11 Oct 2014

#40 | Slowing things down with wholemeal crusty bread

Life's been a bit of a whirlwind recently.

I've worked and worked and worked, and I'm three months into this new job and loving it but it's busy. It's new and exciting and makes me want to get up in the morning, but also keeps me up at night. On the weekends I become busy with the housework I neglige Monday to Friday, and the friends I don't have time to see.

This week was even madder than usual, what with London Cocktail Week requiring me to be all over town. On Friday evening, after a week that included a punch pong tournament, hugs with a lizard, concrete-percolated cognac, a rainforest, several burgers, a whole day of rum university and the bashing of a giant piñata in the rain, I came home exhausted and knocked myself out with a giant bowl of chilli.

This weekend is one for taking things slow, at last. So naturally, bread happened.

What I love and find relaxing about cooking and baking is that it's a precise science, but one of imagination. There's a million real chemistry rules about what works with what and how things react. Oil, eggs, heat, yeast, and the miracle of gluten. But it's also all about putting these things together in ways always new and seeing what happens.

This time I wanted stability, so I kept to a simple crusty bread. One for the science. Water, yeast, flour, salt, and that miracle of gluten I still don't understand (nor really manage to make happen – someone tell me how to get those air bubbles to join the party).

Bread gets things slowing down. Put your yeast to work. Wait. Make a rough dough. Wait. Knead, and knead, and knead. Wait. Pop in the oven. Wait and wait and wait.

I always feel like taking a step back come the colder months. The days get shorter and all I want is to cuddle up in bed, sip on hot chocolates, put Angus and Julia Stone on, light candles and get sewing. It brings with it a bittersweetness of things ending and ended. It's that feeling when you stare into your closet trying to find your favourite, warmest, thickest winter jumper and think about everything's that's changed since you last put it on.

In turn I encourage you to take things slow: put work, and friends, and life on pause. Find your jumper and light the candles. Breathe in, breathe out. And eat warm bread spread with blackberry jam.

Recipe found here.

22 Jul 2014

Home(s) — what they are, and when they cease to be

I've been away from here a lot because I've been settling into a new great, big, important space of my life — my first job. It came a little out of the blue; I certainly wasn't expecting to be into permanent employment before having even graduated, but as I often am, I was at the right place at the right time, and got it.

Finding my place into this new space is an interesting journey. I spend half of my day's waking hours at work, so settling in is no small matter. I start thinking about work in my free time, making friends with my colleagues, and being handed responsibilities makes me feel a part of it.

Yet really, what makes me feel at home is the little details. The actual space; the physical proofs of my belonging there. I have my own desk, a computer that answers to my password — stapler, Sharpie, pushpins (mine). I keep humus in the fridge, soy sauce at hand's reach, and a little mess of questionably smelling gym clothes in the bottom drawer (I never said I was classy).

It's a new home away from home, so naturally, I've been thinking about all the others. I'm not the first kid that's taken off home only to realise that messes up a little with concepts of home and belonging — 3CKs have it much worse than me. As places change and add up, though, it is starting to feel like the definitions of home I hung on to are actually very flawed. Flawed, or limited, covering only a fraction of all the meanings that cohabit within these four letters.

There is a multitude of them, partial homes, places that welcome me, places I miss, places that have meant so much for so long that they will always be mine. There is the home that I am building in the incredible city that sees me to sleep every night, full of my student life and adulthood and collections of memories past and new. There is the home that really means mum-and-dad, the home that I associate with high school friends and carefreeness and splendid cooking. There is the home that has a desk and swirly chair and gets my brain to work. There is the partial home that is not really mine, not officially, that I don't want to call home, not really, a home that sticks to me because I just happen to be there a little too often and really, I like it there — your lover's place, your favourite pub, the top of the park at the end of the street.

