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I’m sorry for the lack of content recently. It seems the honeymoon period of this blog is over, and I’ve now got to start ensuring I write often to keep it up. That’s not a bad thing, really; half the reason anybody runs a blog is to make sure they keep writing, whatever happens, and that’s certainly applicable to me.
Anyway, sorry; it’s been a manic couple of weeks, in which I’ve been to Winchester for Thanksgiving with my second family, been disgustingly ill – three days off work ill – been to an actual real-life house party for the first time in years and actually gotten very merry whilst there, and, very much on the up-side, confirmed three further months of contracted work at JamieOliver.com.
I’m the proud owner of a very lovely old camera stand, which I picked up at a Christmas market in Winchester for a fiver, and pictured here is my trendy new bike helmet – it had me at ‘I love my brain’, frankly.
I also last night cooked up the most surprisingly fantastic pasta. I’ve got a real thing for roasted vegetables, and after roasting broccoli, sweet potato, carrot, pepper, tomato, finely-chopped fresh chili and a handful of smashed unpeeled garlic cloves at 200 ˚C, I combined them with strong cheddar, chopped parsley, conchiglie and about half a cup of the lovely starchy pasta water.
A tonne of seasoning, crumbled bacon (the drippings from which I actually drizzled over the veg whilst they were roasting) and extra chili flakes went in too. If you fancy it, I tell ya – that roasted broccoli is a bloody treat with the bacon and cheese.
We also put up our beautiful Christmas tree last night – my cavernous sitting room suddenly smells like pine needles. It’s been decided that this coming weekend we’re going to do some proper Christmas baking. As I’ve said before, baking isn’t a strength of mine, so I’m excited about developing it a bit further.
It’s also worth noting that in ten days I turn twenty-one. This will be the first birthday I’ve spent away from my family – I’ve been lucky enough to be able to go home for the last three years – and it’s a little saddening to know I won’t get to wake up and have breakfast with everyone. However, being able to wake up and go to a job I like where people I like will sing happy birthday really isn’t all that bad either.
I’m dying for a haircut at the moment as I’m feeling very scruffy and particularly unremarkable. I’ve also stalled somewhat on my ‘book’; I’m really hoping that now I’ve balanced out a little I’ll have some time to write more of it. Somebody pester me; I need to keep creating, somehow.
Have you ever fallen in love with a city? I don’t mean the brief romance you have with the strange metropolis you visit to escape your home for a week or two; one that draws you in with lust for its vivid colours and smells and flavours, but doesn’t offer a home – I mean falling in love as you would in a reciprocal relationship. Something with continuity; feeling accepted, loved back. This weekend I finally fell in love with London pretty hard, and for the first time in my adult life, felt really embraced by my surroundings.
I’ve rather lucked out, really. I’m living in a beautiful house with people who are, overall, pretty perfect, as housemates go. Above all else they talk! When I’m surrounded by conversation, it’s conversation that makes me want to learn, to be involved, to contribute. Alexandra has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome, and yesterday we got up early, ate a good breakfast with the others, and prepared ourselves for a cycle to Broadway Market, Hackney. Alex, however, inadvertently completely deflated her tyre without the means to refill it as we left, so we wound up pushing the bikes all the way, hoping to find a bike shop that was open. Unfortunately, we walked a long way before coming across a Halfords, where it turned out Alex’s bike needed a whole new tyre. It was the final push she needed to decide that it was time to buy a new bike, so we adjusted our plans a little and headed onwards Hackney, through Dalston, to eventually hit Brick Lane Bikes.
Along the way, we stopped for coffee in the warm winter sun at L’Eau a La Bouche; a lovely wee café/deli on Broadway Market. It was Alex’s treat as I didn’t have any cash, and I don’t dare to think how much this lot might have cost, but the coffee was superb.
It was also the day of the flower market a little way away on Columbia Road. It was absolutely packed, but totally immersive and fascinating. Loud as hell, too.
We’d actually gone out with the express goal of finding a fern for the living room, which we did, and I came away with the most gorgeous twisting bay leaf tree and a chili plant which Alex spotted for a pound. They’re now neatly housed on the kitchen table underneath the window, and it felt very satisfying to use a fresh bay leaf in my supper.
We walked our leafy purchases all the way back to Newington Green, as the hunt for a new bike on a Sunday afternoon proved fruitless. Before we got home, we crammed the lot into a pub on Church Street for the first glass of mulled wine of the season. Absolute bloody heaven, I’ve gotta say (although, again – let’s not discuss the prices). We felt we’d earned it, frankly, having walked for nearly seven hours pushing a defunct bike and a small forest.
