London – Evening out with moments of reflection…

 

Several months ago, five of us had booked to hear a lecture on Gin, History and Chemical Science, at the RSC, Burlington House, London. As always, these evening events are a great excuse for catching up with family, plus enjoying some wine, beer and food in the process.

 

Trafalgar Square

As we strolled from the railway station through Trafalgar Square, towards the Piccadilly Circus area, we were instantaneously struck by the unnatural atmosphere after the appalling atrocities of the afternoon before. Everyone was respectful and subdued. People were observing the pavement art work and some were waiting for the Major of London to arrive and speak at a rally to show solidarity. Everyone seemed hushed, observant, considerate and emotional. Most of the sound seemed to be the helicopters above, police vans and sirens.  It certainly wasn’t business as usual in London that evening. I couldn’t help feeling proud to be British, be grateful and take a few moments to think about the individuals injured or who had lost their precious lives so unexpectedly and needlessly.

RSC and Gin Lecture

We met other members of our party at the RSC, and enjoyed a complimentary gin and tonic. Very good gin, made by three chemists, one of them, Professor Andrew Whiting, was giving the talk.

The lecture was excellent and inspirational. Professor Andrew Whiting explained about the history and resurgence of the gin industry and his background. He then spoke about the business and their approach to developing innovative gins with imaginative flavours. He also talked about the marketing and branding approach going from the original Breaking Bad image towards a modern, slick and more wholesome brand, thus attracting a wide customer base. May have to check out the chocolate flavoured gin for future reference!

Afterwards, we went for a quick drink and meal and then caught a train home feeling very tired, happy and appreciative. We all had an enjoyable evening out which gave me an insight to the business of gin, humility and respect.

London – A challenging day out…

A day out in London shouldn’t be complicated. But it was. Very complicated and challenging. My friend and I decided to frequent London for a day trip of art, decadence and fun. Well, what a challenging day it was. Everything that could go wrong, did! However, we have a wonderful friendship and just laughed it off.

We arrived at the railway station and were informed that trains are not going to our planned stop and we would have to alight at London Bridge. Of course, our plans then had to change. We got off at London Bridge and Elaine, who is from London, decided we should get a red bus so “we could see London” which seemed OK, although I always ride on the Tube.

We waited and waited for the bus and then realised it doesn’t travel on Saturdays. We started walking and managed to catch a bus to St. Paul’s near the roof top bar. Got off and went to the roof top bar, Madison. The first lift got stuck at level 1 and then went back to the ground floor. We changed lifts and managed to arrive at the bar. The lift to the bar is glass and as you slowly ascend you see St. Paul’s Cathedral which is magnificent. We ordered wine, sat and admired the view and took copious photos. As we chatted away we realised we should make our way to Tate Britain to see the David Hockney exhibition. This apart from roof top cocktails, was the point of the day.

Yes, you guessed it, we got another bus and because it was St. Patrick’s Day, the powers that be in their wisdom, decided to shut The Strand as we waited for our bus connection.  We got the Tube to Pimlico (via Victoria).

On the way to the Tate, we popped into the restaurant to reserve a table for two, for that evening.  Wonderful views, cocktails and food expected, as researched online. The restaurant was shut for a function. “Sorry.” said to waitress.

We arrived at Tate Britain and bought our tickets for Hockney. The tickets were for 7pm that evening. As it was 3pm, we decided to view the galleries, have dinner and return for the long-awaited exhibition.

We thoroughly enjoyed the gallery and wonderful art then found a pub, which although a bit basic, was OK. The food was reasonable and frankly, I was glad to sit down.

The Hockney exhibition was superb and worth the wait. His work goes from the British avant-garde of the 1950s with phallic shapes and his looming (then) illegal sexuality coming out, literally, in his paintings. The period moves on to mid-late 1960s, with a blaze of blue and vivid green, towards poolside paradise and comfort. This is a fascinating insight into his life in sunny California.

