Sunday, December 29, 2013

Le Tania Day 5 - Rescued By Ski Patrol

I'm kicking myself for not conserving enough energy to blog in the last days of the trip. (As I'm typing this, our bus back to Lyon is gridlocked in traffic.) 

On Boxing Day we got our Christmas wish. I woke up and our balcony covered in fluffy snow. It snowed lots overnight. Finally!

All the pine trees and mountains were dusted white. The picnic bench on our balcony was buried in snow. And it was still snowing, my first this season. 

Even Vari, our chalet host was taking pictures of the new snow and low hanging clouds from our balcony.

A magical view!

The downside was that it was freezing and windy at the top of the mountains. Visibility was poor and after our class, we took a few newbies in our group to Meribel. My favorite run, Blvd Del La Loze was closed due to avalanches so we took an alternate route, just as scenic had it not been for the fog. 

The powder was heavy so it was easy to stay in control. The moguls are fun too. We had great runs in Meribel. There was some moments where the world was so scenic I could cry. There were tree lined runs which were all white. Meribel's gingerbread houses had "frosting" on the roofs.

We headed back to La Tania when some of us were tired and wanted to take lifts down the slopes. But when we got to the top of the mountain, the chair lifts were closed and the conditions were terrible. There were strong winds that whipped snow in our faces and fog so thick we could only see 1m away. 

We followed the run markers one by one and found a steep run which was carved in ice by the wind. I actually avoided this run on a clear day. It was daunting for the experienced skier let alone the newbies. We held steadfast against the wind, procrastinating the inevitable-we had to go down.

I watched other skiers go downs and if they could do it, so could we. I skied down the ice and thankfully 15 meters below was powder. I looked up to see one of our newbies temporarily paralysed with panic at the top. 

It took a few tumbles but thankfully we all made it down. I was skiing in near blindness because my googles frosted over. Another newbie nearly blacked out due to motion sickness from skiing in a whiteout. 

At 4pm I wanted to ski back to La Tania but the others wanted to take a bus from Courchevel. I left them and took the last chairlift towards home. As I was by myself it was freaky when it suddenly stopped. Surely they wont close the lift with me still on it? I gulped as it was getting dark and very very cold.

Luckily the lift started but that was just the beginning of my problems. When I got off, it was dark as night and the winds pushed me around in my skis. 

After staring helplessly at a sign post which didn't have the run I had in mind, I scanned the area for people and when I couldn't see anyone, I forced myself to put on a brave face. 

It was like being blindfolded and blown in all directions. I tried to track my way to the adjoining red run to get home but as I inadvertently slid down a slope, I realised I was drifting back towards Courchevel. 

It was a long and foggy retreat back to Courchevel and I actually wondered how I was going to dig a shelter in case I got stranded.

Then I heard someone say: "hello, hello." 

I turned around and thank The Lord it was'nt a trick of my imagination. There was a ski patrol person asking me where I was going. He said I should go back to Courchevel to take a bus. I already missed the turn off to La Tania and the conditions are unsafe, especially for a lone skier.

I hesitated. I don't know why I was unappreciative of the circumstances but said: "I'm not a beginner and don't want to take the bus. I'd rather ski home." 

The ski patrol guy offered to walk me back to the turn off I intended to take. I backed out and then he had a conversation on his Walkie talkie in French. He told me to wait in the nearby resturant (which I couldn't see before) and another ski patroller who would take me back to La Tania. 

He accompanied me in and it was like a mirage from where I was ten minutes earlier. It was a opulent safety zone, warm and cosy with staff quietly clearing the restaurant for the day. Completely oblivious to the conditions outside. 

The other ski patroller took me back to the top of La Tania gondola on his ski mobile. It was a fun ride. Such lovely French gentlemen they were, carrying my skis and giving me plenty of assurance with their beautiful French accents. I now have a even bigger soft spot for now. I was most appreciative of their chivalry.

I still had to ski down Folyeres to get back to La Tania but it was safe and protected by trees. It was a wonderful experience, skiing when there was no one else (knowing that ski patrol was not far behind).

