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Monday, 11 August 2014

PLACE TO GO > CAMBODIA

             

I have a mild fascination regarding East Asia, countries such as Palau, Japan and Vietnam have been on my bucket list for years and apart from a 2 hour stopover in Singapore, I've never really travelled around that part of the world. I've mentioned before how much I'd love to see Angkor Wat, but there is so much more in Cambodia than just that. Cambodia has everything from ancient temples to rich countryside and iconic city life. Phnom Penh is a chaotic city of bustling markets, full of exotic street-food and pretty colonial architecture. The city is still away from the tourist mainstream yet offers days of sightseeing and activity. Immerse yourself in local culture by taking part in sunrise aerobics at the Olympic Stadium or alternatively visit the Royal Palace from the back of a famous rickshaw. A friend of mine who visited Cambodia also recommends Tuol Sleng, known as the 'Genocide Museum', an interesting but grim visit into Cambodia's history. The Killing Fields are also an important reminder of Cambodia's notoriously dark history and are a few km outside of the city centre. On a lighter side, try a wide range of street food creepy crawlies; fried spider with a spicy lime sauce? Dried snake with green mango salad? Mmm crunchy. Or if you're not into that; try a traditional staple of noodle broth topped with fish paste. Phnom Penh is the cultural heart of Cambodia but there is still plenty to see in this small country. The Cardamom Mountains are perfect for exploring jungle life. Coconut Palms and Wild Plum trees welcome all sorts of wildlife in this protected jungle landscape. The area is preserved through it's dense canopies which shelter a scattering of villages and eco-lodges, which are ideal for trekking in-between. There is plenty more to see across Cambodia which just wouldn't fit in one post; Takeo Province, Tonle Sap and Siem Reap are also must-see's on my personalised map. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

REVIEW > THE DINER

The Diner is an all-occasion restaurant. Equally perfect for Sunday brunch or a gut-busting dinner. A couple of girlfriends and I made our way to the Covent Garden branch last week. I'll be honest, we were spoilt for choice! Even after a good half an hour we were still pulling our hair our trying to choose between the sweet potato pancakes versus the cobb salad. We finally decided on the American classic; a round of burgers, fries and milkshakes. I chose a BBQ chicken burger, served with skinny diner fries, coated in Cajun seasoning. This was all washed down with a think banana and peanut butter milkshake. The other girls both picked the 'Juicy Lucy' of Man V Food fame; a moist burger stuffed with a cheese sauce centre. When the food came out, we were slightly lost for words; the burgers were stacked high and the chips took up an entire basket themselves! The meal between the three of us could easily have been enough to feed six or seven! Despite the sheer size of it, The Diner's food is a perfect slice of America in the UK, my burger was especially delicious! Next time I return I've got my eye on the banana and butterscotch pancakes- and I'd love to try a 'Hard Shake' an alcoholic milkshake which has combos ranging from cherry and amaretto to alcoholic Oreo flavour! I have some minor complaints; the Cajun seasoning was arguably too much and one less sprinkle would have done them a favour. Also, when I order banana and peanut butter I'm expecting big flavours; this milkshake was lacking in that punch-you-in-the-face flavour I was expecting. The Diner can be found all across London and has branches in Camden and Soho as well, so next time you're there, check out the menu- there's enough on it to cater to every taste! 

                            

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

HOW TO PACK FOR A YEAR ABROAD



How to pack for a year abroad? You're spending another year at University, however, said University is in a different country, most likely thousands of miles away from home. Not only this, but the climate and culture are completely different. Many of my friends from University are doing years abroad, ranging from Australia to Singapore and Spain. I am, as I have mentioned enthusiastically before, doing my year abroad in Canada. Packing is one of the main things I will be doing for the next couple of weeks, eliminating this t-shirt here and there, packing that one extra pair of socks and panicking about whether it's worth bringing my favourite mug. Now although I can't guarantee that everything I've initially decided on will be needed, I've come up with a couple of easy to follow guidelines for those spending a year abroad.

