Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Weekend 2012

Oops I don't know what this is.

I only had white and black face paint so this is what I could muster for a Halloween Ball. Atleast my bloodshot eyes are real, heh heh.

The night was raging. The venue was KOKO in Camden which was a glorious old hall. There were people of all shapes and sizes. Zombies, animal suits, countless sexy females.
The costumes and face paint was so amazing, I could'nt recognise many of my friends!

The next morning I was exhausted. Had brunch at The Diner and swore I'd nap all afternoon. Then I realised there was a housewarming party in the afternoon. So I went out and bought a dress, bottle of prosecco, cheeses and crackers. And the party was a hit.

All day I've been running on caffeine and a zest for life. But boy do I feel like crap!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hungary For Budapest

The weekend in Budapest was a gluttonous retreat. And since we were there less than 48 hours, it was imperative to lock down good meals. 

I booked two restaurants with eager anticipation. The first was recommended by a colleague, Bock Bisztro in Pest. It wasn't ideal rushing to a meal after arriving in Budapest but their raves were too enticing.

From the airport we took a bus and two trains. We found Bock Bistro and were seated with excitement, gawking fiendishly at the menu. 

So much tantalisation to choose from.

Fresh warm bread and a pot 'o LARD. Yep, rendered pig fat which is supposed to be spread on liberally.  

Pork crackling which was good. Or evil.

Salmon tartare.

Roast duck with sour cherries. This was cooked to perfection and the caramelised fatty skin will be forever in my memory.

Sous vide fillet of steak. Practically melts at the touch of a knife.

Delighted with my first meal in Budapest.

The second place I highly recommend is Két Szerecsen. It's cheaper than Bock and the quality of the food is just as excellent. Friendly service too. My friend ordered the steak dish which is out of this world. 

The garlic butter was so incredible, it was made with crack. Probably.

Our last meal of the weekend was at Chess Restaurant. They do French, Italian and Hungarian fusion. The dining room was classy and of course, chess themed. I was still stuffed from lunch but couldn't resist one last meal of indulgence.

Sweet noodle cake with apricot filling and juicy raisins.

You want cheese. We got cheese.

Camden Markets. So cheezeeeeeeee.

Just enough cheese to make a toastie.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

La Grande Classique - Race To Versailles

My phone alarm went off at 6am (well, London time) and I was off to The Eiffel Tower.

The atmosphere was electric. There were 21k runners.

With the iconic tower in the background, I was beaming with excitement. Not only because it was a race but it was Paris!

Not sure on what to expect except the altitude map looked like this.

Groups of runners started every couple of minutes. I queued by the Eiffel Tower and moved slowly towards the starting line. Drink bottles, garbage bags (worn for warmth) and empty packets of energy bars strewn along the way. 

At the start I started my playlist, launched GPS on my iphone and checked my shoelaces. As I was bending down, a woman in front was stretching and her foot caught my earphone cable. With a swift kick, my phone flew out of my hand and crashed onto the ground. 

She gave it back to me apologising. I checked for vitals and sure enough the screen was dead. In essence it was bricked. And without further ado, the woman had run off because we had already started.

I stumbled over the starting line almost choking. What in hell do I do now? I need music to run and my phone was broken. Should I chase the woman down? I thought I was going to cry. But no. I was here to race and that what I had to do. I relied on endorphins to numb my shock.

By 2 kms, I was pounding the road with determination. By 6 kms, I got to the hill which looks exactly how it appears on the altitude chart. So steep I did'nt even bother about running. I just walked really quickly, promising myself to barrel downhill at the opportunity.

It was strenuous work and with my earphones in, I focused on the tempo of my breathing like a mantra.

The morning was gloriously sunny and clear. The silver lining to a defunct iphone was that I could hear the local brass bands playing along the route. Spectators cheering "Allez!" and kids wanting to high-five us. 

The villages and forests were quaint and at the replenishment stations, volunteers handed out water, orange quarters and sugar cubes. Simple and good. That's what I love about the French culture.

I was unstoppable even though the soles of my feet were on fire. With the hills and awkward start, there was no way of blitzing a record but I just had to finish. 16 kms is the longest I've ever run and no matter the pain, I could achieve any distance. I was'nt going to die, it only takes time. 

The final stretch of forest opened up to a tree lined boulevard towards Versailles Palace. 

Only one km to go.

Although it felt like it was moving further away, I kept running until I crossed the finish line.  And felt a huge wave of relief. That was some pretty low flying.

The queues for train tickets back to Paris was ridiculous. I walked back to the apartment from Gare D'Austerlitz and discovered the fascinating Rue Mouffetard.

I bought a slice of apricot flan from a patisserie and it was so delicious, it was like an orgy in my mouth. Another love for Paris, you buy your daily bread or pastries from an artisan and not a supermarket chain.

Later I walked to St Germain, sat by the pond in Jardin Des Tulleries to watch the sunset and then headed up the Champs Elysees Boulevard.

