Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sleek midweek makings

I guess I didn't quite make it to midweek before cooking, but this isn't the weekend, so it still counts.

After going to the gym and feeling inspired during a quiet moment in the sauna (yes, the sauna, my first time back in some months), I decided to come home and do the cooking I'd neglected over the weekend. The shopping had stopped me from doing it previously and I'm kind of glad it did; the original recipes I'd intended for these ingredients wouldn't have been nearly as tasty as what ended up happening. Sometimes delay is good; makes you reconsider and well...sometimes end up with a better solution. This is my opinion and I agree with it.

Still going with the vegetarian kick because I did not pick up any meat this weekend at the farmers market. I'm kind of enjoying it though; I get my meat fix at work when I do buy lunch, or if I really feel the need I'll have some local organic eggs or defrost some meat from my local non-GM-fed butcher. I have a small stash there for such occasions.

Israeli (pearl) couscous with cherry tomatoes and French green beans

A recipe all my own, but the focus is on clean flavors and not much else. This is basically a variation on the cold salads I was doing during the summer. I am quite pleased with this version though because it has cilantro in it, which makes it that much better in my mind. Yes, that much better.


The tomatoes are sweet and fresh and the green beans I merely steamed in the microwave to preserve their vitamins and flavor. They're a little less sweet than I would have thought but that's alright. The entire thing is tossed with basil late harvest olive oil (from Temecula on my last trip there with Rhinda), little dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in cilantro and poof, you've got yourself a healthy meal. Not much going on there but fresh awesomeness.

The other thing I made last night?

Roasted cabbage

Surprisingly this turned out excellently. I've done it once before back in San Diego when I stumbled upon a recipe for roasted cabbage with lardons of bacon. I have no bacon here, nor have I had it in a long time in my household (eaten it fairly recently from the cafe at work via the hot English breakfast that Hapa and Ginger sometimes insist upon). But English bacon is not bacon.

Anyway, this turned out amazingly.


Tossed in regular olive oil and the same late harvest basil olive oil, sprinkled with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I guessed on the temperature because I was too lazy to get out the old recipe and then account for no bacon.

I just eyed the thing and took it out when it seemed ready. The answer is yes.

I ate a good amount of this last night after it was done and I was watching more American TV (The Mentalist, to be exact). It was lovely.

I think I will take to roasting more vegetables in the coming weeks, now that the weather is getting slowly colder. It reminds me of home and goodness and it's so easy. Plus it doesn't make my house smell as much as sauteing and this makes me happy. And it adds heat from the oven. Wins all around.

That's it for this midweek cookout but I imagine more will be happening as there are still tomatoes, cilantro, potatoes, onions, and garlic to be had. Plus whatever I have in the freezer. But unfortunately that was the last of the American pearl couscous that I shipped over. Guess I'll need to find another supply or potentially bring some back with me next time I'm in California. I think I'll focus on what I have here - which for now is a crapton of lentils and regular couscous.

This fall and winter cooking season is going to get tasty and interesting.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Full weekend of shopping

Which unfortunately was rather unsuccessful. But fun nonetheless.

Books had proposed a weekend of shopping to me last week and I heartily agreed. Part of the problem of letting go of most of your closet over the last year and a half is...well, you have little left in your closet. Though this is not strictly the case, since I still have more than enough clothes, I have started to realize that most of my clothes remaining are quite...well...old.

I won't say outdated because I think people can wear whatever they want whenever they want, generally speaking, but as I was going to more Internations events trying to meet people (and they have the "dress to impress" dress code), I was noticing that I only had limited choices in this department and not all of them were very good. Or modern. Or...even remotely appropriate.

I guess one thing about being a girl in her late 20's who has the body and face of someone who is younger is that you don't have a department that covers your needs. I've tried shopping in the women's department but things seem very old-styled and most of the time they never fit. The opposite problem to that is going to the teen department and fitting into everything but everything available is just a little too "young." Hence my problem. I've started to find things that work though...just...slowly.

So we went out on the town to Shepherd's Bush and had a full girls day. Abs joined us and we did the full girls day out.

Which started out with...

...getting our nails done.

Yes, this is a time and again girls practice that I do kind of love. You're forced to sit still and you can't check your phone so you...either sit and stare off into space (this happens more often that most people would probably realize) or you talk and gossip. Much catching up was necessary as Abs had just come back from a splendid holiday in New York and Books was having various issues of her own. I...well, I have stuff going on but you already know about most of it.

The place we got our nails done was inside the mall itself at a small stand in the middle of all the stores. I'd never been to it before (because I've never gotten my nails done outside of the US) but it was being run by a bunch of Asians so, admittedly, I trusted it. To be honest though it was just alright. They slightly overcharged and the result was very so-so. I think we've all silently agreed to not go there unless under dire constraints.

But we did all love the colors we chose. I went with a fall-forward OPI shade of maroon-brown, while Books went with a deep ox-blood and Abs went with a straight forward French manicure, her nails certainly being the longest.

After waiting for our nails to dry (not without some hiccups, as this is a lengthy process, even professionally), we sat down to lunch. There is a bevy of nice eateries right outside the mall so that is where we headed. Abs had a craving for Bill's, so that's where we went.

This place is adorable. I have no other word for it. Farmhouse chic:




Interesting selection of food as well - things ranged from breakfast (only served until 1pm, which due to our nail fiascoes, we unfortunately missed) to lunch and some pretty good choices inbetween.

Books and Abs both went for the risotto and I instead went for the chargrilled tuna with fennel and orange salad:


Pretty blissful stuff. The tuna was not at all overcooked and had a nice smokey flavor that complemented the juicy orange slices quite well. The rocket salad with quinoa and pesto and cherry tomatoes was to die for. I've not had pesto that tasty (with little bits of cheese of course) in a long time. Mostly pestos are very meh to me. This is making me change my mind about the entire thing.

Still love rocket more than I should.

We all ate our entire dishes up, having waited for food for so long. No one had bothered eating breakfast, assuming that meeting at 11:30am meant eating fairly soon after. We were wrong.

After that, shopping commenced. Strangely no one really bought that much, despite all of us having our separate shopping goals. I was looking for black ankle boots, black pumps, and business casual/glam casual dresses to wear for various nights out around town, Books was looking for a business dress for an upcoming book fair she will be selling at, and Abs was looking for a thin black scarf and ankle boots as well.

I think the only things purchased were a sweater each for Books and Abs. We're such shopping failures.

When I expressed our failure to Churches a few days later, she said that London had also made her a picky shopper. She explained it as a problem of "too much variety." Because we're surrounded by so many things, we end up thinking we can always find something better, and in the end...choosing nothing. I do wonder if that is the case. I didn't used to have this problem. I still buy things like crazy in the US and sometimes Sweden.

I shrugged it off though and decided after my day of shopping with Books and Abs that maybe it was just our location. It'd been a few times now that I'd gone to the Shepherd's Bush Westfield and not found what I was looking for. Maybe it's just that the lines of clothing I'm looking for don't go there. I've definitely noticed before that even large stores (like H&M and Zara), don't carry the same lines of fashion at every store and instead tailor it according to demographics by location.

So the next day, on my own, I took the initiative and went to Oxford Street/Bond Street for some proper shopping. I also figured that on my own I would take proper care with my shopping needs and focus on the problem. I didn't even stop for food.

The result? Mild success. I did buy one dress that counts as business casual. But still no dice on the shoes, despite trying on quite a few. I figure this might be a problem that is not solved until I am back in the US. European sizes really are just different. Same with brands.

The other things I bought that day? Some gifts for German K and Hong Kong P for when we meet up in Austria in another month and a half, and a can of aerosol waterproofing spray so I can re-winterize my fall/winter shoes. Wow, I am the best shopper in the world.

Haha.