KNOW YOUR LIMIT

I realise this sounds like an alcohol awareness campaign but the point I'm making is about baggage size and weight. You need to work out not only what the airline restrictions are but what your personal carrying capacity is. I know I couldn't lug more than 2 suitcases around, especially if I have to change flights/make my way on public transport. An easy way to do this is to pack as lightly as possible or stick to a strict easy to follow list, for example; 2 pairs of jeans, 10 t-shirts, 1 evening bag etc etc. I know it's tempting to think; 'oh but I love that pair of shoes!' or 'that might come in handy for fancy dress' but in most cases it's not worth it and 9/10 of the times you can find something similar or more suitable out there. For me, that will be a new pair of snow boots. 

LESS COSMETICS/MORE DRUGS

Tehe. No but really, most countries issue toothpaste. You don't need to go out and buy 5 reserve bottles of your favourite shampoo. Is that really what you're going to regret halfway through the year? Who has ever said 'yeah my year abroad was great, but I couldn't find one bottle of Herbal Essences in Copenhagen so that just ruined the whole experience'. However, in comparison to many countries (especially the USA and Canada) the UK has pretty cheap pharmaceuticals. It's worth taking a couple extra packets of painkillers and any other over the counter medicines you think you might need. 

   
RESEARCH THE CLIMATE

Ok so we all know that all the cats down in Brisbane might as well pack a few extra bikinis and flip flops (thongs in native tongue). But it's important to be prepared for the climate. Some countries and cities experience much higher humidity’s and therefore you need to pack appropriately in order to keep cool. Alternatively in snowier climates such as Canada and Sweden, you're going to need to take account of thermals, layers and possibly invest in a thick winter coat. Anyone travelling to the UK? Pack a waterproof jacket. 

ROLL IT

This is simple. Roll your clothes to make extra space in your bag. You could vacuum pack but I literally have no clue how to do that. 

GADGET BASICS

There are a few electronic devices you might want to consider packing before you fly off as well. Firstly; adaptors. Pretty obvious, you can't use anything without an adaptor and again this can be country-specific. Next; a portable hardrive. Nowadays you can get pretty compact hardrives for not too expensive prices. It's worth taking one of these in order to back up both all your important data and memorable photos (awh). 


SOMETHING SENTIMENTAL

During the year leading up to Canada we had a number of lectures about acclimatising to our new homes. We were even given handy little graphs about how our emotions will play out. FYI you will experience initial euphoria followed by a decline into sadness as you become homesick. I did have a little giggle at this. But for those moments when you are missing home and all you want is a proper British biscuit and cup of tea with friends, take something sentimental. Photos, trinkets, cards, gifts...all of these things have sentimental value and it's worth having them around you to remind you of a little bit of home.

AND NOT FORGETING THE DOCUMENTS


Saving the boring stuff till last! But arguably the most important stuff. Remember to pack all your important documents (and photocopies) in a waterproof folder. This means, passport copies, visa letters, bank details, emergency contacts etc all in a folder which can be kept safe. I would actually recommend taking this in your hand luggage more than anything; it's something which needs to be accessible and kept on you whilst travelling. I was once on a bus going through Bosnia and a guy from Vancouver nearly got kicked off because he left his passport in his hold luggage! 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