Hockney is fascinated by water, glass and shimmering light. In his art, his version of humanity feels flat among the velvet, sumptuous furniture. A type of painting that has an accidental three-dimensional, sentimental effect which slowly draws you in because the colours are vibrant and stimulating. Although perspective sometimes seems wrong and inferior, the paintings are emotionally magnetic. Well, they are for me and judging by the crowds, for others too. Full of illusion and curiosity and subtle elements such as the white cat facing a window and unflattering features of his friends with a backdrop of clarity and modernistic lines. As you look at the faces of his friends, you wonder how disappointed they must have been by his depiction of them. Not flattering at all.

Overall, we felt the day was worth the difficulties. Life is complicated and you have to make the best of it with a little moaning along the way. Anyway, as I pointed out to my friend, who can remember the days when her father could park his car, along the banks of the Thames, Grosvenor Road, in Pimlico, if you don’t deal with the exacting problems, you will never do anything.

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Rome in December

Rome at night - upon arrival...

Rome at night – upon arrival…

What a wonderful trip it was! I discovered a truly beautiful city with breathtaking architecture, history, art, style, opulence and was extremely impressed.

After a long day of travel on Saturday, settled into the one bedroom apartment off the main road, Nazionale, which was immediately enticing with its opulent buildings, shops and restaurants and so full of life.  This area is a great place to stay because it is walking distance from the main Stazione Termini.  The apartment was secured from the website Air BnB and well located because central and handy for the Metro.  Obviously, it is better to walk and explore the winding lanes and magical surroundings of Rome.

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The first day we started by visiting The Vatican and because of a long day on Saturday, deemed it impossible to rush out so we didn’t arrive until about midday and probably missed all the drama of the Pope (we think) but it was still an amazing experience. Vatican city (Citta del Vaticano), the papal residence, was built over the tomb of Saint Peter. The Vatican’s position as a sovereign state within a state was garenteed by the Lateran Treaty of 1929, marked by the building of a new road, the Via della Conciliazione. It has been the residence of the popes for about six centuries since 1377 and is an independent state ruled by the Supreme Pontiff (the Pope).

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The evening was spent in the lively Irish pub, The Flann O’Brien, situated on the Nazionale which had a keyboard player/singer and lots of dancing ensued.  A fabulous start to our week long break.

We visited the Trevi Fountain on day 2.  The weather was blue sky and sunny, although a chilly 16c, a lot brighter than the UK.  We duly threw in our coins into the Trevi Fountain, which traditionally ensures your return to Rome.  The Trevi fountain, inspired by Roman triumphal arches, is the largest and most famous Baroque fountain in Rome (standing 25.9 meters high and 19.8 meters wide). My pictures are not great, because it was very bright. Goodness knows what Rome is like during the summer months because it was still fairly busy in December.

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During day 3, we frequented the truly amazing Pantheon.  This place is stunning and was one of the most impressive sights I have experienced.  It is well preserved and is an unusual experience as you gaze up to the delights of the largest unreinforced dome ever built. The temple is the only monument in classical style which can be found intact in Rome. The word Pantheon is a Greek adjective meaning “honor all Gods” was first built as a temple to all gods. Spectacular and not to be missed if you visit Rome.

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Well, day 4, was incredible and quite an exhilarating experience.  We took the metro a couple of stops to The Colosseum.  This has to be seen to be believed. An immense amphi-theatre and bizarrely the first sight you see as you leave the station. The Colosseum, originally known as Flavian Amphitheatre, was commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son, Titus, in 80, with later improvements by Domitian. What is impressive is that it is still there at all. It is located east of the Roman Forum and has 80 arched entrances for 55,000 spectators. The Colosseum is huge and as you explore you can almost hear the cheering of the ancient, ghostly crowd.  Quite an extraordinary encounter with the past which leaves an impression. This was further endorsed by a wander around nearby ancient ruins of the The Forum and this also evoked more impressions of the power of the Roman empire.

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During the week we visited many areas of Rome, including The Spanish Steps. The square and the church are connected by the monumental Spanish Steps, built between 1723-1726 (designed by Francesco de Sanctis). It is a busy area with many people sitting on the steps and enjoying the ambience of Rome.  If they were like us, they were probably exhausted because you walk miles. But it sure is worth it. We then wandered around the rather grand area and nosed in the designer shops.  Some very expensive handbags there.

