Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mum/Lyn's Quick Cinnamon Scrolls

This has been a very long week, and sadly last Monday we celebrated the life of Matt's mum, Lyn.

In honour of her, I thought it would be good to share a recipe she made often, and which Matt & I probably made a little too often! Lyn had many allergies during her life which means she ate mostly vegan for much of her life. This recipe is probably one of those accidentally vegan recipes that appeared during the war (if anyone recognises and knows where it's from, please let me know so I can add an attribution).

Because they're not yeasted, you can get these scrolls together in about half an hour, making them great for a quick winter afternoon treat, or a last-minute "was that today??" snack for a family gathering (guilty!).

Ingredients
Dough:
2 cup of self-raising flour (if you don't have self-raising flour, use 2 cups plain flour and 3 teaspoons baking powder and increase the pinch of salt to 1 teaspoon)
pinch of salt
90g non-dairy butter
2/3 cup non-dairy milk

Filling:
60g non-dairy butter
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Icing:
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon boiling water

Method
Preheat over to 210°C
1. Sift flour and salt in a bowl. Rub butter into flour with fingertips.
2. Make well in centre and add most of the milk. Mix lightly with flat backed knife: add more liquid if necessary.
3. Knead dough briefly on lightly floured surface until smooth. Roll out to 25 x 40cm rectangle approx.
4. Make icing: beat butter, sugar and cinnamon until light and fluffy. Spread to corners of dough.
5. Roll up dough from long side. Using a sharp knife slice dough into 3cm pieces.
6. Cook for 12 minutes. Drizzle with icing.

Eat them while they're hot (as if you'll be able to resist!), or microwave for about 30 seconds to reheat.

And, most importantly, remember to share them with those you love.

We both love and miss you, Lyn/Mum.


Saturday, 18 April 2015

A Near-Complete Guide: How Move To London & Get Settled Sucessfully (When you're neither easy-going, nor a backpacker)

So, I recently took the plunge and moved to London...
Big Ben (You don't want to know how many tourists I was surrounded by. I nearly died)
Australians are eligible to apply for a two year living and working visa while they're under 31, and with the time closing in on me, I went for it. (You can find more info here: https://www.gov.uk/tier-5-youth-mobility/overview )

It's a massive undertaking. They say that one of the most stressful experiences in the world is moving house... well, imagine that multiplied by 10. You're moving house, yes, but you're also closing up all of the loops of your current life, and putting them on hold while you go somewhere else and attempt to start again.

The problem with England is that is is so seemingly close in culture to Australia (our non-Indigenous life mostly started with us being deported from England as convicts for crimes, after all!) that everything feels so similar when in fact it is quite different. It can give you a false sense of security when you're doing your planning. The Government systems and way of life are all just that little bit different to make things really confusing. Everything is in pounds. You can't get the same brands (and often, even the same ingredients!) at the supermarkets. Some people have really bloody strong and hard to understand English accents.

I'd only ever been to London once - as a base for when I did some international travel a couple of years ago - and to be honest, I didn't really enjoy it. It was grey. It was neverendingly drizzly. I was staying in a miserable suburb that was poorly connected to transport. But still I came back. Now I know that London is what you make it - and is changed so much by where you live.
A typical miserable London day, BUT YOU CAN BUY WINE AT THE SUPERMARKET SO WHO CARES

Here are some really, really important recommendations that I wish I knew when I was planning, in the first stages of moving, or even after settling - what I know now. Let me share with you. This was written from the point of view of an Australian moving to the UK, but there should be enough for most people here.

