Wednesday, 26 September 2012

New and old

The reasons for coming to Bergamo are many; the art, the music and more personally and importantly, it was one place my dad recommended to me many years ago before he died. So it's more than just a random city break.

Tuesday is the day in Italy when all museums are open and so we had planned a fine balance between old and new, high and low town. We pottered around the old town seeing the Donizetti museum and the chapel of the condottiere Colleone. He clearly had no taste and a penchant for coloured Gothic marble tracery. And then some.

With this in mind I had an incredibly colourful pizza and then we headed down the hill on the funicular to the modern elegance of the new town. After a dead end and a detour avoiding the military zone, we were at GAMEC (contemporary art gallery), 5 mins before opening at 3pm. We waited in a public library installation and watched the doors being locked. Eh? After 20 mins we called it a day. Naughty contrary art. We performed a two person piece called 'Sulk' (2012) and then that concluded, headed off to a local park.

As it happened Parco Suardi was a pleasant place to waste time; established trees, fountains representing the bergamesco landscape, children falling off scooters, a couple of kids in said fountain, and simply lying on a bench was good. The weather looked down, saw I had no brolly and decided to have a giggle. We headed back to the funicular as it started to rain - performance piece number 2 'Soaked' (2012).

The need for contemporary art had evaporated as quickly as the rain so we headed for the town hall and an extract of the best art from the Accademia Cararra which is currently under restoration. This exhibition 'Vincere il Tempo' in the palazzo Ragione was stunning and the mix of styles suitably wide as a taster. For me the Jacopo Bellini Madonna was worth the entrance fee. Poetry hit me!

The day concluded with drinks at the local and a polenta dinner. Doesn't get much better than that. And I agree with my dad, it's a beautiful place and not to be missed.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Storms, battlements and danger!

Monday is a bit of a cultural non event in italy because galleries are usually shut. Even the shops here weren't opening any time soon, mind you they were lovely when they did open. But as this town was still quite new and uncharted territory, after a splendid breakfast, we headed off eith a map for a planned perambulation.

Actually breakfast: over coffee, choc croissants, cherry jam rolls and a spectacularly messy orange, we chatted to the other person in this B&B, a israeli/US lady called Laura. She has been here for a few days longer than us so we asked for some travellers tips. Always useful. She is travelling alone so I think it was nice for her to speak English. After Syrian politics, travel, the weather etc, we departed.

The direction was chosen by taking a road we hadn't gone down before and headed for the walls of the city. The view was incredible, the new town spead out below and the roads coming up to the old town clearly visible. What a place to defend! As we walked under the old leafy battlements, there was a mysterious thud and chestnut trees had decided it was time for a game of conkers with humans and were dropping their fruit with impunity. Beautiful brown conkers were sat in the cobbled areas, smiling up glossily from their fresh white casing.

Apparently from Istanbul to Rome the pavements are awash with conkers!

We were heading to the botanic gardens however we got distracted by a funicular going up hill. It was just in time for the last one before lunch so after being shown how to use the ticket machine by the well travelled one, we hopped on excitedly. Ok, I did. He just looked at me as if I were a child. And we went up. And up. And as Bergamo receded we arrived in St Virgilio, a village on a hill.

We headed for the Castello and after commenting on the newness of the gardens and fountains 'work in progress' we found more stairs to climb. Because we clearly weren't high enough. Oh my. Our vista of Lombardi from the exposed lookout was suberb. Just little towns, forested green hills as far as you could see. The weather however was starting to turn interesting and we thought it wise to head back down into town on foot because gravity Watson our favour.

We prevented a group of French students marching briskly up the hill from going further. The sensible older man at the back with the map asked where we were and, yes they were heading the wrong way. Didn't chuckle at all...

After pizza in an increasing dark town square, the rain threatened. Street lights were on, car headlights was 3pm and twilight. The view of the storm rolling in was marvellous so we watched it through the open window of our high up room for as long as possible. The constant thunder and lightening rumbled around and we were glad we weren't on that exposed castle roof.

At that point I had a nap!

