Friday, August 31, 2007

Naughty but nice flapjacks

Flapjacks sound quite wholesome, what with the oats-honey-sunshine-and-fields connotations, but these aren't really what I would classify as health food.

140gm butter
200gm porridge oats
25gm dessicated coconut
50gm light muscovado sugar
100gm brazil nuts, chopped
85gm dark chocolate, chopped
5 tbs golden syrup

Gently melt the butter with the sugar and golden syrup. When the sugar has dissolved, mix in the oats and coconut (this stage tastes yummy). Press the mixture into a greased tray. Sprinkle the chopped nuts and chocolate over the top and press into the flapjack mixture. I guess you could adapt this stage to add whatever you like to the top, as long as it is chunky and doesn't burn too easily (maybe dried apricots and almonds? Or dried cherries and white chocolate?).

Chuck into the oven at 180 C for 25 minutes, or until golden.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Enjoying the sunshine at Notting Hill Carnival

Photos courtesy of the lovely Emma.

Highglights: Some of the costumes were extraordinary. The atmosphere was thumpin'. And the jerk chicken was bloody amazing. In fact, I think there should be a festival devoted solely to jerk chicken. Not jerky at all, just freakin' tasty.

Lowlight: waiting 25 mintues to use the toilet, in an extremely slow-moving queue of irate women, with a constant stream of men walking past to take a quick slash in the mens.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Asahi's, guitars, flip-flops and umbrellas

I had so much fun at my flatmate's gig the other night. In fact, I feel like I am paying an emotional toll now, for the overdose of fun (and beer) I had. It is like I am only allocated so much happiness, and if I go overdrawn, I have to make it up in grumpiness.

Anyway, the gig was excellent. My flatmate writes funny, sweet, quirky and interesting little ditties, which are more like short stories (or modern day fables) set to music, mostly to do with the folly of human relationships. There were tons of people crammed into this little basement room under a pub in Farringdon, but the atmosphere was very friendly. And blessedly unsmoky. Smoking ban, I love you.

We stuck around for the second supporting group, One Eskimo, who were really good, and obviously aiming for the Bigtime. They were a really polished act, with trumpets, some sort of electric hookup (the sound of school kids cheering was a bit disconcerting), and their own logo - a really cute eskimo illustration I wish I did. I can't think who to compare them to - Keane? Coldplay? - no one seems to fit their style of hypnotic soft pop/rock. Anyway, they were lovely, check them out.

The main act were the very smiley Noel Prior Band, an energetic folk group from Truro, Cornwall (I been there!). The lead singer sounds a little like Elliot Smith, but their songs are a lot more upbeat and impossible not to jig to. Although, the typically London crowd managed to spend most of their set standing stock still. At one point, a random girl pleaded with me and the two girls I was with to go up to the front, to give the band a little encouragement. We didn't - I for one didn't want to look like a groupie. Finally, for the last number, the band appealed for some movement, and the small crowd finally loosened up. It was like watching a room full of robots get switched on simultaneously.

Much fun!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Squidgey banana, blueberry and pecan muffins

These turned out really well, considering I made them out of leftover fruit that had been languishing in our office all week (not as gross as it sounds).

300g self-raising flour (I used light brown)
1 tsp bicarb soda
100g light muscovado sugar (or golden caster sugar), plus extra for topping
50g porridge oats, plus extra for topping
2 medium bananas, very ripe
285ml natural yoghurt
5 tbsp olive oil
1 large egg
150g blueberries
80gm pecans, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 180 degrees. Mix the flour, bicarb soda, sugar and oats. Make a well in the centre. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas until nearly smooth. Stir in the yoghurt, oil and egg into the mashed banana until evenly combined.
Pour the liquid mixture into the well and stir quickly with a wooden spoon. Don't be tempted to over-mix! Tip in the blueberries and pecans and give it one more stir. Divide the mix between 12 muffin cases, then sprinkle the tops with a little sugar and a few oats. Bake for 18-20 mins until risen and dark golden.

