Apple and berry crumble

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I needed the soothing feeling of crumbling butter into flour today. And with an average indoor temperature of 19°C, it was clear that my packets of frozen strawberries and blueberries were not going to see their way into an ice-cold smoothie anytime soon.

They, partnered with Bramley cooking apples, formed the fruity base of quite a wonderful crumble.

The crumble topping is from the consistently amazing Felicity Cloake’s How to make perfect crumble, in which she also suggests softening the apples by cooking them briefly in a bit of water and sugar.

I spread the frozen strawberries and blueberries on top of the still-hot apples to help them reach room temperature before sprinkling over a bit of granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg, the fridge-cold crumble topping and a handful of rolled oats.

The result is a homey and not-too-sweet panacea for all that is wrong with the world. Serve warm, pour over a little double cream, some custard, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. C’est-ça.

#NastyWoman in a pantsuit (aka trouser suit if you’re British)

Because Facebook’s newsfeed is so ephemeral, I’m going to start this post with the status update I wrote yesterday while processing the result of the US Election:

Eating all the things is what I am doing today even though emotional eating is why I don’t fit into my awesome pantsuit in the first place. Today, I wallow. Tomorrow, I work harder at deserving a new, #nastywoman pantsuit, for my nieces and my friends’ daughters. I am sorry that I have sometimes been quiet in an effort to keep things pleasant. Sometimes there wasn’t a point. Sometimes it was easier to change the subject away from politics. Sometimes things I have defended created rifts. But I am still sorry for my silence and resolve to fight harder against racism, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny. For everyone. We are all in this together.

While I ate impressive amounts of comfort food yesterday (nutella on toast, a Moroccan chicken and couscous salad, brownies and ready-made chicken tikka masala) I also spent a lot of time online reading about other peoples’ reactions, trying to make sense of everything that has happened to make 2016 so resoundingly craptacular.

And one thing I’ve decided I can’t do anymore is NOTHING. Yes, I vote in all Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections, thoughtfully and after much research. Jeff and I were even able to vote (remain) in the EU referendum here in the UK earlier this year. But my daily life, with its work, cook, eat, watch TV, hang out with friends simplicity is no longer going to cut it. I felt this after Brexit and did nothing, and now that feeling is even stronger.

My approach is going to have a few avenues:

First, as mentioned in my Facebook post, the gloves will be coming off for anyone unlucky enough to do or say anything intolerant in my presence. I’m going to have to come up with some easy-to-remember responses because although I am a brilliant writer (har har) I am less brilliant in person and not very good at verbal sparring. I’m also crap at remembering facts and statistics so I don’t often discuss politics, especially with someone voting for the other side. I know in my heart why I vote and feel the way I do, I just have a hard time expressing it, especially if emotions are running high. And, sometimes you just can’t fix stupid. I figure the stable of stock responses I’ll develop will be kind of like my cheery “nope, just kinda fat!” response to people asking me if I’m pregnant. (try it, it’s almost worth the insult to see the look of horror cross a busybody’s face)

Second, I have to take some sort of action. I haven’t quite figured out what it will be, but with the amount of resources on the internet, I think the real difficulty will be choosing where my volunteer time and money will go. Here are a few of the websites I will be poring over as I decide, and I strongly invite anyone in Leeds who is having a similar sense of wanting to channel their feelings to join me.

Leeds for Change groups   – the phrase “think globally, act locally” comes to mind.

How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear Into Action – Slate.com

A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support – Jezebel

Third, whenever I waver in a world that that seems to be so filled with anger and division, I’m going to re-read these pieces:

Calling all Nasty Women: The time to fight is at hand, again – The Globe and Mail

A letter to America from Leslie Knope, regarding Donald Trump  – Vox 

Even in the darkest hours, there are chances to be a force for goodThe Pool

With that, I’m off to buy a Nasty Woman t-shirt online and wear it proudly.