So on that day, I thanked my lucky stars that ski patrol had found me or otherwise I might not be telling you this story!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

La Tania Days 3 and 4 - My First White Christmas

At least three people complained about sore tummies the next morning. My insomia as it seems was due to a stomach bug.

I carried on feeling a bit light headed for my class. Keff, my ski instructor checked to make sure I was feeling ok and Fabienne mocked running away from me when I told her that I was sick. 

I keep seeing these trees with red things. They are so pretty in the snow.

After our class Amy and I took a few newbies to Courchevel for a few green runs. It was expected to snow in the evening and the skies were grey so I took an early mark from skiing. 

In the evening there were fireworks in Le Tania and I watched from our balcony. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner prepared by our hosts. They served duck confit and it was divine!

I did'nt sleep well again. Our chalet was invaded by a drunk guy (who we know) from another chalet and I woke to him sitting on my bed trying to get me up. I told him to p*** off and he went to bother the other rooms. 

It did'nt snow overnight so there was no new cover for Christmas morning. I scratched my skis on the red run into Le Tania. Amy didn't make it to class because that same drunk guy was snoring loudly in their room and she needed to catch up on sleep. This meant that I was the only girl in the class and every now and then Keff would make sure I was ok as I was the runt of the pack. He even said: (insert French accent) "ah Emma are you're so little." 

The conditions had deteriorated and there was low visability at the top of Courchevel. It was raining in Le Tania, making the snow sluggish for turns. 

The past days skiing has taken a toll on my knees and I had to make it a half day. I stumbled home and filled the tub straight away. 

I took nap as Christmas songs were being played in the kitchen by the chalet hosts and went for a walk to Le Tania shops. When I could'nt find food I liked, I returned home where Vari (one of our chalet hosts) made me a Camembert baguette. 

Christmas dinner was lovely. We had a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings and a flaming Christmas pudding for dessert. 

After our sumptuous dinner, we went to one of the other chalets (of 20 people) for a mass Kris Kringle in our Christmas jumpers and onesies.

Kris Kringle gifts entailed of mini speakers, earphones, nerf guns, a very large bottle of personal lubricant, books (one which I stole) and scarves to name a few. There were forty odd of us and most received gifts they actually wanted. It was a good night until there was a nerf gun skirmish which resulted in a blood nose by an innocent bystander. Lucky there was a doctor among us.

We returned back to our chalet promptly after, feeling relieved to be staying in the lovely (and slightly more civilised) Chalet Mongellaz.

Le Tania Day 2 - Serious Insomia

I was late to my class again and had to take the nearby red run. It was just a sprinkling of snow in some areas and icy but I made it to the class without too much hassle. Win!

This time it was more advanced as we went out to Courchevel. The early morning snow was marvelous and I glided down snow so powdery and fluffy like a feather down duvet. There were not many people at that time of day so we got a few great blue runs in. 

My friend Amy was in the class and we stuck by each other after lunch time as we skied to Meribel and back to Courchevel. The views were spectacular and the skiing conditions were nicer than La Tania. I didn't want to risk taking the last lifts or getting stranded in another resort so I called it a day just after 3pm. The sun disappears behind the mountains quickly and combined with fatigue, I was tempting fate by pushing too hard.

I took the goldola back down to Le Tania to avoid an ice trail to the resort. Then it was a laborious slog back up that red run near the chalet on foot. Towards the end, a group of people had taken a shortcut downwards to the chalets and one kind gentleman carried my skis while I caught my breath. That was having seen this panting girl, barely maintaining her balance carrying skis and poles up a steep hill.

It was another exhausted return to the chalet. Having skipped lunch again (snacking on fruit and nuts) I ate 2 slices of coffee cake which our host baked in the morning. 

That night I went to the pub, The Telemark with the others but for me, it was to use the free wifi. Sadly to was blocked with too many users and my chalet mates had too many pre dinner drinks. It was the loudest and most rambunctious dinner so far. 

We had raclette which didn't agree with my lactose intolerance. Every meal had dairy and I'm starting to think that my lactase tablets are no longer effective. 