RECIPE > LAVENDER SHORTBREAD

Near where I live in Kent, the lavender fields are well and truly out. These delicate purple flowers really are the smell of summer, adorning local gardens and fields...and now in my baking! I've had lavender shortbread a number of times but never made it myself. My grandma's shortbread is somewhat famous among family circles so I've never wanted to challenge her as the shortbread queen. However, I thought that adding a bit of lavender to a shortbread mix could make an aromatic change to the normal buttery biscuits. I was also a bit of a cheat and picked up some Barts dried lavender rather than running to the local lavender farm shop (yup there is one!) But wherever you get your lavender from, this is an easy-to-bake treat you should love! Preheat an oven to around 180 on fan. Firstly grind up a small handful of dried lavender in a pestle and mortar. Add this to 300g of sifted white flour, 80g of caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Then rub together the flour mix with 250g of cubed unsalted butter to form a crumb like mixture. Mix in 1 egg yolk alongside a teaspoon of vanilla extract and softly combine. Roll the dough onto a floured surface and cut into shapes, circles, whatever you feel at about 1cm thickness (the thinner will need less cooking time). Bake for 10-12 mins, making sure they are turning a lovely golden colour; if they start to crisp at the edges and darken-take them out! Cool for a while and transfer to a wire rack, ready to be enjoyed with a cool glass of lemonade!


Friday, 25 July 2014

REVIEW > CHAPTER ONE

So pre-Croatia, my family went to Chapter One in Orpington, Kent to celebrate my gorgeous mum's birthday. I'd been to Chapter One about 5 years ago when I was turning sweet 16 and all I can remember is that it was the first time I tried foie gras and felt questionable about it.  Anyway along with a bottle of wine, we treated ourself to the luxurious sounding Tasting Menu, a full 7 courses of decadence. The first course was a simple spring pea veloute; thick and strong with flavour. We were then treated to what may have been my favourite course of the night; treacle cured salmon served with charred spring onions and an aromatic coriander, ginger and sesame dressing. The salmon was sweet and tender and perfectly complemented the bitterness of the spring onions. My mum's favourite course was next; a girolle mushroom and chive risotto. The earthy flavours were served with creamy crème fraiche and parmesan and the whole thing was surprisingly light. I would have to add that so far, none of the dishes had felt overwhelming and my appetite was still strong after 3 courses (albeit they were very small tasters)! Next up is what I would call the main star of the night; the pressed belly of pork. A well cooked square of pork which was served alongside a succulent, juicy braised pork cheek, savoy cabbage, smoked potato and apple puree with a stick of crunchy crackling. We were then treated to a palette cleanser of raspberry sorbet and foam- MY FAVOURITE FRUIT. This was refreshing and prepared us for the pure food-porn dessert. Peanut and chocolate tart with salted caramel and banana sorbet- topped with little pieces of fudge. How could anyone resist? This was an amazing finish to the night and at this point (followed by a selection of chocolate and caramel truffles) I was ready to be carried home. 


Saturday, 19 July 2014

CROATIAN CUISINE

Eating across Croatia feels like eating in at least 3 different countries. The culinary influences range from Austrian and Hungarian to Turkish and Middle Eastern with a spattering of Italian inspired Mediterranean cooking and a smidge of complete originality. Starting in Zagreb, the city truly exhibited international flavours from around the world; my first dish was a splendid Schnitzel after all. Most popular was Italian cooking; with the love of risotto and gnocchi especially in most restaurants. Gnocchi here was fried with leeks and doused in cream or mixed with squid ink to make the silky 'black gnocchi' served with salmon sauce, sampled in the Croatian footballer's owned 'Boban' restaurant. Cevapi is the national dish, a Balkan, eastern European slash Turkish kebab style dish. Described to us by our hostel receptionist as 'meat fingers', the minced lamb sausages were served with onion salad and the popular ajvar salsa and had a very bold, meaty flavour. Moving down the coast we entered Split, which had a number of cute and authentic bistros. At Villa Spiza, we sat on crowded bar stools and watched as our chefs hastily cooked fresh prawn and courgette pasta for hungry locals. Here I tried pale green stuffed peppers with a rich tomato sauce washed down with a glass of local red wine. The food was unpretentious and welcoming; with fresh calamari and octopus salad were also popular choices on the chalkboard menu. Heading to Hvar, seafood became more pertinent on the menu's. 


























