Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love It or Hate It

Valentine's Day: a day solely devoted to forced romance or extreme single pride. People either love it and think it's mushy or adorable or sweet or they hate it and think it's a holiday invented by card companies, drawing harsh awareness to being single. Grab your girl squad, order some questionable pizza toppings and bring on the Ryan Gosling movies. Grey area acquired.

Speaking of divisive things, here is a list of foods that I've found people either vehemently despise or unequivocally love:

1) Cilantro/Coriander- Apparently there is actually some kind of genetic trait that makes cilantro (coriander in the UK) taste like soap to half the population (also, 60% of statistics are made up on the spot...). The other half of us love to add this to guacamole and just about any other dish that needs a flavor kick in the pants.

2) Pineapple on Pizza- This has been a raging debate in my flat, often fuelled by gin and the fact that we live across the street from a Papa John's. Pineapple gets all hot and mushy when you cook it. I already burn my mouth on the hot pizza sauce as I eagerly chow down but add boiling hot pineapple juice? No thank you. Also gross. Pineapple is delicious but not on pizza.

3) Marmite- What in the heck is this spread? Whyyyyyy not have Nutella? Or peanut butter? Or anything else but gravy flavoured goo. Okay, let's back up. Similar to cilantro, Marmite seems to be a genetic taste bud situation and is famously divisive. Their commercials even play up to this with families having genetic tests to determine if they are born lovers or haters. So I tried a tiny bit once and it basically tastes like super salty gravy. Not with my cup of tea, thank you.


4) Raisins- I didn't realize raisins were such an issue until I started making fruit cakes. Even though grapes are okay and wine is definitely okay, dried out grapes are a no-go for many people. This causes a great decrease in the consumption of fruit cake, carrot cake, granola and oatmeal raisin cookies at the office. I get it, they're mushy and kinda weird but what is an oatmeal raisin cookie without the raisins?? Just oatmeal...

5) Brussels Sprouts- I think the only people who love Brussels sprouts with a fiery passion are other people in my family. Everyone else I've met has been like 'oh yeah, Brussels sprouts are good' but not like 'omg I can't go another minute without sprouts!'. I have disliked Brussels sprouts my entire life. If I had a dollar for every person who responds with 'oh but that's because you haven't had them cooked my way', I could quit my job and blog full time. "I do not like them in a house, I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there, I do not like them anywhere". I do not like them with butter or sugar or even bacon! Save the bacon!!!!

What other foods do you love that others hate? What about you hate but others love? Is there a grey area?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Banana Bread: Hacked

I am not a fan of bananas. I ate one once when I was a kid (like pre-k age) and it turned my teeth grey. Yes, the trauma of being teased on the playground will stay with you forever! But also banana bread is delicious so let's get past this, okay? Okay.

So as someone who doesn't like bananas, they still manage to find their way into my kitchen on a weekly basis. Yup, weekly. Because they're good at hiding in things like smoothies or coated in peanut butter on toast or in banana bread! That's all the ways I hide bananas in my food, three is a solid number.

The hardest part about banana bread? Planning. Because you have to let the bananas ripen before you can eat them but grocery stores are all like 'oh we don't want these bananas to go bad before you can eat them so here are some green, not even remotely ripe yet bananas you can eat in 2-5 days from now'. Then add another 2-5 days to get banana bread-ready bananas.

 
But alas, ain't no one got time for that. So here's a hack. You can stick the bananas in the oven and 'ripen' (I'm pretty sure we're cooking them) bananas that way! I did this on the preheat, just heat the oven to 300F (something like 125-150C is what I did here in the UK) and bake the bananas until they're black. You may need to turn the bananas over.

Allow them to cool before you add them to the batter or use mits because they are hot hot hot. But also mushy! So you can just blend them right in. And then you can have delicious banana bread whenever you want! Go-to recipe from my fav (and wannabe maj), Joy the Baker.

Banana bread/life hacked.

Recipe

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 softened bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 generous cup of chocolate chips
  • Chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 300F/150C (ish). Place two bananas in a pan and roast until blackened. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and softened butter until creamy.
  3. Add the eggs (officially one at a time, unofficially still don't have time for that).
  4. Mix in the bananas. If they're squishy enough, you can just mix them in with a hand mixer, otherwise give them a preemptive mash with a fork before incorporating. 
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Or don't and just add it to the large bowl.
  6. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together until there is no flour visible.
  7. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts if adding.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and no longer wobbly (or a knife/skewer poked in the middle comes out clean).