You really don't want to hear about my shopping trip or the deliciously falling apart osso bucco with cheesy polenta. Or the Campari spritz in our favourite bar. I mean, I don't want to spoil you. Today we are hitting the galleries and more trains on hills.

Monday, 24 September 2012

All about the food

The theme so far has been food. I arrived here quite hungry and since then the shops, trattoria, and even the lovely host of the B&B have tempted my appetite for local viands.

The mountainous north of Italy is all about meat, mushrooms and polenta. Last night was a perfect example of elegant trattoria cooking with traditional ingredients. The wine list was bigger than the actual menu which can make decisions impossible so the lady recommended a local brew, a Cascina del bosco bonaldi cantoalto 2008. I'm now looking at a vista which includes the vineyards at Sorisole, just north of Bergamo.

To start was a well flavoured soup of barley, sausage meat, carrots topped with crispy scallops. Mopped up with loads of bread and washed down with the almost black fruity wine, an utter hit. My friend's casonsei rabbit stuffed pasta with pinenuts looked amazing. I followed mine with beef cheek on chickpea purée. Frankly I'd eat that as my last supper; utterly melty, crispy and mouthwatering. With desserts of mixed sorbets and an appley thing the whole meal was exceptional.

Today I'm hoping for some kind of tasting menu and wines at an enoteca. Also a trip to a patisserie for the speciality polenta cake. The 'polenta e osei' looks like death by sweet... marvellous. Not sure I'll be buying that size 12 just yet!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Grand tours

Here I am on my travels again; it's just me, 3 pairs of knickers, a hair drier (priorities darlings) and an ability to fit into an Italian town using a smile and a well placed grazie. I've not got my phone charger, guidebook or marbles but I'll muddle through.

A friend of mine is doing a European Grand Tour, hopefully avoiding the worst excesses of Venice and Naples and not shipping back vast historical paintings of dubious quality so I thought I'd pop out to say hello. To encourage excesses and bad art. Obviously.

This is why I'm in Bergamo and playing bus bingo when all transport seems to be heading to Milan. An encounter with an automated ticket machine 'no notes' when your smallest change is 20 euro note was discouraging. So I eventually found a man and a ticket and hopped* on a bus saying Cittá Alta.

Corsi of width and true Italian shabby chic opened up vistas of the old town high above. Clearly the instructions of the back doc earlier in the week regarding no mountain climbing were going to go awry. First impressions are of an incredibly beautiful Venetian town with some fab clothes shops...

So we're staying in Mediaeval canary wharf and Octoberfest fever has hit Bergamo. A couple of Augustinar beers in a clay stein in a brick cellar has made me feel very autumnal. Coupled with the orange gnarled pumpkins sat on the bench opposite, the feeling of summer is evaporating.

I hope that the autumn colour continues in the botanical gardens and the water continues to sing and dance like the grasshopper blithely ignoring the match of winter.

*ascended with true grace and deportment due to back being more than unusually sore after 2 hours sat down

When the going gets tough, the contrary get cooking. Or go to Italy.

I was supposed to be in Contrary Towers this weekend, however, for reasons best known to the inmates I'd decided to not be here for at least part of it. Which means I needed some place else to be. Bugger. I decided to go to Norfolk. Which, given the damage the ever disintegrating relations with the nearly-ex are causing, was a pretty stupid decision.

Off. The. Scale.

Which was why when my dear friend Michelle suggested I should finally accept a long standing invite to visit Somerset I leapt at the chance. Almost literally.

It turned out she was having a couple of friends round to dinner, the lovely Sarah and her hubby Jon. I could do this, I might be a hermit, but I can be a sociable hermit. Yes? *gulp*

So this sounded brilliant.

Michelle then asked if I had any ideas of what to cook. Oh. Food. I like food. I came up with a couple of suggestions, both of which (as a starter and main course) would be relatively quick to prepare. And, obvs, I offered to do the cooking, after all she was going to put up with me for 24 hours, it was the least I could do. Besides, it saved having to actually create a usable recipe. Which would never do.

As you may be aware, I have issues with public transport. It always conspires to ruin my day, especially if I have to be somewhere on time, and, by definition, this was such a time.

