Archive | February, 2013

Another reason I need a Vitamix

27 Feb

I think I may have mentioned this before, but I’m going through an oatmeal phase. For the past few months I have had nothing but oatmeal for breakfast, and often for lunch too. (If you’re wondering why I’m not 90 pounds, it’s because I often load it with chocolate and whatever the heck this magical stuff I bought from IKEA is:

ikea chocolate butterscotch spread

But this morning I decided to do something different. Last night I discovered a recipe for a strawberry shortcake smoothie, which involved frozen strawberries, cashews and almond milk — all ingredients I had. So instead of busting out the oats and chocolate this morning, I dusted off my blender. (Literally — it’s been sitting on the counter untouched since my obsession switched from smoothies to oatmeal months ago.) I put in all the ingredients and began the blending. Everything was going smoothly (no pun intended). Then I decided to get ambitious. I added two dates for sweetness. The blender chugged along, but I could tell it wasn’t happy about it. It fared better than my mini food processor though. I dipped a spoon in the blender for a taste and it was magical — it really did taste like strawberry shortcake! And it was healthy! I was going to have a great breakfast! I twisted the container off the blender base to pour my smoothie into my glass. That’s when this happened:

blender bottom fell out

blender explosion

The blade somehow remained attached, separating from the container. My entire strawberry shortcake smoothie spilled out the bottom in one quick movement as I lifted the container up. It took me a minute to process what had happened.

anchorman im not even mad

Of course, my first thought was to grab my camera (my point and shoot, not the DSLR. Ain’t nobody got time for that when there’s a breakfast explosion). Then I had to clean the mess up, reminding me that I need to stop buying cheap paper towels, as well as cheap blenders.

You know what the worst part was? Not that I had to throw away my blender — it served me well for the price I paid two years ago — but that after all that work this was what I got for breakfast:

strawberry shortcake smoothie(And the bit I managed to scoop off the machine and counter until I remembered how long it’s been since I’ve washed that counter.) What a waste of strawberries, cashews and almond milk.

It may be time to rethink my stance on ridiculously expensive high-powered blenders.

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I got day seats but didn’t see a pelican eat a pigeon

21 Feb

Yesterday I woke up early to partake in my favorite London activity: queuing for day seats. A friend and I saw Harold Pinter’s “Old Friends.” I wanted to see it because it got rave reviews, plus it stars Kristin Scott Thomas, and I’m a sucker for seeing celebrities up close and making awkward front row eye contact during the curtain call. Thomas and the rest of the cast were brilliant, but when the show was over my friend and I looked at each other with the same “OK, who’s going to say it first?” face. “I didn’t get it,” she said. I didn’t either. This shouldn’t have surprised me considering under its review “Time Out London” ran a section titled “WTF is going on in ‘Old Times?'” Yet after reading the various theories, part of me wants to see the show again. Maybe when it’s warmer.

After I got my tickets I had the usual day seat conundrum: Do I waste the time and money to go home only to come back in a couple hours, or do I wander around London until lunchtime? This time I decided to bring my new camera and wander around London, especially since I was meeting my friend for lunch before the show. I formulated this plan from the warm comforts of my flat. After I stood in the cold for an hour queuing, walking around for three hours in the cold didn’t seem like the brightest idea. But I had my camera with me and I wanted to get more practice with it — and I wanted to see the pelicans. So despite it being in the opposite direction of the theatre and restaurant, I meandered down to St. James’s Park in the hopes of witnessing this:

If my post title didn’t spoil it for you already, I did not get to witness a pelican trying to eat a pigeon, but I did get some photos of other birds.

Here is the obligatory pigeon on a sign photo:

st james park pigeon

Trying to be artsy:

waterfowl of st james park

I don’t know what this funny black bird is called (should have read the sign above, perhaps?) but they were everywhere and they have weird feet.

black bird weird feet

Birds going crazy over some bread and I experiment with shutter speed:

London seagulls

seagulls london

This girl was happily feeding the geese until this seagull wanted in on the action:

feeding birds london

I wandered through the park trying to find the pelicans, until I noticed a crowd.

pelicans london

Pelicans! They were just standing around like they’re used to people surrounding them with cameras.

london pelican

All my pelican photos started looking the same, so I moved back to the geese and a black swan sneaking up on them:

st james goose

OK, one more pelican pic:

st james pelican

And the funny-looking black bird again:

funny black bird

Classic London scene as I left the park:

st james park

So apparently the Horse Guards Parade actually does involve parading through the streets occasionally? Caught this procession as I left:

horse guards parade

I like the juxtaposition between the old fashioned horses and taxi speeding by.

london horses

In fact, I liked the speeding taxi effect so much I tried to replicate it. I had watched a Youtube tutorial about making the car focused and the background blurry and vice versa, but it was a lot harder to achieve in practice. I stood there on the street corner constantly photographing cars driving by and adjusting my camera settings. Since I still don’t know my camera very well, most of the photos turned out horrible and overexposed. This is the only picture that turned out kind of neat:

london black taxi

As I was working my way towards the restaurant, I passed Chinatown, which still has its Chinese New Year decorations up:

london chinatown new year

…And that’s all the photos I took. Apparently I have a thing for testing my camera out on birds — they’re easy to find in London and more interesting than the same tired shots of Big Ben.

How Not to Make Your Own Larabars

15 Feb

Hello friends, and welcome to another edition of Renee’s Baking Expectations vs. Reality. This recipe for homemade Larabars only has two ingredients and does not involve the use of my wonky oven. What could possibly go wrong?

