Tuesday, 31 January 2012

My mother’s apple pie (or simply the best short crust pastry recipe of all time).

I actually have no idea where this recipe ever came from in the first place – it is probably one of the earliest and most fundamental memories of baking or dessert from my childhood. We have always had “Normandy apple pie” and it is a dish that, as an adult, I have taken to international pot luck parties in Japan, baked in place of a cake for my other half’s birthday, and from which I have adopted the pasty for numerous other culinary adventures. It's a very easy pie as the crust isn't blind/pre-baked....everything just goes in together, meaning that the pastry is very moist and also appley itself. If you do use this pastry for another, wetter pie, you will need to pre-bake the crust.

But as far as I have ever known, this is a recipe in my mother’s faded handwriting on a grubby piece of paper tucked into one of the oldest cookbooks in our house.

225g or 2 cups plain flour
150g or 2/3 cup butter
2 egg yolks
75g or 1/3 cup sugar
110g or 3/4 cup walnut pieces, chopped
3 tsp cinnamon
a little water
4 very crisp, green apples

Pre-heat your oven to 340f or 170c.

1. Mix flour and softened butter, add egg yolks, sugar, walnuts and cinnamon.
2. Mix into a stiff dough - you'll usually need to add a few teaspoons of water to make a dough which you can roll out without splitting but add them one at a time. 
3. Cut dough in 2.
4. Roll half out into a round and line a buttered flan or pie dish with it, including up the sides. If there are cracks or messy areas, press rolls of the other half of the dough flat into the spaces - it should mould like clay.
5. Once you have a filled pie dish, peel the four apples, remove the cores and cut into thick slices, arranging them in layers the dish.
6. Roll out the second half of the pastry and cover your pie with it. Press the edges down to seal. Lastly, make a few pricks in surface.
7. Bake for 35-40 mins at 170c or 340f. You may need to turn the temp down a little if the pie starts to brown too much, too fast. 
Yum Yum YUM.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

2011: a retrospective little list

Now that I've had a wee little bit of time to kick back and reflect some on last year, I thought I'd make a little list, mainly for the sake of my own memory, of some of the rather awesome year that 2011 turned out to be.

I'm the first person to say that I am really not a fan of New Year's Eve - there is something about events like Valentine's Day, "big" birthdays and NYE itself where the idea of having to have a good time or having to make something the best party/event/date ever can get in the way of actually spending awesome time with people you care about. I guess I always like spontaneous fun better than planned fun....if fun can ever be (really) organised anyway.

But the bookends of 2011 were pretty wonderful. On 31st December 2010, my gentleman friend and I hosted a lovely get-together of some of my U.K. friends at my parents' house in Warwick, England - there was good homemade food, good homemade chats, a wee bit of good not-homemade drink and a nice chance for us to hang out more with some of my people. On 31st December 2011, we hosted a slightly bigger get-together in Kettleby, Canada at my boyfriend's mother's house for some of his friends here, complete with more homemade food, probably a lot more snow-chilled booze and a similar amount of time spent chatting and just enjoying the company of friends. 

And, in between, there was a LOT of stuff. During the course of 2011 I lived in three different countries for a start, something which seems pretty unlikely to happen again in my life.

It was also very much a year of exploring cities previously known and unknown: Sapporo, Paris, Cardiff, Kyoto, Toronto, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and Tokyo.

It was a year which ranged from about -20oC of nice, dry cold in a bunch of places in Hokkaido to a genuinely horrendous, 90% humidity and 38oC during early August in Kyoto, Japan.

It was a year of some super fun active-ness in the form of snowboarding, epic cycle rides, swimming in the ocean and various pools, a goodly amount of squash and a LOT of walking. 

There were some new skills learnt and old ones revived: I actually learnt to drive, revived a bit of my French during the time we spent in Paris, got to try my hand at classroom management in the U.K. for the first time ever.

I certainly ate some weird and wonderful things for the very first time - sea urchin, deep fried mars bar, Canadian butter tarts, chocolate chip melon pan (a kind of very sweet, very airy Japanese bread which doesn't taste of melon in any way but rather looks a but like one on the top), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a whole buffet of cake.

I've read some damn good books this year: at least four I can think of off the top of my head that I completely and utterly fell into, I've seen some good TV shows for the first ever time (Battlestar Gallactica being foremost amongst them!), got more into volunteer translation and education-related work than before and managed to find myself in seven different countries, which is basically half the number of countries I've ever visited! 