The pantsuit (trouser suit) might take a little longer to find, and I’ll have to remember to call it a trouser suit in Leeds in order to avoid raised eyebrows and giggles. I wish I still had my original awesome pantsuit – it was a summery beige cotton that I wore with a chocolate brown t-shirt and wedge sandals and I always felt powerful and fabulous while wearing it.

PS Canadians, we have Justin Trudeau in office right now, but let’s not get complacent – the same anger and divisiveness exists in Canada too. 

A Toronto homecoming – what I ate and the supplies I brought back

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I recently scooped up a cheap flight to Toronto that happened to coincide nicely with Canadian Thanksgiving, although next time I’ll give myself a few more days recovering from jet lag before hitting the feast itself, so I will actually remember it properly. Note to self: over-tiredness and a generously poured Riesling do not mix. Unless you want to cement your reputation as the loopiest member of the family when you’re not falling asleep in your ham.

My reasons for visiting were to see family and friends, walk the mean streets of Toronto from the perspective of being away for over a year, and compare it to my new life in Leeds. Oh, and eat a few meals that I have been craving for ages:

  • Caplansky’s – haven’t been able to find Jewish deli food that tastes like home over here – it’s just different. My first bite of brisket on rye produced an “oh” sound that was half sensual, half heartache.

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    Brisket on rye, with fries, dill pickles and a Coke Diete (good ol’ bilingualism)

  • Banjara – I have two experiments going on right now. I know what curries in Leeds are like, and wanted to see how my old fave, Banjara, measured up. I also have a Yorkshire native heading to Toronto next spring and I want to see what he thinks too. Banjara did fine, but living in the Leeds Bradford area means I don’t need a ticket home for amazing curries.
  • Dim Sum at Kwan. Something all of my friends have in common is their ability to take me to restaurants that are exactly what I was craving, even if I didn’t know it. Went for lunch/brunch and noticed that I didn’t have dinner that night. That almost never happens.
  • Bagels and cream cheese – yes, I know there’s Bagel Nash in Leeds, and they are very good, but bagels and cream cheese are simply ubiquitous in Toronto, meaning I could get my fix in the morning pretty much the moment I craved one, owing to the afore-mentioned ubiquitousness. It would be a bit like a bacon buttie over here.
  • Despite a bit of effort, I didn’t make it to Terroni, and after a friend treated me to pizza at Mattachioni, I didn’t have to. Great pizza, fantastic wine list.
  • Deep-fried pierogies  – I missed the CNE this year, its Food Building and what I thought was my only chance at deep-fried pierogies, but my friend took me to the new Loaded Pierogi where I could simultaneously kill my craving for buffalo chicken and pierogi. You haven’t lived until you’ve had it deep fried.

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    Rommel delivers a home run for my final Toronto lunch 

I also returned home to pick up some much-needed supplies that I haven’t been able to find easily in the UK or were added to the list once I was Toronto-bound.

  • Indoor temperature and humidity reader – we were quite cold in our house last winter and we were curious as to whether it was the temperature or the damp chill settling into the very marrow of our bones. Now we’ll be able to tell much more easily!
  • Crest Pro-Health toothpaste – it was suggested that this was my only real reason for flying to Toronto, and well, they’re not wrong. Shopper’s Drug Mart even met me half way by having it on sale. Any friends or family heading over here, please pack some for me. It will become your rent for our guestroom. I hope you know I’m not kidding. And Crest – if you want to do a Tim Horton’s-style commercial of an expat’s aching need for your product, call me!
  • A small (200 ml) bottle of Grand Marnier  – as much as I love the fact that grocery stores, off-licences and little shops sell booze here, I do feel homesick for the huge selection and expertise the LCBO offers, along with a variety of bottle sizes for liquor. I use Grand Marnier in a few recipes at Christmas and don’t need a huge, expensive bottle of it.
  • Sale rack finds at Anthropologie and Banana Republic. Two stores where I always walk straight to the sale section, as the regular prices are just laughable. Others must think so too, because the sale selection is always great!
  • Girl Guide thin mint cookies (photo not available as I et them all). Synonymous with October for me.
  • MEC raincoat with an adjustable hood that makes an umbrella unnecessary. Ha – that model is tall; it’s pretty much knee-length on me.  I know there are similar stores to MEC over here, but they’re not MEC. You know?
  • Toothbrush holder – why can I only find cups here? Gross! Honestly – with the no clothes dryers and the lack of airiness to your toothbrush cups, I think you Brits create a lot of your own damp issues.

