings by different authors of short stories that they had written. I got the impression (which could be wrong) that the two male authors had written stories especially for the event while the two female authors were recycling material they already had.
The evening started with Tania Hershman reading a story about a recently bereaved women. I didn't pick up the fully background on all of the character in the story and Becks had to explain it to me at the interview. Not knowing what was going on slightly limited my enjoyment of the first storey.
The second reading by Alex Preston was much longer. He'd written a storey set just after WWII where four friends reunite after the war at their former school. Although I didn't fully get where the ghosts came into the story (where the characters ghosts or was it just the spectre of the war hanging over them?) it was on the reading I enjoyed the most. Becks picked up some clever references where a war poem had been woven into the story.
After the interval (advertised as 15mins, but ended up closer to 30mins) Adam Marek read the funniest reading of the evening. The story was focused around a couple who created ghosts by making love. I'm not sure what the CoE would have to say about swearing and sex scenes in a consecrated building, but it was very good none the less. My second favourite story of the evening.
The final reading was Stella Duffy. All of the authors were new to me, but I think Stella had been saved until last as she was the 'big name' of the evening. The story she read, From the River's Mouth, had recently been aired on Radio 4. Stella probably put the most energy into any of the readings on the night, but I didn't find the story as engaging as the others and it was probably my least favourite reading of the night.
It was something totally different to do on a Friday night. I haven't found a theatre in London to rival Sydney's Belvoir, but I enjoyed my night of culture and hope it isn't so long before the next one.
Monday, 11 November 2013
|Runners streaming away at the start|
It rained all morning and the weather wasn't looking to promising for an afternoon jog in the park, but thankfully the rain eased as I took my first trip on London's tram route out to Mitcham for the race.
The league is taken pretty seriously. Most of the team had got there close to an hour before the race and had been out on the course to do a recce and warm up.
However, I was taking a pretty relaxed approach. My legs are still feeling heavy from the marathon three weeks ago and I'm not doing much training at the moment. It is also only the ten fastest runners from each club who score points and I reasoned I'd be comfortably outside the quickest ten. With five minutes to do I decided I probably should do a quick warm up and then it was off to the start.
The course was pretty narrow which led to a funnelling of runners and I got a couple of shoves from a guy on my left. I don't enjoy the pushing and shoving and resisted the rude man to my left on principle but lost a few places to others as I got boxed in.
|At the finish|
I was managing to keep Rich in sight and managed to close up a few places as we progressed through the first part of the lap. It was a pretty technical course and a recce would have been a good idea. There was an unsighted ditch, a few really large divots which made me stumble and some steep hills and descents.
Towards the end of the first lap I managed to catch Rich and was sitting on his shoulder. As we started the second lap Rich seemed to slow and I was feeling ok and decided to try and keep my pace and overtook him. Just up the road was another club member Luke, who I have never beaten in a race before. During the second lap I managed to draw level and then also pass Luke. Further up the course was Lawrence, another club member, who is never normally in sight but there he was.
Was I in a lot better nick than I thought? Or were they just having bad days? As we started the last lap I was beginning to feel tired, although my legs were still feeling ok. I resisted looking at my watch and tried to keep pushing. My form was dreadful up the hills, but I kept going at a decent pace and managed to overtake a couple of people.
As we entered the last kilometer I was overtaken by five people in quick succession, but they were all finishing a lot stronger than I was and there was no way that I could have kicked that far from home. With a couple of hundred meters to go I decided the time was right to kick and managed to pick up a couple of places on the run into the line. I almost got a third runner on the line, but he managed to stay ahead of me.
I was pretty pleased with my run. My legs felt a lot better than I expected and I managed to beat a couple of people from the club that usually have the edge on me.
John, who came second in the London Marathon this year, congratulated me on my run after the finish and shook my hand. Proud times.
I'm very grateful to Becks who came to support me on the day. I was the only club member with a fan club which I was very appreciative of.
I came 74th out of 193 finishers in 32mins and 50seconds. An average pace of 3min 46sec per km.