Are we nearly there yet?
So I left early. And brought Monty.

The public transport was wise to this skulduggery and sneakily mucked up the signals around Reading. But all that meant was I became slightly less ahead of schedule. Transport wasn't going to be stymied by this and created traffic issues, delayed meetings and anything else it could think of to ensure that when Monty and I arrived...

We had to find a bus.

Have you ever used Google maps? It's brilliant. It tells me full route stuff, including which bus to find. Except for here... No information about local transport. I tried several times. Monty looked quite ashamed at my stupidity. I was trying not to hyper-ventilate. Eventually I worked out that there was a local information system. Which told me the best route was... via the next station. WTAF? So I told it to ignore trains and it said... nearly 2 hours. And I'd just missed the next bus. Feck.

It's not the size, it's the lack of taxis.
It might have whimpered at that point.

Okay. That wasn't acceptable, I needed plan B. I would travel as god intended. In a taxi. Or would have done if the queue wasn't a human model of the Great Wall of China except with more rather polite middle class people.

And middle-aged. Which was a problem as one of them, let's call them "me", needed to attend to a personal matter. *sigh*. So I left the queue and went in search of a loo. And coffee.

Coffee proved tricky. Fortunately I was distracted by a flower stall, so picked up a selection of rather bright flowers and then, in the distance... Spied a coffee place! Hurrah!

By this point Michelle had regained power and suggested I try going via Midsomer Something Or Other. She was having a laugh. There was no way I was going to go to a place called Midsomer, I might not have a telly but I do know how damaging that can be to the health!

So I went back to the Great Wall. And waited. Patiently. Ish.

Eventually it was my turn and, even more fortunately, was picked up by a lovely lady taxi driver. Which was brilliant. This meant that not only did I not see any of the scenery coming down (yacking to a lady sitting next to me) I missed all the Somerset scenert (yacking to the driver), before we knew it I was at my friend's house and ready to...

Go to Tesco.

We'd arranged that owing to the day going away from plan we'd do the shopping before picking up the friends, my taxi driver even offered to drop me off at the Tesco, but it was a different branch. She really was lovely.

So, shopping done (you'll be pleased to know we forgot the red onion) we picked up the friends. Which was hilarious. It turns out my old 911 wasn't the only car with difficult back seats. Oh dear. It all worked out though, after a shaky start and we bounded back to chez sorbet listening to constant chatter of life in France, which I really enjoyed, but couldn't really contribute as I was having an attack of nerves.

As you do.

The starting of dinner was slightly delayed as I had to speak with the nearly ex about a number of things, which I would like to say went well. But it never does. As I mentioned earlier this was meant to be quick fix so we had Pea and pesto soup with Fish finger croutons (aka Kermit the soup) along with another Contrary Towers favourite of Harissa chicken and chick pea salad. The soup recipe was pretty much as in the blog post, but I'd used a have a teaspoon of medium curry powder and half a teaspoon of flaked garlic as well. This wasn't some cunning development, more a case of I couldn't remember the recipe, didn't read what I wrote and had to recreate it.

The only problem with the soup was I'd overdone the stock so it took a while to reduce. And the guests looked slightly nervous at my description. The Harissa chicken and chickpea recipe is pretty simple, I'll give the measurements for two, for five people I simply double the amount. Except for the chicken, where I used 5, obvs.
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • Harissa powder (I got mine from Sainsbury I think), or Harissa paste
  • A lemon
  • A 400g tin of chickpeas
  • A 250g (usual size) punnet of cherry tomatoes
  • A dash of olive oil
  • Half a red onion, chopped. Or, in my case, not bought. Pfft.
  • Fresh parsley
So sliced the chicken in two, to make two very thing slices, though as it was the Tesco ones seem to have extra bits, odd. I rubbed the chicken in the olive oil before sprinkling with harissa powder both sides and setting aside to infuse. Next I, or rather my lovely commis chef Michelle, sliced all the tomatoes in two. These were mixed with the drained chickpeas. Next the lemon was sliced and then squeezed over the rest before hand mixing. Later in the evening, Michelle's daughter, was roped in to chop the parsley and add to the tomatoes and chickpea just before serving.

