Thursday, 20 October 2011

If the shoes fit

It's been almost two months since my last blog and readers (as in me in a few years when I want to look back at our time in England) are demanding a post telling them about all the fun that was had in Spello, Milan, Venice, Menaggio, Ghent, York and London, but firstly.....

Check out my gorgeous new Nike Liberty print high-tops that arrived today. Aren't they beautiful? Thanks Mumma

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Day by the Sea

As Nick and I don't own a car we rely largely on our friends to take us to any sights outside a 10 mile radius of Cambridge. So, it's lucky for us then that we have some good friends. Last week some of these friends took as to Suffolk for the day. First stop was Aldeburgh, a delighful little coastal town, for a beer, some fish n chips, some stone skimming and of course an ice cream.  After we were fed we headed off to Southwold, via Leiston Abbey, another lovely coastal town, for a walk along the pier and an Adnams (the brewery of the region).

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Apples a plenty

One of the things I love most about British living are the little 'pop-up' stores that appear outside people's houses around this time of year stocked with treats from their own backyards. The word store is probably not entirely accurate as it suggests that a transfer of money takes places. While this is true in some instances, most people generously leave their fruit and vegetable out for passersby to freely take.

And Nick and I did just that on Sunday afternoon. We were own our way home from a little afternoon coffee and cross-wording when we passed a house with a bucket of apples out the front and a sign saying 'Please take, excellent cooking apples'. And take we did. 

We didn't have much in the way of ingredients to cook up anything fancy, but I did make what one might call (if you wanted to be pretentious) a 'Rustic Apple Tart'. To be honest the tart wasn't that great. But that hardly seemed the point to me. I  love being able to grab somes apples (or courgettes or berries) from outside a neighbors house and cook with them. To me it is cooking at its most ethical and exemplfies the slow food movement (more pretentious terminology I know).

Una noche de español

Nick and I, and our friend Kate, are learning Spanish so on Sunday night we decided to have a Spanish inspired evening. When I think of Spain, I think of food (to be honest this is not distinct to Spain) and when I think of Spanish food, I think of paella. Nick and I love paella, but we have never attempted to make it for ourselves. I guess I have always thought it to be a difficult dish to perfect. As I realised on Sunday night, however, paella is actually very easy to make. At least it seems to be. I took on the role of sous chef so my job was limited to chopping, but as far as I could tell, it was quite easy. At the risk of over simplifying the process, it seemed like all ingredients (once expertly chopped) were put into the pan, fried for a little bit, and then left to simmer with the rice and stock. We washed the paella down with a Spanish red, and got suitably depressed watching the Spanish film Beautiful - a real throat slitter.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Happiness is...

... listening to live music sitting on a picnic rug enjoying good food with good friends.

Nick and I spent last weekend at the Cambridge Folk Festival (CFF) with the rest of the labor voting, Guardian reading middle-class. Each summer the UK hosts upward of 100 music festivals ranging from the iconic 'Glastonbury' to lesser known festivals such as the Secret Garden Party. Despite the myriad of options, for us the CFF has been our festival of choice for two years running and not just because of its proximity - the festival is literally within ear shot of our house. 

I cannot imagine a more low-key, unpretenious festival than the CFF. This year, we did as last year, and took our folding chairs, a picnic rug and the weekend newspapers and sat soaking up the sun in front of the main stage.

Not surprisingly, the festival is an excellent showcase for British folk music and this year the likes of Bellowhead, Port Issacs Fisherman's Friends, Peatbog Faeries played as well as less traditional 'folk' singers including Rumor and Laura Marling. The festival also hosts a good array of international acts. This year our favourites were Justin Townes Earle and the Robert Cray Band and last year we saw C.W. Stoneking, Seasick Steve and Kris Kristophersen.  Perhaps the best thing about the festival though, like any festival really, is the chance to discover new and up-and-coming artists. And the CFF does provides an opporunity like none other. If you can be bothered dragging yourself away from your rug infront of the main stage you will discover some real gems playing in makeshift venues around the festival. The best of these was the The Den which was a tiny living room, which showcased some wonderful acts. Nick gets the points for discovering Passenger - a UK-based singer/songwriter who has a sebatical each year in Australia. Think a slightly quiter version of Ray Lamontange.   

The weekend ended far to quickly and as always, we are planning our next festival visit. Whether it will be in the Southern or Northern hemisphere is unkown.  


... in the sun!

One of the Guardian reading wankers

Nick's 2011 Highlight - Justin Townes Earle

Beer anyone?

Lemon for my G&T


I love these things. We try and take a picture in one whenever we can.

Relaxing the sun!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Hampton Court Palace Swim

Last week I participated in my first UK open water swim in the mighty Thames. I have always enjoyed open water swimming but up until last week the Pacific Ocean had been my venue of choice. It was therefore with great apprehension that I dove into the Thames. Sure a shark attack is unlikley, but the water is murky and you can't be certain of what is lurking (living or dead) beneath. At 3.8km, the swim was also the longest open water swim I have done. In true British style it was cold and raining, but nonetheless, we doned our wetsuits and took the plunge. And I was glad that I did. There is an unrivalled sense of freedom that comes with swimming in open water and I had forgotten how much I loved it.

Pre-race excitment

The Champions


Friday, 8 July 2011

Always Pack Your Running Shoes

Last week I travelled to Belfast to attend a conference. Belfast is one of those places you can see in 30 minutes*.  I know this because on a previous trip to Belfast I did just that in the taxi ride from the airport. For this, and other reasons, I was not looking forward to going. But as I discovered, like most places I have visited, Belfast has its own unique appeal.

