Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Farewell 2014 - reflections on the year and my final photo-a-day images

Oh, 2014. You have been a memorable year. A year of excitement, adventure, change, challenge and reward. A year, in short, of living life to the full. I started it in the city I grew up in, working with people I'd known for years, and filling weekends with familiar sights and people. I am ending it in a new country, with a new job that was not known 12 months ago, learning new cultural references and visiting new places.

As with all years (all things), there have been downs as well as ups, but I wouldn't change a thing.

2014 in pictures - 365 of them

As with previous years, I set some goals for 2014. I like looking back at this time of year and considering how my intentions panned out. The eight I had for 2014 were...

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas in Cumbria - food and views

How was your Christmas? I hope you ate well, laughed lots, and hit your desired balance between fun and rest, food and activity.

Kendal town centre

We returned yesterday from our four days in Cumbria, England's Lake District region and a particularly beautiful part of the country. It was very different to a hot Australian Christmas! Our base was in Kendal, the largest town in the region and just on the edge of the Lake District National Park. I had no memories of the town and was surprised at how attractive it was, as well as how large. Our holiday cottage was nicely located for the town centre and plenty of countryside walks.

You may remember my worry about organising food for this trip. As we travelled by train, we needed to carry everything by hand and also keep cold things cold. A suitcase half dedicated to food helped with the former, while a cool bag and carefully chosen foods helped with the latter. I also recognised quite early on that life would be easier if I bought most things rather than made dishes from scratch. 

Christmas Eve dinner

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

And so this is Christmas...


Christmas decorations in the City of London

Despite saying on Sunday that I was organised for Christmas, it is still a surprise to find it is the 23rd December. Not only is Christmas in two days, 2014 will be over in just over a week. Incredible.

I'm not taking my laptop to the Lake District, so while I'll still be online to some extent, this will be my last post until we're back in London at the start of next week. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday period between now and then. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, and regardless of how you choose to spend the day - very warm wishes for a happy 25th December and the days around it too.

Christmas decorations in Fortnam and Mason

In case you need any last minute food inspiration, I'm closing with a round up of some recent recipes that caught my eye, as well as some Christmas favourites from Bite-Sized Thoughts.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Made over orange, cranberry and chocolate chip biscuits

I'm pleased to say that in the space of a week, I have gone from disorganised to organised with Christmas food. I've sorted our Christmas meals for the Lake District, made my annual spiced Christmas cookies, and made a healthier, orange flavoured version of my popular cranberry and dark chocolate cookies.
Spiced Christmas cookies

Yesterday, we also had an early Christmas dinner with my UK family, making another day trip to my grandparent's home in Sussex. There were nine of us in total and it was great to be able to join in on celebrations with family here. We went out for the meal and I enjoyed a nut roast that may have been the best I've had (although I'll concede I haven't had all that many). The setting in a Tudor building was great too - quite different to Australian Christmas!

Christmas dinner, plant style -
nut roast with a sweet potato and coriander sauce, and vegetable trimmings

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Beetroot and chickpea curry, in besan flour flatbreads

I am not the biggest fan of beetroot. I will happily embrace it in chocolate beetroot brownies, or in spiralised form for raw Thai noodles, but eaten plain it is not generally my thing.

For whatever reason, I made an exception last week. The lovely thing about local market stalls is they inspire me to buy different products: in season vegetables have great appeal even if the vegetable in question is not usually my favourite. Beetroot caught my eye recently, and then I needed to decide what to do with it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Six things Tuesday

1. Christmas. It is nearly here. Are you organised? I'm going ok with gifts, but food is another thing entirely. I got off to a good start with my early chai-spiced chocolate truffles, and then came to a screeching halt!

Our mini Christmas table.
Yes, they are my birthday flowers!

2. We're spending Christmas itself in the Lake District and travelling there by train. So, I not only need to plan food but need to plan food we can carry and prepare in a strange kitchen. Help?

3. My brother submitted his PhD this week. I am so delighted for him, not least because his PhD was so much harder than mine. His involved lab work at all hours of the day and night, experiments that didn't work, and a lab relocation mid-research.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Raspberry and yoghurt loaf, for a birthday

Those of you involved in research may empathise when I say that I spent all of today (or at least a good 8 hours of it) working on a grant application. The good news is that it is now largely done, or at least done as a complete draft. The other good news is that my life has had plenty of distractions from out-of-hours work. It was my birthday last week, and birthdays do make for nice distractions.