So, with most things prepared I split and blended the soup before chopping the fish fingers and delivering the lot to the table. I wasn't going to do portion control. I'm not sure whether the guests liked the food, but Sarah might have been using a spoon to remove the last bits of soup from the pan.

With the soup starter done I used a griddle pan to cook the chicken, about three minutes a side. Maybe. I'd had a couple of drinks by this point. Again, I lazed out and didn't do portion control, which was okay as the Tesco bits made it possible for people to have fine control over what they had.

And then the food was over. And we could have cheese. And a few more drinks. And talk.

A lot.

Party bear.
As it turned out, one hell of a lot. You see Somerset, as it turns out is nothing like E14. And there isn't a handy app to hail a cab. In fact, contrary to what the local guide said, there were no taxis at all. I know because all through the night we kept trying to call them. And I mean all through the night. Some time after 7am we eventually got one so Jon and Sarah could return home. It was fabulous to meet them and I'm really looking forward to seeing them again some time!

At this point a sensible person would get some sleep.

Which was why Michelle and I sat and chatted until 10am. And then it was too much and an hours sleep was needed. It turns out the only sensible person was Michelle's 15 year old daughter, not only could she hold her own talking with a group of adults, helping with the food prep and providing some fabulous art to look at, she also went to bed and had a sensible night's sleep instead of chatting in the garage at 4am because somebody wanted a cigarette!

Anyway. Some time later, we went for a walk. I'd been told the night before about the local farm shop. Where you could get botox. This I had to see. And it's true! You could. It was an impressive demonstration of diversification in in a farm, and it was obvious they were going to do more, I was quite impressed. After this we walked. And walked. And walked. And some miles later, wandered in to a pub. As you do. But not for a drink drink, Michelle had lemonade, I had ginger beer. Because it was on tap. Oh yes.

The downside of walking is you have to walk back, but really, it was hardly a chore, the area was quite beautiful and my companion was fabulous, the only silences were companionable and pondering rather than lack of conversation. Which is no more than you can ask for. Absolute bliss.

Sadly I had to return to Contrary Towers as I really didn't want to overstay my welcome. The trip back was far less troublesome. If you ignore the idiots at the station that drew the attention of the police. My flatmate was in bed by the time I got in so I sat and pondered quietly before eventually seeing whether I could manage to sleep, given I'd had just over an hour.

I couldn't. As ever.

The morning was rather rushed, unfortunately my flatmate couldn't stop for the baconz I'd got as she had to get to the airport for her quick break in Italy and after the briefest of conversations she was off.

I feel quite bad about this. I'll admit I was by this point not being as sociable as I could be, so not only am I missing her horribly, I also feel it wasn't the best way to wish her a bon voyage.

Anyway. At some point in the day I decided I needed to make bread. We'd actually talked about it in the night so I skipped off to Tesco to get some yeast and more flour. When I say skipped I should say waded. It was chucking it down. Great.

So, today's bread recipe...
  • 500g strong flour
  • 7g of fast yeast, or 2tsp if you use the pots (as I did)
  • 3tsp of the herb salt Clare brought back from Croatia, which I then ground down with the mortar and pestle, so about 1.5tsp of normal salt I guess
  • 3tbsp of olive oil
  • 300ml of tepid water (100ml boiled, 200ml cold)
Second prove, just before baking
Yes, I didn't use sugar, stick a tsp in if you prefer. I mixed the flour, yeast and salt, made a well, added the oil then the water before mixing. Once mixed I kneeded on the Contrary Kitchen worktop until it was nice and smooth before putting in the only decent bowl we have and covering with cling film. The bowl was placed in the warmest area in the apartment (the downstairs loo as it turns out) and left for an hour, by which time it would be about twice the size. I knocked the air out of it and shaped it in to a long lozenge on grease proof paper , dusted with flour before leaving for 45 minutes to prove a little more.

Finally... I heated the fan oven to 200C and chucked the load in for 25 minutes.