Good straight out of the oven, but they keep pretty well too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Bipolar Weekend

I don't know where my head's at. Saturday was really good - I spent a happy afternoon shopping for food and household items which my flatmate mysteriously doesn't own (grater, collander, scales, wooden spoon), made a mean quiche, cracked open the bottle of champagne I had been hoarding since Christmas, had friends over for a dinner party, sung along to Nina Simone...

Sunday was not nearly so good. I spent a lonely afternoon taking the bus miles out to Ikea, wandering around in a daze through Ikea, spending money that I don't have in Ikea, and putting stuff together (wrongly) from Ikea. I did get a nice cushion out of it though, and my new clothes rack (which I eventually put together correctly) is way better than that rickety old swaying thing I had before, which probably would have collapsed under the weight of all my threads. The trouble with living in London is that clothes are just so cheap, so plentiful, so infinitely varied, that your wardrobe ends up becoming a textile dumping ground.

My flatmate was away all weekend, which was kind of good - I like my space - but by the end of Sunday I was starting to feel decidedly miserable. I didn't speak to anyone all day besides shop assistants, and that was the bare minimum in terms of human contact. At 9.30pm, my lowest point, I missed a call on my mobile from my brother in Sweden, and I didn't even have enough credit to call him back. He is even more broke than me, rubbing together his last two kroners.

We did exchange a couple of texts though, and that was enough to get by on. I think I need to get some kind of incredibly demanding and time-consuming hobby going.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In which I talk about somebody else for a welcome change

One of my dear friends from home is on the cusp of releasing her first self-produced album. I met Andrea through a friend and almost straight away we had a "connection", which we later admitted is rare for both of us (sensitive, creative, unsociable creatures that we both are). I had recently moved into her suburb and was thrilled to have a local friend, whom I could drop in on without warning. One of my more annoying traits, the unannounced call-around.

Andrea is tiny, blone and curly-haired, with a cheshire-cat grin and a very distinctive voice (clearly enunciated but with a very Australian drawl). She likes the colour red and almost always has at least one item of red clothing on her person. She also has a small pug called poppy on whom she dotes, with a fervency I find hard to comprehend - given poppy's ill-temper and her "only a mother could love it" squashed face and squat little body - but accept. We have seen each other through various relationships; break-ups; and reclaimed singlehoods (celebrated with a few drinks down at the Geebung). Always the red wine, with Andrea.

She used to work part-time in order to devote her spare hours to music, and just lived quite frugally (apart from the red wine). I was forever in admiration of her gentle-natured tenacity, and always very curious about her music and songs, but never got to see her perform live and was too shy to ask her to play me anything (or I felt she would be too shy to play it for me). All these years, and I had never heard Andrea sing.

Last week, I heard some clips of Miss Barnett's songs for the first time via her website. Maybe it is my current emotional state, but there was no denying that it touched my heart to hear one of my friend's true talents being poured directly into my ears from the other side of the world.

Good music, especially live, can cut straight to your bones or heart or gut. It can stop you in your tracks, put you under a spell, and at the risk of coming over all Danny-Zuco, electrify you.

I even have a sort of weird Pavlovian response where, whenever I hear an orchestra start playing live, it brings a tear to my eye. Literally. It's embarrassing.

So today I would like to raise my glass (of red, naturally) to Andrea; and my new flatmate, also a musician; and all those other unsigned musicians out there who make music because they love it, and because they are compelled to.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Things I love about London*

Eating char-grilled chorizo sausage in ciabatta with rocket and roast pepper (or capsicum, from my previous life) at the Borough Market.

The tube map.

Breast-stroking my way around the Ladies Bathing Pond at Hampstead Heath, dodging ducks and lily pads (after the shock of the cold water has worn off).

Reading the papers on the weekend - in particular, the Saturday Guardian and the Sunday Times. Especially if they are giving away free DVD's!