On the train home I fell ill and wrote off any chance of having one last meal in Paris. My body went into reject mode. I was exhausted and went straight to bed. My hostess kindly set up an alarm clock for me because I had to get up at 5.30 am (ok, London time) for the Eurostar.

Paris - Staying In The Fifth

It's back to Paris and this time my mission was the La Grande Classique, a 16 km race from The Effiel Tower to Versailles Palace. 

I took the Eurostar and found my apartment from Airbnb. This time I stayed on the Left Bank near Les Gobelins. 

My hostess was a friendly single mum with two cats. She's a French teacher and two full walls of her living room were of books. Her cats were adorable, especially a frisky ginger kitten. 

Her daughter's room was pink. Carpet and walls included. It was comfortable, cheap (only £18 per night) and spacious which is alot better than a hostel. And the location is a street away from Rue Mouffetard, a quaint and hilly street lined with gourmet food shops and restaurants. 

After I checked in, I walked to Tolbiac on the 13th. Home of Vietnamese restaurants and where I met a girlfriend for a late lunch at Pho 13. The pho was epic and the bowls are big as my head.

Our lunch ended at 4pm and I made a mad dash to the south of Paris to register for the race. I had to present my doctor's certificate (commonly required for French races) and pick up my shirt and time chip. 

In the evening I carb loaded even though I was'nt hungry. Went back to my very favourite restuarant, La Nouvelle Epoque. I love love love it there and the owner knows me now. I even got the same waitress as on my last trip in Dec. The place is so homely and they really take pride in their food and service. 

I started with my favourite french dish, escargot with garlic butter. I ate it with two baskets of bread.

Main course was beefsteak and chips. With butter.

I wasn't planning on have a third course but their lemon meringue tart is delicious and the balance of acidity to sweetness is perfect.  

On the way home I had to take a pic of this metro poster. I saw it in all the train stations in Paris. If you could hear a young child exclaim the title in French, you'd melt. "Choupy!"

Back in the flat the ginger kitty raced to greet me at top speed. And sneaked into my room to play with my sneakers. 

 Mmmmm yummy shoelaces.

Sneaker...zzz. Actually he was'nt sleeping, he was trying to maul them.

I prepared for the early morning start and had to cajole the kitten out from under my bed. He knew I was about to sleep and wanted to keep playing. I had to grab him from his hiding spot, leave him outside and close the door.

My race stuff, ready to go. 

Camden Lock Markets

Only a week ago I was strolling the streets of Paris in awe and this today I was the same in my own neighbourhood. The sun was shining and although Camden was crowded (as usual), I decided to get lost with the tourists in Camden Lock.

Honestly I don't give Camden enough credit. I used to think it was a grungy tourist trap. The majority of stalls selling cheap imported rubbish. But now I know why thousands of people flock here on weekends. The canal is beautiful, perfect for chilling out in the sun, watching the houseboats move in or out of the lock.

There is good street food here as long as you eat away from the main drag. The canal on this autumn day made me realise how lucky I was to live close to here.

Sorry my photos are low quality. I'm upgrading my Iphone 3GS which I've had for three years. Anyone who still has one, a word of important advice. DO NOT UPDATE TO IOS6. The new OS is shite, slowing down your phone and maps is not fit for it's purpose.

Weeping willow.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ma Lai Gao or Chinese Malay Cake

I had a craving for cake tonigh and did'nt want to go to the shops so I whipped up a cake Mum used to make when we were kids. This is a dim sum/yum cha favourite.

Mum liked things simple and that's exactly what this cake is about. Forget the fancy recipes you might find on the internet. This one only has a couple of ingredients and chances are they are already in your kitchen.

The cake is fluffy and pale yellow. It smells amazing as it's steamed and best served  after it cools, if you can wait that long.

The key to getting a light and fluffy texture is to beat the batter while slowly adding the dry ingredients. You must keep beating for atleast 5 mins after. Mum used chopsticks but a hand mixer saves alot of elbow grease.

4 large eggs (add 1 extra if they are medium sized)
1 cup self raising flour (I made my own with plain flour, 1 tsp of cream of tartar and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda)
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Firstly set up your steaming apparatus. I used a large wok with an inch of water and a little steamer tray. Start boiling the water because the cake needs to go into an already steaming pan.

Use an ungreased circular cake tin for best results. I used both and find glassware transfers heat slowly and the cake won't rise as well.

1) Beat the eggs and add sugar, salt and vanilla essence until dissolved.
2) Continue beating and gradually add the flour.
3) Keep beating mixture for 5 mins, no less.
4) Pour into baking tray and place onto steaming tray.
5) Steam on medium heat for 10 to 20 mins, depending on the height and width of the baking tin. A wide cake will cook faster.

6) Test with a toothpick or chopstick. It it comes out clean, it's fully cooked. Remove from pan and cool the cake before cutting.

I made two cakes from this recipe and they took 13 minutes each. I got a sponge cake texture the first time so was impressed how easily they were to make. Mum will be proud when I tell her!