Regrets, I have a few

  • Didn’t make it over to Toronto Island
  • Most days were hot enough that I never actually craved slightly stodgy but utterly delicious poutine, but now I’m kicking myself
  • Didn’t visit The Caledonian (a Scottish whisky pub) but will console myself with another trip to Glasgow

I’ve gone native Brit-styles  Continue reading

Sometimes, cupcakes are the answer

No, wait. Cupcakes are ALWAYS the answer.

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Especially when you get back to your desk after a few hours away from your phone and there’s a text from your husband that says, “Don’t worry, I was home for your cupcake delivery”.

Cupcake delivery? Huh? It wasn’t my birthday, nor any other sort of milestone. Cupcakes? Who? Why? Wha??

Who? Moo.com

Why? To celebrate 10 years of me being their customer.

Wha?? Because they’re just awesome, that’s why.

So, I’m not a shill unless I have a really great reason to tell people about a product. For example, right now my inbox has a few offers for ‘incentivised reviews’ that I am studiously ignoring.

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But moo.com…it’s different. Their cards do it for me. Every time I hand one to somebody, I get the same reaction as they feel the heavy paper: “Ooooooooooh! Where did you get these cards?”

I tell them where, because I am super happy with how my cards turned out both times. And especially ten years ago, it was one of the few places that I could affordably create my own cards (online, no less) without a background in graphic design and being forced into a minimum order of 1000 through a corporate printing company.

This cupcake move is pretty brilliant – I was so excited about hearing that I had cupcakes waiting at home for me that I told everyone in my office what happened and who sent them. The next day I brought all nine cupcakes to work, and told even more co-workers about moo.com because the cupcakes were so pretty and so delicious that most people guessed that it was my birthday or I had just gotten engaged or pregnant or something.

And now I’m telling you.

It’s rare to feel cherished as a customer these days.
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PS: A little shout-out to The Little Cupcake Company – super delicious and everyone remarked on how wonderfully homemade they tasted. They had been packed very carefully for delivery so they arrived in perfect condition.

Scotland – Glasgow

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Ok people – what the damn hell? Over the years I’ve heard so many negative things about Glasgow. After visiting I am extremely happy to report that what I’d heard is about as clichéd and out of date as the people who think the UK only serves fish and chips, warm beer and doesn’t have ice cubes.

I originally had visions of a grimy city with uninspired architecture and angry, sullen residents. Edinburgh’s ugly step-sister. But then I started reading about Glasgow, about how it’s a city that has been allowed to evolve and change, not being shackled by Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. From that I inferred, wrongly, that Glasgow’s city centre wouldn’t necessarily blow my mind. I really didn’t do my research obviously. My friend was visiting from Canada, wanted to see a bit of Scotland along with London and some Yorkshire countryside and I chose Glasgow more because I wanted to avoid the costs and crowds of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And then I spent 90% of my time planning our London itinerary and day trips in Yorkshire. I think the extent of my Glasgow planning involved picking a hotel and making note of a great whisky pub my friend recommended.

Now I will be the first to say that Edinburgh is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. You should go. I’ve already covered it in an earlier post and I was very happy to return for a second visit.

But Glasgow. Street after street of stunning Victorian and Mackintosh architecture, culminating in George Square. After wandering around the crazy streets of Leeds, York and London, the city centre’s right-angled grid of wide streets was reassuring and homey to this Torontonian. Glasgow has done a very nice job of juxtaposing its modern buildings into the mix. And the scale of the buildings made the streets feel more like the canyons of Manhattan (and oddly, Budapest) than any place in Europe I’ve yet been.

