Last holiday post for a while, I promise! While I can still remember what it was like not to be at work ;-)
As referenced here and here, we recently had a lovely mini holiday.
I've grown up spending pretty much all available holiday time by the sea - on (and in and around) the water in Suffolk and at the amazing beaches of South Wales - but I've never really done the whole South Coast thing, other than the odd day trip to Brighton and a couple of weekends sailing on the Solent, so Dorset was new territory to me (and to the husband, to whom, having grown up in the Highlands and spent much of his life since in Edinburgh, it is pretty much a foreign country).
I'd like to go back some time with some slightly more clement weather to do a bit more exploration of the beautiful Jurassic coastline (and, if possible, find some dinosaurs) - I did drag husband to the beach in the rain twice during our stay, but it would be good to revisit when it wasn't too slippery to climb the cliffs and possibly also with someone who could show me how you choose which stones to hit with your hammer in order to stand a good chance of getting at the aforementioned dinosaurs. And also when it was just marginally warmer so that I could go SWIMMING :-)
Some noteable things from our stay:
Volcano Ice. Are you tempted? I was. But mean husband said that I wasn't allowed.
Obviously, I did it anyway :-) And he was forced to eat his words. Delicious - yummy fresh hot doughnuts, whippy ice cream and your choice of sauce. And sold to us by a really nice man. What's not to like? Volcano Ice - I recommend it, if you ever have the opportunity!
Cringingly fantastic pub sign. Husband is planning to send it to Viz. He doesn't see how it could fail to be printed. Fame clearly awaits.
And my other Giant Fish (plaice) of the holiday. It was like a theme.
Plaice was from our dinner at Bridge House - he was a bit buttery, but very tasty. I'm sorry we didn't manage a picture of husband's meal (don't remember why), but it was beautiful and very tasty - venison loin AND a mini venison pie.
I've been back at work a couple of weeks now. Feel like I could use another holiday :-)
As referenced here, husband and I recently went on an expedition to Dorset for a foraging day with lovely Mat Follas, of Wild Garlic fame.
I've already told you about the beautiful apartment we stayed in and the awesome dinner that we had, so now I want to talk about the actual foraging. It's going to be fairly brief, as it turns out that I'm entirely useless and didn't manage to take Any Photos At All on the day. Silly Jennie!
So, having spent the night in the apartment above the Wild Garlic, we schlepped down the stairs to the restaurant a few Tuesdays ago to meet our fellow foragers at a time that wouldn't seem unreasonable to most, but was not totally easy for all members of the Jennie Party (just as well we were only 30 seconds away, I think). We were greeted with coffee (or not-coffee for uncivilised non-hot-drink-drinking people like me), criticisms of the appropriacy of our shoes and introductions to our Glorious Leaders, Theo Langton (forager extraordinaire) and Mr Follas himself. After a brief chat about the day, we set off up the road to hunt for Tasty Things. Within about 15 metres of the door, Theo was already pointing out edible growth and we were excitedly gathering around, gazing, sniffing and nibbling at leaves and flowers. By the time we'd walked for ten minutes or so, we'd already admired (and tasted) dandelion, toadflax, nettles, valerian (beloved of our kitties - I should have brought some home for them), hedge garlic, violets, wild chives, burdock and primroses amongst lots and lots of other things which I probably can't remember, as well as having some (really quite entertaining) advice on things that it might be better not to eat. Theo had loads of great information and stories about all the things we found and Mat dispensed handy tips about cooking and eating with them. We continue along roads, past graveyards, through fields and woods, over hill, over dale etc finding other lovely things (like sorrel - I must find a place to forage this nearer to home - or maybe grow some - it's massively expensive to buy and, honestly, doesn't taste anything like as good as it does straight from the plant) until we reach a clearing with more wild garlic than I have ever ever imagined could be growing in one place. We gaily frolicked, picked and ate handfuls of it (all vowing to come back another day with giant containers) before piling into a minibus (I think Mat secretly wants to be a bus driver) and careering back down the hill to the Wild Garlic.
We happily drank more coffee and ate (delicious) brownies there for a little while, before jumping back into the bus and heading off to the seaside, where we found loads of sea kale (apparently pretty rare, but hard to believe it on that particular beach) and, crazily, horseradish, which we cheerfully picked bit of and munched as we walked along the beautiful sea shore.