Dalmatian lobster was served in every way possible at a hefty price to yacht-hopping partygoers; think served alongside a saffron sauce, cooked up in a salad or with a goats cheese gratin. We sat outdoors in a local restaurant, slightly tipsy from strong frozen cocktails at Hula Hula. I had tuna with a pea pesto and a gorgeous potato salad, my flatmate gorged on what she described as 'buttery', 'garlicky' sea bass and our Australian traveller tucked into freshly fried squid. This was all followed by a shot of free grappa! Croatia's Adriatic coastline is well known for it's rocky shores and stunning beaches but the quality of seafood should also shine; mussels and shrimp were on almost every menu, usually served in a simple garlic butter sauce or 'Dalmatian' style. Our last stop was Kings Landing aka Dubrovnik, here the city's dish was the 'black risotto' or the cuttlefish risotto mixed in ink, herbs and white wine. Nearer the Bosnian border, Turkish food became more influential with syrupy servings of Baklava and thick Turkish coffee.  At Dubravka, overlooking the Red Keep...I mean the fortress, we enjoyed more sweet Croatian wine with sea trout and almonds. 360 is the most prestigious restaurant in Dubrovnik with stunning views of the harbour. I was dying to go and sample the famed 'The Garden' dish; a curious mix of raw Adriatic langoustines, Istrian truffles, lemongrass biscuit and Szechuan button flowers aka the 'electric flower'. However, I ran out of cash and instead had an Italian feast at Wanda, run by a friendly local who treated me to free prosecco and complained about Angela Merkel stopping his Istrian cheese from getting into the city.

FUN FACT: Pag cheese recently won an award at the 'world cheese awards'. Pag is an island (one of thousands in Croatia y'know) off the coast. The cheese is made from the sheep who nibble at the sea salt-encrusted herbs and flowers on the island. Apparently this provides a very aromatic flavour according to Igor our Plitvice Lakes tour guide. The cheese is then wrapped in oil and left to age. Very popular this Pag cheese is.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

REVIEW > GRAIN STORE

Last Monday, a friend and I sprinted through the rain to get to Grain Store; a vegetable-friendly restaurant located just behind Kings Cross Station in Granary Square. The place is relatively new and is headed by chef Bruno Loubet, who I had the brief pleasure of seeing at a Taste of London talk! The menu is full of unusual combinations and Mediterranean touches; miso aubergine, wasabi soil, mustard apricots to name a few. The atmosphere of the place is really relaxed and seems to attract everyone from local art students to family's and hungry workers; bare brick walls and an open plan table setting gives the place an unpretentious feel. So onto the food. I ordered the vanilla butter hake with steamed seaweed sushi, braised pak choi and black garlic. The hake was delicious; buttery and perfectly cooked, the touch of vanilla really complemented the fish. The pak choi was crunchy and fresh and the seaweed sushi really matched the rest of the dish. I was initially confused when I ordered the dish and the waiter explained that they painted black garlic onto the plate. I assumed it was a miscommunication but when the dish arrived I saw that in fact, yes, black garlicky brushstrokes had been painted onto the base of the plate. My friend ordered the veggie cauliflower cous cous, spelt salad with vegetable merguez, yoghurt and pistachio dressing. Again, when the waiter spoke of a 'sausage' we were confused, however it turns out that a vegetable merguez is a vegetable sausage- something I had never heard of before. The dish was colourful, exciting and unusual, decorated with rose petals and chunks of pistachio. Both dishes were in fact very pretty; it's safe to assume Grain Store takes pride in the appearance of it's dishes.

For dessert we both ordered the experimental coconut and kaffir lime flavoured green tapioca with sweet potatoes and banana wafers. Sadly I was a bit disappointed with this and I'm not sure that sweet potatoes are a well balanced accompaniment to green tapioca. The banana wafer was also a bit disappointing; I wish it had a bit more flavour! Overall Grain Store was a very different restaurant experience and unfortunately not all of the elements worked. If I were to go again I would probably pass on the dessert and order the yummy sounding spiced lentil cake for a starter instead. OH. We cheekily ordered a side pot of banana ketchup. Easily the best thing on the menu; spicy, mustardy, much better than normal ketchup I can tell you.