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On our last day, we decided to visit the Baths of Diocletian. The visit was a last minute decision and very well received. The baths were built 298AD and 306AD to honour Roman Emperor Diocletian. The complex is large and was once one of the biggest in the world. It had a frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room) and caldarium (hot room or steam room) as well plus large bathing chambers, gymnasiums and even a library and held up to 3,000 people.

As you enter the baths there is a small auditorium where you can watch a video about the Baths of Diocletian and includes a computer animated section, demonstrating how they think the baths were in their heyday. If you visit the baths, make sure you watch it because it is fascinating although, in my opinion, probably they were not that grand.

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As you walk around the beautiful city you pass some pretty areas and as it was December we were impressed by the lights and decorations. Of course, we devoured plenty of pasta, meats, fish, pizza, wine and beer in some great family owned restaurants and bars.

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It was an amazing trip and even more interesting and exciting than expected.  I may need to return…

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Having lunch…oh yes…

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So I invited my friend to lunch and decided to cook something simple, tasty but satisfying. As we had such a much needed, uplifting day, thought I’d blog about it..

Somebody very important in my life suggested fresh spaghetti with a cherry tomato sauce. Fantastic, I thought. Means I can add a few side dishes like mushrooms with chorizo and fried, fresh prawns followed by a fruit crumble pudding.

Started with the fruit crumble by throwing some berries in a dish and making the crumble. Just lard and butter rubbed into the flour plus sugar. Simple and quick and the ice cream that was languishing in the freezer, just waiting to be thrown down my throat, accompanied the pud.

Next I chopped tomatoes up with garlic, herbs and chilli. Measured out the wine. Oh yes. Fried the garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil then added herbs and chilli. Added toms (2 mins) then splashed in the wine and enjoyed the exquisite smell that permeated the kitchen. Oh, and I put some cool, jazzy, funky tunes on.

Fried my chestnut mushrooms in butter with chorizo and left ready. Same with the grey prawns that rapidly turned pink. Sooo magical. Put some chips, manchego cheese and serano ham on the starter plate and was ready to roll. Well lay the table anyway.

Sorted the table, tidied and cleaned up, lit candles and waited a few minutes for my friend.

Great to catch up. We discussed recent Christmas times, trips (Rome), buying/selling clothes online, health, fitness laughed and moaned but mostly laughed. Of course, new year resolutions were discussed too. She wants me to start a ladies supper group…

Yes, the lunch wasn’t particularly healthy, but it felt decadent and I’m working up to my new year’s healthy regime. She enjoyed the food and said it is the sort of food you get in Strada. Taken that as a compliment (I think)…

Ha! Since received a thank you message saying the food was spot on. :-))

Details..

Cherry Tomato Spaghetti- Fresh spaghetti, 1 lb top quality cherry toms, garlic, chilli, herbs and wine.

Add: Chorizo, mushrooms and/or prawns, as I did.

Pud – Mixed fruit and crumble (1oz butter, 1oz lard, 4oz plain flour) mixed berries and sugar on top.

Prep time 40 mins.

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Cooking with love….


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Today we invited family over. Family we haven’t seen for a while. This is a great excuse to do some cooking and so I decided to cook a lamb roast with apple pie for pudding. Also, some carrot cakes for tea.

So, we could have eaten out, but I like cooking and spent an hour the day before making my fairy cakes and apple pie.  Once you get going, it is fun. This is a great excuse to do some cooking and it won’t take long.  Put some fun tunes on, get all the ingredients out, pour a glass of something and off you go.

For the apple pie… Pastry – 1oz lard / 1oz butter and 40z plain flour plus a little milk – Filling – Cooking apples and sugar (and splash of milk to put on pastry and a little more sugar)

Lard, butter and plain flour, rub it until it’s like breadcrumbs, then add a little milk and roll until a ball, then throw some flour down and roll into a circle. Meanwhile, peel apples, slice into a bowl, sugar in top and shove into the microwave for about 6 mins.  Well, this isn’t healthy, but you are entertaining. When the apples are soft take out and cool.  Later put the pastry on, smooth a dab of milk and oh dear, more sugar.  Well, it is calorific but oh well.  I cooked the apple pie the next day, before popping the roast in.