When it was ready (I did tap to make sure it sounded hollow) I left it to cool on a wire rack, actually one of the shelves from the oven.

Some time later... I ate some. It was delicious. And it's all mine!!!!!!

Actually, I'll give some to my bezzie tomorrow when she comes round. Unless I've eaten it all.


Monday, 17 September 2012

When a contrary one gets arty

This weekend was crammed with crazy sound art, meeting friends and going to the Pre Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain. Which is why on Friday evening I'd made the decision that I was really not an ICA fan, spent Saturday clad in a sugar induced hazed dressing gown and messed up the meeting of friends. Seriously, this is so predictable you can guess that I didn't get to the aforementioned exhibition either.

However there were definite pluses to the plan changes. The flatmate returned unexpectedly on Saturday which was rather pleasant as today I could rely on someone to help me navigate Tower Hill and Parliament Square junctions on a bicycle. That is why I leapt off the trusty stead as soon as possible and walked my way out of traffic trouble. I hate that part of cycling. We popped by Birkbeck Library and got the tube to Pimlico whilst I recovered my lost bicycle nerve. 

Mile End Horses
Galloping Horse
The exhibition of Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980 was incredible. Though the crowds of people meant pockets of photos were fairly inaccessible, the quantity of images meant that it was easy to get close to some of them -  if you were quick. It was organised in loose chronological order and within each room a few images were immediately striking. 

For instance the one that will stay with me is Izis Bidermana's 'Mile End Horses' (1951). This has the multifaceted interest of being near where I live, a socio-historical depiction of London, and as an artistic has a sense of eerie dilapidation. But most of all it reminded me of the futurism influenced painting by Edvard Munch 'Galloping Horse' (1910-12). Both are products of an era on the cusp of momentous change. That is all I'm going to say about this because I feel an academic tome coming on. How exciting to feel the thrust of academia and the anticipation building towards the first week in October...

Karla Black's 'At Fault', (2012)
Anyway after heading upstairs and the main entrance hall of Tate there was an odd collection of books, picture and 'stuff'. Which frankly baffled me. So I wandered off to a room and found something girly. And pretty. We giggled and peered at it and scampered off to the other modern stuff in the next room. This was terrible despite being part of Tate's programme of collecting contemporary art. The most interesting piece was a film Spill of the effects of dry ice in a factory environment; reminiscent of rivers, hair, waves, carpet. Quite beautifully hypnotic.

We headed back to the main hall to try again with Patrick Keiller’s The Robinson Institute. Once the clever one had explained one of the sections, the wit, intelligence and sheer insanity of the connections between art, video, photographs and books (maps, sculpture, government information films) were obvious. Each part was a journey by a fictional character called Robinson and designed to highlight cultural, financial, defensive, economic issues which affect us. Again, so much more to be said and I will return to this. Needless to say, we have a new reading list and decided we had no need of the rather irrelevant, uninteresting Pre-Raphaelites. Especially because they had fecking Christmas baubles in the tat shop. BAUBLES!

After causing hilarity in the fabulous Tate book shop (ok, the idea of a lenticular bookmark depicting various characters moving, unicycling, skipping was very chucklesome) we scooted back to a Boris Bike. Despite alarming saddlesoreness, went at speed back to Contrary Towers via the bucolic Wapping Woods. We whipped up a healthy vegetarian bacon soup *diet face* and hit the bread and wine. What a lovely day with thoughts, connections and giggles. The muscles may have recovered by next weekend...


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Time flies...

They say time flies when you're having fun. Which is rubbish, because time only flies when you are not making new memories as I discovered at a Royal Institution lecture in June. But still, time seems to have flown since I last wrote. I have to admit that I've been suffering an epic writers block. It really doesn't help living with somebody that is annoyingly talented, but, actually, the real problem has been I've also had something of a crisis of confidence that's rather kept me in a more pensive mood than is healthy. Maybe more on that later.

