29 Apr 2014

The Culture Feature | Winter/Spring 2014

The scheduling of my Culture Feature has gone completely out the window. By now it might have even gone out several windows. The real reason behind that is that I became so busy around Christmas that I watched barely any movies, and most definitely did not open a book that wasn't university related. I've now gone back into it and read some excellent novels! I'll be mostly sharing those today...

BOOKS | The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Boy did this one take me long. It took me about six months to get through the three books, picking my Kindle on and off but it was so worth it! Tolkien is a wordsmith and a creator with an imagination that is beyond this world. Despite having watched the film adaptations countless times, I loved the books and they really added to my experience of Middle Earth. I especially enjoyed reading stories that were not featured in the films, meeting Tom Bombadil was brilliant! I would recommend it to anyone. It can be challenging for the best of readers but a little patience makes it worth it.

BOOKSThe Book Thief, Markus Zusak ♥︎
Four months had passed since LOR when I finally started a new book and The Book Thief was the best possible choice. This tells the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany who meets death repeatedly. The story is told by death itself, in such a poetic and original manner that I simply couldn't put the book down. Also, man, the emotions...

BOOKS | Lean In (for Graduates), Sheryl Sandberg
I've been in absolute graduate terror lately so I was thrilled when Sheryl Sandberg announced she was publishing a new version of her worldwide success aimed towards graduates. The main book is already so very helpful and eye-opening and I'm glad I get to read it before entering the workplace. I'm finding the additional chapters and stories really useful to plan for job search and interviews. I think it's one of these books I'll keep coming back to when I have tough choices to make.

BOOKS | Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
Another very original story, this of a secret group of people scattered around the world who read 'books' full of strange clutters of words. I liked this for its quirkiness and amusement, and also for how realistic it felt.
It was a good light read!

TV | Portlandia
This show follows Fred Armisen (ex-SNL) and Carrie Browstein in lots of short sketches relating the lives of Portland locals. What you might not know (I didn't) is that Portland was ranked most hipster city in the USA. This is basically what is made fun of here, in a tasteful but deliciously sarcastic way. Cue feminist bookstores, hip breakfast places, cool mayor, pickles, tattoos, organic food and coffee houses. A good laugh.

TV | Masterchef UK
I have been spending all my time watching Masterchef so naturally had to include it in. Surprisingly enough, I had never really gotten into culinary competitions before. All it took was one "I think you'd like this" as it came on TV and I was hooked. Great for people who like food, people who like making food, and people who like watching people making food. Do not watch if you're hungry. 

22 Apr 2014

Bar review | LAB Bar

A couple weekends ago, me and the man decided to go on a day of fun in London for a special little occasion. We wanted it a little special, so I suggested lots of activities. Museums, Boris bikes, bowling, parks... 

I was met with a: "Meh."

And then: "Let's go for a drink?"

I should've known.

We actually headed off to Tap Coffee and started with a coffee drink first (and a wee bit of cake!) It was while tucked in the coffee shop that the man mentioned alcohol again. We wanted to try something new, so I googled "cocktails bar Soho" and we headed towards the first result that looked good.

LAB Bar was a fantastic choice. From the exterior, it doesn't look like much, but wait till you step inside. It's got a fabulous sixties decor, with a huge dark wooden bar and fabulous retro wallpaper. The cocktail list is never ending. I kid you not: it's actually a cocktail booklet. There was page after page of incredible sounding drinks (and fun ones too — I almost went for a Game of Sloanes.) You can check out the menu here.

I finally decided on the Passion Victim (Tapatio Blanco muddled with fresh lime, passionfruit & homemade honey water, served frappé with a Crème de Mure float) while the man naturally picked the Red Hot Chilli Pepper (Lemongrass & Chilli Infused El Jimador Tequila with mixed With LAB vanilla Sugar & Ginger Beer, crowned with sparkling wine & a Goldschlager float.)