Things To Arrange Prior to Arrival

A Quick Word On Packing

  • Pack carefully. Seriously. I wish I got rid of some of the ridiculous clothes and trinkets I brought with me and brought some more beloved books.
  • Do not bring a giant bottle of your favourite hot sauce, even if you think you need it. This is London, for god's sakes, of course you can get Cholula. Even if not in store, there's one day shipping with Amazon!
  • I backed up all of my CDs onto a hard drive so I could bring all my music, along with my resume and scans of my identity paperwork, and had some dear cookbook author friends send me their cookbooks on PDF and screen shot! (thank you, you seriously saved my sanity so many times, Dreena and Julie).
  • I bought a MacBook Air - it's light and syncs well with my iPhone (I'm no technowizard), plus works well with my hard drive.
  • Australian clothes are generally not warm enough or suited to the London climate. Especially not Brisbane ones. You also forget that we're so isolated in Australia, so everything can be expensive. That's not the case here. Bring your favourite pieces, and for everything else, wait until you get here. For clothes, go to Primark. They're surprisingly fashionable, look well made (even if they're not), and very, very affordable. I got a complete business outfit - suit, shoes, a belt, a watch, socks and underwear for well under 100 pounds.
Cheap suit? Expensive suit? Who cares! Go to Primark (okay, their changing rooms are nowhere near as nice)


Get A Debit/Transaction Card You Can Use Overseas Without Fees
The banking world isn't what it used to be. Travel isn't what it used to be. I remember the arduous process of arranging currency, getting traveller's checks or international cash passport cards with lots of fees - all of that rigamarole. It's not necessary anymore.

There are a number of banks with cards designed for international travel that you can use as debit cards overseas in ATMs and EFTPOS/point of sale facilities in shops, machines, etc - WITHOUT fees. No fee for transactions, no monthly fee, no account fees, no withdrawal fees, etc, etc. Really. You put your Australian money into the account, and no matter what country in the world you're in, you can pay in the local currency with your Australian money on your Australian card. You don't have to pre-load currencies or anything. It just adjusts to where you are and what you're doing. You also get a really pretty good exchange rate (so they're not tricking you with the no fees and then stinging you with the exchange rate).

I went with the Citibank Plus account, which I've used all around the world, fee-free. Egypt, Jordan, Sweden, Italy, Ireland, France, England, the United States, Canada. It sounds too good to be true, but it really isn't. 

Their customer service is not excellent, however, you can protect yourself by not needing to use their customer service except in cases of emergency.  I stupidly lost my card in America, and they were absolutely useless to deal with. It was an ordeal. Time-consuming, shocking, and horrible. I didn't get my replacement card until three weeks later - when I arrived home - despite me spending hours on the phone trying to get a card sent to my California address. Good thing I was staying with friends and family and had my American Express card on me as backup. They do seem to have improved since then, however.

You can apply online, and then provide copies of identity paperwork at a branch, and then you wait.

For information: http://www.citibank.com.au/plus3/

You will still want to get a UK bank account once you've arrived - to have your income paid into, and to save you time in shops (generally you need to show ID for larger purchases in shops) - see below.
Pigeon Power Represent

The other thing to consider is that international bank transfers of money cost lots of money - in fees, exchange rates, or other ways. If you're moving a lot of money from Australia to the UK, you're going to want to shop around. However, you can also do what I did and avoid that (after you've arranged a UK Bank account, see below) by transferring all of the Australian money you want to transfer into your Citibank Plus account, and then withdrawing the maximum per day at the ATM inside your bank (I managed to get out around 2500 pounds a day), and immediately depositing it into your UK bank account at the teller. It was scary, risky, and probably unsafe, so I'm not recommending it, but it's an option and I did it.

Accommodation - Air BnB
If you don't have friends or family to stay with, book an AirBnB for a month before you depart. AirBnB is a great website that I've used to travel all around the world. I've stayed in some wonderful places and a couple average ones, but it's a really great system. People who have a room free and like the idea of hosting guests can put their room up on AirBnB - both host and guest are protected as best as possible by systems AirBnB has in place - the host with insurance, the guest with phone assistance and backup if something isn't what was promised or goes wrong. 
View from my gorgeous, affordable AirBnB on the river Thames at Canada Water