Except there's a hidden screw that fits this all together, that makes it work, and when it snaps, everything goes to bloody shambles. You can have all the Sharpies in the world, and even highlighters and a swirly chair that doesn't hurt, but the physical can't ever be the be all of end all.

At the wise and old age of twenty and three months, I, Gaëlle Laforest-yes-like-a-forest, having lived long and bright, having moved four times, I have found that home, really, is all about the people.

So what the hell do I do when the people leave?

8 Jul 2014

Fighting back against street harassment

"Hey miss I was just wondering, what country are you from? Will you tell me over a drink?"

"You look fantastic in this dress, can I get a photo?"

"Hey babe!" (honks)

"Woahhhh look at those legs man!"

"Hey miss you got a boyfriend?"

(whistles, whistles, whistles)


(lip licking)

Dear random man on the street I have never seen before in my life, guess what's going to make me your girlfriend?

Hint: none of the above. But all happened to me.

This morning I chose to wear a dress. I left the house feeling happy to be wearing my favourite dress. The weather wasn't that great, but I figured it'd attract the sun. As usual, none of that happens; rather, since this is England, a country where sexism is a problem of the everyday and the culture more patriarchal than it admits, I got cat called.

I have talked about street harassment before, and I'm not the only one. The media has started to care. Campaigns like Hollaback, Meet Us On The Street or Stop Street Harassment are given a little bit coverage, and manage to make their own noise through social media. Women themselves are starting to realise that this type of behaviour is everything but okay, and yet frequent. More and more frequent, it feels.

It's like shedding light on street harassment has made it increase — I guess that by putting a name on it and recognising it as a major problem, we're acknowledging it's a thing with power. Personally, I'd rather that than a deluded technique à la Voldemort that avoids the problem.

Feminists are often reduced to the idea of "the angry woman", and I'm sure the same qualifier will be given to women fighting street harassment (who are likely to be part of both groups, anyway). But you know what? I am angry. I am so incredibly pissed off. It might not be smart, but I have started to express this anger. What can I say, I certainly am not perfect, and I just don't have the composure to ignore the whistles and disgusting smiles and weird invitations anymore. I talk back. I challenge. The way that I can, I'm trying to take back my space on the streets, my dignity, the respect that is due to me. It's not like anyone else is going to do it for me.

Most will say this is dangerous behaviour — but should I choose taking it in when I'm being publicly degraded over making a stand for myself? I can't. Plus, it's dangerous enough being on the streets altogether, and at least now, I'm making a point to tell these men it's not okay. I'm not theirs. And if that attracts trouble, well, I'd rather be blamed for fighting back than for what I choose to wear (since apparently, it all boils down to that, what a stupid fucking excuse).

A few months ago, one of these stories came out in France ("one of", because now they are so numerous than they don't have the privilege of being special anymore), of a woman being assaulted on a train. It's in reading the comments and this French blogger's take on the issue that the most horrifying shock came: men saying "well what can we do, girls get their bums out as soon as the sun's up, of course we get aroused, it's their fault."

No, I will not be sorry for having the audacity of picking an outfit I love, because I like how it looks on me, because it makes me feel good about myself. *

No, I will not apologise for your disgusting behaviour in the face of what is not more than skin (I personally try to keep my bottom off the streets, but even then — if you're not capable to handle another human being without harassing or assaulting them, you have a problem and should receive medical help).

And no, I will not let you make the streets a place of fear and self-hatred.

* Funny story (not): my worst street harassment experience over the past few months happened will I was on a run. I was wearing very unflattering leggings and a bright red T-shirt the same colour as my running face. I was far from attractive, wearing no revealing clothing, and was literally sweating off my face. And yet I was whistled and called at by men in a van who slowed down to drive next to me.

25 Jun 2014

SC#38 | Tomato and mustard tart

Summer, yum.

This week I had some old friends stay over. The day started as one of the warmest we'd had recently so I got very eager for a welcoming and hearty summer dish, but it needed to be quite free of time constraints. My friends were coming back from a year living in Mexico (as you do) and I wasn't expecting them to be exactly on time... They were three hours late.

