Sunday, April 27, 2014

Easter Long Weekend - BBQ, Birmingham and Regents Park

Last year I was whizzing around the crazy roads of Romania and this time I stayed in the UK. 

First up was some sunny weather although it was freezing if you're not in the sun. My galpal Kim had a BBQ and we made the quintessential British summer punch. It's a mix of Pimms, lemonade, strawberry, orange and cucumber and mint leaves. It makes a refreshing drink.

A bucket BBQ, only £8 from Sainsburys was the star of the show. It was perfect for the four of us and kept us warm as we stayed outdoors. It didn't take much for us to realise that summer is not here yet. 

The company of good friends in a lovely garden with delicious food. What more could you ask for?

Perfectly charred corn on the cob. The skewers on the other hand...

That evening Grant and I took a train to Birmingham as he had a fencing tournament the next morning. It was only an hour a half journey and it my first rail trip in a long time. I watched the yellow rapeseed fields and canal boats along the way. It felt good to be out of London but not too far away. 

We checked into the Ibis Budget hotel, seemingly in a dodgy part of town. We took a walk to the canals and had a lovely dinner at Ju Ju's cafe. We returned to the Ibis Budget and while it lives up to it's name, it was very comfortable for what you pay. Staying there reminded me of my times in hostels. We were even woken at 4am by a screaming drunk woman in the hallway!
The next morning I met a girlfriend from Singapore who I hadn't seen in 5 years. It was wonderful catching up, seeing the Bullring and shopping at the markets. I will definitely be back in Birmingham as it's an easy going place to be. I took the train back in the late afternoon and managed to catch some sun and a drink with a girlfriend when I got home.

The next day I went row boating in Regents Park with a girlfriend. The activity was intended to be like in Bridget Jones where one person rows and the other recites poetry. Instead we took turns rowing and sang sea shanties!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fruit And Veggies Outside The Supermarket

Since my first arepa, I've wanted to try to make my own but there's a vital ingredient not available in the supermarkets. 

I was delighted to find Harina PAN cornflour at a local convenience store near my flat-to-be. This is cornmeal which is a common starch ingredient for South American foods. Not only did I find it, it was only £1.69 (it's £3.85 online!) and I managed to buy a bundle of fresh produce that didn't cost a fortune.

Fruits and vegetables don't taste anything like they used to when I was a kid. I've grew up on homegrown produce. Mum had to grow her own chinese veggies because we lived in a small country town and such things were unheard of. Tomatoes from my garden had an intense flavour and aroma. They were sweet and each plant was laden with so much ripe fruit, we had to give the surplus away. 

The quality of supermarket produce nowadays in the UK is shameful, overpackaged and picked before they're ripe. Veggies are imported as far away as Eygpt, South Africa, Thailand and Peru. What happened to buying local or at least from the EU? My rubbish bin would be half full of plastic trays and wrapping at the end of the week. Buying produce from the supermarket is not environmentally friendly.

Here's my haul from the local store including plantains, passionfruit and even medlars which the shopkeeper let me try for free. Only in farmers markets have I seen produce as fresh as this. 

I figured the easiest thing to make with the PAN flour was empanadas. I'm still working out my own method because they are fiddly. Here is my first attempt.  A few cracked so I'm adding more water and oil and keeping them coated in oil before they are put in the oven. Despite their shabby appearance they were delicious. I love the crunchy cornmeal and texture. I filled them with cheese, spinach, potato, yellow zucchini and onion.

I surprised Grant with the passionfruit because he said he hadn't had one in 10 years. They're rare in the UK and always overpriced. I bought two of the freshest ones I've ever seen for £1! He loved them. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Salisbury Arms Winchmore Hill

It's been a week of working late, swearing and the final frustration was when my agent threatened to tell the vendor to re-market if we didn't exchange contracts on the day.

I wasn't 100% ready and normally wouldn't to give into this bullying behaviour but I wanted to get this out of the way before the weekend. So after working some magic on my solicitor's part, we managed to exchange contracts!

The weekend ended beautifully on Sunday. It was sunny all day and I spent some time with my bestie in Winchmore Hill. We went for a walk through Grovelands Park and had a drink at the local pub. 

This part of Winchmore Hill is peaceful. It feels like I'm outside of London. 

It's cold in the shade but hot in the sun. So nice to get reacquainted to sunshine again.

Fruli and sticky toffee pudding. I have to admit a pint of beer is too much for me nowadays. I almost fell asleep on the train home. 

What A Vegetarian Eats In A Day

Has my life become so boring that I've resorted to blogging about what I ate today? 

Yes. But to inspire people to eat less meat and whet the appetite of vegetarians, here it is.

Arepa & Co, The Cornbread House at Camden Market. Arepas are a traditional Venezuelan street food and here's the offering for £5. Also comes with shredded beef or chicken. The corn bread is crunchy on the outside and bitey on the inside. This filling is delicious. Roasted vegetables, cheese, black beans and a favourite food of mine-fried plantains. Nommy nommy nom! 

Dinner was Quorn escalope with mozzarella and pesto with steamed vegies and roast potato. The texture was right and the filling was redeeming for the escalope. Grant had southern style fried chicken and I have to admit, it puts my Quorn to shame flavour-wise. 

Grant brought a few woodland friends home from Waitrose. Mine is Ollie the Owl and his is Spike the hedgehog. They made of Belgium chocolate and are so cute and we're not going to eat them until after Easter.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Three Weeks To Becoming A Homeowner In London

Buying a flat in London is harrowing. The property market is reaching all time highs and I'm constantly reminded by my agent and vendor's solicitor to hurry up. And most of the time it's not up to me to do the hurrying!

You don't have all the information when you make an offer and you might even be told the wrong information. 

This week I managed to negotiate a small discount which the vendor thought was generous considering that market prices have gone up. But I was told before I made an offer that no works were needed for the building. That was the first lesson learned-don't trust the information the agent tells you. They will say anything within reason to get you keen and let you deal with the truth later if you find out. My agent sold the flat upstairs not long prior and they were privy to the survey. Lo and behold-roof works. 

So when I asked for the discount, the vendor agreed on the basis that I move to immediate exchange of contracts. When the necessary searches were completed, I find out I'm subject to Chancel Repair Liability. It's a legal obligation which has been passed down from an ancient rule which makes property owners liable for repairs to a nearby church. Repair costs can be called upon at anytime. This country has so many strange rules!

It's been a stressful week. Atleast I got to work from home sitting on my recliner all day on Thursday. I was waiting for the arrival of the correct mattress as mentioned in my previous post. And the mattress was just right, as Goldilocks would put it.

On Saturday I went to Zumba and Bokwa. That's seven fitness dance classes done in a week. The two hour workout really tested me out. I felt like a broken lady by the evening. 

Grant took me out to yum cha at Royal China in Baker Street for lunch. Two of my favourite foods, steamed vegetarian dumplings, 

And egg tarts. These came straight from the oven. They were hot, glossy and still jiggly.

On Sunday I had my weekly Facetime chat with my sister, Mum and Lillee. The little munchkin can say "bye bye!" and it was mega cute. My sister said I had a crazy fit when I heard and saw her say it.

And the last photo is of my friend's dog in Dee Why. She said the only thing missing in that photo was me. true. Oh to be back on the shores of Sydney!!!