To end the day, we drove back to town for a late lunch, which I, once again, singularly failed to photograph. We ate a delicious, foraging themed meal and all continued to incessantly fire questions at Mat and Theo whilst eating spelt risotto, lamb with wild garlic pesto and eton mess - yum and also yum.
Before we left, Mat gave out goodie bags containing stylish Wild Garlic mugs and also wild garlic seeds to take home and plant in our own (or in my case, my parents') gardens. We can't plant them till probably August. I'm finding it hard to wait!
The foraging day was a fantastic introduction to finding (and eating - though to be honest, that's not something we have massive problems with anyway) wild food. We were absolutely enthused and ordered the recommended book as soon as we got back upstairs (and ran out to collect wild garlic to bring home the next day). I'd love to go back in summer and autumn to see what other cool things we can find - I might even remember to photograph some things next time!
Details of the foraging (as well as seafood and cooking) courses are available here and one can be yours for the very reasonable price of £95, including lunch and, if you're lucky, tasty chocolate brownies :-) I thoroughly recommend it!
Today my delicious husband had an interview in the morning, so, to ease the pain, we went for a glamorous post-interview lunch at Viajante.
I was pretty excited about it, having heard so very very many good things from a great number of people. To be honest, given that it's really only just down the road from us, it's a bit hard to see why it's taken us so long to get ourselves there!
For anyone who has been living in an opaque box or similar, Viajante - the restaurant of Nuno Mendes (of Bacchus and The Loft fame), gastronomer extraordinaire - is housed in the old Bethnal Green town hall (alongside a hotel and, I think, apartments) and was awarded its first Michelin star about three days after I made our booking.
It still looks very much as it presumably always has on the outside and the design on the inside is pretty glamorous, but, at the same time, still pleasingly town-hallicious.
As we arrived pretty much on time, we didn't have time to investigate the bar (though do plan to return some time soon for cocktails), but did have a quick look at the chandelier affair that dominates the room, which is undoubtedly splendid.
The restaurant is smaller than I was expecting, with a nice laid back atmosphere (which we loved). The beautiful open kitchen is a fantastic idea, though we were really too far away to get a good view - I'm definitely going to ask for a closer table next time - and there are lots of nice art/design features besides.
And there were artichoke based table decorations :-)
We opted for the 6 course tasting menu with matching wines. This menu is totally blind (we were asked about allergies etc on booking and also on arrival), which we thought was pretty exciting.
Amuse bouche - Thai Explosion II - like a tiny egg sandwich with a bit of chicken and lovely fresh Thai flavours - husband doesn't like egg much (I know - weird...) and even he loved it.
So called bread and butter - whipped brown and black butter, sprinkled with potatoey and pata negra crispy bits with (lovely) wee loaves of potato bread. Yummy.
Actual first course of 6 - squid with squid ink, sea lettuce (which seemed to consist of greeny seaweed and samphire) and pickled radishes. This was accompanied by a 2009 Navazos Niepoort, which we were familiar with already, being big fans of Equipo Navazos, unusually for non-sherry-wine, made with palomino grapes. I loved this dish, and the wine was a near perfect match, with both food and wine tasting of the sea.
As you can see - I was a bit overenthusiastic, and ate much of this before remembering to photograph it - I almost did this again repeatedly, but husband did a valiant job of keeping me in line.
Salsify (one of my favourite things) poached in milk with lovely brown butter, some unidenified scrunchy things, beef gel and some yummy blobs of prawny goodness. Paired with a gorgeous Mosel riesling. Again, a fabulous match and a lovely dish. Husband was a bit worried about the jelly (possibly because I've been force feeding him pork pie for a few days), but was won over by the end.
Duck hearts and tongues (which turn out to be really tasty - and quite big - what do ducks do with such big tongues?) with roasted celeriac, pine and hazelnuts and watercress. Served with a crazy (presumably super) Tuscan white sangiovese (I had no idea such things existed - I'll definitely look out in future though). I wasn't certain I'd like the wine as it had a definite whack of American oak (which I often find a bit OTT) but it was actually really well balanced (and utterly delicious). This was the only one, though, that we thought was a slightly less than perfect food match - not bad, by any means, but just not quite as great as some of the others.