This is a long-time classic of mine (and probably the whole of Southern France). It's so easy and so tasty. All you really need is a sharp knife.

Well, and a few other things:
- one pack puff pastry
- 4-6 large tomatoes, nice and ripe
- 2-3 tbsp Dijon mustard
- some fresh basil
- salt and pepper

- First, preheat your oven to 180°C. Then plan what you will be serving your tart on. The size of the dish/tray will help you determine the size you should roll your pastry out. (I rolled mine way too big.) Then on a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry and transfer it to a baking-proof tray.
- Spread the mustard on the pastry, making sure you get right to the border. Add more or less depending how mustardey you like your food.
- Slice the tomatoes and arrange them on the pastry, leaving 1-2 cm on the sides. Then roll the sides in as to create a nice crust.
- Chop the basil and sprinkle on the tart, with some rock salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Cook for 40 minutes or until the crust is golden.

Serve it warm or cold, and accompany with some salad if you wish. Bon appétit !

14 Jun 2014

Postcard from Edinburgh

For someone who enjoys new experiences, different cultures and, well, travelling, I have done very little of it since the beginning of university. I really want to get better at it as it really combines all my favourite things. It's just a matter of learning to be a bit spontaneous with it. This is kind of what happened this time!

One of the cities I had wanted to visit most since moving to the UK is Edinburgh. Me and the man booked a little get away for a weekend far from work and studying and it was great. Apart from the rain. Did you know it rains a lot in Edinburgh? It rains A LOT in Edinburgh. (True story: we made it 15 minutes in Edinburgh before popping in a shop to buy waterproofs.)

So what is there to do in Edinburgh?

Lots. First, you want to simply walk around. Edinburgh is such a beautiful city. It feels very homely and easy-going, and obviously, full of secrets. I'm not one for ghosts and sombre vaults but even in well-lit, non scary places there is a feeling that there is more to this place's history than is known. Incidentally if you're a history buff, you're in for a great time. Edinburgh is a city full of stories. Visit Edinburgh Castle for some great ones of Scotland and its relation to the UK (plus I hear the Military Tattoo is the best attraction to see if you're in town in August); check out the National Museum of Scotland for a bit of everything, from art to industry, nature, and of course Scotland; and if you're into that, go for a ghost tour...

It's also great to get out of the beaten track. Don't walk and walk the Royal Mile; instead trot to Stockbridge for a walk by the water, or wander through the Meadows and stop for coffee at Peter's Yard (more on food later). The best though, is to hop on a bus to Gilmerton for a tour of Gilmerton Cove. These underground chambers and passages were first discovered in the 18th century... and that's about all they know! Not only is it a fantastic mystery and such an interesting story, the tour is also great to know more about the region and its past, as all the (many) theories to explain its origins are linked to local people and events.

What if I'm thirsty?

Edinburgh has many excellent bars. For cocktails, head to The Devil's Advocate, just off the Royal Mile. Not only does the place look absolutely lovely, with a fantastic looking extra-tall backbar and a chilled-out vibe, the cocktails are also a treat. If it's later at night, try speakeasy Panda & Sons, which hides behind a barber shop window on Queen Street. You'll feel super cool knowing it exists, and the cocktail menu is incredible. If you're into mezcal, Vida Villa! was something else. We also really liked Dirty Dicks, a classic little pub on Rose Street with a fantastic quirky decor (including lots of golf memorabilia).

Now let's took about the real stuff: where should I eat?

Oh man. One thing we learned over the four days we spent there is that Edinburgh is full to the brim with great restaurants, pubs and breakfast spots. I'm sure there is a much more than what we tried but here are some favourites from our stay.

© The Atelier
The Atelier — My favourite, first. At The Atelier we had incredible food — beautifully designed dishes, with flavour combinations that worked so well, cooked to perfection, and delicious. The real plus is that it was all very reasonably priced for such quality. To whet your appetite, here is a selection of what we had...