Well, I guess one thing to say is that at least I'm not wasting my money. And I still have plenty of closet space. The journey continues.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The cooking slowdown...

So I have still been cooking, but since most of my weekends have been preventing me from going to the farmers market with the same ferocity, my cooking has likewise slowed down. I have, however, become a lot more creative with my veggies as far as not wasting anything (not like there was much waste before but sometimes things went bad before I could get to them), so I suppose this can still be classified as a net good thing, despite the smaller variety of dishes and overall cooking.

Last week was another midweek cooking experience, meaning things were made quickly and there wasn't any meat involved since defrosting would have been necessary and I was unmotivated. Much of this was due to working from home two days in a row and I just couldn't be bothered. And I have gotten very awkwardly aware of smelling up my house. I air out everything every other day but somehow I am getting paranoid that the smells of my cooking are lingering in places I don't want them to - like the blankets on my sofa or potentially my clothes or bedsheets. I don't think anyone else thinks of these things, but they've made me rather conscious of cooking super smelly savory dishes. I hope these thoughts stop sometime soon as they're kind of ridiculous. I've taken to cooking with my kitchen door closed...which is less of a cooking experience as it cuts off my glorious view to the living room.

Anyway, enough about my fears and onto what was actually cooked. Just some simple things this time:

Cilantro skillet potatoes



This is a variation on a recipe my mom taught me. I added the cilantro because I had a bunch left still from my last fantastic farmers market stash and I'd flash frozen it because I knew I wouldn't have enough time to cook it before it went bad. The result? Not too shabby, actually...the cilantro froze decently well. There was some weirdness going on with it but overall it did pretty well. I did take it almost straight from freezer to frying pan though, so that likely helped. No time to let it weep and defrost.

For this I basically microwaved the potatoes after cutting them into bite-sized wedges, then pan fried them with butter (or my equivalent of butter), cooking them with chopped up onions. Then I sprinkled creole seasoning generously over the entire thing, waiting until everything was nice and browned. Then I added the entire batch of frozen cilantro and cooked until all was warmed through and browning again.

Quite a success. I'd bought cleaned baby potatoes and they are great. Definitely going to check out the entire line of potatoes coming in this fall and winter in the farmers market. I bet, like Finland, they're going to have some great varieties.

Honey dill carrots

This is also a variation on another recipe I already had, though this one is from allrecipes.com. Instead of maple (derived from brown sugar), I used honey because that's all I had. Really good substitute.


You'd be surprised how well dill goes with butter and honey. Strangely good.

You can find the original recipe here.

And that's all I made last week. I did go to the farmers market this weekend, since I knew I would basically be out of groceries, but again plans came together and I only had a limited time to cook. Because of this I chose to relax and watch American tv instead and whoop...no cooking. I imagine it'll be another midweek cook and then I'll be once again paranoid about the smells my kitchen is keeping.

There must be a way around all of this paranoia. I've yet to find a solution though. Until then I'll just keep airing everything out for hours at a time and lighting scented oil around my apartment.

#crazyscentslady

Monday, October 28, 2013

I'm on a boat!

...for lunch!

Hilariously there is a canal next to my offices, which usually boasts nothing more than a few broken down floaters who have seen better days, algae in the summertime (which is gross and makes it look more like someone planted some grass in the middle of our neighborhood), or the occasional rich yacht.

Sometimes though, you learn about something a little more. Like the fact that we have a corporate boat that we sometimes host parties or meetings on. Yes, you can actually book the boat for team get togethers and other special occasions. I've had the pleasure of being on this boat several times now (though still on the count of one hand...whatever, I'll take what I can get). Rather humorously (or not), this boat is bigger than my apartment. Considerably bigger. Like three or four times my apartment...with a second story. It apparently was owned by some famous record label producer or something and then we (as a company) bought it from him. I'm still confused on the details.

Anyway, this post was not supposed to be about that boat. I've already mentioned that boat before.

This post is about another boat, which is closer and doesn't move as much. And isn't owned by my company.

This one is a floating restaurant!


And it's adorable.

Clearly this is the main function of this boat as it has full signage with tables and chairs and some sort of cooking/restaurant license. My manager spotted it several months ago and had been urging me to go to it for some time. We never found the time, as we usually don't.

Lucky for us there was a special occasion for us to go there - at the conference my boss and I separately met some of our potential future colleagues. She found a gem that was better than any of my introductions - someone from the same department that we would likely be syncing up to. So, since he was in town (as he normally lives in the States and was only visiting for the conference), she invited him over to Paddington for lunch and let a select few of us at the office know so we could meet him.

And chose this lovely boat restaurant as the venue.

Hoohoo! Such a good combination of things - meeting new relevant people and a good way to try new restaurants. All of these things I like.

Anyway, as we made introductions and found out more about our potential future colleague and his way of working, office, setup, etc, we also checked out the floating eatery:



Pretty frickin' cute. Well-lit and some tables and chairs with bench seating. The quality of those tables and chairs were pretty dubious, as most of them were quite rickety and it made moving them closer together nearly impossible...but you forgive these kinds of things in super cute venues. Think about it...you do.

I had the most glorious hot chocolate. Pretty sure it's just well-steamed and foamed whole milk with Nesquik...but that's exactly how I like it. Tasted like childhood, and since this guy was from the west coast of the States, he understood all of my references. It was great.

I then ordered the housemade customized omelette. None of the meat choices looked particularly appetizing (the British love breast meat as much as the common American public, so I kind of avoid it unless I know it'll be great), so I went with veggie fillings:


Good but...strange. And kind of bland. This is certainly the fluffiest omelette I've ever had in my life. I don't know what they did with it - make it with whipped cream? It was definitely filling (I couldn't finish the whole thing and my boss felt sick later from having finished all of hers). I had tomatoes, mushrooms, and bell peppers in mine I think. I had to heavily salt and pepper it to give taste. The salad, though nice with its mix of veggies, had just olive oil and herbs on it, no salt or vinegar. Kind of...bland, like I said. Very...British.

Overall it was a lovely experience though, and some of the other items on the menu that my colleagues ordered looked better - chicken with stilton sandwiches, this sort of thing.

I ended up going again the same week with another colleague and just ordered the hot chocolate again. Sometimes enough is enough.

I'll likely come here again if I get the chance. It's cute and quaint and giving local business versus chains has become a way of life for me. I plan to keep it up.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Feeling like an American again

What is it that makes you feel like one type of person versus another?

I've started to realize in my time as an expat (which, believe it or not, is starting to close in on the two year mark...we're definitely over the year and a half point...which is somewhat shocking and also...oddly believable), is that it's the little things.

Sometimes, when I'm by myself (which is frequently), I'll catch myself getting swept up in feelings of nostalgia, remembering what it was like to be in the States. It could be just something small that sets it all off - the color in a leaf, the way that I'm walking down a neighborhood at night and the temperature is just right, riding in someone's car.

One of the things that most easily brings me back to this state is American tv shows. Especially the ones I guiltily enjoyed the most (mostly on my own, but sometimes in girlish/abiding company). Things like:

  • America's Next Top Model (yes, that horrible reality show with Tyra Banks)
  • Revenge (which is now on its third running season...this really is a guilty pleasure because it's basically a well-made soap opera that's been put into prime time television)
  • Ringer (which was canceled after its first season...most of which I saw before I left the States but which I still oddly pine for)
  • Criminal Minds (which will forever remind me of my parents living room, both in its childhood and modern forms)
  • Castle (who doesn't love Nathan Fillion)
  • The Vampire Diaries (yes, I do watch this whenever I have access to it, which isn't often)
  • Grimm (a fantastically funny show, really, it's better than it should be)
  • CSI (an old favorite, and which I've never gotten sick of...any of the versions...I was actually slightly sad when they cut CSI Miami because let's face it, it may have been the worst of the three, but it was certainly the most blatantly badly entertaining)
And so many others.