When I travel I always pack my running shoes. With the baggage restrictions that airlines enforce, this usually comes at the sacrifice of other essential items - hairdryer, straighteners, a pair of high heel shoes, etc. I have always found that the joy of running in a new city more than makes up for hair that lacks volume. Setting out early in the morning with only a vague route planned, you really do get to explore a city before the tourists do.
On a recent trip to Rome, Mum and I went for a walk early one morning and stumbled across the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is beautiful, but I am sure that anyone who has seen it would agree, it would be a whole lot more beautiful if people weren’t pushing you in the back. Visit the fountain early in the morning though, and you have it yourself.  But I digress.

So up early one morning, I donned my running shoes and headed out into the quiet streets. I had somewhat of an idea of where to head – through the botanic gardens and along the Lagan River. The Lagan River is more the size of the Yarra than the mighty Brisbane, but none the less beautiful. I followed the river for 2 miles or so, enjoying the serenity (How’s the serenity? So much serenity...), and marvelling at the wildlife, before turning back. 

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show (of the river or of the Trevi Fountain) as the joy of leaving everything behind (including your camera) is one of the best things about an early morning run. Later that day a friend and I wandered back through the botanic gardens and stumbled across a beautiful rose garden. So to compensate I have posted a picture of me taking the time to stop and smell the roses. 

If you are ever in Belfast (though I suspect you won’t be) you must also check out the City Hall, where we were lucky enough to enjoy a super scrumptious meal.

*Yes I realise the irony. Many would say the same thing about my favourite city in the world, Brisbane. 

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Pets of Quillan

I could not resist taking some pictures of the pets who lived in the square, and of some donkeys we met on our travels.


France, Food and Ol' Friends

Last weekend Nick and I travelled to France for the sixth time in two years. This time we had a reason beyond the lure of the French way of live – we were visiting our dear friends Becca and Dave. We flew into Carcassone in the Languedoc-Roussillon region and travelled to Quillan, our dear home for three nights where Bec and Dave and rented a beautiful house on a little square.  

It was exactly two years since the last time we had all been together, and in fact since Nick and I’s love affair with Western Europe began, when we spent a splendid couple of days in Lisbon. Visiting them reminded me of one of the best things about living abroad, catching up with old friends in some gorgeous part of the world. 

I am sure Becca won’t mind me saying that, despite appearances, she is a few years older than me. She therefore has far more life experience than I and is able to counsel me in a way that only someone who has ‘been there and done that’ can. It is a joy and comfort to have such a wise friend like Becca, particularly as Nick and I face a time of uncertainty. I was reminded of this, and how much I have missed it. 

As is always the way when Bec & Dave are involved, we spent the weekend eating, drinking and working off the excess with some physical activity. On the Saturday, our first full day in Quillan, the weather was pretty miserable which meant there was nothing to do except head to the market in the morning and spend the afternoon in the kitchen baking with the goods purchased. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a savoury cake recipe by Hugh-Fearnley Wittingstall that I had been keen to make for ages. With a slight adaptation, involving the substitution of some ham with £60 saucisson (a story best left for another time), we had ourselves a very tasty savoury cake. We also baked a superb cherry and almond cake of Nigella Lawson – equally delicious. And all made without kitchen scales, cup measures or electric beaters. We also made breakfast parfaits’ (which will of course go on the Phil n Jack cafe menu) of honey poached apricots and fromage blanc – divine. 


The next day we took our baked goods, along with the saucisson, some cheese and a bottle of wine, to the top of a small Pyrenean mountain for a picnic. 

In between the baking and the hiking we squeezed in some movie watching, new beer tasting, blanquette (the regions form of champagne) and espresso drinking, toe painting, cross-wording and of course, eating. 

So thanks Dave & Becca (or David Beckham if you say it quickly) for a wonderful weekend.  

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Dim Sum & Iberian Ham

For Christmas last year my brother gave us Harrods vouchers with the explicit instructions to spend them on something extraordinary. Instantly we knew what we were going to do – buy some cheese of course. Nick and I love eating cheese at some wonderful department store’s cheese bar. We developed a hankering for cheese bars on our first visit to Sydney together many years ago. Our favourite cheese bar experience so far has been at a German department store, Ka De We, which has the most fabulous of all food halls. (If you are ever in Berlin you must go). 

Last Saturday while in London, we arrived at Harrods suitably starving and keen to blow £60 on some (overpriced) cheese and wine. In looking for the cheese bar we stumbled across the Dim Sum bar (Yum Cha to the Australian readers). Enjoying dim sum for brunch on a Sunday is another one of our favourite pastimes so we decided to enjoy and amuse-bouche of dumplings & steamed pork buns. Although in Australia we could have comfortably fed 10 people for the price of the three dumplings and two pork buns that we shared, they were absolutely delicious.

With our sugar levels restored we continued our search for the cheese bar.  Harrods foodhall has an oyster bar, seafood bar, sushi bar, rotisserie, pizzeria, ice cream bar, Champaign bar and an espresso bar, not to mention the many cafes and restaurants on other floors, but as we discovered no cheese bar. Devastated we decided to drown our sorrows with some ham and sherry at the Iberian Ham Bar. And what a treat that turned out to be. We shared a monstrous plate of Iberian ham, some olives and some patatas bravas, and washed it all down with some sherry. The ham was described as a ‘truly sublime delicacy’ and ‘the most exquisite unique, traditional, pure Iberico Spanish ham’. The combination of diet based on acorns from Spain and the pigs freedom to wander at will supposedly resulted in ham of supreme juiciness, flavour, taste and scarceness. I have not eaten enough Iberian ham to be able to verify this but it was DELICIOUS.

We left satisfied and confident that we had kept our promise of spending the money on something extraordinary. Thanks Liam.