My London AirBnB Suggestions:
  • If you don't know anyone who uses AirBnB, you can use my friend referral code for a 17 pound discount off your first booking. Just click here: www.airbnb.com.au/c/mbo18?s=8
  • Ensure anyone you're considering staying with has good information available in both their room ad and their profile, is fast and helpful in communication (don't just book! touch base first!) and has good reviews. Read the reviews thoroughly - and look for flags that others have mentioned that you might mean you really do (or don't) enjoy staying there.
  • Find a room in Zone 1 or 2.
  • Find a room well located to transport - ideally, both a tube line and buses to the city and back within short walk, or nearby bus distance. Consider areas you may like to spend time in and where you will be wanting to travel to - i.e. work. You can make your life a lot easier if your transport is direct and uncomplicated. Different lines go to different central stations.
  • Look for somewhere with a "monthly" price - these are often greatly reduced from nightly or weekly, as it means the AirBnB host doesn't have to be constantly cleaning, meeting and orientating new guests, or waiting on new bookings.
  • Consider the facilities you need - I do my search by location within my price range, then add on amenities - Washer, Kitchen (you'll save lots of money having access to a home kitchen!), and Wireless Internet.
  • Consider that if there is more than one of you travelling together (for instance, if you're a couple), that some AirBnB hosts may charge more per extra person. This should be clearly outlined in their ad. I do understand why this may be the case - more consumption of water, electricity, linen, etc - but I also know that people charge couples extra just to make more money on AirBnB - so this automatically puts me off a prospective room. I feel you should be charged for the room, particularly if you're just a couple.
  • If you've booked for a month - get to know your new host and arrangements via the AirBnB inbox. Our host was kind enough to find us on the day and take us back to the accommodation, and let me have correspondence including my SIM card, banking and national insurance paperwork, and lots more sent there. Having a London address is all important when settling in, as you'll no doubt find out.
Prepaid Monthly SIM Card - Giffgaff
When you're in a new place and setting up a new life, I can't explain how important it is to be contactable, to be able to make calls (for banking, national insurance and recruitment appointments!!), and to have access to the internet - for questions, maps, social media, and everything else. For this reason, I arranged to have a SIM card sent to me before I arrived in London - that way when I stepped off the plane and cleared customs and immigration, I could simply take my old sim card out and pop a new one in - then I'd have the internet to make any necessary calls, and be able to use maps and transport schedules and find my way.

A phone company called Giffgaff (on the 02 network) was recommended to me last time I was in London. I found them easy to use, very reasonably priced, and with a great support network of helpful members. So I went with them again.


Giffgaff is very easy to arrange - you can have a SIM card sent to any English address so it's ready and waiting for you when you arrive - and many members are happy to post SIM cards internationally (so you can have one when you land) - as they get a small referral fee. 

Their monthly packs are called "goodie bags" - you can find more information here https://giffgaff.com/goodybags-3g
I've found the 10 pound goodie bag more than enough for my needs. For 10 pounds, you receive 500 UK Minutes of calls, unlimited UK texts, 1GB of internet, and free contact to other giffgaff numbers. 

NB: Do ensure you order the right SIM, just to make things easier. iPhone 5 onwards uses the "nano sim", and iPhone 4 and earlier use the "micro sim". If you order the wrong one, all is not lost, you can actually trim your SIM card down with scissors from a micro to a nano. It sounds insane, but I've done it twice with a pair of scissors, and it has worked fine! Here is an overly complex YouTube "how-to" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6T1Mygucak

MUST-DOS, As Soon As You Land
Seriously. Do these. Don't delay. Get your phone and take down these numbers right now. Call and get appointments as soon as you land, or as soon as their call centres are open after you land. The processes to get a National Insurance Number and Bank Account can take weeks.

National Insurance Number:
You can only apply from within the UK. This is a Government issued identity number. You need this number to work and pay tax (similar to a Tax File Number in Australia), and most employers will want you to have it before they even interview you. There are occasions when you can work without it - but you'll pay higher tax. Just get it.

Call as soon as you land. It took me 3 and a half weeks to get mine following my first call. You may have to wait for paperwork to be sent to you, and then return photocopies of your passport/visa etc (a local library is a great place to photocopy!), or you may have to attend an interview at a JobCentre - in that case, I highly, highly, highly recommend asking for an appointment at any location other than Whitechapel (it's honestly one of the most depressing places I've ever been).

Jobcentre Plus - National Insurance number allocation service
Telephone: 0345 600 0643
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm 
https://www.gov.uk/apply-national-insurance-number
I was freezing, everyone was burning,

Banking
You're going to need a UK bank account - to have your earnings deposited into. Yes, you can use your overseas debit/credit card for many things in the UK  - but generally it'll require you to always sign for purchases, and produce photo ID to a staff member (even for groceries) - which can slow you right down. 