Mr Bite excelled at making this one particularly nice. I got sparkly flowers, above, a voucher to unleash myself at Whole Foods or Planet Organic (dangerous!), a dinner promise for 222 Veggie Vegan (exciting!), a new memory card (essential, with the number of photos I take), an amazingly enormous guide to touring Britain, and ticket to the ballet, The Nutcracker. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

6 months in the UK, and before and after shots for our London flat

Today marks 6 months since we moved to England, and I think it's safe to say we are still delighted with the shift. Being here feels utterly and completely right. I feel like I am living the life I'm meant to lead.

Given the date, I thought it might be nice to share some before, during and after photos of our London flat. I showed pictures of it empty when we moved in, and shared a few photos of boxes along the way, but it took until October for our Australian shipment to arrive and until this week (!) for us to get a few boxes taken away again and into storage. It's certainly been a long process to get all our belongings in place, and along the way we have had stark minimalism (i.e,. hardly any furniture or possessions) and serious clutter (boxes everywhere). Neither extreme was ideal.

The evolution of our living room - empty, to Ikea box filled,
to shipment box filled, to finished

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Porridge (oatmeal), five ways

It was -2.6'C here on Saturday. To those of you in North America or mainland Europe, -2.6'C probably doesn't sound very cold. However, it is fairly cold for London, and especially so for someone settling into their first winter in London! On this occasion the -2.6'C was accompanied by sunny skies and no wind, but it still felt like weather for a hot breakfast.

Porridge, to me, is the quintessential hot breakfast. I pretty much never have it in summer, but in winter it is on high rotation. It is warming and filling and guaranteed to power you through the morning. Plus, it can be made in so many different ways. Today's post shares five options, but I have no doubt you have favourites of your own as well. I am focusing here on oat-based porridge, so there are even more options if you branch out to buckwheat or other grains.

Hazelnut and cocoa nib porridge

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Apple, date and sweet potato butter

This is a delightfully simple recipe. It is a cross between a puree and a spread, and is well suited to topping crumpets, pancakes or even porridge (oatmeal). It would also make a nice base for muffins or other baking, and tastes rather good straight off a spoon.

I left my butter relatively chunky, but you could make it smoother if you wanted to. I used the large bowl of my food processor, which was a little too large for the volume of ingredients, resulting in the butter getting stuck around the edges of the bowl. I liked the chunky texture myself, but a smaller food processor bowl or blender, with longer processing time, would smooth things out if you prefer.

I found this tasted of sweet potato initially, but the dates and apples quickly followed. I kept it naturally sweet, so the only other ingredient I used was vanilla. If you were using the butter in baking, or just wanted a sweeter spread, some maple syrup would be a nice partner.

Apple, date and sweet potato butter
A great base for baking, or a stand alone spread for crumpets or pancakes
Makes approximately 2 cups
Vegan, low fat and gluten free

Food processor or high speed blender required

Author: Bite-Sized Thoughts

1 cup (180g) loosely packed pitted dates
1 large apple, quartered to give approximately 150g apple segments
1 medium sweet potato, cooked and cooled, to give approximately 1 cup (180g) of sweet potato pieces
1 tsp vanilla

Combine the dates and apple in a food processor or blender and process until coursely ground. Add the sweet potato and vanilla and process to your desired consistency.

Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

 What spreads or butters are you enjoying at the moment?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

365 project: November photos

This will be my second last photo set for 2014, and December marks the closing stages of my 365 project. Truthfully, I think I will be glad to bring the project to a close - my focus on careful and creative photos has faded and I am becoming lazier again with snapping shots for the sake of them! Nonetheless, I am still enjoying a greater focus on photography and this month has brought new challenges with shorter daylight hours and gloomier skies.

I think my favourites this month are numbers 5, 8, 14, 25 and 28...the last image (outdoor ice skating at Canary Wharf) because it sums up a Christmassy London so well.

1st: London at dusk (#1) / 2nd: London at dusk (#2) / 3rd: London at dusk (#3) / 4th: London at night (#1) / 5th: London at night (#2) 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In my kitchen - December 2014

I am linking this post in to Celia's monthly In My Kitchen event at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

December! I am starting to get quite excited for the end of the year and its associated festivities. Christmas isn't really evident in my kitchen yet, but it is very evident in London. Community markets are popping up everywhere, and I am spoilt for choice with outdoor ice skating rinks.

I'm sure my kitchen will be Christmassy before long, but in the mean time, here are some of the other things happening in it this month.

There have been more treats from Ruby's of London vegan stall at the Greenwich Markets. Some of you may remember me trying one of her caramel pecan cupcake earlier in the year. I didn't love that, but absolutely adored the vegan orange and carrot cake I bought on this occasion. (And it truly was in my kitchen, because I took it home!)

Ruby's of London vegan orange and carrot cake, with 'cream cheese' icing