I'm wary of celeriac generally, so wasn't holding out great hopes for this course, but, in fact, whatever they did to it rendered it delicious, the ducks tongues were nice and the heart was incredibly tender - I'd love to know what they did to it - sous-vide possibly? It's competitive, but this might have been my pick of the courses.
Course 4 - the first of the 'main' courses (in my reading of the menu, anyway) - lobster and potato with confit egg yolk and saffron. And lobstricious foam. And tantalising bits of dill. Yum. Husband's (probable) dish of the day.
Served with a big Aussie chardonnay - delicious and, of course, a great match.
Last of the savoury courses - lamb loin and belly with wild garlicky cereal stuff and a lamb jus. Husband would like to state here that the belly was probably the lambiest thing he has ever eaten. Matched with the only red wine of the day, a Chinon from 2007.
In some ways, the most pedestrian dish of the meal, in that it wasn't a million miles away from something you might do yourself (or, at least, eat elsewhere). However, it was beautifully executed and all the flavours were balanced and delicious. The wine was, again, a very good match - light enough for the herbs, but with enough body and tannin to stand up to the lamb.
An extra course palate cleanser now - frozen maple pannacotta with shiso granita and apple bits (and meringuey scrunchies). This absolutely did cleanse our palates, but was really so tasty that it deserved to be named as a course in its own right. The apple bits somehow seemed to lift and gel the whole thing together.
The dessert was just called 'parsnips and milk' - in fact, some bits of roasted parsnip, a parsnip puree, a reduced milk sorbet and some beer tapioca all sprinkled with a black olive and coffee dust. Accompanied by a vin de glace from Italy (this wine was labelled vin de glace, but I didn't think they made actual ice wine in Italy? The waiter described it as 'late harvested grapes').
I was most doubtful about this course as I really don't like parsnips much and I find dessert wines a bit of a minefield. However, I actually quite enjoyed it (and husband really liked). I found the parsnip puree a bit extreme at first, but the actual parsnip bits were nice, the beer tapioca was lovely and the milk sorbet with the black dust was one of the best things I've tasted in ages. I also enjoyed the wine - it was less cloying than I'd expect from an ice wine, and a lovely match for the slightly mad pudding.
And finally petit fours (though neither of us had coffee). A citrus creme catalane, lovely and orange zesty, cep and white chocolate truffles (oh my goodness, these were good) on a crushed gingernutty thing and, I think, yuzu pastilles.
Absolutely gorgeous. What a way to end your lunch!
They gave us copies of the menu on the way out, which was a really nice touch (and helped a lot with this blog).
Overall - we had a fantastic time at Viajante and would absolutely recommend it to anyone with some time (it took a couple of hours, though we barely noticed at the time). We really loved the food and both properly enjoyed the blind tasting menu conceit - it's really nice to have someone else choose things for you - you get to try things which you just wouldn't normally choose. It was very clear that the menu was built around super seasonal ingredients - this appeals to me a lot. We were pleased that we'd opted for the matching wines, too, and thought that they were not only delicious, but also very well chosen as pairings. In fact, on a personal level, it was almost like the wines were actually chosen with me in mind, as so many of my very favourite things were included. The service and general atmosphere was very much to our taste - it was attentive and informative, while still being casual and comfortable. The incessant refilling of the water glasses (with free sparkling water - v good) was possibly a little bit over the top, but that's an extremely minor quibble. Also deserving of a mention was the, very entertaining, fact that when you went downstairs to the toilets, there was a little landing half way down with a seat and some headphones, presumably so that you could have a mini rest and listen to some (at the time when I tested it) swing tunes :-) And, though we didn't use it, I liked the wine-list-inna-book.
When we're feeling rich, we'll definitely revisit Viajante (maybe 9 courses next time, who knows...?) and I can certainly see us popping into the bar before that.
6 courses for lunch will set you back £50 per head with an extra £40 for the matching wines. There are also 3 and 9 course menus available (and, I think, potentially 12 in the evenings).
A few years ago - between 5 and 6, I think - I worked for a firm of accountants and had come home to live with my parents. I was coming towards the end of a three year training contract and had just done my last set of exams.