A lot else happened in 2011 - the best surprise anniversary present ever for my beau and I (all arranged clandestinely by two amazing friends in Japan) which found us in an enormous suite of rooms, complete with jacuzzi, sauna and living area for a weekend, and amongst all the social engagements and time spent with friends and family, there was time to reflect a lot on where I'm going from here.

Even though 2011 was also a year of big goodbyes - to my life, friends and colleagues after two years in Japan and to yet more friends and family in the U.K. when December came, I couldn't really be more excited about what 2012 will bring and how the years following it pan out, too.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Tastes like summer: Eton mess

Oooo yeh. Not only is this a very traditional English recipe that can (ingredient-wise) be pretty easily replicated anywhere, it is also simple yet DELISH and always tastes like a July afternoon outside with friends. 

First of all, the recipe relies on really good, homemade meringues. This is the only bit that takes any real time or effort.

You need:
An oven, preheated to 150c or 300f - you need to not be planning to use the oven for a few hours (and preferably overnight) as the meringues stay sitting in it to cool and to dry out on the outside, and this makes all the difference. 
 3 fresh eggs at room temperature
175g or 1 cup caster sugar

1. Separate the eggs and whisk the whites until they form soft peaks, then whisk in the sugar a bit at a time.
2. Cover a baking tray with greaseproof paper/baking parchment and put soup spoonfuls of the mixture, in well spaced rows out on the paper.
3. Turn the heat in the oven down to 270f or 140c, and put the meringues in for one hour. After that switch the oven off and leave the meringues in there at least until the oven is totally cold. If possible, leave them overnight. 

The next step is both easy and delicious. Just before you want to eat, break up the meringues, chop up 1lb/450g/3.75 cups strawberries and mix the two together. 
Then lightly whisk 1/2 pint (also known as 280ml or just over one cup) of double cream (also known as thickish table cream) until it is soft and peaky then fold that in, too.

Serve as soon as possible to keep the textures fresh and not soggy. YUM. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

"Where'd it go?" mango salad

This is, if I do say so myself damn good. I feel like, of all the dishes we had out for people at new year, this was the one which went fastest and which also got the sheer highest number of compliments. 

It's simple to make, can sit in the fridge for a little while, without going mushy, for a little while before served and looks very sunshine-y even in the midst of winter.

First, make some tasty dressing (this is a very lightly dressed salad) ~
Mix together all the dressing ingredients:
1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
2 springs of fresh thyme, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, pressed or crushed or very finely diced
juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon of diced fresh red chilli or of dried flakes
pinch of salt/pepper

Next,  slice up 1 small red onion, 2 large ripe-ish mangoes, and 2 small avocados and mix together.

Cover with your tasty dressing, mix carefully to ensure the avocado doesn't all disintegrate and leave for about 30 mins before eating. Should serve about 5 people as a side but they will probably all want seconds!


Wednesday, 18 January 2012


This is not something I thought I would find my self saying this winter: I am really missing snow. Although I just spent two years living in a place where I learnt, very quickly, to love the white stuff and all the possibilities it brings with it, I had hoped we might have had a little more in Canada by this time in the season. Since I arrived just over a month ago, we have had so little here in Ontario that everyone has been telling me not to judge this country's normal weather patterns weather by this winter's snowfall. And when we ventured out for our first snowboarding adventure of the season last week, everyone up near the slopes seemed to be talking about how disappointingly little there has been.

On the flip side - when I first arrived here in mid-December a lot of people said they hoped I didn't judge Canada just on its winter.But I don't know if they realised that we decided to come here specifically during the time we can "oh" and "ah" over beautiful white vistas and precisely so we can snowshoe, snowboard, ice skate outside and hike around through Narnia-esque forests.
I am a huge lover of winter and an even bigger fan of the powdery, white stuff. I took the picture above before mid-winter had even hit Hokkaido, where I lived in northern Japan. It was sometime in December of my first year out there, just as I was adapting to living somewhere with a climate so different to the U.K. and right at the time when I was seeing all the countless possibilities for fun this offered me.

This is what my one-storey house looked like by February.

Over time, as I write on here, I'm sure you'll be able to read a lot more about the fact that I partially like the snow so much because you can do things like this:

But for now, I really miss the sound it makes. I miss walks home in the utter silence of snow falling and coating the ground in a numbing layer of cool white. And I miss the crisp crunch of the stuff under my feet when it is clean and new and freshly fallen. I certainly want more and more chances to relive the hours of time I spent walking to and from work in the slowly falling snow as it made every dusk seem more beautiful than the last. And I certainly missed not being able to really get excited over waking up to the first snow of the year. Whenever the first sheet fell overnight in my small town, I would wake up early the next morning and look out of the window to see what, to me, felt like a new world - familiar sights changed beyond recognition and a clean, unmarked sheet of white that would be virtually gone again by evening.