The cakes are just a fairy cake/cup cake mix, but with brown sugar plus a carrot, grated, chopped walnuts and a dash of cinnamon.

The roast went in at 11am with a mixture of cream cheese, butter and fresh rosemary on the leg of lamb. Some wine was poured into the tin and covered with foil. The lamb cooked in the wine steam and produced some glorious gravy.

Peel some small potatoes and parsnips and put the potatoes in at midday.  They were dabbed with a little butter and rosemary. Parsnips were added about 12.30. The broccoli and carrots were boiled at 1pm and our guests arrived.

The gravy was decanted from the meat. Everything was put in dishes for and taken to the table. The meal was enjoyed with some wine. Really liked cooking, eating and catching up on the family news.

Don’t forget to lay the table so it looks super. Plates, vegetable bowls and when you have the evening tea, use teapots, cups and saucers.  Cook and present the food and drink, with love.  It is fun and your guests will appreciate the effort.

The afternoon was spent wandering around our local, beautiful park.  A great way to get some fresh air and exercise and work off some of the large dinner.  Followed by more cups of tea, salad and quiche and more family arriving. They seem to devour the cakes too! When our visitors left, we had a small glass of wine, but soon flopped into bed. Phew.

A great day and I have forgotten how much I love entertaining.  Oh and I didn’t put any weight on.  Fabulous.  Hope you are inspired to cook with love…

Tip alert..

– Use fresh ingredients

– Cook from scratch and with love

– Prepare a pudding and cakes the day before

– Prepare ingredients before you start

– Put on some jazzy, lively tunes

– Use your best crockery and accessories  (veg bowls, tea pots, table cloths)

– Enjoy the day and delegate (have a tea/coffee making monitor)

 

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8 Reasons why attending family events are useful…

Yesterday evening I visited a restaurant for a family meal to celebrate a birthday.  My small family unit (parents, children and partners) has always celebrated various family birthdays with a meal.  Sometimes we gather for a Sunday roast too.  It made me think how important these events are and question whether we are unusual to do this?  We have birthdays throughout the year, so it happens about every few months.

Yesterday, was a fantastic evening of debate, food, drink and laughter. We can all say what we honestly think about our own news, global and national events and so it is a great opportunity for discussion.

In my humble opinion, there are many reasons to do the above and I’ve decided to list them because it reminds me too.

Nurtures a bond between family members

Creates a debating environment

Good to catch up on people’s news

Provide advice and support

Gets you away from screens, hooray

Enjoy copious amounts of food and drink which is often home cooked

Stops loneliness and is good for the soul

Can devise plans for the next birthday year

Ok, my musings on family gatherings are over, for now, but I’ve one question. What do you enjoy about an evening out with friends and family?

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Canterbury Food and Drink Festival

 

Yesterday, I visited the above in the Dane John Gardens, Canterbury, which is showcasing an incredible selection of food and drink. As a CAMRA member, I do enjoy a pint of ale or two and thoroughly enjoyed the day out. We travelled by train to Canterbury West and strolled through the busy town towards the Gardens.  The Festival was the place to be, as it was the official launch of Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight (Friday 23rd Sept).

 

I went to the festival with my husband and other CAMRA folk and we managed to arrive early and quickly settled with our pints, by the bandstand, and spent a fulfilling day listening to all types of music (folk/rock), eating, drinking and chatting.

 

Also, much of the time was enjoyed wandering around the stalls looking at crafts, beers, ciders, pies, breads, cheeses, cured meats, kebabs, curries, burgers, fish, etc. The quality was of a very high standard with lots of tasty salads and veggies too.  Some obscure ingredients were added to some of the traditional foods such as the chilli and chocolate pork sausages and the friendly cheese lady who sold us some chilli cheese and English brie.  The unusual variety of food is what made this festival particularly fascinating, plus, of course, there was a great selection of dishes for tasting with plenty of beer, wine and cider to sup too.

 

The weather was superb as it was sunny all day but not too hot.  A relaxing and interesting day which I will probably repeat next year.