We've learned a lot recently. I've learned my flatmate is actually a witch. I always suspected, but her managing to make her phone light by the merest twitch of her nose was quite scary. Especially as we have planes from LCY turning right at Contrary Towers... My threats of her going in the canal have taken on a new perspective. We learned that whilst I can predict rain, she knows when there will be wind. Not that kind. Okay, so we're both witches. She just looks better in the uniform. I also have the uncanny knack of making people disappear once I start talking with them, though I suspect this isn't actual witchcraft.

This last week though has been eventful. We spent Friday evening in the National Gallery being utterly stunned by a musical interpretation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. What was even more amazing was discovering that Benjamin Britten had done cabaret music. And it was brilliant.

We wanted more.

Story of our respective lives really. In this case we came up blank, neither of us know about dirty jazz (though I was a member of Ronnie Scott's in the eighties), though we've both been to Proud Cabaret. We decided that, actually, what we didn't want was to be underwhelmed by some cheesy tourist rubbish (as we found in July) so we returned home. To champagne. Obvs.

What we didn't realise, as we sat sipping the Veuve Clicquot under the stars, was that Friday was the last day of our first six months here in Contrary Towers. So, without knowing, we celebrated what has been a fabulous period, certainly in my life.

I think that's pretty much what you would expect.

Anyway. We still want to do the sleazy jazz thing, we just need to find something deliciously inappropriate.

Friday also brought a new experience. I went to Asda. On a Boris bike. Now I've been to the Asda on the Isle of Dogs before, but not since the move from Westferry. And definitely not a bicycle. I even had a shopping list!

No giggling at the back.

The thing is, Clare had specific requirements and after the great melon/grapefruit debacle of whenever (I can't remember when it was but it was after March and before June, as I mentioned it in one of my blogs) I wasn't totally trusted with, well, details. Especially as we were talking baking. And baking is a precise science.

There was a problem. I normally shop in Lidl, which whilst being the Fortnum and Mason of E14, it doesn't exactly have a variety of stuff. Asda does. And then some. Now the plan had been I'd take the backpack, fill it with goodies and maybe have an extra carrier bag on the front of the Boris bike.

Which was why when I left with a full backpack and two full, large, Sainsbury reusable bags, I used Hailo to call a cab...

Oh yes, I had choice. I got stuff. I got extra stuff and I picked up things that seemed like a good idea, including dips for the Sunday evening when the adult guests, having put the children to bed, could sit and enjoy something fizzy (in the bags) and eat nibbles. Aces.

Or would have been if we didn't eat the dips, pitta bread and Doritos along with the champagne. Well, we were celebrating. Or something.

So, the very next day I went back to Asda. Not just for replacement dips, we realised we had no muffin tin. Which is quite bad. Especially if making muffins. So I left Clare making chocolate brownies and lasagne whilst I pedalled like the wind to fetch said tin. And milk. And champagne. Reusable muffin cases. And various other non-essentials that seemed like a really good idea. Oddly enough the dips were an issue... You see, I might be a bit of a ditz and I knew they were at the end of an aisle. Just where was a mystery. Pfft. Ditz.

Luckily, this time it all fitted in one bag. With clever packing. Maybe I shouldn't have got the Taittinger, but, well, we had no champagne left. That counts as a crisis. It did occur to me as I bounced back on the Boris bike that maybe this was a stupid thing to do with a bottle of champagne strapped to my back...

Sunday was a blur of activity. Well, we did a bit of tidying, then played music, lounged and pretended we were in a Sunday supplement. Right up to the point when a text arrived to say our guests were about 20 minutes away. I've never seen Clare move so fast...

...fortunately the E14 traffic scuppered our guests and time was in abundance. Ish. The rest of the day was remarkably straight forward. You can't really be too contrary with young children in tow. I made a fool of myself by spilling my drink in the Cafe Rouge we had late lunch in. We walked a lot. We looked at stuff and then we wandered back to Contrary Towers to collapse.

Monday found me at home continuing with operation find-a-bloody-job, which I'll admit is now starting to worry me. A lot. Meanwhile the rest of the gang disappeared off to do yet more stuff. All very adventurous. And certainly an awful lot more interesting than what I was trying to do. In the evening we actually managed to sit and do the grown up conversation thing. With winez. Crikey.