And, supper – we wanted something rich, easy and filling, so I went to my failsafe recipe; the delightful seafood pasta from BBC Good Food. I’ve been making this for years, and it’s absolutely bloody fantastic.
The trick of cooking the pasta in the massively lengthened sauce/broth makes for a rich flavour I’ve not found in any other pasta-cooking method. Definitely recommended, if you hadn’t guessed.
Next weekend – Thanksgiving in Winchester with my second family. I am so damn excited for the pumpkin pie, I can’t tell you.
I hope you’ve had as good a Saturday as I have. Two blog posts in one day, as well – not too shabby. As I mentioned this morning, a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast can work wonders, and apparently today it did. This afternoon my housemate Alex and I donned our winter garb and cycled from our house off Newington Green around some ace bits of East London. Alex has lived here significantly longer than I have and is totally in love with this area, and I’m beginning to see why. We took a very leisurely cycle down Church Street – where we found a few shops that we’re going to revisit tomorrow in the hopes of picking up a nice fern for the living room and a decent bike helmet that doesn’t make my forehead bleed – across to Dalston, through Shoreditch, and dismounted at the top of Brick Lane. Despite our intentions of seeking out some nice house-y bits and pieces, when we arrived evening was setting in so we chained the bikes up and made our way straight to the legendary Beigel Bake for two hot salt beef and mustard extravaganzas, and dived into Brick Lane Coffee next door for some of the best and cheapest filter coffee you’re likely to find in the city.
We strolled down to the bottom, past Rough Trade East and settled ourselves down on a bench with our very late lunch. Gotta say, it’s a winning combination, strong black coffee and hot salt beef. Certainly worth a try, if you’re ever in the area. The mustard is fantastic; as hot as hell, so watch out for that.
When we got back we had plans to go back out for a few drinks in Stoke Newington, but I was really in the mood for a decent supper first. As I mentioned this morning, my dear mum sent me the old family hand-blender – the one I remember using delightedly on her soups when I was only a few feet tall – and thanks to that and my ever-essential rule of ‘always have a well-stocked vegetable drawer’ I made the most fantastic soup I’ve ever made in my life with a butternut squash, a sweet potato, a carrot and a bagful of spices.
What you’ll need for this ace winter soup is:
- 1 butternut squash
- 1 sweet potato
- 1 carrot
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 copped onion
- 2 cloves chopped/crushed garlic
- 1/2 ltr of vegetable/chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- A generous grating of nutmeg
- A shake of garam masala, cumin, chili flakes and Tabasco
- A sprig of fresh rosemary
- A bay leaf
The really essential part of this recipe is roasting the vegetables first. It’s not difficult, and gives you time to prepare everything else and get the kitchen in order whilst it’s in the oven. Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C. Peel and chop the butternut squash, the sweet potato and the carrot into roughly equal chunks, place them all in a roasting tray with a generous few glugs of olive oil, a shake of Tabasco, a pinch of chili flakes, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a seasoning of salt and black pepper. Shake them all up so all the chunks are coated in the oil and amazing seasoning, and place in the oven for 40-odd minutes (shaking occasionally) until they look like the image on the right below.
Whilst they’re in the oven, roughly chop an onion and do a little cleanup of your workspace, if necessary. I passed the time by finally refilling my salad dressing bottle, the recipe for which is my father’s legacy and you will definitely never get. Sorry.
When the vegetables are ready, fry your onion on a medium heat until soft, crush in the garlic and shake in a bit of our old friends cumin and garam masala. When you think they’re soft enough, stir in the gorgeous roasted vegetables, cinnamon and nutmeg, and cook for a few minutes until it’s all well-mixed, soft and fragrant. Add the stock, bay leaf and cup of water, and cook/simmer for about 20 minutes.
Once it’s done, take to it with a hand-blender or, if you’ve not got one to hand, improvise with either an upright blender or a hand-masher. It’s going to taste bloody fantastic no matter how chunky it is, so don’t fret about it too much. Add a little chili powder if it’s not quite spicy enough. Serve with a shake of paprika, a decent helping of fresh black pepper – you likely won’t need any more salt but if you do, go for it – and a bit of decent bread on the side. Enjoy – you’ll have never tasted a soup so perfect for the cold winter months!