All of these remind me what it's like to live in the States. Their characters are all American, their neighborhoods, their cars, their way of living. Everything reminds me of the life I had or at some point in my younger years wished to have or hope to have (not the gruesome parts of course, but rather the beautiful homes they live in...the loving families...the nice cars).

They're blissfully American. And like I said with Homeland, America really is like that, for the upper middle class and wealthy.

I'd heard that I could get a free VPN to override all of the things that were keeping me from my favorite shows but for whatever reason I had too much of a mental block. Even after my team purchased an American VPN for testing purposes I kept my distance. It just seemed right that I was living outside the States, therefore I shouldn't have access to those things. They were only gotten through other means (of which I will not describe here but basically someone else got them for me). All of it seemed like too much work.

I decided to forget about my pinings for America and left them to my books. I decided to focus on my travels and look ahead. And as you can tell from the blog, that's exactly what I did. Sometimes the sentimentality crept in, but otherwise I did a good job of not thinking about the American neighborhoods and lifestyle that I was missing.

Before my intern left to join another company he told me about Media Hint, a little plug in you could add to Chrome or Firefox. Basically described to me as a way to have an American VPN without needing to go through the process, you could add this plug in and boom, you could visit any American site you want without needing to do anything. It would even enable you to get the American catalog of Netflix should you be a subscriber in another country (that's big news in places like Finland or even the UK, where the streaming catalog is significantly less than what we have in the US, and they wonder why/how Netflix became so popular in comparison to other services they already have).

Well, last night I finally gave it a try.

And it was glorious.

Suddenly I had a wealth of free online (and perfectly legal) means of watching my favorite American shows again. I could go to the station sites and watch full episodes like a normal American. OMG.

It felt...like I was granted my citizenship again. This sounds silly I know, but it is really something.

Needless to say I binged. I binged quite heavily, despite the bad connection and hiccups in their playback. I tried to watch as much as I could of what I had been missing these past years. Immersed myself completely in America.

I loved it.

I even found out I could play Pandora. Something I had lost forever except the times I'm in the States with my company SIM. Suddenly my well-curated and never-forgotten radio stations were pouring out like liquid gold over my apartment. It was so wonderfully nostalgic. Like if I closed my eyes I could be transported back to my San Diego townhouse and everything would be exactly as I left it two years ago. It has even been sunny these past few days, so I can pretend.

I know things will never be the same, since I left and time has continued to move on, despite my wanting things to freeze so everytime I go back things will be where I left them. I've changed. But at the very least I can have my little pieces of America back; I can gather them close wherever I am and enjoy them. America will be close, until I return.

One of these days.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cooking on a weekday

Sometimes, oddly, I get too busy to cook on weekends. Such was the case last weekend and the weekend before that. When that happens...I'm oddly forced to cook on weekdays. Lucky for me I've still not returned to the gym (it's been four weeks now) since I've been recovering from my weird continual pain (only ended a week ago) and then I was too busy with the EPIC conference (this last week). So, strangely, I had time to cook after work, rather than no time. I've actually been savoring this time. More so than I thought I would. It's been more relaxing than I can say. And I've oddly not been worrying about getting flabby or the weird effects it could be having on my health. I guess winter hibernation is really coming.

After this hiatus from the gym I've decided to reprioritize things in my life, as I know I've mentioned many times before but have clearly failed to do in reality. The gym and exercise should have a smaller percentage of my time and mental space, my effort and priority. Who cares about having the perfect body when the rest of your life isn't what you want it to be? So when I do go back to the gym (which should be today for the first time in those four weeks), it'll be only to continue a once or twice a week regimen. I want it to be something I do for fun and to have fun with. Not that I wasn't having fun before, but...it was taking too much of my time when I could have been doing other things which I enjoy so much more...like spending time with friends. Or cooking. Or reading. Or having new experiences (whatever those may be).

My convalescence has taught me all of this. Sometimes you really do need to just sit down, and stop for a minute (or four weeks, as was my case).

Anyway, the point of this post was not that, but rather to talk about my midweek creations. So what did I get up to, you ask? These beauties:

Pretty real pico de gallo

Last time I made pico de gallo I have to admit: although it was fairly legit and I ate the entire thing in one sitting (huge mistake), it wasn't as tasty as it could have been.

I didn't have lemon juice, I didn't let it set, I didn't bother chopping things up into smaller pieces. All in all it could have been higher quality in all shapes and forms. My fault. I was too excited because I'd finally found cilantro/coriander.

Well I found coriander again (in the largest bunch this world has ever seen): and at the farmers market! It was last weekend when I was hunting around for beer beef stew ingredients (did I even blog about this? I don't think I did!) and I found it, in amongst some unlabeled other herbs (mostly parsley...which the English love). I smelled it because I wasn't 100% sure and low and behold...my dearest love. Cilantro.

So now I had a huge bunch of cilantro on my hands and well, the stuff doesn't last long in the fridge. And I'm terrified of putting herbs into cups to make them last longer...because I'll never use those cups for drinking ever again. Blame the plant phobia. It's stupid, I know.

Anyway, so I devised some great plans to use this cilantro to its fullest: pico de gallo was one of these plans.

But this time I had lemon juice (procured from some previous shopping trip to Lidl in some great foresight) and the patience to make it right (e.g. letting it sit at least overnight...or in this case...3 days...whatever).

BOOM!


Admittedly I went the lazy man's route with this one and did it all in the food processor. Onion, cilantro (which I roughly chopped), garlic, all my cherry tomatoes. Threw in some cumin, salt, pepper, and the prized lemon juice. Stirred it up a bit and let it stew in its own juices (literally), for three days.

What was it like? Pretty glorious actually. I used the cherry tomatoes because they're incredibly sweet. I think this is one of those few times where slightly less sweet tomatoes would be better. I know, it's ridiculous.

I didn't eat the entire thing in one sitting this time (it'll be more like three sittings), but I did polish off an entire bag and then some in my first day of cracking open the stuff. I need to stop making myself cracky dips. Just get myself into indigestional trouble. I'm simply getting too old for this. Or I should invite friends over to be fat with me. The second is a better idea, I think.

What next?

Korean beef

Nothing claiming to be bulgolgi this time, just simple Korean beef. I also went lazy man on this one as well (see a trend for midweek recipes?).

I actually started marinating this one on Tuesday when I had time but didn't get around to making it until Thursday, since there was a surprise plan of going out for Nerd Nite on Wednesday that wasn't confirmed until that day. Oh well, I just figured it was more time for the flavor to get into the meat. And oh the flavor.


This time I did something different with the sauce. Two packets of that weird soy vinegar (still got some in the ole ziploc too, for my next batch I imagine), my last singular pack of red sweet and sour sauce, regular dark soy, and a crap ton of sesame oil and honey. Boom, instant cracky Korean bbq sauce.

I used the beef stew meat I had from the farmers market this time, since I didn't have rump meat. This means slightly tougher meat but it was nicely cut up into bite-sized chunks so it's sort of a give and take. If I ever made this for other people I'd get a better cut of meat. Still pretty tender considering I barely cooked this and it wasn't even remotely stewed.

Just added a chopped red onion (pretty large), two days of marinating, high heat, and it was perfection. Pretty tasty, I'm quite happy. I even cooked the rest of the marinade in the microwave to kill off any raw meat germs and saucify my cooked meat. Rather pleased with the result.

Cilantro fried rice

I know this recipe just sounds sort of dumb but I had a hell of a lot of cilantro to go through and I love the taste of it everywhere. The question is how to make the most of it when you have a lot of it.

This, surprisingly, was an actual recipe on allrecipes.com. No, I didn't follow that recipe, but it did give me the idea to add cilantro to my family's normal fried rice recipe, so that's what I did.


I even blended white rice with brown rice to make a bit healthier. And a crapton of veggies (cabbage, carrots, onion, and the hearty bunch of cilantro).