Don't underestimate how difficult it can be to get a bank account here, as opposed how easy it is in Australia. 
Don't think you can just walk into a bank with your ID and set up an account there and then. You can't. You'll need an appointment. And even after that, you'll have to wait for your card to be sent to you.
While I waited for my future appointment, I still went into nearly every bloody bank I saw and tried to get an appointment on the day, and had absolutely no luck.

To open a bank account in England, you're going to have to call a bank's call centre, get a suitable appointment time at a bank convenient to you (the earliest I could get with any bank was more than a week in the future), wait for an appointment, likely have that appointment cancelled on the day once or twice (as the person you're seeing has called in sick or the appointment-setter didn't make the appointment properly), and overall, it's just a dreadful process.

Eventually you'll have a 30-60 minute interview with the bank where you'll provide all of your details - address, phone number, copies of your passport and ID, and you'll think it's over and done with. Nope. You'll then have to wait around 10 working days to have your card sent to you before you can access your account from ATMs or point of sale machines.

I recommend Lloyds bank - they seemed to have the best general fee-free accounts, the soonest appointment time, and they seemed to be the most flexible in terms of paperwork and history for those who have newly arrived in the UK and don't necessarily have everything required by other banks. 

Lloyds has a page on setting up a new account when you're new to the UK, however, don't believe anyone who says otherwise, you can't just wander in to a bank with your passport and get a bank account there and then http://www.lloydsbank.com/banking-with-us/joining-lloyds/new-to-the-uk.asp?WT.ac=BWUJNFOM

You can also call Lloyds on their enquiries line 24 hours a day: 0845 3000 000

Oyster Card/Public Transport
You'll need this to get around London on public transport. Buses don't accept cash anymore, contactless credit/debit cards from outside the UK won't work without your signature or pin (so can't be used on public transport), and transport here is fast paced and stations are busy - go go go. You need to be able to just touch on or off without having to line up at (often closed or malfunctioning ticket machines or counters. 

Here's a map of London transport. You'll understand why I recommend getting The CityMapper App (see below). https://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/london-rail-and-tube-services-map.pdf

As soon as you've landed, go to a bus/tube/rail station, go to a machine or ticket station, and purchase an Oyster card. There is a 10 pound (refundable on return) charge for the card itself. Transport in London is organised in travel zones based on distance from the centre. 

Guide dogs travel on public transport. Get out of their way and don't be a dick.
Provided your accommodation is in Zone 1 or 2, for maximum flexibility in terms of getting around and cost effectiveness in the first month, I recommend getting a Monthly Travelcard (it's digital) added to your Oyster Card for Zones 1 and 2 for the first month. This currently costs around 125 pounds, but means that you can use it in an unlimited fashion on/in buses, trains, tube stations and the DLR (Docklands Light Rail). This means you'll be free to travel around without worrying about the cost every time you do so. Many people (myself included) live and work in zones 1 and 2, so this covers the bases, and means you'll be looking to live and work in a central enough location.

I also recommend adding about 15 pounds of extra "pay-as-you-go" credit to your Oyster card for sticky situations, or times when you need to travel outside Zones 1 and 2. 

Once you've got your Oyster card - go online and register it to yourself. That way, if it's lost or stolen, your credit/tickets are protected and can be reallocated to you on a new card if needed. Don't laugh - I lost my oyster card with my monthly travelcard (around 125 pounds) on it - it would have really hurt to have to pay that again. Instead, as I'd registered my card, I could just pay another card fee, and have it transferred to my new card. 

There are loads of other benefits to registering your Oyster card. For this, and for other information on Oyster cards (including London public transport fares), you can click here http://www.tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/oyster?intcmp=1683

And for heavens' sake - give up your seat to people who need it more than you. Thank the bus driver. Put your rubbish in the bin. Turn down your headphones. Give someone a smile. Be considerate to those around you.

Download the CityMapper app:
I am not a public transport user. Actually, I am now. It's the only sensible way to get around in London. Everyone does it. You see rich people in their furs and jewels sitting/standing uncomfortably on the tube, alongside students, mums, university professors, office workers and everyone else. 
In Australia, I pretty much never caught public transport. Loathed it. Could never make it work. Always ended up in the middle of nowhere, missing my bus/connection, late, hassled, crying. 