Left — Beetroot & goat cheese cake, chutney puree, orange gel, balsamic caviar. Middle — Chorizo poached cod loin, blue shell mussels, saffron gnocchi, butterbean puree, spinach, shellfish espuma. Right — Rhubarb parcel, mascarpone pave, roasted lemon marshmallows.

© Arcade Bar
Arcade Bar — We walked past this 'haggis and whisky house' in the middle of the afternoon and stopped to have a look at it... When we walked past a second time, hungry and drenched from the pouring rain, we knew we had to try it. Arcade have the absolute best fancy pub classics I have tried in a long time. Their award winning sausages are actually the best bangers I've ever had. Plus, their staff is super friendly and the place very inviting. A great lunch spot!

© Peter's Yard
Peter's Yard — Perfect for indulgent snacks and breakfasts, this Scandi bakery-cum-café was our best random find of the weekend. I recommend the Quarter Mile branch which has a lovely outdoors area and so, so much bread, cakes and fantastic buns. Come and come again if you're into coffee and pastries (but they do lunch too, and apparently really nice pizzas!)

Pinnies & Poppy Seeds — They call themselves 'the butter way of living'. Need I say more? Buttery, crumbly shortbreads in different flavours (loved the lemon sugar and raspberry) in a cute little shop. Great souvenir from the 'burgh to nibble on the (nearly) seven-hour train ride home.

© Leo's Beanery
Leo's Beanery — This quirky café in Stockbridge feels like home. It's one of these places you'd love to spend a whole day, sipping on tea and watching time go by. We popped for breakfast; the menu is fairly classic but the food very nice, and I really did like the interior. Try their scones, they're yum.

Any final tips?

As I mentioned above, waterproofs are a must. Some Scots have told me it does stop raining at times but I did not see it... I'd also recommend good walking shoes, as Edinburgh goes up and down quite a lot and is great to explore on foot. Finally, staying-wise I'd suggest checking out Airbnb. It was my first time using it and I enjoyed the experience: we stayed in a really central flat, in a large and comfortable room, for less than the price of a hotel room. Plus if the owners are around, you get to chat with locals and know all the best spots!

That's it for my Edinburgh travel diary. I hope you enjoyed the tour! Now where should I go next...? xo

20 May 2014

Bar review(s) | Best Bars + some thoughts

Life-without-a-plan actually started on a lovely little high. I recently started working with Best Bars, the latest online offering from Square Meal which is in its very early days. Being involved at this stage is very exciting. As a young graduate, being this close to a developing project is I feel pretty rare. We're usually stuck with tea and boring phone calls, without getting any of the action. On the contrary, my work has been really hands on and I've gotten the chance to do a little bit of everything.

Over my past few jobs, I've noticed the difference between employers who see you as employees and those who see you as humans choosing to use their set of skills to the benefit of the company. I understand it can be hard to see 'the big picture' in a grad, as our professional experience might sometimes be limited. However, it is when we're recognised as competent beings that we can prove what we're capable of. Responsibilities are a scary thing, both for the person delegating and for the person suddenly in charge of something important, but the exchange of trust is what makes the gamble valuable — it is a spark of faith that can push someone to come out of their shell and go the extra mile.

Words, words; so many words. Good thing I've chosen journalism. All this to say — being recognised as a person of value in the workplace is a joy, and seeing my skills used and developed is exhilarating.

Speaking of which, I've been writing bar profiles. It is great fun! I am really enjoying writing them but also discovering more of what London has to offer. It's also given me serious travel envy — so I booked a weekend in Edinburgh! Check out below some of the profiles I've written so far...

15 May 2014

At the end of the plan

So, it happened. I finished university.