Monday, January 8, 2018

2018 Resolution: Waste Less

You know how everyone has those swanky Swell bottles? They were all the rage back in 2016, a status symbol of the spin class goers and yoga doers. And yes, I have one, a gift from a work vendor. You know it's cool when they're getting branded. Even before then, Camelbaks and Nalgenes were the reusable water bottles of choice. For years, reusable/refillable water bottles have been the thing. There was even that phase of the plastic water cups that looked like iced coffee cups.

But why not reusable coffee cups? Those have always been a thing for drivers only. My parents always used them, sipping their coffee on the way to work. I had one that I used the first two years post-college when I was driving by Dunkin' every day on my way to the office. But since then, it's always the Starbucks cups with the butchered names and little smiley faces.

Recently, I've become more and more aware of headlines around just how many of those coffee cups we use every day. Granted, these are UK-based statistics and maybe the cappuccinos don't foam as well in a reusable cup but there are so many coffee cups that go to waste. The figure being thrown around is 2.5 billion cups each year are thrown away in the UK. BILLION!!! For perspective, there are 7.6 billion people in the entire world and the UK is 0.9% of that.

And I told myself "it's okay, these are cardboard and recyclable!". Well they're not and it's not. Most of those coffee cups have some kind of insulating lining that makes them non-recyclable. And Starbucks ones have metal in them so don't put them in the microwave either. In case you haven't set something on fire recently...

So this year, I have only a couple of resolutions but the most tangible one is to waste less (okay, mastering crow in yoga is also tangible but less environmental). Apparently I'm not alone in this initiative so more power to ya! Most cafes give a discount for bringing your own mug/cup. This discount can range from £0.20 to £0.50 (go Pret!) but if you drink just one coffee every weekday, that's £1.00-£2.50 savings per week. That adds up! And it's good for the environment so add in some karma discounts too.

Even with the discounts, there are rumors cafes will soon start charging a fee instead, a "latte levy", for using disposable cups. Much like the plastic bag charge that has become part of our grocery store routine, spurring many to BYOB (bags, not bottles) in bright colors and patterns, a fee might be more effective than a discount (how's that for the logic of the human brain).
You might say, like I did, it's annoying to carry a coffee cup around with you all day. But don't you already carry a water bottle around all day? I did some Amazon hunting and they make collapsible travel mugs which could fit in your purse. I opted not to buy one though as I already have a travel mug that I rarely use so reducing my waste also applies to not buying in excess. Realistically, I have coffee when I get into work where they have mugs and they have a cafe in the building which gives a £0.20 discount if you bring a mug down from the upstairs kitchens.

 
I've only been doing this for a week but it's already preventing me from buying coffee or hot chocolate on a whim when I don't really need it, just feel like a break. So thus far the benefits are two-fold: less waste in the environment, less money spent at Starbucks (seriously, getting a latte from my office cafe is a quarter of what it costs at Starbucks), and less unconscious consumption. Okay, that's three-fold. I expect it will also make me slow down and enjoy my coffee too if I elect to sit in for the 10 minutes it usually takes to drink a coffee. So many wins!

I'm not saying 100% cut out using disposable cups/containers but a little conscious effort couldn't hurt! What are some other ways people have reduced waste? What should I be looking out for, where are the recycling traps?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

P is for Porto

You know how a couple years ago suddenly everyone was going to Iceland? We all drank the Northern Lights kool-aid. Well last year, the expats of England all went to Porto and I was like 'wait what?' and missed the boat. Fortunately, so did one of my expat friends so we popped on over to Porto for a weekend of sun and, of course, port!

Obviously I was expecting to have port and a bunch of pastel de natas but I was not prepared for peacocks. We spent part our afternoon walking around the botanical gardens and I was shocked by the shear number of peacocks hanging out! I'd never seen a full blown peacock in person, just individual feathers. They are beautiful and majestic and at one point, I was so close, I was worried they were like swans and might attack me (they didn't but I'm sure that's because they're use to people).