Public transport is much easier in London. I've actually grown to like it. A lovely accountant called Alex came up, introduced himself and cracked onto me on the tube the other day. He looked like he was dying with nervousness, and I actually was dying of nervousness, so at least we were even. I could barely hear him, so must have seemed insane as I answered every question with "yes! I just moved here from Australia! I've only been here a month!" with a crazed/glazed look in my eye. The day before at my workplace, my workmate had told me "oh, no one ever falls in love after meeting on the tube! It just doesn't happen!". Well I know it can happen. 

Get your phone out of your iPhone or crappy free newspaper! Politely crack onto someone on public transport! Be nice to someone who cracks onto you, providing they don't make you feel uncomfortable. Live it! I fully endorse this. You might turn someone's crappy day into a lovely one and give someone a spring in their step and a smug story to tell their workmates. Just you try to get me off the tube now - it won't happen.

CityMapper is a free app that is an absolute LIFESAVER. In fact, I'm thinking about it so pleasantly now that I wish there was a way I could pay them to thank them for their bloody fantastic app.

CityMapper uses your exact location to find where you are. You can then search where you would like to go - by name, or address. It then gives you oodles of options on how to do it. By train, bus, tube, walking, etc. It tells you exactly where to go - showing you on a map pointing in the direction you're going, and gets you anywhere and everywhere. It even alerts you as to when to get off the bus. It gives you live updates on how many minutes away buses, trains, tube trains etc are, future ones coming, and even gives you rain-safe options.

Once you're settled, you can even set a "home" and "work" address, meaning where-ever you are, as long as your location can be seen and you have internet access, you can just open the app, press "get me home/to work" and it'll get you there as fast as possible.

CityMapper also knows when there are delays or line closures etc, which is surprisingly common, and can save you loads of time. 

CityMapper also has an offline tube map - meaning even if you can't get internet access, you can see the London tube system and work out your journey manually, provided you know which stations you need to start and end at. 

I can't recommend this app enough.



Once You're Home, You've Unpacked, And Settled Into Your Accommodation

Be gentle with yourself. Yes, you've got a lot to do, so don't procrastinate, get started. But also take time throughout your days to have a cup of tea or coffee, and relax. London is fast paced - and it's easy to get caught up in the endless go go go nature of everything, and get really stressed out. Take deep breaths. Get into a good sleep cycle pattern. Get up at the same time every day, and go to the bed at the same time every day. Shower and groom like you're getting up to go to work every day. Eat well! Listen to music that you like. Occasionally talk to supportive friends and family back home. Take care of yourself, and you'll make everything that little bit easier, and save your sanity.

Give yourself time to adjust - it can be scary, and you may think you've made a big mistake, but chances are, in a couple of weeks, you may not feel that way any longer. You might come to love London. The right job and place to live can change everything. 

Squirrels are everywhere. They'll steal yr lunch money.
If it doesn't work out - if you're on a UK visa like I was, you're not restricted to London. After a bad week of no job leads calling me back, expensive groceries, bad weather, no one smiling at me anywhere, and squishing myself in Tetris-style to the tube, feeling exhausted, deflated, and completely invaded, I would take deep breaths and tell myself "there's always Exeter. Or Belfast. Or Glasgow". You're not trapped, but adjustment takes time - give yourself a chance. 

You can always go home later. As my friend Louise said (and I'm paraphrasing) "I walked around London crying for three months, awfully homesick, and hating everything. I met a New Zealander who wasn't scared off my by never-ending river of tears, we fell in love, went home, and got married. But I'm so glad I went in the first place").

Get A Job - Sign up with a Recruitment Agency
In Australia, I was always super suspicious of Recruitment agencies - they seemed to use many underhanded tactics and just be all-round dodgy. Here, that's not the case. Many Employers use them, there are some excellent ones around, and it can make the process of finding a job and settling in 1000 times easier.