I am hoping we get a good deal more snow here soon for me to potter around in and feel all romantic about. I wonder if, maybe, we should just move to the Yukon?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The great "TO MAKE" list

I have only just realised, very recently, that I am a sloooow cook. I love cooking, especially for other people and I do a decent amount of it whenever I can, but although I can make a whole bunch of stuff in any given month, it really does seem to take me a while in the kitchen to make any of the dishes I whip up. Maybe because I just like making stuff so much, who knows.

Anyway, I have decided to create here, in my own virtual repository, a "to make" list: some recipes or dishes I'm keen to make at some point soon-ish. Just so I don't forget, and to prod me into action whenever I'm in the grocery store or have half a day free:

Overnight French toast
I've wanted to do this for a while....mainly because it just looks SICK.

Puttanesca pasta sauce 
Something a good friend and a great cook once made for me. I've wanted to try my own ever since and I've missing eating as much fish as usual at the moment, too.

Super fish pie
Ditto the above about the current lack of fish in my life!! This is one of my favourite things we eat at home - think prawns, yellow and white fish, egg, peas, the works.

I want to do some traditional ones, although I follow a lot of recipe blogs and have seen ALL kinds of scones which seem to be more popular and maybe interesting to try, too. But I want to do some standard English ones for my boyfriend's mum, who seems to be a scone fan.

Turkish (lamb?) shanks 
Another family recipe, but I'm thinking of trying to use the DELISH sauce to do something meat-free.

My boyfriend LOVES these things and I really wanna try just making the whole lot from scratch - the meat, the bread (I'd probably do pitas from scratch), the tzatziki, everything. Mmmmmm.

Carrot cake
Okay, I need to just get over my fear of this cake. Carrot cake is, literally, my favourite EVER cake but I've only tried to make it the once. And I rarely have TOTAL baking fails but this for sure was one. Call it the lack of proper grater, or the non-existent blender or my terrible Japanese oven....I don't know. I just need to suck it up and try it again this year.

Some good, old fashioned ginger bread
Maybe in parkin form? Or maybe I can try a more North American recipe involving some molasses. 

Chinese sweet potato pies
These look like something I tried (and loved a LOT) in Japan and want to recreate here, there, and everywhere I am.

Ploughman's loaf
As seen on "The Great British Bake Off" (best cooking show EVER!!)

And I have a whole other "to make again" list of things which are recipes I've been working on that I really want to tweak or perfect over the next few months.

Look forward to lush photos of my tries at:
~ lemon yogurt cake 
~ butternut squash (pumpkin) pie
~ and yet MORE sticky toffee pudding (always a fave)
~ tasty, tasty fish curry
~ oreo cookies and cream cheesecake
~ all manner of Japanese dishes I may or may not be able to find the ingredients for these days

It's a good thing my other half is so good at taking deliciously good food snaps.

And the Oreo cookies and cream cheesecake? It looks something like this:

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Multiple hometowns (1)

I've never considered Durham as a place I'd call home, but it is where I was born - right up in the north-east corner of England. We left there when I was only a wee baby and, as a consequence, I don't associate it so much with childhood as with one particular week I spent there as an adolescent - a music theatre workshop week full of singing, composing, performing and dreaming big.

Durham in my head will forever a city of ancientness,of castles and stone universities, and of laid back teenage evenings in coffee shops. If you've never been there and especially if you're a first time visitor to the north of the U.K., I'd certainly recommend a peek.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The start of a sticky-toothed Canadian adventure

I'm not a big fan of candy/sweets/あめ or whatever you personally call them.
I am a GIANT fan of chocolate bars. I don't often actually eat them but when I do, I always wonder why they aren't a bigger feature of my (weekly if certainly not daily) diet. 

And I'm a pretty big enjoyer of new things in general, and of trying new food specifically. 
For example kitkat - available both here in Canada and in the U.K. - is big news in Japan, especially amongst the country's foreign residents. Why? Because Japanese kitkats come in flavors. Weeeeeeird flavors. 
In my time, I have tried these ones
~ aloe vera flavor 
~ cherry blossom flavor
~ soy sauce flavor
~ wasabi (like Japanese horseradish) flavor 
~ salt caramel flavor
~ green tea flavor
~ custard pudding flavor
~ tiramisu flavor
~ strawberry flavor
~ coffee flavor
~ milk tea flavor
~ fruit yogurt flavor
~ melon flavor
~ cookies and cream flavor
~ roasted barley tea flavor

Needless to say some work better than others. Some just don't work. There are probably even more I have forgotten - the flavoured white chocolate on the outside of about half of them all blends together in time....