Here are some of the other places we went, things we ate and other things we drank!
  • Tapabento- This was recommended by a friend who had previously been to Porto (like I said, we were late to the party). You absolutely need a reservation here but it's not a super fancy place. We were able to email them ahead of time for a table while we were in town. The menu was primarily seafood but it was delicious. 
  • Letraria - This place is a diamond in the ruff. Located on a quiet residential street, it's the gateway to a magical beer garden complete with an orange tree, wild strawberries (maybe they're not wild if they've been intentionally planted...), mint bushes and adorable cats bouncing around in tall grass. Oh and their beer selection is great. Plus the staff are very friendly and gave us multiple samples to decide which beer we should taste in full.
  • Franceshina - The typical sandwich of Porto, this is a thick sandwich stuffed with two types of meat and cheese, covered in more cheese and then doused in a tomato-tasting sauce. It's like a grilled cheese on steroids doused in soup. And it's amazing. Oh and it's called franceshina but we ate it at a restaurant called Franceshina and it was served by a waiter named Franceshina--just kidding, the waiter part didn't happen. The place was very quiet but the staff were very accommodating. They gave us sauteed mushrooms as an appetizer fo' free and then we finished the meal with a sample of port, to "help with digestion". They also had Wimbledon on so that didn't hurt either.
  • Port - Cue all the port in Porto jokes! There's a stretch of wineries along the south bank of the river (generally referred to as Gaia) where you can choose from any number of places to do a tasting. We selected Calem, just out of convenience of time and price. After an opportunity to view their museum, we were taken on a tour of the winery. They don't bottle the port there but they do have the giant barrels and vats of port, ready and waiting to be bottled off site. 
  • Zenith - In an effort to avoid super touristy places, we searched for 'hipster places in Porto' and Zenith popped up for brunch and cocktails. To be fair, it also appeared on a TripAdvisor list for top cafes in Porto. But for real, it's very hipster. We enjoyed smoothie bowls (#healthyaf) and shared sweet potato toast with avocado (because can you even have brunch without an avocado and not be a hipster?) and poached egg. We also saw yogurt parfaits and pancakes go by that made us second guess our choice of smoothie bowl. 
  • Nutellandia - This magical place is just what it sounds like: a land of nutella. They had nutella milkshakes, nutella ice cream, and my favorite, Pastel de Nata (traditional egg custard pastry of Portugal) with nutella on it. And no, they don't have wifi, just enjoy the nutella. 
After all that eating, we opted for a nice, lazy beach day but unfortunately, the beaches were past the wall of mist so it wasn't very sunny or warm. But there were still loads of people on the beaches and we sat at a cafe sipping beers next to the water before heading back to the sunny side of town, pictured below.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

J'taime Paris

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Paris. If you asked me where I saw myself at 25, I saw myself living in Paris and working for some sort of magazine or publication, stopping at my favorite bakery on my way home every day for a pastry. Even in my 10 year-old brain, I realized going to the bakery every day was a little too much. But still. The bakery was an integral part of my brain.

But alas, I never learned French nor did I go into the magazine business. I guess you can stretch blog writing as being similarly fulfilling and I do live abroad so good job, self, 10 year-old you would be proud.

I first went to Paris when I was 13 as part of a group trip with my grandparents. It was an amazing trip and we hit a lot of the big cultural points in Paris like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomph. But going back as an adult on my own was a different kind of experience. Still not speaking French, I was armed with a few weeks of DuoLingo, enough to read a menu and maybe ask for 'eat in or take-away'. Nevertheless, on a dreary November weekend, I literally walked all over Paris and curated my go-to list for when my sister and I went back in April (with far better weather).

1. Les Deux Moulins- Part of my French obsession was the movie Moulin Rouge. I can quote that movie and sing those songs inside and out! So of course, a stop by the Moulin Rouge was necessary. Nearby is the cafe Les Deux Moulins which was featured in another film about Paris, Amelie. There's a giant poster of it inside as well. My limited amount of French got me as far as ordering a meat and cheese board but using the price as a gauge of size meant I got a monstrous board of delicacies. And an equally large quantity of wine. Sitting their solo, chomping through a baguette and meat and cheese was actually pretty ideal. Just a quick stop between Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeure.




2. L'Duree- Technically I first went here in London, they have a location near Harrods. But I brought my sister here to experience the delicate treats. There are so many different flavors, you can't just default to pink and hope for raspberry (not that that would be a bad choice either). It always makes me think of Marie Antoinette with their color, sweetness and petite yet over the top appearance.



3. Cafe Angelina- Now we're pushing into the tourist traps. There's a restaurant portion and a sweets counter where you can take your treats to-go and enjoy in the Trivoli Gardens across the street. I've done both and sitting in left me feeling like I was at a doll tea party, mostly because the chairs and tables felt small and delicate. The must-have here is the hot chocolate (also available at the take-away counter) which is thick and rich, almost like drinking chocolate. Their pastries are spectacular and almost too good to eat--almost.


4. Stohrer - This bakery has a special place in my heart as it was founded by a Polish pastry chef when Marie Leszczynska married King Louis XV and was the royal baker during the 1730's. The pan du chocolat e almondes was the best croissant I've ever had (chocolate croissant with almonds).


Most of these treats are perfect to enjoy along the Seine or part of a picnic on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower. Ah, Paris...