I actually had my last class at the end of March. I then spent a month working on the last essays of my undergraduate degree, once again selecting some wild wild examples to apply Deleuze and Foucault too, and accidentally making hummus stains in books. And then I was freed.

Although what I feel is not an overpowering sense of freedom, nor is it really relief. The truth is, I loved education. I still do. I like the comfort of it, the routine of it. Over the past year I have learnt a lot about myself; one of the most important things being that my comfort zone keeps me sane, grounded. I like education because it makes clear to you what your days are going to be about, what your objective is, and how to get there. It is easy to visualise. There are people answering your questions. There are people asking you questions, too, but you get to answer them. It's a well-oiled machine, and while it evolves (I wouldn't say the third year of my undergrad was quite as comfortable as preschool), its rules never change, or barely.

It is too bad it's taken me twenty years to figure this out (by the way, I turned twenty), because during this time I've unfortunately taken on a real penchant for being out of my comfort zone. WHY and HOW I do not understand. Why would I enjoy and pursue a state of being that makes me feel, to a certain extent, bad? I wish I knew. The mysteries of the mind, eh?

Some choices had to be made in the past months. At the beginning of the year I was set on keeping to the comfortable. I did a little bit of 'window shopping', picked myself a postgraduate course, and off I went. And yet, quickly I had doubts. The routine of education, it is heavy. It might be comforting, but in a way that leaves you a little bit numb at the end.

I love myself a precise schedule, but there's nothing more exhilarating than change. There's nothing more overwhelming than testing your limits and knowing they are a bit further than you thought. There is nothing more powerful than facing your fears and kicking them hard in the butt. Hopefully this is what I'm off to do. (Recruiters, I am actually not violent and will not kick anyone in the butt, I swear.)

So, here goes. Back in 2007, I had this one great idea. It was pretty simple: when I'd graduate, I'd go study in London. That was the plan. I did that. Now I have no plan.* What next?

* Well I do have a plan, mainly, to be given money in exchange for labour in the world of media, preferably food and drink oriented. If you want to become part of the plan, please check out what I can do and hire me. Thank you.

8 May 2014

Restaurant review | Nizuni

I recently made a (mental) list of things I should do a little better with this blog to update it more frequently. At the top of the list was bringing a camera whenever I go out. I eat out quite a bit (especially recently, lots to celebrate!) and I love sharing my favourite spots. So here's another review! This time we're off to Nizuni, a Japanese restaurant just off Goodge Street.

This one was a little bit of a risk, actually. I had been dying for sushi recently, so when a special anniversary came up (!) I suggested it to the man... who said yes... despite having never had sushi. A real risk taker. I was a little bit terrified he'd hate it, and would hate me for picking a place quite a few £££ up from our usual burger hangouts. It could end really badly.

But he loved it!

(So much so that I got a sushi kit for my birthday. I get it, I'll make you sushi.)

And who wouldn't have? Look at that incredible platter. After a little starter (I had the yakitori which were nicely flavoured with a lovely sweet glaze, he had the chicken gyoza which were the perfect balance of crisp at the bottom and soft on the sides!), we shared a Nizuni Selection 38.

There were such lush pieces in there. Bottom left are sakekawa maki, with grilled salmon skin inside and topped with a spicy mayo. They were the absolute showstoppers and I'd go back just for them. To be honest, all the makis were quite incredible (which is great because they're my favourite). The quality of the fish was really up there though and there wasn't one disappointment.

The place in itself was lovely. The decoration is all wood and soft light, with beautiful homemade plates and pots which just added to the experience. The waiters are very present and helpful, which personally creeps me out a little but shows they're a very serious place. I would really recommend it if you've got a little bit of something to celebrate (or have a wallet larger than a student's), you'll love it. xo

Nizuni. 22 Charlote Street W1T 2NB.

29 Apr 2014

The Culture Feature | Winter/Spring 2014

The scheduling of my Culture Feature has gone completely out the window. By now it might have even gone out several windows. The real reason behind that is that I became so busy around Christmas that I watched barely any movies, and most definitely did not open a book that wasn't university related. I've now gone back into it and read some excellent novels! I'll be mostly sharing those today...