I disappeared to my room to get an early night sleep but just laid in bed with my stomach turning all night. I couldn't sleep and had the sniffles :( Finally when the chalet was silent, I came out to the living room to blog in this moment's peace. All that can be heard is the stream running outside our chalet, and me blowing my nose every 5 minutes.

La Tania Day 1 - Skiing Solo In Courchevel

Its the first day of my week long ski trip in the French Alps. Because we arrived late the night before, I only got my ski gear after my lesson started.

I was put in another intermediate class with a French lady instructor, Fabienne. She had a gravelly voice and could have been mistaken for male chain smoker. She smoked on the tow bars during our lesson and said "ouis, allez and Bon" a lot. She had an endearing personality and was a very good teacher. 

It was my first time in skis for two years and I'll always remember Fabienne shouting in a heavy French accent: "Emma, don't look at your skis, look at me!" Which I did and then almost by the click of the fingers, my skiing stabilised immensely. 

I could'nt wait to hit the other slopes afterwards. Since I was split from our group already, I spent the entire day skiing alone and it was'nt a bad thing. I was skiing blue and red runs, mostly with ease and there was no fear factor. The conditions were good although a few of the red runs got a bit hairy at the end of the day. The worst were in the shade and are so steep, they looks like cliffs to the depths of the earth. (Lovely view of mountains in the background though!)

I almost got stranded because the lifts were closed and lucky I followed a group of people who were heading back to La Tania. They even stopped to wait for me as I was slower, much to the realisation that my abilities were not as good as I thought.

When I finally burst through the front door of the chalet, I was bathed in sweat and there was only one thing on my mind. A hot bath. When I crept into the almost burning water, there were some wall shaking groans of comfort which I sure the whole chalet could hear. In my usual fashion, I doused myself with ice cold water and felt renewed afterwards.

We put our Kris Kringle presents under the tree.

The big dinner table in our Christmas jumpers.

Our spacious yet cosy chalet.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cologne and Dusseldorf Christmas Markets 2013

Grant and I had an easy weekend in Germany. We flew to Cologne for the Christmas markets and came back from Dusseldorf as the cities are only 20 mins away by train. 

It was my first early morning flight from Gatwick and I realised I should be flying from there more often. The airport is calm and going through security was a breeze. I even managed to get a whole row of seats to myself on the plane!

After we landed and took a train to the city of Cologne, we climbed up the cathedral near the station. The weather wasn't so great but at least it didn't rain. The climb, unlike the one I did in Florence's duomo cathedral was challenging because people were coming up and down the stairs and there was a slippery/scary bit near the top. 

After the climb we went straight into the adjoining christmas market. The first one was big and the food stalls are amazing. There was plenty of hot apple cider, apple liquor (which I nearly got drunk on one shot glass!) and mulled wine as well. It was lovely being in a real christmas market where the food was fresh and traditionally made. We discovered Kartoffelpuffer, fluffy deep friend potato pancakes. Like hash browns but way better! 

This was at the second Christmas market nearby. Not only was there plenty of wurst, there were also long grilled meat sticks. They were super tasty. Ours was pork but they also had beef.

The meat stick is deceptively short at times. 

We didn't get to Dusseldorf until nearly 9pm. For dinner, our hotel recommended a traditional German restaurant, which was also a brewhouse called Schumacher. On a late Saturday night, the place was packed. The atmosphere was buzzing. Once seated, a man shows up with a tray of beers. He simply asks: "Beers?" We say yes and he plonks two on our table and marks our coasters as a tally of how many we've had. Now this is real Germany! 

We ordered Schweinshaxe, roasted pork knuckle. Mine was served with mash and Grant's with red sauerkraut and dumpling. The meals were huge and comforting. It's the type of food to drink beer with. I could'nt even finish mine.

The next morning we explored Dusseldorf. The city is different to Cologne because it looks relatively new. There is still a lot of construction. I liked it because it's metropolitan and cultured. There were a lot of Japanese restaurants I wanted to try too. 

We hit up more Christmas markets and ate those delightful potato pancakes.

Yet another Christmas market. How quaint are these wooden toy soldiers?