Observe.

Expectation:

rabbit food larabar

Reality:

dates cashews

The recipe, which I got from the wonderful healthy eating blog Rabbit Food for My Bunny Teeth, could not have been easier.

Step 1: Pulse 1/2 cup cashews in a food processor. I was off to a good start.

Step 2: Add 1 cup pitted dates.

This is where I ran into trouble. Do you know what happens when you add pitted dried dates to a tiny food processor you bought on sale at Robert Dyas? I’ll tell you: nothing. They just whirled around and around, not breaking up at all. I tried adding a little water, but it just made for wet, sticky dates whirling around. Eventually I gave up and attempted to hack up the dates with a knife. As you can see from my photo, that didn’t play out too well either. So instead of beautiful Cashew Cookie Larabars, I ended up with a bowl of dates and chopped cashews. At least my little food processor handled the cashews well. In the future I may just follow my own recipe:

Step 1. Pop two cashews and one dried pitted date into mouth.

Step 2. Chew.

Instant Cashew Cookie Larabar bite! And there aren’t any dishes or appliances to wash. I know what I really need is a high powered food processor or Vitamix blender, but as long as those cost £400, I’ll stick with my pop and chew method.

The best roast duck in the world

13 Feb

christmasstorychinese

Quick, what is your favorite food? Can you think of an answer right away? As adults we rarely have to state our preference, but as children it was a regular conversation starter, and even caused some fights — were you Team Pizza or Team Hotdog? I was always Team Chicken Fingers, while my little brother was Team Grilled Cheese, even at McDonald’s. (“One cheeseburger without the burger and toppings, please.”) I still remember in elementary school they would allow us to vote on what we wanted for lunch for one day of the year. I always voted for chicken patty, but every year pizza won — school pizza. School pizza ranks one rung below frozen pizza. Those rectangular bricks always seemed to be burnt or undercooked. What were my schoolmates thinking?!

But I digress. The reason I bring this up is because I think I have a new favorite food: roast duck. And not just any roast duck, the best roast duck in the world.

A few weeks ago we went to Chinatown to buy some groceries and decided to have lunch there. Beforehand I looked on Yelp for a place with good roast duck and we ended up at Four Seasons (a deceiving name, it has nothing to do with the luxury hotel chain). I am not exaggerating when I say their roast duck is life-changing. I have had roast duck all over China, including several times in Beijing where it’s most famous, and nothing compares to the roast duck in this borderline dive joint in London’s Chinatown. The special sauce, the exceptionally moist meat — once we tasted this duck we had “the crave.” Nothing tasted good anymore. All we could think about was this duck. So the next weekend we went to a different, fancier Chinese restaurant in Mayfair. It was good, but we kept thinking about the duck. So afterwards we called Four Seasons and ordered a duck for takeaway to eat for dinner. We drove to Chinatown, I jumped out to pick up the duck, while Stephen drove off to find a place to wait. He ended up getting a ticket in the mail for waiting on double yellow lines, even though he was still in the car. The things we do for this duck…

This past Sunday was Chinese New Year, which seemed like the perfect occasion to eat more duck. On Saturday night we were ready to go pick some up when I decided to call first. “Roast duck?” the guy on the phone said. “Sold out. Sorry.” It was the saddest quasi-sentence ever spoken. But there was no denying the crave. Sunday was the big Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown. Last year we went for the parade and festivities. This year we went for duck. The guy on the phone assured me they had duck for takeaway, but they weren’t taking phone orders. So we drove down to Chinatown, forgetting one thing — the parade. All the roads leading into Chinatown were closed. There was no way to get to the duck. I remembered that Four Seasons had another location in Bayswater, so we pulled over (hopefully not on double yellow lines) and called them. One whole roast duck was waiting for us in Bayswater — we just had to get there. Which when driving in central London, is easier said than done. We plugged the GPS in and set off. It said we would be there in seven minutes. It took over an hour. Because once you miss a turn in London, it’s over. There’s no going around the block. We ended up on a motorway overpass with no ability to turn around. After driving for 10 minutes there was a roundabout, and then we promptly missed the exit a second time. The GPS kept rerouting as we kept getting more frustrated, all the while our poor duck sat in its takeaway bag, wallowing in its own juices and special sauce. Eventually we were almost back to the flat, nowhere near Bayswater, so we decided to go up, take a bathroom break, and look up proper directions online. We finally made it to the restaurant an hour and a half after they said the duck would be ready. I was worried they would cancel my order, but it was there. We were planning to reheat it at home anyway. So at 3 p.m. (after first leaving the flat at 12:30pm) we finally were able to sit down to our proper Chinese New Year roast duck lunch.

An unexpected encounter with the Bird Man of Regent’s Park

6 Feb

So far the extent of my photography with my new DSLR includes the series “Scenes from my Bedroom Window,” “Scenes from the Balcony,” “The Bedpost: An Introspective” and — perhaps my favorite — “Holding Up the Lens Cap and Taking Pictures of It with Different Settings.” In other words, I have yet to actually take my camera outside because the weather has been rubbish. So when I saw blue sky and a glimpse of sun yesterday morning, my camera and I set off to Regent’s Park.

I didn’t really have any ideas of what to capture — I merely wanted to get out of the flat. I started taking some scenic shots of the park.

IMGP0199edit

Regents park boats

But that was boring. I needed some action. I needed… a couple hundred birds. Continue reading