Sesame oil, garlic salt, dark soy, and yep, pretty nice flavor. This was one of my more plain fried rice recipes, actually. I still enjoyed it. Especially with the saucy Korean beef on top. Good combination.

And since I forgot to mention it earlier...

Beer beef stew

According to allrecipes.com, this should have been a pretty simple and delicious recipe. I'd read about it before, thinking about what to do with all the extra beer in my fridge (I know, stupid problem to have but I've actually pretty much stopped drinking beer in favor of wine, and unfortunately I have pretty much none of the latter in my apartment...and I don't drink almost at all at home), and in thinking about it, had looked up recipes of what to do with beer. This was one of those recipes.

Get a bunch of meat and veggies and stew it in beer. Seemed simple enough.

My only problem? I forgot the most important part: you're supposed to cook specifically sausages in this beer, not just any meat. And I bought beef stew meat (it was a cold morning, my mind was apparently elsewhere).

But to hell with it. I was going to do it anyway as I had no beef bouillon in which to make real beef stew, so I prepped everything more or less to the recipe anyhow:



Except I added in about twice as much beer.

I don't care what anyone says, but if there isn't enough liquid to basically get your stuff covered and cooked, you're not going to be making a stew...you're going to basically be steaming your stuff and after awhile...be burning your stuff. This recipe was supposed to take a solid 45 minutes. Mine definitely took considerably longer (again, I realize I was supposed to use sausages).

I also needed to salt the thing to no end in order to make it semi-presentable in the taste department. The beer I had was rather hoppy so the bitter taste lingered most unfortunately. Well, at least I put to good use my massive jar of garlic award mix I picked up during a drive through Gilroy once. Always wondered how I could possibly go through such a large container of the stuff. I used nearly a fourth this time.


The end result was this. Beautiful, but still too hoppy. The beer did boil down quite nicely and had nice flavors of veggies and beef. The beef was gorgeous.

At the end of the day though...not my favorite. Would have been way better with sausages and considerably less spices/herbs. Too many dry herbs just means lots of stuff in the broth at the end, which makes it difficult to drink and enjoy. It would probably be a hit with some. Le sigh.

And that was my weekday madness (minus the beer beef stew, which was made last weekend).

All practice for my first linner party (yes, linner, that meal between lunch and dinner), which has now been set in the calendar. Hoohoo!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A second nerdy night

I'm back from Boston! So the posts begin again. It'll be pretty epic for me to get down everything that transpired this past week but I'll do my best (so much food happened it was incredible).

So stay tuned!

------------------

And so after all the conference fun was over, I had a date with some nerds.

It was the second Nerd Nite London.

Originally I wasn't going to go, having been exhausted Monday and Tuesday after returning home from the long days of listening to endless lectures.

But then I got a text from Two saying that she was actually free for it and the lectures did sound really interesting (I'd been much more interested in these than I had been in the previous topics)...so...it wasn't that hard to convince me that this is what I needed in my life.

At 7pounds admission too, it's not like I was breaking the bank. I justified that my lunches had been basically comped the entire week, so I could do with a little spoiling myself. Plus the money from my patent will be coming on my next paycheck, so as a new inventor...I could maybe give myself a little something back. Maybe.

Anyway, after the last workshop at EPIC (where we discussed what future ethnographic practitioners should know and do in order to succeed in the world, both in academia and industry...which was fascinating and also frustrating), I met Two and we proceeded to walk from Liverpool Street towards Paper Vintage Dress, where once again Nerd Nite was being held.

As we walked along the street, catching up on what had happened since I last saw her for Donnie Darko in the cemetery, we passed by what looked like a permanent street food festival:




Adorable and drawn in, we stopped for some casual dinner. I just can't resist street food. It's always so inviting and cutely hipster. I know I know. If I had an Instagram account (which I'm slightly proud to say I don't), I would be taking ridiculous shots of this entire thing and posting them to my account. Instead you get the plethora of pictures (which at least I can say is more like photo documentation and for visual demonstration...because clearly there is no artistic touch to these photos at all...nor do I apply any sort of filtering or editing of any kind...I sort of apologize for that).

Anyway, we decided on the Yalla Yalla stall, a food that boasted its Beirut offerings. I was sucked in right away by the promise of hummus. I can make hummus at home at any time (still have tahini and garbanzo beans plus olive oil and even fresh garlic at the moment), but somehow this isn't the same thing as having someone else make it for you. It really isn't.

Two was also drawn in by it so we ordered.

And sat down on the cutest little padded striped bench this world has ever seen. The table was too low to be of any eating use but it looked too fun to pass up. Such are the little inconveniences in life that are somehow worth it.


I ordered the full platter despite not being that hungry. I just can't resist trying new foods. Not that any of these foods was foreign to me, but I just wanted to try their versions of it...and it's not everyday that you pass by a place that says its food is "Beirutian." I guess in real life you would just call this Lebanese food, which I have had before. But this just sounds so much more exotic!

Anyway, this was delicious. The lamb which is tucked under the thin sheet to the right was delightful and fatty, heavily spiced but not at all salty. The little pouch with sesame seeds on it in the middle had some sort of watery curdy cheese in it which I didn't recognize at all, which was surprising and delightful. The hummus was extremely smooth though a bit too sour for my taste, like they'd added too much lemon juice. Well, to each their own. I can never get it this smooth at home because of my food processor, so I still enjoyed it. The tabbouleh was extremely fresh and crispy. Two and I had a great discussion about curly versus flat leaf parsley. We both agreed that curly leaf was superior because of its texture - flat leaf has such tough stems which are hard to chew and have such sharp texture in the mouth.

The dishes also came with delightful creamy chili and garlic sauces, both of which I smeared over everything, as I am wont to do. I love these things. Washed all down with homemade peach lemonade. Fabulous.

We continued on our walk to Paper Dress Vintage after that, feeling content and nice after our small stop in Lebanon.

To Nerd Nite!

It was surprisingly crowded this time, I guess the almost-two-month gap allowing word-of-mouth to spread. Also the topics were more eye-catching and maybe the time was better for everyone, now that summer was over and people were back for school.

In any case, we settled in to hear about:

  • How to become a pope
  • How all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were a load of shit
  • How to read a video game
So, without further ado, what I learned:

How to become pope

Apparently in order to become a pope nowadays you don't even need to be a cardinal, though they do still need to vote you in when they go into the conclave. And you do still need to be ordained, so you can give mass at St. Peter's later, but generally this can happen after you've accepted position as pope (which you would of course do if offered the job, I would expect).

The only thing you can't be (still) is a woman. Sigh. Oh Catholic church, how you are still so short-sighted. You can be gay, bisexual, married, not married, have sex in any sort of way, but you still can't be a woman to be the pope. Well, at least I can say they've opened up the other requirements, which I imagine were quite limiting for some time.

The rest of the talk was about particularly bad popes (like ones who were ridiculously bad at being popey), which unfortunately I don't remember very much about, other than the fact that I was laughing so hard, and about what people have done to get rid of popes once they realized that the wrong guy had been voted into office.

After someone has been voted in as pope there are only certain ways to get them back out - they die or they're basically ruled as unfit for the position. To be seen as unfit for the position they need to be found guilty as a heretic in the religious courts. One such trial was mentioned...the accusers unfortunately failed and they were stuck with their bad decision for years before fortunately the guy had the grace to die.

There were also a few failed assassination attempts by various laymen and intellectuals. All of which failed. The intellectuals who failed had the worst of all punishments - instead of death they were sentenced to imprisonment whereby they were given assignments assigned by the pope. The entire reason they tried to kill him in the first place was because they didn't agree with his leanings and where he was leading the church. Knowing this he sentenced them to copy out things like his life story and his favorite teachings. I believe a hearty, "that'll teach them" was harumphed in their general direction.