I thought I'd been working hard (though I now know, with hindsight, that life in practice is super super easy ;-) ) - I probably had, quite, with all the exams and things, and we certainly didn't get much in the way of time off. I was interviewing for new jobs.
I was conducting a silly long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now Lovely Husband) and I was singing three or four nights a week and quite a lot of weekends.
I was tired. Very tired. I'd come from from work and fall asleep in the armchair. I'd eat dinner and head straight to bed, if I didn't go and fall asleep in front of the television.
It wasn't surprising. I had a lot going on.
I lost some weight. I needed to. I hadn't cut my diet - if anything, I was eating more. I wasn't getting any more exercise. But I was working hard. And I was very hungry.
I kept waking up in the night with really bad cramp in my legs. Weird.
I had a week and a half of holiday in August.
I went to Suffolk with my family for the first bit. We have really active outdoorsy holidays in Suffolk, which I love. But it was rainy and I was tired. I slept for most of it. It was nice.
My boyfriend had been at a summer school in Gothenburg for two weeks. I flew out to meet him for a few days for a bit of holiday and touristing.
It was fun. I don't remember many of the details, except that it was really pretty, the food and booze was very expensive, everyone spoke awesome English and there was a museum with birds and fish and things - a bit like a zoo.
It was pretty hot. It sometimes made me a bit grumpy. And thirsty. But the summer is like that.
I was clumsy. I dropped a lot of things.
The last night, we used the kitchen where we were staying to cook dinner. We cooked meatballs. Obviously. We were in Sweden.
I woke up in the morning feeling terrible. I wondered if I had food poisoning.
It started to hurt more as the morning went on. My kidneys were really painful - I could barely stand up to shower. I'd had a kidney infection before. It felt just like that. I was glad we were going home.
We made it to the airport. I felt dreadful, but we managed to walk up the hill and get the bus ok.
We made it back on the plane. I didn't eat or drink anything, but we got back in one piece.
When we got to Heathrow, I couldn't walk far enough to get to the train. We had to keep stopping and sitting down.
Husband called my parents and they came to pick us up in the car, so that we'd not have to get back on public transport.
We waited outside for them to get there. I called the agent that I'd been talking to and postponed the interview I was supposed to be doing the next day.
My parents arrived. I explained that I had a kidney infection and wanted to go home to bed. We could go to the doctor the next morning for some antibiotics. They offered to take us to A&E. I said I'd prefer to go home. They took me to A&E anyway.
While we were waiting in the shiny new UCH building, the fire alarm went off. Someone had been smoking in the toilets. The doctor came over to where we were sitting and said that we didn't have to evacuate, that they would see me during the alarm, so I got to skip the queue.
I can't remember exactly what they did to me (might have been a blood or urine sample), but it took about 45 seconds for the doctor to know what was wrong.
They made me wear a hospital robe and they took me to an admission ward where they gave me morphine for the pain (which was bad enough to make me cry) which had no effect whatsoever, refused to give me anything to drink even though I was literally gasping (they were worried it would make me sick and kept promising that if I waited, they'd give me ice chips to suck) and cut a little hole in my neck and sewed a tube in (I think it was a bit bloody, but my mum didn't look too upset) and did some kind of weird xray/photo thing.
They wheeled me up to a intensive care ward. The new hospital building had only just opened, so it was very quiet - there were only two other people in there and we were, collectively, the first people ever to be in the ward. They tried to put a drip into my arm for hours, but I was so dehydrated that they couldn't get the needle into the veins (I had the most amazing bruises for weeks). In the end, they used a mini kiddie needle in the back of my hand. It turned out that the hole in my neck was for a tube which they'd shoved down into my heart (to give drugs super quickly). The photo had been to see how the heart-tube looked - apparently it has gone too far, so they had to swap that for a mini children's tube too, which they sewed back into my neck. It was only three stitches, but I think that that was the most painful thing that anyone has ever done to me - they sewing man was really nice, but I think I was horrible to him - I guess he's probably used to it.
They pumped me full of what turned out to be insulin, saline and glucose and they finally gave me water. I felt better almost instantly - the crippling abdominal/back/kidney pain dissolved extremely quickly and I fell asleep pretty much straight away. My parents and boyfriend came to see me and then left again. I thought they'd all gone home, but it turns out that my boyfriend stayed in the chairs outside the ward all night. The nurses told me he'd been crying.