Not Contrary Towers...
Tuesday was to be the last day of the visit, unfortunately Clare had to scoot off and do work type stuff and the plan had been that I would do my thing whilst the troops went off to scour the science museum and give West London a hard time. Which was why I went with them. I was, after all, asked to by one of the little gentlemen. You can't refuse that. Actually, I'm glad I went, it's a lot easier to move a pair of push chairs around London if there are three adults! Plus it might have been good fun.

Sadly, eventually we had to return to Contrary Towers to feed everyone, bathe the children and make sure they left without taking any of the silver.

It really was fabulous to meet such lovely people and I do hope they come and visit again soon. Especially as they left a little something...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The 'Quiet' Nights

I noticed today that Contrary Towers has been quiet. That sentence has just produced a hollow chuckle. Are we ever quiet? It turns out that that only time we're silent on here is when we're so busy we haven't allowed our elegantly clad feet to touch the ground. Or filling our calendars with things to do to brighten the dark chill evenings to come.

As an aside, I recently had a momentary crisis of confidence which knocked me sideways and sent me scurrying for the nearest pillow under which to hide. So I've been quite gentle on myself and have done a stack of novel reading. I can recommend The Discovery of Witches and reckon I could give the heroine a run for her money in a 'magical twitchy nose making things happen' competition. I demonstrated this the other evening and as I nose twitched, to our giggles, my phone lit up with several messages and tweets. To be fair and for the avoidance of superstitious woo, I don't have to do anything for that to happen... 

During this quiet time I was lured out irresistibly to the Space outside the National Theatre. A lovely friend had supplied a savoury muffin and a pint of cider and we sat and watched Sirens and it was most entertaining. So apart from that, after a homely week of knitting at home, we were ready for some culture 'n' sparkles. We enjoyed an evening of erotic metamorphosic violence at the National Gallery and then we had a moment of 'I wonder if there is any dirty jazz on anywhere?' This could have ended badly but contrarily we came home. 


Ok so we hit the VC and chatted into the starry night. We also realised we knew nothing about sleazy jazz. This needs research and a plan if we are going to find something appropriate. 

What the actual...?! 

So we are open to offers on that score. 

After a day of cooking Clare's special lasagna (with added dirty sausage) and a slab of choc/orange brownie on Saturday, my friend and I headed off to the Southbank again. We spent much of the evening admiring the city lights from the Thames beaches. 

This tranquility was due to come to a fabulous end as the rest of the weekend saw an invasion of small people. And despite being child unfriendly, these little lovelies belong to oldest friends so they are more than welcome. The eldest is shaping up to have excellent CT  inmate potential with a charming smile, a whimsical mind, indecisive yet winning ways and a knowing insistence regarding holding hands with pretty ladies. 

There is a definite sense of a 'new term' at CT. Hope your pencils and wit are sharpened...because I'm raring to go.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Autumn fruits for dessert?

I had an urge for fruit this morning so rose from my sick bed and picked up all manner of sweet things from the local market. This inadvertently included some autumnal delights; figs, bramley apples and plums. I had no clear idea what I was going to do with them. I pondered ginger and lemon zest and came up with this fragrant, light Autumn number.

I cored, peeled and thinly sliced the 2 lovely tart apples, added zest and juice of a lemon (yup ones still left over from the party), grated a large knob of fresh ginger and a splash of water. Then covered the pan and cooked on a low heat, letting it fluff up gently and occasionally stirring. Put to one side.

Are those plums stalking me?
Take about 140g of ginger nuts and vaporise in a blender. Grind about 50g flaked roasted almonds and throw them in. Add more lemon zest and a handful of oats. I also added half a bag of mixed seeds and pine nuts for protein and crunch. Then get your fingers sticky by mixing about 80g butter into the gingery mix but don't let it get too claggy; do it quickly and lightly.

Taste the apple for sweetness and add sugar if you like. I don't, so I didn't. Pour into a gratin dish and then top thickly with the mix without pressing down too much. Top with more flaked almonds. Put in the oven at a sensible temperature. I hadn't realised that the oven had a non 'blast it to death' temp - 190 degrees. Who knew?