When I landed, I applied for about a hundred jobs. I've got good references, a good resume, and lots of relevant experience for the jobs I was applying for. I didn't even receive one callback! Luckily, a Recruitment Agency called Chandler McLeod (that I'd dealt with as a Management Consulting Firm in Australia) somehow received a copy of my resume, called me, and got me in for an interview. I took some of their tests, and they then found me some temporary work, and found me an excellent job that suited me - just a few days after my original appointment. I couldn't be happier.

The benefits of going with a recruitment agency:
  • Coaching. They can give you interview tips, resume tips, and the insider information - which makes breezing the job interview and getting that job so much easier.
  • Temporary work. While you're waiting for that perfect permanent job, they often have lots of temporary jobs to choose from - and can send you out on suitable jobs, so you can start earning some money!
  • Helping you figure out what jobs might be suited to you - in terms of your skills, needs, and wants.
  • Knowing London! Prospective jobs are great - but how are you going to get there? What sort of an area is it in? A recruitment agent should be able to help you with these questions. 
  • Having someone to talk to. Don't underestimate this. You're in a new place, and hardly know anyone. I got lucky with my recruitment agent - she was wonderful. She also provided information about my working for her to a potential landlord, and a credit card company - helping me clear some hurdles and get a place to live and a credit card - that would have been much harder without her assistance.
  • They want you to succeed. Every job they send you on reflects on them and their professionalism. And you being in demand boosts their commission. So they'll do the best they can to help you get the job, and succeed at it.
I recommend Mandeep Panesar from Chandler McLeod, UK. Chandler McLeod were great and very non scary to deal with. They also had loads of excellent jobs on their books. As a little extra bonus, a lot of the staff were Australian, so hearing a friendly accent was really nice in the early days. I got so lucky being placed with Mandeep - she was an absolute angel, a lifesaver, and went above and beyond to help me find a job and settle in. She's a treasure.

Chandler McLeod UK:
Level 3, Religare House
100 Cannon Street,
London EC4 6EU

Phone: 44 207 929 1199
www.chandlermacleod.co.uk

Also, to my fellow gentlemen: if you're looking at working in an office of some kind, wear a suit and tie to your interviews. It's much more common over here to dress up much more than our casual Australian standards, and if nothing else, you'll look great and be much warmer than you would have been otherwise.

Find A Long-Term Place To Live:
This can be a mega drama. Mega, mega, mega. I don't have all the answers here. You'll need to tread carefully and hope luck is on your side.

It's best to wait until you know where you'll be working and spending most of your time before finding a permanent place to live (hence me recommending you live in an AirBnB with a good host for around a month), as transport can make or break your life here, and it's not always logical. You want to live somewhere that allows you to get to your workplace as easily as possible.

When looking for a place to live, consider my AirBnB tips above, transport, safety (if you're a complete nervous wreck like I can be, you can even put potential streets and areas into the London Metropolitan Crime Map to see which areas are better or worse, here http://maps.met.police.uk).

Also consider nearby supermarkets and your preferences - if I had to shop at Morrison's or ASDA for most things, I'd likely cry myself to sleep into really bad cheap wine every night. But you may love them. I really like being near Waitrose or Tesco, with Sainsbury's as a backup. They have most products that I need and want, and I like the layout of most of their stores. 

The process of getting a place to live in the UK is much more challenging than Australia. Locals don't seem to realise, and many people will tell you "oh just get the referencing checks done! It'll be fine!" - but it often won't. Referencing here is expensive - usually 75 pounds per person at absolute minimum, regardless of whether you're chosen as the successful future tenant or not.

They have made it very, very hard and even impossible in most cases for most foreigners to pass reference checks (required by most Landlords and Rental Agencies). Your rental, employment and credit history outside of the country won't be considered, so you'll be basically considered a ghost with no history, which won't make you look good to most landlords. Then they'll require a Guarantor. But won't accept one from outside the country.

Gumtree was dreadful. Thousands of ads with almost no information, hard to find things in specific areas, and a lot of scammers.

"GIVE ME ALL YR NUTS"
Your best bet is to scour ads on a website like Spare Room, which bills itself as "The UK's Busiest Flat and Houseshare Website". To either find a private landlord, or flatmates who are just looking to fill a room. Try to find places where you can rely on building a good relationship, not requiring all that referencing. I did go through referencing, and ended up agreeing to pay an extra months' rent in advance, as surety.