Intensive care was very very nice. Like a posh hotel. I had my own lovely nurses who did super unobtrusive tests on me every half hour or so, chatted and basically totally pampered me. The other people on the ward were really ill - I couldn't see them - I hope that they made it.
Because I wasn't supposed to be there and hadn't filled in a card the day before, there was no breakfast for me the next morning, but the nice nurses stole some toast for me.
My boyfriend was there a lot the next day - he looked tired. The nurses giggled and said, when he was gone, that he was tall and handsome. They also said that they'd felt terrible for him during the night, when he was sitting out in the plastic waiting chairs, and that they'd wanted to hug him. They had offered to bring him things, but he didn't want anything. My dad came later and took him home for a shower and some sleep and things. Someone brought me some contact lenses so that I could see.
I might have stayed another night - I don't really remember. Someone brought me the book I was reading. I wanted to read it as I was bored, but I couldn't really concentrate.
My dad and my boyfriend came back. It might have been the next day. While they were there, the nurse came to take the line out of my neck. She offered to let them go, but they said they'd stay. She cut my stitches and pulled about a mile of tube out of my neck. Poor boyfriend went a very funny colour and had to sit down - he's very sensitive ;-) She put a plaster on my neck hole.
An important doctor came round in the afternoon, trailing a load of students in his wake. He said that I looked too healthy for intensive care and should be moved as soon as possible. He got his students to look at me and asked them how they could tell that I'd been really ill. They were all a bit quiet and shuffly, so I secretly pointed to my neck plaster so that they could impress him by noticing that I'd had a central line (which turns out to be more than just the red tube line that takes you to Essex) in.
Apparently that's only for super sick people, though I have to say that I never really seemed *that* ill. I wasn't dying or anything.
The long awaited consultant came to visit. He was very young. I think my parents were there. He didn't really tell me anything definitive, but said that I probably had type 1 diabetes and that it was super unusual for someone of my age to get it (which I've found out since isn't really true). He told me off for not going to the Dr earlier. Even looking back now, I don't think I would have - I do recognise that there were signs, but I don't think I'd have picked them up enough to actually make an appointment with my GP.
I was moved onto another ward in the old hospital building. They told me we could go in an ambulance, so my boyfriend stayed for the ride. When it came to it, we just got a car. I was a bit disappointed, but, given that it only took about three minutes to get there, I guess we didn't really miss out much. And I *did* get to go in a wheelchair :-)
The less said about the general ward, the better, as far as I'm concerned.
Suffice to say, it was a massive shock after the loveliness of intensive care. It was loud and full of crazy old people and the nurses were nowhere near as nice (AND they woke me every hour to fingerprick and test my blood).
Boyfriend walked from Kentish Town (where he stayed with my family - how traumatic!) in the sweltering heat every day to come and keep me entertained and my parents brought me actual clothes and things.
The diabetes nurse brought me insulin pens, some leaflets and a blood testing gadget and showed me how to use them on a weird spongey thing. She was very 'no nonsense'. My boyfriend loved her.
They let me have a shower, but it was a bit rubbish as I was still attached to a drip and, it turned out, couldn't really stand up for long enough for it to be good (you clearly don't have to be in bed for very long before your legs forget how to hold you up). A not too mean nurse helped me wash my hair with someone else's shampoo.
I made friends with a girl with cystic fibrosis (who had a private room on the ward, worked in PR and was the only other person that was remotely close to my age), I called my work to confess that I wouldn't be back for a few days, I took disgusting potassium tablets and I ate hospital sandwiches.
A lovely nurse from the Philippines (part of a husband and wife nurse team, in fact, though they were on alternate shifts) helped me inject myself the first time.
By the time Friday came (having been admitted on Sunday night), I was incredibly relieved and absolutely desperate to go home.
The young consultant came to sign me out, but decided not to, as I still had blood ketones.
They were gone by the next morning, but there are no doctors around at weekends to sign you out, so I had to stay an extra two days. TWO DAYS! I was going insane by the time they let me out. You don't get much sleep on those general wards.
