Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A visit to NYC

I haven't been quite so awesome at keeping up to date with my posts about recent travels, which have been enjoyably extensive. I find myself keen to write about various trips now, in retrospect, as and when I'm thinking of them.
Before I went to New York City in March, my visits to the States had been limited to the very other end of the country - Florida and Arizona and I was keen (despite the 45 minutes it took us, because of my British passport) to cross the border by car, to see "this end" of America and to visit a city I've been wanting to see for as long as I can remember.

As usual, I pulled a classic "Heather" - wanting to see, do, eat and experience everything and wanting to walk everywhere. As usual, I was keen to see many sides of the same city: I wanted to have my moments with all of those iconic names and places, but I also wanted to head off the beaten track - to see some of the older, less well-known but amazingly attractive residential neighbourhoods of this city, to visit unusual parks and islands, and to feel like I'd had a real chance to scratch the surface of this ever-changing metropolis.

We certainly did have a chance to enjoy some of the more touristy sites, a couple of the most memorable being Times Square (SO much more insane than I had ever imagined!!) and the awe-inspiring skyline of downtown Manhattan but we also had some wonderful walking, which certainly made up my favourite element of the trip.

We were lucky to have the time (and the weather!) to be outside, exploring a mind-boggling variety of neighbourhoods, each with its own unique character as well as a large chunk of Central Park, the most expansive green space I've ever seen in such a city. We elected to walk all the way to Harlem one day and Brooklyn and back (enjoying the iconic Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and getting 
battered by the wind as we did so!!) another.

And, not only were we in New York but also, thanks to a couple of awesome friends of Nick's, we had a list of food recommendations as long as both our arms. And what an amazing place to eat it is!! Aside from the things that must be tried in NYC - pizza, ice cream, bagels, deliciousness from the world's biggest China Town, pastrami on rye - we found a whole host of other fattening treats and returned to Canada (after a 2 minute conversation at the border on this side!!) probably plumper but very happy. 
I call this last photo shoot here the "food porn" section:

Pumpernickel and raisin bagel (for less than a dollar!!)

Chocolate pizza, with banana (actually the best thing I ate in NYC - it was amazing!!)

At a restaurant in Chinatown where all the walls were decorated with $1 bills which people had signed and written on, and what we ate there:

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory - deliciousness in a tub (pistachio and almond cookie flavors....the second best thing I ate all week!!)

Too many cheesecakes....I chose this baby one (raspberry.)

Pizzas (there were three of us, hence the two giant ones!!) at America's oldest pizzeria.

Post-pizza cake (this was the day of, really, too much food.)

Apple pancake (with strawberry butter) for breakfast.

And last but not least, this jem of a picture.
He said it was the best chocolate chip cookie of his life. This is no small deal coming from my boyfriend, the cookie monster. I didn't get one (OH, THE REGRET!!!) but if you feel the need to check out the bakery - I know Nick does when we go back to NYC next time - have a look here:

Monday, 16 April 2012

The great "TO VISIT" list

I feel like everyone must have one of these somewhere in their heads. And somewhere along the way I decided it was time to scribble my own one down on (virtual) paper. 

This is my own personal list of all the places I want to go visit. Some of these might be later, rather than sooner but nevertheless, they're all, mostly certainly, places that I want to get to and explore be they near or far from where I end up for the foreseeable. 

Let's start close to home:
The Hebrides and the Shetland Islands
I have long, long wanted to visit these islands, some of the remotest parts of the British isles and  see the unbelievable scenery and landscapes which can be found there. 

The as-yet-unvisited European cities of my imagination: Florence, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam, Berlin....I don't even want to go into how embarrassing it is that I haven't been to any of these places yet.

Moscow, preferably in the wintertime but I'll take it any way I can get it! Not only to see the architecture there, although that is very much one of the draws for me, but also to visit some of the historic sites I remember from so much fascinating Russian history in high school.

I would love to take a trip (although not exactly right now) to Istanbul and on through to Damascus. These are two places which have fascinated me for a very long time and I especially love the idea of Istanbul as this romantic city situated right between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The Philippines, thanks to one of the most inspiring, intelligent professors I ever had in university who made me fall in love with this country during only 3 weeks of lectures in an introductory "South East Asia" overview course. 

Shikoku in Japan: the only one of the country's four major islands which I have yet to visit. And the site of the famous "88 temple pilgrimage." Please see this link for the wikipedia brush up:
Um, yeh. I actually want to do that. ON FOOT.

Central Asia. Yeh, ALL of it. 

Iceland.....to see the northern lights and also, hopefully, to experience for the first time either crazily long nights or crazily long days. 

Having never visited Africa, my top choices there are definitely Morocco and Botswana.