Then there were the mess-ups. A pope died in the middle of the night, apparently from a heart attack. A nun found him the next morning, likely in a state that was considered inappropriate to be seen by others (e.g. naked and likely sprawled across his bed, perhaps having spoiled himself as dead bodies are wont to do), so before presenting the body to physicians or other experts to examine that the pope was in fact dead, they arranged him in papal clothing and folded his arms to look as though he'd passed in a holy stance. 'Cause you know, all popes go to sleep in their ceremonial garb and sleep like angels. Hilarious.

Oh another thing that was mentioned by the lecturer (who was a hilarious Italian man who is a professor or student at UCL, I couldn't get the full story, but he clearly studies religion and religious history with a passion, despite being not at all religious himself): people who almost made it to the pope position but at the last minute had the title ripped from their hands. Some pretty good stories there as well. Two good examples: a cardinal who was the shoo-in for the next conclave. He was all the right things at the right time and it was his time. Unfortunately he was in an elevator at the same time as a very intelligent journalist, who convinced him to do an interview and claimed that he wouldn't publish it until after he'd won the vote because it would make his journalism career. The cardinal believed him and so laid out his entire plan as to what he would do once he was pope. The article ran before the cardinals went in to vote. Needless to say, he never got voted in.

And the best example: another cardinal who was a fairly good candidate also gives an interview. In it he says that the Vatican Bank, known for laundering dirty money is actually a great bank and everyone should support it. Everyone sort of lets this go because it's just an opinion and maybe that's alright. This guy continues, in another interview, to name off the ten commandments but skips the seventh commandment, which is "thou shall not steal." That's quite a combination with the first interview. And if that isn't enough, for each conclave each cardinal is required to assemble in the Vatican and give mass in their cathedral (apparently all the cardinals are actually vicars for each of the cathedrals in the Vatican City, so when they all assemble at once, they're required to give mass in their appointed cathedrals). While giving mass, which is being broadcast live internationally, he drops the communion wafer. He not only picks it up, brushes it off, and still offers it to the person waiting to receive it for communion, but generally speaking the communion wafer is representative of the body of Jesus. So in effect he dropped Jesus. This is the last straw. The man is voted off the island. Or in this case, never voted in.

All in all a good talk, lots of laughs.

Why Jurassic Park was a load of shit

Or in other words, how the dinosaurs were all inaccurate and ridiculous compared to what scientists actually know. It's a surprising amount...or maybe not surprising, considering it's Jurassic Park the movie (this guy covered the entirety of the Jurassic Park movies...so multiple movies).

I can go into specific examples, and I will, but basically: dinosaurs weren't what we all thought they were as kids. Some of them were reptilian, but most of them were more bird-like. There's significant evidence now that points to them having feathers, rather than scales. That things previously believed to be "plates" or hard casings for protection were actually filled with blood vessels and were likely thick skin instead, used for regulating temperature or perhaps for attracting mates by changing color. It's things like these that have changed our perceptions of dinosaurs recently and it's pretty fascinating stuff.

One of the biggest myths that was busted was the tiny forearms that t-rex and other creatures like them are portrayed as having. They weren't silly bunny arms that hung uselessly in front of them. No no. Instead of having the wrists hang down, as they would in humans doing the thriller dance, the wrists were turned in, so they could grip things. The claws were large and the arms were extremely muscular. In t-rex's case, usually the size of a human arm. Unfortunately it's still not known what these arms were really for, since they are proportionally small for the size of the body, but some theories suggest that they were for mating (males grabbing onto the backs of females, though females had them also), getting off the ground if they were laying down, or grabbing onto prey.

In the case of t-rex, especially, this would have been important. They did indeed have really big leg muscles, as they are always shown to have, but instead of being used for long distance fast running, they were used for ambush attacks. That amount of muscle and the length of the leg bones suggests they wouldn't have been able to run neither fast nor far. They lived in swampy areas (similar to Louisiana bayou areas) and would have waited amongst bush and trees in order to ambush their prey, biting into them and ripping off flesh. Their teeth were angled in and like scalpels, causing mass damage. Their heads were large and like battering rams to absorb shock. Literally like muscular rams with backwards-pointed scalpels. Even if the animals they attacked didn't die of blood loss quickly they would have died of infection due to the amount of rotting flesh and other matter that was stuck in the teeth of these animals; extreme gangrene and other diseases would have set in and they would have suffered.

And of course, perhaps the most talked about dinosaur in the Jurassic Park movies that was most inaccurately portrayed: the velociraptor. What was different:

  • Real velociraptors were about the size of a medium dog (like a labrador), so they would not have stood about 6 feet tall in comparison to humans.
  • They were basically like flightless birds rather than reptiles. They had feathers (more like down than quills) instead of scales.
  • Blood vessels and nerves around the teeth and mouth area suggest that they could have had lips instead of beaks or other bird-like structures around the mouth. They had teeth also, as mentioned. Terrifying land-running down-coated birds with teeth and lips about the size of a medium dog. I think you're getting a better picture.
  • They did have tiny arms but they were more like folded in wings than arms. They weren't used to fly but did have sharp hand/claws at the end.
  • They were one of the most intelligent dinosaurs ever. They had almost stereoscopic vision (like humans), which meant that their eyes faced forward, not to the sides. Their brains still were relatively small though, all things considered.
  • One thing Jurassic Park did get right: they did have the scary foot claw that looks like a scythe. It was carried off the ground so as to keep it sharp. Similar to how ostriches sometimes fight, or other flightless birds, it would kick at its prey, slashing and gouging it to death. Terrifying.
So, all in all a fairly large flightless fluffy bird with teeth that can kick and gouge you to death with its massive scythe-like foot claw. Although not as scary as a six foot lizard that can figure out how to open doors, still extremely scary to have around, I have no doubt.

After all the things I've told you, it looks more like this:



Rather than this:


Well, whatever. Can't always get everything right. And I suppose in Jurassic Park's defense, they'd already been releasing movies by the time the more recent scientific discoveries were coming out and thought it would be weird/dumb to change the movies just to match reality. I guess that's fair enough. Can't have a continuous storyline if your main villains keep changing face. Literally.

How to read a video game

This talk was actually more about a study that was done on a video game called LA Noire. The interesting thing about this video game was that it completely bankrupted the company that made it (sad story for them) but was picked up by another, more famous company (Rockstar) later. It has had mild success and most people have relatively forgotten it by now as it's old news (having come out in 2011, which is forever and a day ago in the games industry). The company that picked it up, Rockstar, is also responsible for Red Dead Redemption and the Grand Theft Auto series, which it is infinitely more popular for.

Anyway, the purpose of this study was to see if video games could be used for more than just entertainment. Could they indeed be used for things like education on time periods, gender, racism, etc? And if so, could video games push for those types of uses?

The answer was definitely a resounding yes, as many games have an extreme amount of research poured into them before being released (at least any game with any ounce of storyline and sense), so generally speaking they are excellent studies on culture and other larger societal themes.

This talk for me was the least interesting (surprisingly or unsurprisingly, depending on how you look at it), but it was also the most vague. Generally the game did an excellent job of upholding a very realistic portrayal of LA in the 1950's which naturally held a lot of taboo issues (at least for a British girl, who was both very defensive about being a gamer girl and about being judged for it) - these included things like racism, blatant sexism, antiquated crime investigation techniques (which apparently also grated our speaker, as being an avid watcher of CSI and other crime shows she knew that touching a crime scene without gloves would ruin the evidence and she shrieked many times at both the screen and at her moderators for such things) and apparently very difficult driving controls (which I thought was a hilarious comment as the speaker also admitted that she did not drive in real life...how would she know the driving controls then were very difficult as she did not know how to drive?...especially when she also mentioned that her friend, who did drive in real life, had no issue with the controls...sounds like there is a user issue here, rather than a controls issue ^_^).