With all the tourists flocking to Edinburgh, we really felt like we had the place to ourselves. I saw one store selling plaids and kilts, and another selling knicky-knacky thingies, but otherwise, the shops and businesses had more to do with people’s everyday needs and wants.

Armchair Travel
It’s true enough that when I read Glasgow’s slogan on their official visitor’s site – People Make Glasgow I thought of all the warm and friendly people we spoke to during our visit and yeah, it’s a great, fitting slogan.

I think it’s photos like the one used on the front page of Lonely Planet’s Glasgow pages that might have had me expecting a very modern city centre. (Not that there’s anything wrong with modern architecture!)

EDIT: How could I have forgotten about researching Glasgow in Scotland Now? A true forehead-slapping oversight: 10 hidden gems you didn’t know were in Glasgow

Food and Drink
This is a short list as we really didn’t spend much time in the city itself. In order of how happy they made me:

The Pot Still  – Whisky Bar
So great we went twice in the same day. Bartender was worried about my choice of such a peaty whisky (LAPHROAIG QUARTER CASK) and wondered if I’d like a taste first before he poured it, bless him.

Cafe Wander
Three words: Full Scottish Breakfast. Everything perfectly cooked, friendly service and my new litmus test for a breakfast joint – when I ask them to hold the eggs, I really like it when a server asks me what I’d like more of, instead.

Bread Meats Bread – gourmet hamburgers
Hungry travellers fresh off a train that contained an exuberant, heavily perfumed hen party, this place caught our eye on Yelp. Jeff and I both ordered burgers, but Ann really won this round with the Angry Bird Poutine. Happily it was so huge she needed help.

The Butterfly and the Pig – The Dining Room Downstairs
Shabby chic and a super quirky menu of comfort food classics. It was nice and cool in Glasgow after a hot week in London so I could dig into mac and cheese with bacon. Big portion, could only eat half. Really wished our hotel room had a kitchenette so I could have taken the second half with me.

Regretfully, we didn’t spot a single deep-fried Mars bar, deep-fried pizza or a munchy box. But then, I don’t think I was drunk enough to really want any of those things anyway.

Fun
Trust me there are tons more things to do than we managed owing to the whirlwind nature of our trip but we managed to fit these in:

Glasgow Botanic Gardens
I can imagine how nice it would be to enter the glass houses during a dull, wet day in January for a fresh transfusion of green, tropical plants.

Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis
Over 800 hundred years old, we went because I had an Outlander fan moment and they had used it as a location, but that soon turned into simple appreciation of its beauty. Nearby Necropolis is great for an uphill walk and good views of the city.

Discover Scotland – coach tours and day trips
We did the Jacobite Steam Train, Glenfinnan and Mallaig tour, which was spectacular. Great driver/tour guide, lots of great stories and anecdotes about the points of interest. It was about a 12-hour day (tour van leaves George Square at 8:00am sharp and returns at about 7:30 pm) but very relaxing to let someone else plan the day’s events and stops! Our feet thanked us for taking a day off.

I am going to finish my thoughts here today with the realisation that I – gasp – prefer Glasgow to Edinburgh and look forward to visiting again.

 

A couple of new, well-paired obsessions

I’ve got two new hobbies that complement each other bee-yoo-ti-fully. Knitting and podcasts. Podcasts and knitting.

I realise podcasts have been around for ages, and I’d often tried to get into them, sometimes listening to a random episode of something during a long stint in the kitchen, but nothing really stuck.

Until I found a podcast I really liked: The History of English. Etymology, linguistics and British/European history have long been interests of mine, and as a word nerd, learning about the evolution of the English language has been absolutely fascinating. Especially when I discovered that I’m living in an area of England that used to be known as The Danelaw.

Now I had a riveting podcast with over 80 episodes (and counting) to listen to, but needed a secondary activity to keep me busy while listening. While I do like to cook and potter around the house, I would find myself running out of things to do before the episode had finished but also didn’t really feel like playing yet another round of 2048 on my phone.