Terrifying goose.
On SpareRoom, you can actually put up a profile with information on yourself, what you want in a place, photos etc, and let prospective flatmates and landlords find *you*. 

You can also search by zone, transport zone, price, suitable for couples, smokers, kids, pets, etc, etc and *save* this search, so you don't have to re-enter it every time. It's really wonderful. 

You don't need to pay to use the site successfully. They do allow you to pay to be first in on new places - "early bird listings", but eventually they all become free to contact - it just takes a little longer.

I managed to find a great place with really lovely housemates that I had a chance to get to know before coming to look at the room, and before moving in, which I think is so important. I also found some places that looked great but after meeting people, I knew it just wasn't right - or it was too difficult for transport, etc. 

For me, I know I have to have a safe/comfortable/happy home for me to be able to function well. SpareRoom allows you to do your best to aim for this. 


Credit Card
As a bonus - if you've been with a global credit card company for some time, you may be able to get that transferred to the UK. Don't underestimate how useful this may be in terms of building up a credit history and confirming your legitimacy! I transferred my Australian card - an American Express card - to the UK. If you've got one, you can start the process here. https://www.americanexpress.com/global-card-transfers/

I recommend the American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday Credit Card - they have an introductory offer where you get 5% cashback on purchases for the first three months. https://www.americanexpress.com/uk/content/platinum-cashback-everyday-credit-card/

Once you're settled:
Consider revisiting some of your choices you've taken for granted.

I now know that because I only catch two buses a day, it's cheaper for me just to pay as I go, rather than buying a monthly pass. Buses are only 1.50 per boarding, whereas a monthly bus pass is around 80 pounds a month, and a tube/bus/train pass is around 125 pounds for two zones. If I only use buses for work, that works out to roughly 60 pounds a month! Even with some weekend travel, with capping, I'm most likely going to come out on top paying as I go.

It also means now that I've got my American Express card sorted, in most cases I can just use it as a contactless payment card on buses and the tube, and I'm still eligible for daily/weekly capping of fares by this method. I still keep my oyster card for emergencies, of course.

Enjoy. And remember - you're in London! You can pop over to another country for the weekend! Often it'll only cost you around a 15 pound fare with Ryanair! You could pop over to Italy on a Saturday morning to get some pasta, and be back for dinner! You're in bloody LONDON! Enjoy the differences. Live it.
Chinatown

If you have any questions, get in touch. You don't have to be alone. Talk to some locals, but failing that, there's always the "Aussies in London" Facebook Community.

When in doubt, go to Borough Market and eat everything. (But only go during the week or really early on a Saturday morning unless massive crowds and having coffee spilled on you is your thing. And don't grab random men and whisper into their ears "Oh GOSH I hope that's custard, not apple, in that pie!!!" because it won't turn out to be the person you're with, it'll be a complete stranger who just happened to be dressed like them, and then because there are so many people, you can't get away from the poor frightened stranger for ages, you just have to keep moving with the crowd crush and trying not to look back at them comfortingly trying to prove you're sane and it was an accident, but all the while looking crazier and crazier).

Borough Market, in calmer times

Good luck. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Veg Eats in Red Hill

As the prophet is not recognised in his (or her, I imagine) hometown, so too is it easy to look past the suburbs when thinking of dining options. Admittedly, that's usually for a good reason: suburb restaurants as they've largely been known in Australia tend to be of somewhat questionable quality, opening and closing seemingly at random, and appearing and disappearing almost as erratically.

Thankfully, the last few years have seen a big turn around in this, and Brisbanites are finally enjoying a boon of good suburban restaurants, and hopefully (re)discovering some that have been around for years.

Admittedly, this probably isn't the case in every suburb, but I'm lucky enough near Red Hill which, while always having a range of good food (NoNo's has been there for at least 20 years), has, in the last four or five years, seen an explosion of new food places. And, even more luckily, most of them have stood the test of time (despite this being a particularly tough year for hospitality) and remain firm favourites of mine.

On a good day when I can actually get organised (ha), I like to order pizzas from Colle Rosso, run across to Craft and grab a bottle of wine or a few beers, head down to Botanica for some salad, then go back across to Colle Rosso to grab my pizzas and head home for a delicious meal, and probably Stargate. And all in about 15 minutes!