Anyway, my judgments aside, it was interesting to hear about this video game, even though I will likely not be playing it (not my style, genre, or platform).

And that ended my second Nerd Nite London. I'll likely go again next time, in November, if I'm around. The topics weren't set, unlike last time, so we'll see what happens. Women were highly encouraged to participate as they tend to get a majority of male speakers and we are supposed to represent equally. We'll see. Two and Olive said they would think about topics they could bring in and I've been told that they would be interested in hearing about my love of scrimshaw.

Maybe. I'll think about it. How many puns can I think up about scrimshaw? Far too many.

But would nerds really be interested in it? I guess we'll have to see...

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

And now...a small hiatus

Today I've posted my post, so now I will take a break for a week for a trip to Boston to celebrate Rhinda's upcoming nuptials. This is just the hen do. The wedding will be in March, 2014. Destination: San Diego.

For now however, we the wedding party ladies (and a few more) are gathering in Boston to do the normal girl things and celebrate my bestie's last few months as a single gal. I cannot believe we have all reached this age. This is truly terrifying.

And so I will be back in the UK and to posting next Wednesday.

Until then, bon voyage and see you then.

Sincerely,
tSH

An EPIC conference

Quite a statement, you might say.

But actually not so.

This conference is very dorkily, named EPIC.
Ethnographic
Praxis
In industry
Conference

Clearly someone was trying a little too hard to make the great acronym work. Praxis? Understandable that this is actually a word, but I doubt anyone uses this in their normal vocabulary. But then again, this conference was filled with mostly anthropologists and ethnographers so...I could be very much wrong. It did come up in several of their presentations. Well, whatever. It exists the way that it is. I'll leave it at "maybe."

Anyway, my boss and I were attending this conference in an attempt to see what was going on in our relative industry. Studying people and its impacts on the "industry" - industry in this case meaning anything to do with corporate, e.g. not-academia. They sort of dubbed the by-line of this conference as "where theory meets practice," which I thought was a nicer way of thinking about everything more than anything.

It was three full days (plus a beginning reception event) chock-full of paper presentations, keynote speakers, workshops, and salons all about ethnography, anthropology, industry practices, methodologies, and other observations. The theme was that there was no theme. Kind of interesting actually. I liked it but it was also exceptionally tiring.

Because they capped attendance at 325 (people were actually waitlisted to get into the conference...so if they made travel plans and never got in they were kinda screwed), it was fairly intimate. Also because everyone was listening to all of the sessions (minus the salons or workshops), everyone was together the entire time. It was incredible. No splitting up and going to smaller rooms or needing to prioritize and think through the schedule about what you wanted to hear more than something else. Everything was laid out for you. This meant networking was at an extreme. You could actually start to recognize people and make friends. It was...weird. In a good way. Friendly. You could actually go up to speakers afterwards and talk to them several days later and not feel like a creepy stalker because they would actually remember you.

And this was all held at the gorgeous Royal Institution as its venue.


For some historical background, where our lectures were all being held (the Faraday hall), is exactly the spot where for hundreds of years all scientists and innovators had to come from all over Europe and defend why their discoveries were legitimate to the scientific community. Our speakers stood in the exact spot that, for example, the first person argued that electricity was not only real but should be taken seriously, measured, and used for mass consumption. A lot of historic moments happened here. And it was ours, for three full days. The implications were enormous. And wonderful.


Our opening keynote speaker (a Chinese-American) pointed out this fact and had her picture taken by the audience, basically saying, "Never thought you'd see a Chinese American woman standing up here giving a talk to a bunch of people! Hah!" It was pretty funny, and awesome.


The rest of the building was also ours for the using, and it's a gorgeous place. Books are everywhere (assumedly for the borrowing, though I was afraid to touch anything for fear of its historical significance of some kind) and awesomely all of our food was catered. We had light breakfast, two if not three tea breaks (with little cookies/biscuits or candy) and then a very catered lunch (sandwiches and Greek salad the first day, lasagna (veggie or meat) the second day, and salmon and creamy potato salad the third day, all with little optional desserts). All in all a very nice venue I'd have to say. I enjoyed it immensely, despite it being a solid 40-45 minutes from my apartment, which is three times the normal commute length for me. A nice, temporary change in the middle of the city.

The presentations themselves varied quite a bit in theme and topic, centering on anything from big data to myths, personal data to our five senses as humans and how they've been incorporated into marketing and technological innovation, daily ordinary joy to rituals, presentation maximization to the consumption junction (where consumers go to buy items and a decision is made between competing items). There was even a presentation about the Brixton pound, a fake currency that has appeared in a south central neighborhood in London to try to boost the local economy (people trade in normal pounds sterling to this funny money and can only use it in local shops) and another about the concept of consumers as fetishes. A study on the Apartment Therapy taste regime and how by applying a methodology of studying the vocabulary used you could pull apart what comprised "good" versus "bad" taste. How every piece of research is really just a social construction because no matter what you do it is always from your point of view and you can never be truly objective. And finally, how human computer interaction has really become human computer relationship, and why we in the west have grown up in fear of our technologies rather than wonder and delight, as they did in the east.

In other words, for days, I was enchanted. Ideas floated through my head and my mind expanded. Though sometimes I was bored out of my mind and despite those chairs being a delightful shade of fuchsia and padded they were the most uncomfortable chairs known to man (no person sits up that straight, I can guarantee you), I was enlightened.

From this I know I've made the right decision to apply for my masters next month. Even though my future is in flux as it is tied to a company that is now being bought, I will still press forward. Because the only way is forward. And I cannot wait to know more.

Thanks, EPIC.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie night in the cemetery

It was just your average Tuesday. I went to work, did some incredible gadget ninja skillage, and then went to meet my new friend Two and her boyfriend Olive at Brompton Cemetery to watch Donnie Darko. Oh yeah, everyone normally watches movies in cemeteries here, it's totally a thing.

Not.

This was totally a special occasion - a movie in a cemetery! So amazing! And it wasn't just an ordinary cemetery, it was Brompton Cemetery.

No, it doesn't have any historical significance, at least not that I'm aware of (except that apparently it's one of the Royal Park cemeteries and is one of the finest cemeteries in the country...as quoted by their website, which can be found here). It's just...a gorgeous cemetery. With a very nice running path through it, by the way. Which I am sure they always planned for when they made it. Oh yeah, definitely part of the planning. Let's lay down a concrete path so people can run past dead bodies everyday. Part of every cemetery planner's thoughts I'm sure. How to bring the community in.

I'm being sarcastic. But the part about the nice road down the middle is actually true.


I thought it was a bit odd, but this was a really nice cemetery. I'm not one for burying bodies (since I believe there are too many people in this world and I'd like to cease taking up space when I stop breathing, but that's just me), but this is a pretty classy joint. The English believe in it though, and because of that, they've done some pretty excellent things with the place. Just look at this gorgeous layout and the artistry in the headstone masonry:


I didn't take many pictures because I thought it might be considered rude or somehow uncouth of me to be taking photos of dead people and their final resting places, so you'll just have to believe me when I say there was a fantastic variety of angels, cathedral-like sepulchers, and headstones. I was deeply impressed.

One thing I will add as a side note though: no matter what you do with angels in a graveyard, time will eventually reduce them to skeletons. They may be the most gorgeous females when you start out, but eventually the weather, time, and just plain human activity will wear them down and you're left with noseless, armless, starved-looking creatures. Even posed they look scary after awhile. Nothing you can do about it. I don't think there is a way to make a cemetery not-creepy. But I guess that just adds to the overall eventual character and charm.

But I digress. I walked the path down the middle of this cemetery (which is quite large by the way) and eventually made my way to the impromptu theater. It took me a solid fifteen minutes walking to get to the end, where everything was set up.