Around the same time, a friend here in Leeds convinced me to give knitting another try. I mean, we are in Yorkshire, once the wool capital of the world, and a place where sheep and wool are still incredibly important to Yorkshire’s livelihood and cultural identity. My village, Chapel Allerton, even supports a wool shop!

She picked me up the first issue of Simple Stylish Knitting, the best way I could have possibly re-learned how to knit. Each issue of the magazine contains a ball of yarn and a pattern for a 15 cm square to knit for a quilt. Each knitted square teaches a new stitch or pattern. Every issue also contains other simple projects that are growing progressively more detailed as each square is mastered. If the detailed instructions and photos aren’t quite enough to go on, they even have a YouTube channel with instruction videos – the only way I mastered the bobble stitch.

I tried knitting as a teen, started a horrible scarf and quickly gave it up as a bad job. In general I have never been very good at most crafts and visual arts – I was the kid who always got a C+ in art class, and happily switched to music and drama in high school. I don’t draw, I don’t paint, I don’t sew, I don’t make jewellery, and in general I’m okay with that – nobody can be good at everything, and I’m happy to be a good cook, writer and somewhat flukey photographer.

But, I think precisely because I don’t really identify as a knitter, it has been a fun, low-key thing to try. And someday I’ll have a massive quilt to be quite proud of.

bobble!

 

Amsterdam

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I’m just going to get this off my chest now because it’s the main reason I didn’t post much on Facebook during my visit to Amsterdam. Yes – sometimes I caught whiffs of marijuana as we wandered through the narrow streets of the city centre, but I get tired of people who assume it’s the top (or only) reason to visit. Even Anthony Bourdain is getting a bit bored and refers to this juvenile assumption in his travel tips. Sigh.

Amsterdam is full of distinctive seventeenth century architecture, more canals than Venice, a swoon-worthy amount of art and friendly, laid-back locals for whom a smart-ass sense of humour seems to be mandatory. Either that or I ask a lot of stupid questions. I loved how they would take my earnestness, set me back on my heels with a wee bit of sass and make me instantly comfortable.

It’s an emotional city for me as well. My parents are Dutch, so being surrounded by soft, guttural Dutch speech transports me back to childhood family gatherings. During one cozy breakfast in a small café, the radio was on and the morning show DJ sounded exactly like my late father. 

And the food! Whether it’s the sausages and cheese I grew up with on every brown café menu, the abundance of pancake houses or the little speculaas or stroopwafel biscuits that appear with each cup of coffee or tea, I’m never far from my roots.

This was our first experience using AirbnbWe planned this trip rather quickly and our visit fell during the Tulip Festival so available hotel rooms either had Manhattan prices, or were so small that we’d be able to dive into the bed from the doorway. Our rented flat was in a great location near the museums and a short walk to the city centre. I’m definitely a convert – for less money than a tiny hotel room, we had a large, airy flat with a huge open-concept living room/kitchen, along with a comfortable bedroom and bathroom. Our hosts were easy to reach by text and email, punctual and helpful. We’ve used other flat and house rental agencies in the past, but Airbnb has moved to the top of the list.

When we last visited Amsterdam in 2011, we quickly realised we could have easily added at least three more days to our itinerary so I whipped up this short trip to right that ancient wrong. And it was my birthday. There’s nothing like waking up in a different, exciting city on your birthday.

Armchair Travel
Stunningly beautiful pictures of Amsterdam (exactly what it says on the tin)

I always love me some travel shows when I’m researching, and my two travel gurus are Anthony Bourdain and Rick Steves. Bourdain’s bad boy balances out Mr. Steve’s more wholesome ethos and delivery. But as much as I’d rather have a night out with Anthony,  it’s my man Rick’s insistence on travelling with only carry-on luggage that has saved my ass on multiple occasions, so…I think Rick wins.

More specifics on food, drink and fun below. Continue reading