We walked along the Rhine river and stopped by at Cafe Kasbah which was Moroccan. We sat in the upstairs mezzanine, on poufs sipping fresh mint tea. As I watched the sunshine streaming indoors, (something I rarely see nowadays),  I was thinking how much I liked this city. Not too busy and has all that one needs. I can imagine living here!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Ferris Wheel For Us Big Kids

I met my friend for coffee in Hampstead and there was a Christmas Fair. There were food stalls, a petting zoo, birds of prey display, reindeers and an organ machine playing Christmas carols. 

On the upper end of the high street was a ferris wheel and other rides.

So my friend and I got on the ferris wheel. The enjoyment of high amusement rides is different for us big kids. The little kids were calm with their accompanying parent. But for us, if we weren't squealing, we were wailing in trepidation.



Monday, November 18, 2013

A Tale Of The Spinning Burrito And My First Shiner

It happened on my way into the office after I popped out for a burrito. We have auto revolving doors but sometimes you need to push them manually. I approached and it started to revolve so I walked through and it stopped in my face. My cheekbone hit the metal handrail and nearly smacked my glasses off.

I was shocked. Not only because of the impact, I also dropped my burrito. I was trapped in the door so I gave it a push and suddenly the doors spun twice as fast! So quickly I couldn't pick it up. I jumped out of the doors and watched helplessly as my burrito rolled anti-clockwise in some kind of ridiculous taunt.

I looked up to see the receptionists' stunned faces and caught the eye of one sympathetic gentleman who got up from his chair to make sure I was ok. I pretended everything was fine and rescued my burrito, still hot and foil wrapping intact. 

A few hours later, my upper cheek swelled and a shiner was coming through. I couldn't wait to get home, into my onesie and make cheese souffle. It's not a cure but as long as I'm not looking in the mirror, everything will be just fine. 

My shiner a few days later. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This Is Autumn

 The sun shone so much today the sky was burnt blue. A walk through Hampstead Heath set the scene for autumn. Dogs, coats, gumboots and kites. By afternoon, the light was gone and people scurried home from the shops to prepare for the cosy indoors. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Starting With Irish Soda Bread

It's not officially winter but its weather has kicked in. I slept in till 10am-a stretch since I hate wasting hours of sunshine. I felt lazy and was relieved in a way that it was raining outside. There was no incentive to leave the flat.

For breakfast I whipped up a loaf of Irish soda bread. I got hooked on the stuff in Dublin. It has a delicious smell and takes only half an hour to make. The ingredients are buttermilk, wholemeal flour, white flour and salt. All which I had in the kitchen. I thawed the buttermilk as I keep some in the freezer and picked out a heap of raisins out of the cereal box to add to the bread. I like soda bread with fruit so you gotta make do...

The bread turned out perfect and smelt a treat as it was coming out of the oven. 

Thanks to the buttermilk, the texture was soft and well aerated. The aroma intensified as I sliced it while it was still warm. Soda bread success!

The slices went into the toaster and was served with lashings of Anchor butter. (Grant's favourite from NZ.) Utterly scrumptious.

I did some chores and by the time I walked out of the flat to go shopping, it was night-dark and only 5pm. 

I went to Camden where I bought a sweater from a charity shop and pearl jasmine green tea, white peony tea and a glass tea infuser. Teas are really my "thing" at the moment. It's comforting, healthy and kind to the tummy. 

Grant and I went to Leicester Square for dinner. I had an uncontrollable craving for Five Guys burgers. It was manic out there and awful having to wait in a queue freezing. Poor Grant promised he would go with me to Five Guys and he took the wait on the chin. We were suckers for punishment. It was so busy, I reakon we waited for an hour from when we got in the queue to when we got our food. 

Grant asked for no onions but it seemed like he got double the serve of onions in his burger. I complained and they gave him the correct burger straight away. No point of paying nearly £9 for a burger if it's not to full satisfaction. Mine was tasty and very messy but it was a craving down and I'll never do Saturday night Five Guys again.