BOOKS | The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Boy did this one take me long. It took me about six months to get through the three books, picking my Kindle on and off but it was so worth it! Tolkien is a wordsmith and a creator with an imagination that is beyond this world. Despite having watched the film adaptations countless times, I loved the books and they really added to my experience of Middle Earth. I especially enjoyed reading stories that were not featured in the films, meeting Tom Bombadil was brilliant! I would recommend it to anyone. It can be challenging for the best of readers but a little patience makes it worth it.

BOOKSThe Book Thief, Markus Zusak ♥︎
Four months had passed since LOR when I finally started a new book and The Book Thief was the best possible choice. This tells the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany who meets death repeatedly. The story is told by death itself, in such a poetic and original manner that I simply couldn't put the book down. Also, man, the emotions...

BOOKS | Lean In (for Graduates), Sheryl Sandberg
I've been in absolute graduate terror lately so I was thrilled when Sheryl Sandberg announced she was publishing a new version of her worldwide success aimed towards graduates. The main book is already so very helpful and eye-opening and I'm glad I get to read it before entering the workplace. I'm finding the additional chapters and stories really useful to plan for job search and interviews. I think it's one of these books I'll keep coming back to when I have tough choices to make.

BOOKS | Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
Another very original story, this of a secret group of people scattered around the world who read 'books' full of strange clutters of words. I liked this for its quirkiness and amusement, and also for how realistic it felt.
It was a good light read!

TV | Portlandia
This show follows Fred Armisen (ex-SNL) and Carrie Browstein in lots of short sketches relating the lives of Portland locals. What you might not know (I didn't) is that Portland was ranked most hipster city in the USA. This is basically what is made fun of here, in a tasteful but deliciously sarcastic way. Cue feminist bookstores, hip breakfast places, cool mayor, pickles, tattoos, organic food and coffee houses. A good laugh.

TV | Masterchef UK
I have been spending all my time watching Masterchef so naturally had to include it in. Surprisingly enough, I had never really gotten into culinary competitions before. All it took was one "I think you'd like this" as it came on TV and I was hooked. Great for people who like food, people who like making food, and people who like watching people making food. Do not watch if you're hungry. 

22 Apr 2014

Bar review | LAB Bar

A couple weekends ago, me and the man decided to go on a day of fun in London for a special little occasion. We wanted it a little special, so I suggested lots of activities. Museums, Boris bikes, bowling, parks... 

I was met with a: "Meh."

And then: "Let's go for a drink?"

I should've known.

We actually headed off to Tap Coffee and started with a coffee drink first (and a wee bit of cake!) It was while tucked in the coffee shop that the man mentioned alcohol again. We wanted to try something new, so I googled "cocktails bar Soho" and we headed towards the first result that looked good.

LAB Bar was a fantastic choice. From the exterior, it doesn't look like much, but wait till you step inside. It's got a fabulous sixties decor, with a huge dark wooden bar and fabulous retro wallpaper. The cocktail list is never ending. I kid you not: it's actually a cocktail booklet. There was page after page of incredible sounding drinks (and fun ones too — I almost went for a Game of Sloanes.) You can check out the menu here.

I finally decided on the Passion Victim (Tapatio Blanco muddled with fresh lime, passionfruit & homemade honey water, served frappé with a Crème de Mure float) while the man naturally picked the Red Hot Chilli Pepper (Lemongrass & Chilli Infused El Jimador Tequila with mixed With LAB vanilla Sugar & Ginger Beer, crowned with sparkling wine & a Goldschlager float.)

Both were excellent. Mine was really refreshing, nicely sweet and deliciously fruity. I loved how the passionfruit grains added a little bit of acidity. The man seemed to enjoy his a lot as well. The photo below shows his bliss. (The bliss decreased a little when he decided to bite half of the pepper off. He survived though.)