I briefly went blind over the weekend too, which was a bit scary until I tried taking out my (pretty strong) contact lenses, and discovered that, contrary to first impressions, my sight had got miraculously better, not worse at all. Tragically it only lasted about 10 days. Someone should do some kind of research though, I reckon. Surely if hormone changes can make you go from pretty blind to perfectly sighted in a couple of days, it should be possible to harness that for good, no?
Unsurprisingly, they let me go first thing on Monday morning.
My boyfriend was already there, so we went down and waited outside for my dad to collect us.
We sat in the garden all afternoon and pretended to be on holiday.
The next day we went to the zoo. It was lovely, though it totally wore me out.
After that, boyfriend had to go back home (he'd already stayed a week longer than he was supposed to) and I had to go back to work.
I went to my GP a few days later to sort out the many prescriptions and things and to get him to sign a form so that I could get free ones.
I have to go back to the hospital clinic every 6 months to be tested and things. They take gallons of blood, put drops in my eyes and ask me whether I smoke.
I have to inject myself between 3 and 6 (give or take) times a day. I carry around craploads of kit - insulin pens, testing stuff, sugary things and wear one of those medic alert bracelets (when I remember).
The diagnosis was horrible for my family, and definitely for my boyfriend (who obviously felt terrible about taking me on holiday and bringing me back on the verge of a diabetic coma - I think the whole experience was quite 'make or break' for him, actually, though we might not have known it at the time).
I'm not upset about having diabetes. I was never cross or resentful. At the time, I think I was probably just pleased to be feeling better, and, since then, I've never had massively strong feelings about it.
I'm generally fairly good at controlling it and it doesn't particularly stand in my way. In fact, sometimes it's nice to be kind of special :-)
I'm sure it would be different if I'd been diagnosed when I was little or when I was a teenager, but, for me, it's not really been a big thing. Talk to me again in 30 years when I'm blind and my feet have been amputated, I guess ;-)
I was tempted into buying some tasty rare breed pork belly from the splendid Marky Market on Friday and, having vaguely overheard someone talking (or possibly tweeting) about it the other day, decided to have a go at confiting (is that a word?) it.
So - 24 hours curing in the fridge and 4 hours poaching in an awful lot of lard later, this is what we have...
I'm planning to take it (or, at least, some of it) round to my parents' garden tomorrow to barbecue.
It certainly looks pretty good - I'm concerned that it might be a wee bit salty, but I guess we'll have to wait and see - further news to follow!
OK, so, as noted on Twitter, in order to be allowed to have any lovely new cookery books, it transpires that (in the interests of a Happy Marriage), I shall have to get rid of some of the old ones.
So I'm starting with these...
I'm pretty sure I don't actually need these:
And, sad as I am to lose it, this is also very rarely used now:
These ones are slightly more painful, but I'm trying to focus on reaping the Glorious Glorious benefits...
I was always secretly slightly disappointed with my edition of Good Housekeeping. It's just not the same as the one at my parents' house. Some things don't need to be updated:
And this one is actually a genuinely good book - much better than it looks, in fact. The recipes aren't necessarily the best thing ever, but the handy tips and illustrated techniques are absolutely fantastic. I know how to joint a chicken and fillet a mackerel, but if I didn't, this book is definitely where I'd go to look it up!
Let me know (comment or twitter or something) if you fancy taking any of them off my hands. I can probably hand them over in person to Londoners, and could almost certainly arrange something for anyone less local. If not, then I guess I'll hit Freecycle :-)
Finally, here are some cats. You can't have them, though - they're just a lend...
I was overjoyed to get a Twitter tip for a place that sells Morels a week or so ago... It didn't take much deliberation before I parted company with a large sun of money in exchange for a box of mushroomy goodness :-)
I'm planning chicken with half of them on Sunday (in the very vaguest sense of the word 'planning') but tonight, in preparation, we had pasta (well, husband had actual pasta. Mine was just imaginary) with creamy morel sauce.
We also had a rather incongruous tomato-with-wild-garlic-pesto thing, as we were both hungry and desperate to eat our hard-foraged wild garlic.
We drank a bottle of 2005 Bruno Clair Morey St Denis blanc, which was absolutely gorgeous and a great match for the morels.
I'm finding it a bit hard not to be sad that half of them are gone already... Pretty sure it was worth the heartache though!