Then I started posting in my new blog, My Hair Growth Story. It's based on my quest to grow my hair to the bottom of my ribs, something which I've never done before. As a little girl I was never allowed to grow hair past my nape but now it's rebelling big time!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When The Leaves Turn Red, Summer Is Over

I walk past this tree everyday and when the leaves are red, it's a sign that a dreadful time of the year is coming. There's no more denying it, summer is truly over. 

Say goodbye to waking sunlight, outdoor life after work, that titillating feeling of warm air on skin. It's time for constrictive coats, clunky boots, frozen cheeks and vitamin D tablets. 

Woe will I be, no more prancing along sand and sea!

Now the trees are naked, the pavements are leafy and the chestnuts are (presumably) stolen by the squirrels. And no matter how early I try to finish work, it's dark by the time I'm home.

But I had a nice surprise this morning. We have mounds of wild mushrooms. They must have sprung up overnight! So beautiful.

Did elves plant spores in our garden while we were sleeping?

A little comfort food as the weather hits chill point. I had a craving for oysters and went to the Waitrose steak and oyster bar for a lunchtime fix. Now I want moarrrrrrr!!!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dublin Family Weekend

The next event for Super September was a weekend in Dublin, where my sister and spent most of her holiday. I flew after work on Friday night and after taking two wrong trains to London City Airport, I was panicking when I arrived 20 minutes before departure.

London City Airport is my favourite for the good reason that I still made the flight with 5 minutes to spare. And that includes being stopped in security for liquids in my bag. I flew with Swiss and my fellow passengers were all  banker-types from Dublin, working in London.

I was welcomed by my brother in law's Irish family with four cute grandkids, cousins of Lillee. There were Irish, Australian and French accents in the house.

Dublin that weekend was downright cold. I'm talking so cold the central heating was on. It was also raining on Saturday when we went hiking at Sugarloaf mountain.

There was a scramble at the peak however the family whippet seemingly bounced it's way up!

 You could see as far as, well...the sea and the fields like a green patchwork quilt.

Lisa wanting a trophy photo.

At the top chilled to the bone and blasted by the wind.

What summer???

After that hike, had lunch at an ye olde pub nearby. The thing which really warmed me up was a glass of hot port. It was sweet and aromatic like mulled wine. Delicious!

There was a dinner later in the evening at an apparently fancy Indian restaurant. Getting dressed up for an Indian meal struck me as odd however when we got there, it was an upmarket French and Indian fusion place called Ananda. Not your usual cheap Indian joint! The meals were exquisite.

The next day we had a lavish Irish fry up breakfast. The bacon and soda bread was the tastiest I've ever had. We then went to Malahide, a portside town north of Dublin. 

I visited there on a previous trip to Dublin years ago. This time we went to the Malahide Castle for lunch. The food was delicious, of course I had a steak and Guinness pie. I loaded up on soda bread too. The fragrant just-baked kind is what dreams are made of!

After a stroll by the sea, it was time to return to London. 

What a lovely getaway with my family. It was like having a home away from home.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Family Time in London

It was long awaited but the day finally came. My sister's family and cousin arrived in London. I could'nt wait to see them, especially my darling niece Lillee!

It was great to be reunited with Lillee again. She's no longer the little "raisin" from January but now an active baby. So pretty with her big Chinese eyes and albaster skin. And she smells lovely even though she was on a plane for a day and a half. Isn't she a living doll?

However when arriving to our flat, Lillee chucked up in our living room. There was a big splat on the wooden floorboards. I guess the speedy ride home (thanks to our minicab driver) was too much for poor Lillee.

After everyone settled in, we went for a walk to Camden markets, Regent's Park, and Primrose Hill. I love showing visitors my area and showing it to family made it more special because it feels like different worlds connecting.

They liked my area and had free reign of our one bedroom flat while Grant and I moved to the nearby Premier Inn.

I had two days off work to spend time with them and it was spent shopping all day and eating all night. The next stop on their Euro trip was Dublin and I was joining them for the weekend.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bank Holiday Weekend August

Its the last bank holiday weekend of the year and we didn't go away. My sister, brother in law, niece and cousin are to coming to stay next week and I'm going on a travelling spree with them.