Sitting on the top deck of the 43 bus, lurching past the Bank of London, the Monument, and Tower Bridge as the sun rises over the Thames.

The vast Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. It takes my breath away every time.

The incredibly detailed directions people give you ("..on your right, you'll see a window box full of violets, you want to head left past the Kings Head..if you reach a bridge with a chapel in the middle, you've gone too far..").

Taking your plush red velvet seats at the Royal Opera House as a hush falls over the crowd.

Walking along the cobblestones in Covent Garden, humming "Wouldn't it be luverly?" to yourself.

The transformation that takes place when it snows.

Drinking champagne at the Fumoir bar at Claridges (fancy!).

Shavasana at the end of a hard yoga class at the Life Centre in Notting Hill, lying blissfully on your back and gazing at the clouds drifting over the skylights.

Boarding the Eurostar at Waterloo and arriving at Gard du Nord in Paris 2.5 hours later.

The excitable audience at the Prince Charles Cinema.

The ridiculously varied regional accents.

The first note of the orchestral score at a West End musical, with excitement in the audience running high.

Looking at the ever-changing, always stunning shop window displays around Regent Street and Bond Street.

Feeling the weight of history under your feet and fingertips, everywhere you go.

*Please note: this list is subject to change or deletion at any time; especially when it has been raining throughout most of the "Summer". Thank you.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Melodramatic sigh

A quick update: I moved into my temporary home last night, which was weird, but not as bad as I thought it would be. The most traumatic part was packing up my flat earlier in the day and lugging the last of my stuff to work on the bus, crying all the way, my ex-boyfriend barely holding it together next to me. The situation between us is vastly complicated - we both care so much about each other, but we just couldn't seem to make it work. It is so sad.

However, I know now that I need to spend some time on my own to sort my head out before I can be in a successful relationship. If I'm not happy, my boyfriend is never going to be happy - certainly not enough to want to marry me and make a future with me. The truth is, maybe I will never be completely "happy" and maybe I will never be in a life-long relationship - and somehow, I have to come to terms with that.

A friend from work (the same one who came and looked after me when I got sick at the tube station), helped me lug my stuff all the way to Hampstead and kept me entertained with talk of the banana harmonica she is bidding for on ebay (100% true). My thanks go out to her and her fruit-instrument obsession.

* * * * *

I am reading Alan Bennett's "Untold Stories", which (so far) is about his family and the secrets, illnesses, and everyday struggles that seem to exist in almost all families once you get past the rosy public face. He describes, in his very gentle, precise style, his two independent aunties, who see themeslves as more daring and free-spirited than their timid, married middle sister. Both of them end up marrying late in life, but the husband of the eldest aunt dies not long into their married life and leaves her distraught and angry to have lost something she waited so long for. Bennett, drafted into driving her to the funeral, finds himself getting impatient with the show of emotions she "puts on", feeling she is hamming it up somewhat, uncomfortable with the uncontrolled display of her feelings.

This particular recollection really stung me. I have been accused of being melodramatic in the past, by a member of my family. I don't think I am a dramatic person generally - most people would describe me as cool, calm, shy, quiet, not in the habit of calling attention to myself - but I have always been at the mercy of my emotions. The strength of my emotions can leave me lying in a useless heap on the ground, too weak to stand; they can make me physically ill; or they can (very occassionally) lift me up to a state of bubbling excitement. I have always felt things very deeply, and taken everything to heart, privately. I feel my emotions are what hold me together; define me; are as much a part of me as my blood. To dismiss them as "put on", for the sake of creating "drama", is repulsive.

Anyway, most importantly, me and my thin skin are surviving. And I am feeling more on top of my emotions now (despite the current mess) than at any other point in my life, especially my early-to-mid twenties. What I am aiming for, ultimately, is an even keel. Oh, how I envy those emotionally-steady-as-a-rock people.
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