I signed in with the registration table, received some complimentary chocolate, and sat down to reserve seats for my friends. It was the perfect setting for Donnie Darko. 

These films are being put on by a little group called Nomad Cinema. They choose appropriate locations for certain movies and boom, instant atmosphere. They were showing Edward Scissorhands the next night (same location), but had shown Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo in a cathedral the month before. I think you get the idea. I love it, absolutely love it. And in a city like London, with its variety of venues (many of which are abandoned or otherwise not being used)...it's perfect. How could anyone resist? I could not. Obviously.

As I waited for my friends to arrive the weather darkened, adding to the ambiance. And my hunger. And the coldness, which I had accounted for with my pre-season peacoat and scarf (much grumbling going on in my head how my friends in California are enjoying an unnatural heatwave of 95F/35C). What I did not account for, because the weather forecast had told me that it would be clear, was rain. I know it's stupid to live in London and not account for rain but...well, I didn't. They said it was supposed to be dry! And umbrellas wouldn't be allowed anyway, since they're obstructive to others watching the movie...and just plain rude in many outdoor venues.

Luckily Two came a minute later so I could go to the singular food truck that had come for our eating enjoyment, which distracted me from the weather. It sold...fish dogs!

What the hell is a fish dog, you ask? 

It's basically a hot dog made of fish! Just kidding.

It's a fish stick in a hot dog bun. Basically fish and chips but wrapped in bread:


There were even mushy peas at the bottom for my delicious taste experience! I thought that was a nice touch.

I slathered the thing in tartare sauce (which oddly tasted like olive tartare sauce rather than the normal pickle variety) and smothered one portion of my fries in "ketchup" (the European version of ketchup which comes in a tomato-shaped bottle...it has a similar consistency to that of American ketchup but it has more vinegar and stranger spices...something reminiscent of Chinese five spice).

We then returned to our seats for chatting and eating. 

It was...delicious! Breaded and fried pollock on a fairly nice bun. Perfectly fried and not at all overdone. The tartare sauce I could have done a little less with (I was heavy handed, as I always am with creamy sauces), but it was still incredibly enjoyable. The best part? The fries. They were either cooked in rosemary oil or drenched in them or had rosemary salt or something...incredibly tasty. I could taste the rosemary on them. They were...to die for. I've always loved fries with an unnecessary passion (hence why I stay away from them and chips all the time), but these were magnificent. I savored them for as long as possible.

And then the food was gone. We chatted as we covered ourselves more from the rain. Luckily Two and Olive had planned better and brought ponchos for themselves, leaving me to cover myself with their woolen blanket, recently acquired during their trip to Scotland. I love having well-prepared friends (usually I'm one of them!).

Soon enough the movie started and I was transported back to high school, when Donnie Darko originally came out. If you haven't seen this film and love oddly contemplative early-2000's films about angsty teenage boys and the science of time travel, I would suggest it. Recommend it, even. 

Oh, and if you're not afraid of terrifying-looking rabbits. I forgot that part. Well, I didn't forget it, because that's the one thing everyone remembers about that film. Frank.


Anyway...it was good to see it again. I remembered times that were simpler. People were still shy and it was okay. Liking someone was enough. Less about the internet, phones, technology in general. Just...being.

We parted ways at the tube station and made promises to get together again soon. 

And life continues as it was before. But now I've seen a movie in a cemetery.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The journey back to Don

The next morning we took considerable time during breakfast, basking in the sunshine and enjoying all this tiny island had to give us. We couldn't be more satisfied with the accommodation we'd found and the plans we'd failed to make ourselves. Sometimes the best plans are no plans. We'd learned this the hard way, and after so much work. We travel too much to make plans anymore. Silly as that sounds.

Our drive back took considerably shorter time than we expected, the ferries lining up for us so there was always one there when we drove up to the ports. There was almost no waiting and we never lost our way. I guess the journey back always seems shorter...especially when you're reluctant to go back. All of us had loved our time in the country and didn't really want to go back to our respective cities. Me most of all.






We stopped shortly along the highway on the way back to Helsinki to check out a Design Hill outlet that existed. All the major brands were there - Marimekko, ittala, aarika, etc. We looked at all the goods and ended up buying things (either for ourselves or as gifts). I've been trying to do better about buying myself less and buying people more. Always keeping my eye out for potential gifts for people, now that the Christmas season is right around the corner.

It was a pleasant drive back to Helsinki. We did some errands before settling in for a last dinner together: Sushibar and Wine. Delicious.





Gorgeously Finnish. I do love Finnish design. The Brits have their style but they're completely different aesthetics. My friends described how though we'd only been away for a day it felt like it'd been longer. I guess that's the test of a real holiday - its effect on you. Did it really get in you and do its magic? Yes, for sure, in this case.

But now, the food.


Wakame salad. Something I always need to order now that it's difficult to get near my office. This one was a bit weird though; the more feathery seaweed rather than the harder chewier kind that's more commonplace. Also a lot more horseradish in the sauce so it was a nose-clearer. Still enjoyable though, especially with its large dose of sesame seeds.


Oddly I ended up ordering no meat in my selections. That was not my intention; everything just appealed to me and I knew I would be eating again on the plane (Finnair does pretty nice food, even for its short flights).

This is their vege rice wrap with avocado, cucumber, spring onions, marinated shitake mushrooms, all wrapped in a rice paper wrapper. Doused in a savory ponzu sauce that was more mushroom stew than tart and citrusy. Surprisingly meaty and hearty, rather than light and vegetarian. I loved it. All that ripe avocado.


And inari. Glorious fried tofu pouches. I could eat these pouches by themselves; even without the rice inside. I don't know what they soak them in but it's like crack sauce. Sweet, liquidy, teriyaki in nature but better. I love these. Classic.

And after some short discussion, it was time to drop off Hong Kong P before heading off to the airport. We made promises about planning our next trip (hopefully a getaway to the Canary Islands in November) and parted ways. The most relaxed trip we've taken so far.

German K and I drove to the airport, where she dropped me off before returning the rental car and busing back to the city herself. We said farewell knowing that it wouldn't be long before we saw each other again.

Sunshine weekends with great friends are the best; I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Relaxing with Finn

And so after we checked into our room and got ourselves clean and relaxed and ready to go again, we went to Buffalo restaurant for dinner (one of the two restaurants on the island still open and serving food that wasn't just pizza and burgers...oddly unappealing to us who had been sitting in a car all day).

It was a gorgeous sunset, and luckily Buffalo was right by the water:


We ordered some wine and had light supper (especially me, having snarfed that entire steak dish just a few hours earlier). Shrimp caesar salads for all!


Strangely no dairy in this caesar's dressing, which caught me by surprise. I'm used to the uber rich and creamy version of this dressing, which I'm come to quite love. This one was still good, but much more fish-paste-based. Probably more authentic, in all cases. It even came with bacon, which German K declined but which I heartily took (and so did Hong Kong P). Even had a nice balsamic reduction slashed on the plate. Quite tasty.

The one thing that confused me were these little green olive-like things that were mixed in, on stems:


German K tells me they're in the caper family but I've never had them before in my life. They did taste like capers (same vinegary bite) but their insides were completely different - lots of resistance and completely filled with little seeds that looked like miniature mustard seeds though didn't taste like much (or maybe that's what gave it the tart flavor). They were wonderful. Still no idea what they are. They didn't come cleanly off their stems either (like cherries often do when they're ripe). You had to nibble them until the ends, like some peppers. Such a strange thing. If you can tell me what they are readers, please do. Lovely experience.

We were sitting and taking in the place, noticing that we were clearly the only foreigners and likely the only ones even remotely under 40. This is what life must be like at the end, retired, and living somewhere out in the country. It's a pleasant picture really. We did discuss quite a bit though how it might get boring. What did these old people do during the day? No idea. Their houses and lifestyle were quite relaxing and gorgeous though; maybe time didn't seem to make such a difference to those that are happy.