St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. I actually used to want to live there, mainly because, as a kid, I saw a TV show about a fisherman there who just caught all of the fish he sold at market by wading into the shallow waters of the beach and using his hands. WIN.

Nepal and trekking Everest Base Camp aka fulfilling a 10-year-long ambition. 


New England, in the fall.

A road trip through the desert-ier parts of the States.

Svalbard, because it looks like this -

And, at some point, when the boy and I are based in Canada - the Rockies, visiting Yukon, Haida Gwaii, making it to Nunavut, and seeing Vancouver island are all on the cards.

And this is kind of a blog post I hope people might read and respond to in kind:
Where do you most want to visit (you are most certainly allowed as many entries on your own list as on mine, or a top five, a top ten, or just one must-see) and why??

Friday, 6 April 2012

My tastiest recipe yet....

.....in my own (you know, humble) opinion:

In fact this is so good that I can't even show you a picture of it for fear that you would have to stop
whatever you were doing and make it/eat it in the flashiest of flashes.
The above is, of course, a MASSIVE lie. The problem is that this is a recipe of mine which I constructed myself and have now made for different groups of people a number of times. But for whatever reason, I have failed to take photos on any of those occasions....nor have I prodded anyone else to take some delicious-looking snapshots for me. Oooooppppssss.

So, I will post the recipe and a picture of
a sticky toffee pudding (thank you Google image search....) but I will guarantee you that, if you follow my recipe, it will be much, much delicious than the one in the picture tastes!!

For those not familiar with the unmitigated joys of sticky toffee pudding, I offer you this, from Wikipedia -Sticky toffee pudding is a British steamed dessert consisting of a very moist sponge cake, made with finely chopped dates or prunes, covered in a toffee sauce and often served with a vanilla custard or vanilla ice-cream. It is considered a modern British ‘classic’, alongside Jam Roly-Poly and Spotted Dick puddings.

To note:
*In the U.K. we use the word "pudding" very differently to the North American usage. I had great fun explaining this to my Japanese friends when I was teaching them some stuff about British dishes. In both Japan and North America, "pudding" would normally be that set, custard-y yellow stuff which (for Brits) is kinda like what we would call Angel Delight. In the U.K. "pudding" is just another word for "dessert"; the two are completely interchangeable. When applied to a specific dessert (sticky toffee pudding, Christmas pudding, bread and butter pudding, rice pudding etc.) it is often an older, heavier type dessert.
*My sticky toffee pudding is not a traditional "steamed" version and I think steamed recipes are a bit out of fashion these days in general, just because it's not something we do so much any more. Mine is rather more like a normal baked cake, covered in sauce and then re-cooked.

This recipe is in two easy to follow parts:

Part the first - cake time!

Now, for this recipe, as always, I'm aware that I'm kind of all-over-the-place in terms of measurements, sometimes doing it Brit style (by weight) and sometimes American style (by volume/cups) but it all depends on where I was when I first tried and made up a recipe. At home in England I weigh ingredients but here in Canada and when I was in Japan, I measure using cups. However I make all kinds of recipes wherever I am by using the internet to do the conversions for me. Because I have these recipes in one form only (either weight or volume) I'd ask you to convert for yourself if you want to do this recipe by cup volume.

200g of dried dates

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda added to 275ml of boilng water
175g soft light brown sugar
150g butter, room temperature
3 eggs, beaten
175g ounces self raising flour

pour the boiling water/bicarb over three-quarters of the dates and leave to soak for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 175c or 350f.
Blend together the butter, sugar and the soaked dates ( including the soaking water and bicarb).
Add the eggs and stir in the self raising flour.
Stir in the remaining unsoaked dates, then pour into a 30cm square greased cake tin
Bake for 30 minutes.

Whilst the cakey part is cooking, whip up this toffee sauce:

125g butter
250g sugar
1 tsp vanilla
160ml heavy cream (in the U.K., use double cream, elsewhere, use the thickest you can buy.)

On the stove top, melt the butter over a medium heat then add the other ingredients, mixing well.

Simmer the sauce for 10 -15 mins until it has thickened to a good consistency. Leave to cool.

The vital adding-everything-together part:

1. When the cake has been in the oven for 30 mins (it's not actually quite done yet so don't worry if it's a little wobbly seeming) pull it out and basically pretend you're cutting the cake into pieces - they don't have to be uniform and you don't have to do any specifc number, just make like you're slicing the cake all the way down to serve (even if it clearly isn't cooked all the way through). 

2. Take the cooled toffee sauce and pour it all over your cake, giving it some time to sink through to the bottom.
3. Put the cake back in the oven for another 20 mins.

Serve warm and gooey. 

If you have leftovers, you can also re-heat individual portions in the microwave the next day.

As promised....a pic of what sticky toffee pudding (roughly and deliciously) looks like :)