Both were excellent. Mine was really refreshing, nicely sweet and deliciously fruity. I loved how the passionfruit grains added a little bit of acidity. The man seemed to enjoy his a lot as well. The photo below shows his bliss. (The bliss decreased a little when he decided to bite half of the pepper off. He survived though.)

The cocktails range around the £8-9 mark and I would highly recommend them. I hear you can even book the place out for cocktail making sessions and serve bits of sushi... Here's an idea for my birthday next year!

I'll be back soon to share part two of our day, a review of a FAB sushi restaurant. x

LAB Bar, 12 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TQ.

17 Apr 2014

Study snacks

I've been spending quite a lot of time in the library recently. I'm on the very last stretch to finishing my degree. I won't expand on this, because I can go on for hours about how fast this all has gone and how scared/excited I am about what comes next. What I'll expand on is... food. How surprising.

Spending hours/days/weeks in the library requires real motivation. Distractions are everywhere; even with SelfControl turned on I can easily doze off for fifteen minutes just thinking about dinner. Essays do have to be written though, and since they can't write themselves, it's up to me to find some deeply hidden motivation.

So, naturally, snacks.

I'm sure it works the same for everyone. It's the principle of the carrot — or at least that's how we call it in France, if anyone cares to let me know whether the phrase works in Britain... — like a horse walking dutifully towards its beloved carrot, people work towards a reward. One paragraph written gets you a raisin, a thousand words on the page gets you a chocolate square, etc.

Except raisins and carrot sticks are for already motivated people. Raisins and carrot sticks are for the first week, when I still aspire to continue eating healthily and even proudly follow my library days by gym sessions. Raisins and carrot sticks are for the last days before panic kicks in.

Then by week two, dried fruits disappear to be replaced by homemade muffins.

By week three, all reason is out the window. Ohhh, week three. Week three is for happy snacks.

What are your favourite happy snacks? Would love to expand my collection over the two weeks I have left. Not that I don't love happy hippos — man, I love happy hippos. But this is probably my last ever excuse to feed myself on tiny chocolate hippos, and definitely my only ever chance to get Pizza Hut to deliver to the library.

Back to writing words to get snacks, then, because this time around, ten thousand words gets me on the Eurostar for the first time in months! xo

13 Apr 2014

Restaurant review | Bone Daddies

Earlier this week me and fellow foodie and great mate Claudia headed to Bone Daddies for a catch up/well deserved mid essay-month treat. Deciding where to go took us a good few hours but we'd both heard too much good about Bone Daddies in the past few months to be able to avoid it any longer.

I really loved the atmosphere in the restaurant — well, it's a ramen bar and it feels like that. There are long communal tables and seats at a counter by the window. We got to sit there and people-watch as we ate. Another great thing, as seen on the photo above, is all the little add-ons you get: chilli jam, garlic, chilli flakes, but also hair ties and bibs for those afraid of noodle soups :) (CANNOT recommend them enough. Didn't spot the bibs until the end, which the shirt I was wearing really regrets.)

Bone Daddies have a large ramen menu with options to cater for everyone: chicken, beef, pork, fish and veggie ramen bowls, with some spicy ones and a lengthy list of specials. We didn't try the sides, but it looked like there was enough for a full meal, so you can even bring ramen haters! The real plus? THE COCKTAILS. I had the painappuru parku (I think? I'm pretty sure), a fantastic pineapple number that the piña colada lover I am could not stop sipping on.

Ramen wise, I asked the waitress for her advice. She asked if I like spicy food. I said yes. That might have been my one mistake of the night. I went for the tantanmen ramen, which was excellent. Really warm and spicy, with crunchy peanuts, luscious eggs and perfect chicken. But ramen, me and Claudia found out, is incredibly rich. It's not just a bowl o' soup. The quantity and richness of the ramen combined with the spice was a bit too much for me, and I felt like I'd eaten about five meals by the end. Not a pleasant sensation at all.

