Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Christmas in London

One of the great things about living in London is being able to jet off to Paris, Vienna or Istanbul at a moment's notice. However, in the winter this isn't such an advantage, as most of Europe basically freezes over. To get anywhere sunny would take at least twelve hours, and a months' wages. You're not even guaranteed to get to wherever it is you are going, due to the high possibility of travel delays due to snow and about 10 million people all trying to leave the country at once. After two years of "winter sun" holidays (Morocco and Portugal) my boyfriend and I have decided, in the interests of our bank balances and our sanity, to stay in the UK. Or, more accurately, in Peckham. The idea of 10 days watching "How I Met Your Mother" (my boyfriend's favorite show) and battling with the locals at Peckham Morrison's (our "famine-relief centre" as stand-up comic Sean Locke so elequently put it) fills me with something akin to terror. So, I have decided that we are going to have a holiday. We just aren't going to fly anywhere. We are going to do all the usual holiday things: go to museums, art galleries, restaurants, markets, see sights and treat ourselves. All the money we will be saving on airfares and accomodation we can put into massage treatments and 3 course dinners. Here are some of my favorite market and museum ideas for Christmas in London:

Opening hours:
Saturday 24th Dec 8am-3pm
Thursday 29th Dec 10am-5pm
Friday 30th Dec 10am-6pm
Saturday 31st Dec 8am-3pm

Photo taken from here

Markets, rides, mulled wine, hot dogs!
Opening hours: 10am-10pm until 3rd January


Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
Closed 24th - 26th Dec and the 31st Dec - 1st Jan
Opening hours between 27th Dec - 2nd Jan:12.00-18.00

Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings - Free
Felicity Powell - Charmed Life: The solace of objects - Free

Photograph: LH Pordes/British Library

British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
Closed 23rd - 27th Dec
Opening hours:
Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri: 9.30-18.00, Tues: 9.30-20.00, Sat: 9.30-17.00, Sun: 11.00-17.00
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination - £9
A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural - Free
Mary Queen of Scots - Free
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Unknown Novel – Free

Photo taken from here

Design Museum
28 Butlers Wharf, Shad Thames, London, United Kingdom SE1 2Y
Opening hours: Daily 10am - 5.45pm, Last admission at 5.15pm (closed 25th and 26th Dec)
Tickets:£11 adults
Design MuseumOpened in 1989 (following its original incarnation as the Boilerhouse established in the V&A by Terence Conran), the Design Museum by Tower Bridge...
Exhibition: This is Design

Whew! I'll be knackered after all that. And hungry too. So I'd better think up some places for a bite to eat...

What are your favorite things to do over the Christmas hols?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Vanilla Fudge, Fudge baby...

Behold, an afternoon's work! My first attempt at making fudge. And before you say "They look pretty good", let me tell you, hours of blood (not literally) sweat (yes) and tears (almost) went into this small selection of confectionery you see before you. Hours of boiling, beating, re-boiling, re-beating, re-boiling and re-beating for a third time, swearing, and feelings of abject failure accompanied this endeavor. "Was it worth it?" I hear you ask (I have pretty good hearing). I can say without a doubt, YES!!! This fudge is amazing and you should make it as soon as possible. However, to avoid the pitfalls I encountered, I have included my own notes along with the original recipe below. What are you waiting for? The serious possibility of total disaster awaits you...

Vanilla Fudge
(Recipe taken from James Martin of the Good Food Channel)

300 ml milk
350 grams caster sugar
100 grams butter
1 tsp vanilla essence

1. Put the milk, sugar and butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring all the time, until the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted. 

2. Bring to the boil and boil for 15-20 minutes, stirring all the time keep the mixture boiling furiously until it changes colour from pale yellow to a golden caramel colour and reduces by half. Only stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, to loosen the mixture from the sides and base of the pan. 

3. When the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (115°C on a sugar thermometer*), remove from the heat. *Important note: if, like me, you do not have a themometer, you can test the "soft ball stage" as follows: Take a glass of cold water with an ice-cube in it. Dip a spoon in the fudge mixture and drop a little of it into the icy cold water. If it disperses like liquid, it is not ready. If it drops into the water and creates a soft ball, it is ready for the next step.

4. Stir in the vanilla extract. Leave to cool for 5 minutes. 

5. Beat the mixture with a spoon for a few minutes until it starts to thicken and the gloss disappears. It is vital at this stage that your mixture has changed colour, reduced by half, and cooled a little so you don't burn yourself while beating. Beat with a wooden spoon, the same way that you would cream butter and sugar together. Do not use an electronic blender or whisk (in case you are as silly as me, and think it might speed up the process - it won't). Continue to beat until the mixture starts to come away from the sides of the bowl, and stiffens up.

6. Pour into the prepared tin and leave to set at room temperature (do not put it in the fridge). 

7. Once set, cut the fudge into small squares and store in a sealed container. eat directly out of the baking tray until you have a sugar headache.

This mixture will make 16 1.5 inch pieces of delicious fudge, or twice as much as in the photo above (half of the fudge mysteriously disappeared before I could get my camera ready...)

Now that I have learnt the secrets of fudge making, I can't wait to try it again.Next time I might replace half the caster sugar with dark brown sugar for a richer flavour. Or add some cocoa to make chocolate fudge. Or clotted cream, walnuts, maple syrup, pecans, the possibilities are endless!

What's your favorite flavour?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Buy Nothing Day

I saw this quote on a poster last night, while drinking hot cider with my fellow book-clubbers at Drinkshopdo, a cute craft bar (is that a term?) near Kings Cross station. It struck a chord with me as it's a mantra which pretty much sums up my life at the moment. I have always been thrifty, picking up bargains at charity shops for as long as I can remember. I was fully clothed in hand-me-downs (mum timed my birth cleverly two years after her friend's twin girls!) and would always turn to the sewing machine rather than the high street as a fashion-obsessed teen. And now I have another reason to be economical with my possessions; every item I own will need to be either given to the charity store or shipped home when the Escape (from London back to NZ) happens. So although every inch of my being is yearning to nest and go crazy buying soft furnishings, I have to hold back. For now. While we're on the subject, I just found out that this Saturday, the 26th of December is Buy Nothing Day! In the UK at least. Perhaps a good day for a wardrobe re-shuffle, creating a new outfit from forgotten threads, a day to shine those winter boots, or do some baking. What will you be doing on Buy Nothing Day?