So here I am - new country, new year, new little mission.
I keep going into all these stores and spotting previously unplotted chocolate bar territory. And I fully intend to try a whole bunch of them out before I leave here in June(ish) time. 
The best thing about this plan? Loads of the Canadian chocolate bars we don't get in the U.K. seem to have either peanuts or peanut butter or (joy of joys) BOTH contained somewhere within their sweet flesh. Eeeeexcellent. 

Specimen #1: Caramilk 

So this guy is basically very much a version of what would be a Dairy Milk Caramel in the U.K.
That would be fine. HOWEVER - I am one of those total Cadbury chocolate fascists, I admit. Probably because I grew up not only eating the stuff but I also lived super near the original Cadbury factory in Bournville and visited there multiple times on kiddie school trips and days out. 
So, here it is. I don't like Cadbury chocolate which has a different recipe to the stuff I'm used to. I've tried the Canadian and the Australian versions now and, while I totally get that the ingredients and prep facilities are different, I find the taste of them both really cardboard-y and kind of like sawdust.
Which meant a sad day for the Caramilk's ratings - I can only give him a 2/10.

Specimen # 2: Skor

This guy was tasty! Super crunchy, buttery but hard caramel inside a thin choccie shell is a classic, winning combo. Tastes to me very, very much like a Daim Bar - always a good thing!
A solid 6.5/10.

Specimen # 3: Crispy crunch

After the first Canadian Cadbury chocolate fiasco, I decided to give it another chance in a bar with more non-chocolate flavor, too and this was a bit hit. So, I'm a woman of pretty simple tastes - it's almost certainly gonna be a hit with me if some kind of peanut on chocolate action is occurring. So - crunchy and soft, peanut and chocolate, light but tasty = 7/10.

Specimen # 4: Eat more


As recommended by my Canadian other half.
FABULOUS. Seriously, this was soooooo good. Ok, so I guess it's not strictly a "chocolate bar" and it might lose a few point on the visual-appeal-ometer but really, really tasty. It's like a kind of soft, dark, peanuty toffee with a hint of chocolate-y-ness, too. WIN. Like, to the extent that it is likely to delay me on my trying-new-things quest in the future. 8/10 for sure. 

Specimen # 5: Oh Henry!

Another goodun' - probably swinging in somewhere at 7.5/10. I certainly snaffled it up fast enough. The cross section pic is pretty self explanatory - choc, caramel, peanuts, a fudgey middle. 

Tasty times, and I see more in my future......

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Robotic deliciousness

My brother is a pretty awesome young man these days. Also, terrifyingly tall - and I know he'll only be taller (both in absolute terms, and in than me terms) by the time I return to the U.K. come summer 2012.

But this past November, he turned 14. 


Our eleven year age gap means that I can remember not only the day my mum told me she was pregnant (I had given up asking Santa for a younger sibling already) and the day he was born, but things like giving my baby bro his first bath at the hospital, watching him crawl around on all fours and having him pee in my face whilst I was trying to change his nappy. 
But now I found myself back at my parents' house after a two year gap away and got to know, all over again, this young man who is now writing academic essays on "The Catcher in the Rye", who throws himself into everything he does like it's his job, and who is about to enter his second year of teenager-dom.

What to do in order to celebrate such an occasion? Well, obviously - combine my love of making food with my brother's/my boyfriend's/my own love for all things Doctor Who. 

First, and very much foremost, I should say that the inspiration and most of the actually nitty gritty of the cake construction came from here:

I edited a few bits and pieces as I was going:
*used pre-bought, different cakes for the main body, so that the cross-section of the thing would end up looking pretty super
*free-styled a bit on some of the chocolate bars/candy bits used for various parts of the Dalek, using whatever came to hand but looked the same as in the original picture (Reese's pieces instead of smarties etc.) 
*bought some pipable black icing to finish the whole thing off with and add the detail, rather than using the dark chocolate - mainly because of my own drizzling ineptitude

The result? The best cake I've made my brother since the bright green, dazzling dinosaur creation I put together for probably his fifth or sixth birthday.

 Having my very talented gentleman around to help me turn the whole thing into this rather spectacular video was an extra, very awesome bonus. Watch and enjoy it:

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Canada "dones" and "to dos"

Firstly, I should probably follow my previous post by saying that Canada has rapidly exploded in my mind over the last year and a half or so until it has become one of those countries where I pretty much want to do everything and travel everywhere. Coming directly from somewhere so (relatively) small to somewhere so (relatively) big probably doesn't help at all, mainly because I feel like the regional/geographic variation of this immense country means I could happily spend a good few months just trekking all about the place, trying to see absolutely as much as possible.