Still, Bone Daddies was an excellent experience and I would love trying it again — on a starved stomach and staying away from the chilli. The prices are reasonable for how full you'll feel, and the experience in itself is quite fun. Make sure you go down to the loo, you'll be able to peek in the kitchens and give your compliments to the cooks! I'm now eager to try Bone Daddies' sister restaurant, Flesh & Buns...

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar. 31 Peter St, Soho, W1F 0AR.

8 Apr 2014

Kitchen pantry essentials

The best part about cooking is being able to make it up as you go. I like deciding I'm going to have fish. "Fish" isn't much if you just have it by itself. Or it can, just grilled with a little bit of salt and lemon juice. Or marinated in honey and soy sauce. Or cut in chunks and roasted with cajun spice. Or blackened with paprika and cayenne pepper. Or raw with soy sauce.

Or sometimes "all" you have is pasta, and oh no! What can you possibly have for dinner? You only have pasta! Food crisis! But everything is nice in pasta. You can have pasta with tomato sauce, pasta with tuna, pasta and garlic butter with croutons, pasta in cheesy sauce, a veg pasta bake or even nice buttered pasta with a little bit of cracked pepper.

... Well I got distracted. I think I'm hungry.

Point is: it's good to improvise when cooking, but it only works if you can rely on some kitchen pantry essentials. I know there are many guides out there. I can particularly think of Jamie Oliver and Sam Stern whom I know have one in their cookbooks, but I found them a little bit unrealistic for students. My kitchen is tiny, my personal cupboard even tinier, and I don't even have my own drawer in the freezer.

Let's be serious for a minute, guys. This is business. No jokes in my kitchen. (Mostly because I'm terrible at them.) Two levels of essentials because I don't want to scare anyone. Bam! Now cook.

Level #1
Basics: salt, ground black pepper, fleur de sel (or that kosher salt thing), chicken and vegetable stock, extra virgin olive oil, soy sauce, clear honey.
Spices: paprika, herbs (Italian, Provence or mixed), ground cinnamon, some form of chilli powder.
Baking: white flour*, caster sugar, baking powder and baking soda.
Alliums: garlic, brown onions.
Starch foods: spaghetti, basmati rice.
Tins: chopped tomatoes, tuna, baked beans.

*I also personally always keep wholemeal flour because I like cooking with it, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you like making bread or healthy baking.

Level #2
Basics: Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, replace the ground black pepper with cracked black pepper (or an actual grinder), coconut milk, oyster sauce (stir frys are the basis of my alimentation.)
Spices: cajun mix (it took all I have not to put this in the level 1; it's the BEST), chilli flakes, ground nutmeg, four spice, curry powder.
Baking: brown sugar, chocolate, rolled oats.
Alliums: red onion.
Starch foods: another type of pasta, arborio rice, couscous, egg noodles.

Fridge level
Lemon, real butter that doesn't come in a box but in paper for goodness' sake, eggs, milk.

Windowsill level
Basil, thyme, chives and coriander plants.

Also bread. People keep it in all kind of different places so it gets its own level.

And here you go, you're ready to cook! With level #1, there's already plenty enough to cook many a tasty dish and be sure to always have something on hand to give your food a little kick. These are my basics though, some others might pick very different flavours but these work very well for me.

Wondering what to do with some of these? I've obviously used many of these ingredients in the recipes on this blog, but I also encourage you to have a look at recipe websites with ingredient search (like here or here).

And for some more precise suggestions on how to use spices...

Fleur de sel: sprinkle on sliced tomatoes or on dark chocolate cookies.
Italian herbs: add to mushrooms, omelettes or mashed potatoes.
Soy sauce: makes a cracking fish marinade mixed with honey, or drizzle over stir frys.
Chilli powder + paprika: marinade meat or fish, add to tomato pasta sauce.
Cajun mix: roll chicken in then grill, add in bolognese.
Ground nutmeg: the thing to make your scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes 10x better.
Chilli flakes: sauté with onions as a basis for tomato or carrot soup.
Four spice: great in cakes and in curries.