The cocktails range around the £8-9 mark and I would highly recommend them. I hear you can even book the place out for cocktail making sessions and serve bits of sushi... Here's an idea for my birthday next year!

I'll be back soon to share part two of our day, a review of a FAB sushi restaurant. x

LAB Bar, 12 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TQ.

17 Apr 2014

Study snacks

I've been spending quite a lot of time in the library recently. I'm on the very last stretch to finishing my degree. I won't expand on this, because I can go on for hours about how fast this all has gone and how scared/excited I am about what comes next. What I'll expand on is... food. How surprising.

Spending hours/days/weeks in the library requires real motivation. Distractions are everywhere; even with SelfControl turned on I can easily doze off for fifteen minutes just thinking about dinner. Essays do have to be written though, and since they can't write themselves, it's up to me to find some deeply hidden motivation.

So, naturally, snacks.

I'm sure it works the same for everyone. It's the principle of the carrot — or at least that's how we call it in France, if anyone cares to let me know whether the phrase works in Britain... — like a horse walking dutifully towards its beloved carrot, people work towards a reward. One paragraph written gets you a raisin, a thousand words on the page gets you a chocolate square, etc.

Except raisins and carrot sticks are for already motivated people. Raisins and carrot sticks are for the first week, when I still aspire to continue eating healthily and even proudly follow my library days by gym sessions. Raisins and carrot sticks are for the last days before panic kicks in.

Then by week two, dried fruits disappear to be replaced by homemade muffins.

By week three, all reason is out the window. Ohhh, week three. Week three is for happy snacks.

What are your favourite happy snacks? Would love to expand my collection over the two weeks I have left. Not that I don't love happy hippos — man, I love happy hippos. But this is probably my last ever excuse to feed myself on tiny chocolate hippos, and definitely my only ever chance to get Pizza Hut to deliver to the library.

Back to writing words to get snacks, then, because this time around, ten thousand words gets me on the Eurostar for the first time in months! xo

13 Apr 2014

Restaurant review | Bone Daddies

Earlier this week me and fellow foodie and great mate Claudia headed to Bone Daddies for a catch up/well deserved mid essay-month treat. Deciding where to go took us a good few hours but we'd both heard too much good about Bone Daddies in the past few months to be able to avoid it any longer.

I really loved the atmosphere in the restaurant — well, it's a ramen bar and it feels like that. There are long communal tables and seats at a counter by the window. We got to sit there and people-watch as we ate. Another great thing, as seen on the photo above, is all the little add-ons you get: chilli jam, garlic, chilli flakes, but also hair ties and bibs for those afraid of noodle soups :) (CANNOT recommend them enough. Didn't spot the bibs until the end, which the shirt I was wearing really regrets.)

Bone Daddies have a large ramen menu with options to cater for everyone: chicken, beef, pork, fish and veggie ramen bowls, with some spicy ones and a lengthy list of specials. We didn't try the sides, but it looked like there was enough for a full meal, so you can even bring ramen haters! The real plus? THE COCKTAILS. I had the painappuru parku (I think? I'm pretty sure), a fantastic pineapple number that the piña colada lover I am could not stop sipping on.

Ramen wise, I asked the waitress for her advice. She asked if I like spicy food. I said yes. That might have been my one mistake of the night. I went for the tantanmen ramen, which was excellent. Really warm and spicy, with crunchy peanuts, luscious eggs and perfect chicken. But ramen, me and Claudia found out, is incredibly rich. It's not just a bowl o' soup. The quantity and richness of the ramen combined with the spice was a bit too much for me, and I felt like I'd eaten about five meals by the end. Not a pleasant sensation at all.