As we were finishing up and thinking about making our way back to the gorgeous bed and breakfast we'd scored for the night, our waiter approached us and said if we waited for another half an hour there'd be live music. Oh, well in that case, might as well stick around! More drinks were ordered and we chatted happily about this and that.

The singer came on stage a little while later and we were set. A Finnish man, likely in his early 40's, with an acoustic guitar. What did he play you ask? Oh quite a delightful variety. It ranged from 90's chart toppers like "What if God was one of us?" and oldies like Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" to some barely recognizable Finnish pop songs (some of which we actually recognized). We sang along loudly to those we did, in any case.

While we were enjoying ourselves the restaurant staff felt the need to send us over free raspberry and blueberry shots, compliments of the house. Guess they don't get many loud fun foreigners that often and it was a sight to see. We didn't get stared at; I think it's more the Finns like watching people have fun and wish themselves that their inhibitions would melt away. The folks in the room seemed to be having a good Saturday themselves anyhow; many of them had paired off and were doing slow couples dancing, despite the song that was playing. Delightful.

After a few more rounds of songs we decided it was time to head home and continue our party there. We turned on our favorite Helsinki memories mix (made by Hong Kong P herself, also known as Mixmaster P), which I had faithfully downloaded on my phone, and we belted out our favorite tunes at the top of our lungs. Apologies go out to the universe for these embarrassing but life-loving moments.

We could see so many stars out in the countryside, with no blaring city lights. It's moments like these that make you realize how insignificant your daily problems are in perspective. Must keep this in mind more often.

We danced around our room to the mix for half an hour more, at one time imitating with gross hilarity the dance we made so much fun of in String Theory, the great abstract modern dance show we watched when Helsinki was reigning design capital of the world last year. Seems such a long time ago now. "I'm doing yoga while sweeping the floor and trying to shake a fly off my leg." Hopefully this renovated barn had better noise insulation than some of my San Diego apartments. I'm pretty sure our laughter could be heard for miles.

This, is what living life is for. These precious moments. I haven't felt this alive in weeks.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hotel Nestor

When we first arrived at Hotel Nestor, we were instantly seduced by its country charm. We'd checked out the website before giving it a call and asking about room rates and availability, and I'd have to say its website is pretty complete:


You can find it here.

From there we could tell that though it didn't have a restaurant, it did provide free breakfast, towels, and bedding, which is more than Faffas could offer, so we were kind of sold (we had a debate just earlier that morning about whether or not we should bring towels with us and all of us except German K had voted against it, despite having plenty of room in the car).

Coming to the place in person, we knew we had made the right choice. Pardon the pictures, which were taken the next morning after we'd eaten this lovely breakfast that was mentioned on the website, but I just need to gush about this place a little bit:


View from the drive in, approaching Hotel Nestor. We were immediately taken by the stone base and wooden upper of this building. There's just something so rural and charming about it. Converted barn gorgeous. The sunlight just made it that much better, I'm afraid.


Just covering more of the same...I could not stop taking pictures of this place.


Plow that was artfully set out on the rocks where we parked the car. There's just something so tasteful about leaving farm equipment out to rust. You can't do this all the time without it seeming trashy, but out in the county it just seems...right.


The front door. Gorgeous. The side door on the right leads to the kitchen.



Little statues around the property are done by the female owner (they're a husband and wife couple). Gorgeous and so quaint. I miss this sort of "country clutter" aesthetic. It's so different than most of Finland as well, which is usually so minimalistic rather than clusters of objects.


German K was in love with this little orange teapot. It was just sitting on one of the fences, all by its lonesome. Adorable.


They also had bicycles to rent should you stay there long enough (sadly we did not have enough time for that, I would have actually been alright with biking this time around). The rates were very reasonable as well - 15euros a day or something like that. It would have been a gorgeous country ride.




The road looking back towards their property, though this isn't Hotel Nestor anymore, but a bit further down the road. Everything about this part of Finland just enchants me, I cannot go into enough detail.


This is actually Faffas, the other hotel that we checked out. We couldn't tell where we would be staying, but this was the reception area at the very least. We assumed we would be getting our own cottage of some kind. Too much work and potentially no towels.


The entrance hallway to Hotel Nestor. Charming and gracefully decorated. An Apartment Therapy dream, and to the left is where breakfast was served (though we ate outside in the warm sunshine).

And now to our glorious room, where we spent time getting ready before dinner and then again after for dancing and playing around (we are dorks trapped in professional women's bodies...sometimes the inner dork just must come out).


The bed that German K and I shared. Extremely comfortable with gorgeous linens. I have the exact bedside lamps back at home; they used to adorn my master bedroom back in San Diego. Made me strangely nostalgic for what used to be.

Notice the fabulous distressed white walls and sanded wooden floors.

They even had the modern conveniences of outlets on both sides of the bed (you'd be surprised how uncommon this is, even in Europe).


The day bed where Hong Kong P insisted on sleeping, because she can't sleep with others in the bed. Kind of hilarious.


A rather excellent and functional table with a complimentary bottle of water and glasses because this is the one place in Finland where the tap water is not drinkable. I'm assuming they use well water here (we saw several on the property). Curiouser and curiouser.


The very convenient and gorgeous bathroom. This photo doesn't do it justice; the floor is very new grey tiles with a very pleasant matte finish. It had clearly been renovated very recently and was exceptionally clean.


The glorious rainforest shower. Once again the picture doesn't do it justice. I miss Finnish showers so much; the clean water, the unlimited hot water...the high water pressure. Sigh. British water is just crap compared to this with all its chemicals and minerals. Ah to be bathed in pure water again! It was heaven.


Each of the rooms is named, which is a cute touch. I have no idea what they mean but I think they're names of people or otherwise cute call backs to something people would recognize. If I were Finnish this would likely speak to me.


Other guest rooms down the hallway. Luckily we were separated down the other side with another room which was vacant. We came back rather joyous and singing from dinner that night and though we only met one other guest (a lovely middle aged Australian woman who was coming to see the art walk and make her way through the rest of Finland now that her summer studies were done), we saw the next day that there was an elderly Finnish couple also staying who likely heard our rather loud singing. We were located over the kitchen as well, which means no one heard our dancing. Again, dorks stuck in 30 year old women's bodies.


The reading nook that was near our room. I love any accommodation that provides a reading nook. I'd just finished my book on the plane on the way to Helsinki ("We Need to Talk About Kevin") and unfortunately had stupidly not brought another to start, so I was thrilled to find this. Rather against my luck though, most of these books were in Finnish and the one that I did find in English was not of interest. Oh well, you win some you lose some.

This made me seriously reconsider what my apartment should be decorated like. Do love that Finnish aesthetic.


The view from our window (one of our many windows). Looking out on the gorgeous fields and rentable bikes.


Breakfast the next morning was a spread of wonderful wholesome goodness. Museli cereal with milk, orange juice, tea, coffee, hard boiled eggs (which were incredibly fresh and good...I don't know how these countries keep giving me better and better eggs), a variety of breads, sliced cheese, sliced meat, and apples that German K claimed came from the neighbor's tree. It was lovely.


I made myself a sandwich with half a bun, butter, sliced cheese, meat, and some cucumbers. I ate two of the eggs and washed it all down with Earl Grey tea. It was heaven outside. Take away the fact that there were some scary flying buzzing bugs and it was incredible.

It was amazing anyway.



Breakfast outside in the sunshine is a real luxury. Something I took far too much for granted when I lived in San Diego.

Well, like I've been saying ever since I moved out of the States - it takes comparison to appreciate something. All of the same makes it hard to see the beauty in things.

And that's Hotel Nestor. I could not recommend it any higher. The owners are lovely friendly people.

Here is their listing on TripAdvisor.