This is deliciously sharp, crunchy and zesty without being too stodgy. Perfect end of Summer 'build you up' healthy food. I didn't add the plums, I'll have them for breakfast tomorrow.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Feasts for all senses

Once again a quiet week at Contrary Towers. And when I say quiet, so busy we can’t actually remember what we’ve done. There was some study done over the Bank Holiday weekend, then actual work, a late night prom where it rained in the RAH). Thursday was an early night, followed by a very lovely Friday with librarian friends.
Friday was the start of a very busy weekend and there was virtually a timetable so I could fit it all in. Having recommended the consistently good Brindisa Tapas , it didn’t disappoint. We happily tucked into croqjettas de jamon, padron peppers, rosemary encrusted manchego, a plateful of cured meats and a very nice bottle of Spanish red Alaia 2009 Tempranillo. All very lovely, and accompanied by stirring political conversation, and the usual nonsense about kilts, knitting and cigars. After all, we are librarians.
On Friday another friend had invited me to the Saturday matinee prom as he had a spare ticket. What could be better than going to a prom not knowing who was on, what they were playing or even what we were going to do after? This is why for the second time this week I was in the Moet bar, exchanging gossip over yet another bottle of friendly fizz. The fourth member of our party turned up with literally a minute to spare and we tripped hastily over the already seated people in our row to get to ours. The late lovely had had the foresight to bring a fan; doubly important because it was quite sauna-like in there, and also the organist was very young and extremely fit. He also appeared to wearing a black fishnet vest and sparkly trousers. This was going to be no ordinary organ recital.
Cameron Carter tackled the large organ as if it was a wild animal to be beaten and subjugated; his mastery of this impressively complicated bit of musical machinery was incredible. How he made so many noises with it, using just his feet left me stunned, and though his re-imagining of Bach classics might annoy some organ purists, I actually thought it made organ music worth listening to. No simple annoying church plinky plonking here. As a self confessed organ obsessive, he left us in no doubt of his genius when he brought out the Toccata and Fugue in D minor and made it sound like a piece we’d never heard before. His rather funky Rule Britannia left the grey beards scratching their heads but I loved it. What an appropriate encore for a prom.
Cute bees!
After a brief regrouping we meandered off to a stunning little shop called the Sampler. On first sight it was rather a brightly lit bewilderingly busy little off licence but then you read the instructions. You get an ‘oyster card’, top it up with cash, and meander around the shop sampling a fabulous array of wines. The dispensers are like work coffee machines only far more magical. There are 3 sizes – a dribble, a goodish measure and a glass; these range in price from 30p for a dribble of ordinary to £50 for a glass of something rather extraordinary. It is a good idea because for about £15-20, you can get to try wines that you wouldn’t have the courage to buy in a restaurant. In order to keep the palate fresh and stomach lined, they offer excellent snacks of cheeses, bread and sausage. In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere, a dog chases a wine cork and the staff are infinitely entertaining.
Someone may have spilt a dessert wine everywhere but at least I’ve found a new eau de cologne. The scent of berries and chocolate followed me around all evening, watch out Jo Malone!

A sample of quail was perfect
After more ridiculously frivolously foody conversation and organising a sherry and tapas night, someone mentioned Lahore, the best budget Indian restaurant in London. A date for dinner was discussed and dismissed with ‘why don’t we get a bottle here and go now?’ My heart sang. My friends can be as contrary as me! So off we popped to Aldgate East for a mixed grill big enough to feed the entire restaurant, quail, prawns the size of lobsters, mountains of lamb chops and a field of Bombay potatoes. Anyone with half a taste bud should come here. With the bottle of incredible Spanish Clio – the universal favourite from the Sampler, we demolished the lot. Even the picky member of the group who wasn’t happy with the food choice, declared it was the best Indian meal he’d ever had. We were four very happy and replete epicureans on leaving there.
What a day of delights. From friendship, musical perfection, and memorable food, we probably broke all manner of diets, health guidelines and dinnertime conversation taboos but do we care? Not likely!