I realise, though, that limits on both time and money this trip are going to mean that some of the really mammoth Canada travels I want to undertake aren't going to be so possible. I'm filing away the Rockies, visiting Yukon, Haida Gwaii, making it to Nunavut, Vancouver island and a full East - West coast road trip for next time....or maybe the next few times.

But, for now, let's see what I have achieved, Canada-wise. And how far I still have to go before I head out this time (around the start of the summer months).

 Drunk: Tim Horton's coffee (in plentiful quantities), Moosehead beer, ice cider, maple whiskey

Visited: the Bruce Peninsula, downtown Toronto, Jack Astor's

Cut down: our own Christmas tree

Spotted: black squirrels, city-dwelling raccoon, coyote tracks, a lot of outdoor (ice) hockey and some hockey paraphernalia stores

Eaten: chicken pot-pie, tortiere, cherry blasters, a LOT of sweet potato fries

Worn: Sorel snowboots, Roots sweater, Lulu lemon trousers/pants

Trekked through:a whole bunch of pretty snow, maple trees, 

Seen: Cirque du soliel, the CN tower, the Danforth

Said: fries instead of chips, chips instead of crisps, pants instead of trousers, trunk instead of boot, washrooms instead of bathrooms/toilets

BUT we have only been here for all of three and a half weeks - I still feel like a bit of a Canada newbie, and my travelling adventure here is still young. The following are very much up there in the lost of what I want to get down to whilst here:

~ snowboard
~ eat poutine
~ visit Algonquin Park
~ snowshoe
~ see a hockey game
~ go up the CN tower
~ hike/walk around/camp out on the Bruce Peninsula
~ go to Vancouver
~ road trip out east to the Maritimes
~ get down to Niagra falls
~ see a moose
~ get to Montreal and Quebec city
~ visit the capital
~ go curling
~ make maple syrup
~ head to Casa Loma

So - more or less one month down, five to go. 

Friday, 6 January 2012

Current (dis)placement

I'm currently sitting somewhere around  43º 40' N, 79º 24' W or, for the less geographically inclined - Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

Canada was a country I had never visited before mid-December, 2011.
When I was growing up, it was probably a place of numerous but loosely held together associations in my head: there was a proper winter, and wild animals; my great aunt lived here; it had the sense, somehow, of a more friendly, warmer (not literally) part of North America.
One of my closest friends during high school had grown up living here for eight years and her related experience probably informed a lot of my mental images of this place - children sealed into snow suits, U.S./Canada ice hockey rivalries, a whole smattering of vocabulary previously foreign to me. 

But Canada became something different to me - a place about which stories were woven and brought to life, the land where some of my best friends were born and have lived most of their lives, the country where my partner in crime (for which read "boyfriend") was born. For nearly two years together in Japan, he spun me tales about cities and expanses of winter I started to dream about visiting.

And now I find myself here, where everyone we chance upon in the simple processes of shopping or errand running seems to be a virtual stereotype of Canadian warm-heartedness and generosity of spirit. And where I have felt so welcomed not only into a family of, well, family, but also into a a family of friends. 
As a fervent lover of winter and snow, of meeting new people and seeing new places, of cities and of great swathes of open countryside, it's a damn good place to be.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


"Home is wherever I'm with you....."

For any one Japanese idiom, there are always multiple (slightly unsatisfactory) renderings in English.  

住めば、都  is read "sumeba miyako" phonetically. I'd translate it as any one of the following:
~ home is wherever you live
~ if you live there, it is home
~ home is where you make it

The title of this blog is probably how I have always felt. It certainly is how I feel now.
People often ask me where I come from. In Japan, people often tended to assume I was from anywhere but the U.K. - there are far more Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians than Brits. But once I'd told them I was from "igirisu" (understood by the Japanese as either the U.K., Great Britain, or England, depending on who you ask and how great their knowledge of European geography), that alone usually sufficed. In America, I was asked "England?" more often than specifics. My accent is often bland enough that in Canada and in the U.K., too, people can find it hard to place. 

So where am I from? I tend to give people a longer answer than they bargained for. 
Where do I call home? These days, it is somewhere between central Toronto and Schomberg (further north of the city). A month ago, it was the town of Warwick, England, nestled in the West Midlands and a year ago it was certainly a small farming town in the middle of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.

Where will it be this time next year? 
I'm pretty excited that I can't answer that question yet.