Still, Bone Daddies was an excellent experience and I would love trying it again — on a starved stomach and staying away from the chilli. The prices are reasonable for how full you'll feel, and the experience in itself is quite fun. Make sure you go down to the loo, you'll be able to peek in the kitchens and give your compliments to the cooks! I'm now eager to try Bone Daddies' sister restaurant, Flesh & Buns...

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar. 31 Peter St, Soho, W1F 0AR.

8 Apr 2014

Kitchen pantry essentials

The best part about cooking is being able to make it up as you go. I like deciding I'm going to have fish. "Fish" isn't much if you just have it by itself. Or it can, just grilled with a little bit of salt and lemon juice. Or marinated in honey and soy sauce. Or cut in chunks and roasted with cajun spice. Or blackened with paprika and cayenne pepper. Or raw with soy sauce.

Or sometimes "all" you have is pasta, and oh no! What can you possibly have for dinner? You only have pasta! Food crisis! But everything is nice in pasta. You can have pasta with tomato sauce, pasta with tuna, pasta and garlic butter with croutons, pasta in cheesy sauce, a veg pasta bake or even nice buttered pasta with a little bit of cracked pepper.

... Well I got distracted. I think I'm hungry.

Point is: it's good to improvise when cooking, but it only works if you can rely on some kitchen pantry essentials. I know there are many guides out there. I can particularly think of Jamie Oliver and Sam Stern whom I know have one in their cookbooks, but I found them a little bit unrealistic for students. My kitchen is tiny, my personal cupboard even tinier, and I don't even have my own drawer in the freezer.

Let's be serious for a minute, guys. This is business. No jokes in my kitchen. (Mostly because I'm terrible at them.) Two levels of essentials because I don't want to scare anyone. Bam! Now cook.

Level #1
Basics: salt, ground black pepper, fleur de sel (or that kosher salt thing), chicken and vegetable stock, extra virgin olive oil, soy sauce, clear honey.
Spices: paprika, herbs (Italian, Provence or mixed), ground cinnamon, some form of chilli powder.
Baking: white flour*, caster sugar, baking powder and baking soda.
Alliums: garlic, brown onions.
Starch foods: spaghetti, basmati rice.
Tins: chopped tomatoes, tuna, baked beans.

*I also personally always keep wholemeal flour because I like cooking with it, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you like making bread or healthy baking.

Level #2
Basics: Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, replace the ground black pepper with cracked black pepper (or an actual grinder), coconut milk, oyster sauce (stir frys are the basis of my alimentation.)
Spices: cajun mix (it took all I have not to put this in the level 1; it's the BEST), chilli flakes, ground nutmeg, four spice, curry powder.
Baking: brown sugar, chocolate, rolled oats.
Alliums: red onion.
Starch foods: another type of pasta, arborio rice, couscous, egg noodles.

Fridge level
Lemon, real butter that doesn't come in a box but in paper for goodness' sake, eggs, milk.

Windowsill level
Basil, thyme, chives and coriander plants.

Also bread. People keep it in all kind of different places so it gets its own level.

And here you go, you're ready to cook! With level #1, there's already plenty enough to cook many a tasty dish and be sure to always have something on hand to give your food a little kick. These are my basics though, some others might pick very different flavours but these work very well for me.

Wondering what to do with some of these? I've obviously used many of these ingredients in the recipes on this blog, but I also encourage you to have a look at recipe websites with ingredient search (like here or here).

And for some more precise suggestions on how to use spices...

Fleur de sel: sprinkle on sliced tomatoes or on dark chocolate cookies.
Italian herbs: add to mushrooms, omelettes or mashed potatoes.
Soy sauce: makes a cracking fish marinade mixed with honey, or drizzle over stir frys.
Chilli powder + paprika: marinade meat or fish, add to tomato pasta sauce.
Cajun mix: roll chicken in then grill, add in bolognese.
Ground nutmeg: the thing to make your scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes 10x better.
Chilli flakes: sauté with onions as a basis for tomato or carrot soup.
Four spice: great in cakes and in curries.