Saturday was a wash out as it rained all day. It didn't feel like summer which sucks because I'm already noticing the days getting shorter. The only things Grant and I did was have yum cha for lunch and bummed at home. We were so lazy, we even ordered pizza home delivery for dinner. 

Sunday was an improvement. The sun came out and I felt charged again. I did some beloved charity shopping and amongst my finds, was this little cross body bag for £5. I've always wanted this style.

Made some real food for lunch. Vegetarian buckwheat soba noodle stir fry with cabbage, bean sprouts and natto. I only allow myself half a packet on occasions as it's mainly used to boost flavour. Some people won't get this concept because the stuff stinks, but I love natto!

Grant and I did some impromptu foraging in Hampstead Heath. Having endured an awful horsefly bite earlier in the week, I sent Grant into the bushes since he was wearing long trousers and proper shoes. We hit a motherlode of juicy ripe blackberries! 

This was all we fit in Grant's coffee cup. When we got home, I made another batch of jam and it turned out perfectly jellified and delicious. 

On Sunday we fired up the barbecue and had some friends over. We stayed out till the sun came down. It was a happy ending to the long weekend. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Picking Wild Blackberries and Making Jam

The UK is blessed with midsummer blackberries. Through the same eyes of the child I once was, reading about bounties of wild fruit in Enid Blyton books, I'm in foraging heaven!

I found blackberries in Hampstead Heath after spotting a forager and swooped in a few days later. The juiciest berries grow on large brambles over 1.6m tall. Bring a basket or icecream container to carry your pickings. 

For obvious heath reasons if berries are growing near traffic or within dog height from the ground, don't pick them! 

The perfectly ripe berries are those which roll off with a slight pull of the fingers. Look for the largest that are completely black with fat and shiny "bubbles". If they are too ripe, they will pop when picked. If they need to be tugged, they're unripe. A tip is to look for blackberries under/behind leaves but watch out for hidden thorns. There is no shortage of the prickly things! 

Make sure to wear a long sleeve shirt, full length trousers and covered shoes. Not only to avoid the nasty prickles, but biting insects as well. I got bitten by a horsefly while picking at dusk and it's bite is far worse than you can imagine.

At home soak the berries in cold water for 15 mins, rinse gently and soak again to flush out any bugs. Because of this treatment, it's best to pick only what you need immediately because once they are washed, they will rot quickly. If you have too many, you can put them in a ziplock bag and store in the freezer. Use them for desserts, smoothies, and of course, jam!

Here are the washed berries ready for jam making. Use a heavy based saucepan, add a generous splash of water and turn the stove on high heat. Put a saucer in the freezer for testing the jam later.  

Add white sugar. You can't go wrong with a 40% ratio by weight of sugar to berries to set the jam. I like my jar a little tart so 30% is fine, anything less may require pectin to be added. 

Mash up the berries. If they have a lot of seeds, especially if they're larger than sesame seeds, pass them through a wire sieve first. It's more time consuming but it's worth it.  

Boil rapidly for 1 minute, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon (not plastic as it can melt with the heat of jam). Watch that it doesn't boil over, turn down the heat accordingly. Reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring. Skim off any scum that forms.

After 15 mins, the mixture will be glossy and the colour deepens. You can start testing the jam's consistency. Be careful not to burn yourself as the jam is really hot, much hotter than boiling water. 

Drop half a teaspoon on the cold saucer and let it spread out. Run your finger through it and if it runs back into itself, the jam needs to simmer for 2 minutes before testing again. If it looks like this, then take off the heat as it's ready.

Although I don't steralise my jars to preserve the jam, I still like to nuke them in the microwave for a minute or two. Get them really hot and let them sit until they are ready for filling. Handle them with a towel/oven mitts when taking them out.

Being careful of jam splashes, pour into the jars and let them cool. They now need to be stored in the fridge. If you have a fair few jars, give the excess to friends because they need to be used within a month. 

Homemade wild blackberry jam, simple and easy. 

And here is the seedless version which I reccomend for blackberry jam. Grant says it tastes better than store bought and I agree. Yummy!