Colle Rosso, Botanica and Craft in the one photo!

If you're heading to Red Hill by public transport, you can catch the 380 or 381 bus from the city. If coming from further afield, catch a train or bus to Roma St station then walk across the road (outside the police station/courthouse) and catch the 380 or 381 from there.


Botanica
Shop 9/1 Enoggera Terrace, Red Hill
07 3367 3334 | www.botanicarealfood.com.au | facebook | @botanicafood

Note that their hours have changed since we first posted about them:
Tues-Fri: 9am-6pm
Sat/Sun: 9am-5pm | Closed Mondays
Limited onstreet parking nearby; you may have to find the closest park you can and walk. Doorway is quite narrow and there is a small step off the street which may impede accessibility. Food is ordered and paid for at a low counter but salad fridge is quite high.
Menu is entirely vegetarian, with many vegan items. Staff will be able to tell you which items are vegan. Menu changes daily. EFTPOS available.


We first encountered Botanica when it opened in 2013. Since then, it has become a firm favourite of locals and those further afield. I personally hate making salad so Botanica is great when I want a lunch that's light enough but also satisfying: their giant cous cous salad is probably my favourite salad and something I would never in a million years make at home.



As well as their ever-changing array of salads, they also have baked goods (some of which are vegan, though I'm not sure if there are vegan selections every day) and a drinks fridge stocked with locally made almond milk (either chocolate or coffee) and Emma & Tom's drinks. Their hours mean it's convenient to grab a salad on the way home from work or on the way to a gathering on the weekend, either for yourself ($10 for a small box), a small group ($15) or a larger one ($20).



Colle Rosso
191 Musgrave Road, Red Hill
07 3369 7417 | www.collerosso.com.au | facebook | @collerosso
Tues - Sun: 5pm - 10pm | Closed Mondays (they will also open for lunch any day for groups of 10 or more or for private functions)
Some street parking directly out the front, otherwise there is more parking underneath (turn down Storie St and then into the first driveway on the left). Lower carpark is only accessible by stairs but the restaurant is accessible directly off the street (through two glass doors). Toilets are near the lower carpark, so accessed only from stairs. Table service, but meals are paid for at a high counter. EFTPOS available. If you book online through Qantas, you can also earn Qantas points.
Menu is a mix of omnivorous and vegetarian. Dairy-free, vegetarian, and gluten-free items are clearly indicated on the menu. There are no vegan items except for a couple of the sides, but all pizzas can be made dairy free and vegetarian if you ask staff when ordering. Pasta (gluten-free and regular) and the gluten-free pizzas are made with egg.

My love for Collo Rosso is already pretty apparently in the post I wrote about them last year, but we're talking about Red Hill so... I love Colle Rosso (And I'm not joking when I say they're in my favourites on my phone). If I could only eat one place for the rest of my life, I wouldn't even think twice; I'd already have grabbed a table at Colle Rosso. In addition to the suggestions in my post, I'd also like to add that the green beans in lemon, olive oil and almonds are so simple and absolutely delicious.


Couverture & Co.
19A Enoggera Terrace, Red Hill
07 3367 3000 | couvertureandco.com.au | facebook | @couvertureandco
Tues-Fri: 10am - 6pm | Sat-Sun: 10am-2pm | Closed Mondays
See parking and accessibility information for Botanica above.


When I first went here, there was only one vegan item on the menu (though all but a handful of items are gluten free), but even the fruit-hating Matt loved the candied orange-filled date coated in dark chocolate that I got. Thankfully, I have since contacted Couverture & Co and they have informed me that they also have two other vegan chocolates in their range: the Cassis (dark chocolate ganache with blackcurrant purée) and the cherry coconut bar (dark chocolate cherry ganache topped with a layer of tart cherries and coconut). Their plain dark chocolate bars are also vegan. I look forward to trying these out next time I'm there, and hopefully as demand increases they will add even more vegan selections to their menu (I'm just going to say: chocolate coated cashew cream truffles).

La Vosh Patisserie
154 Musgrave Road, Red Hill
07 3369 4461 | lavoshpatisserie.com.au | facebook
Mon: 6.15am - 4pm
Tues-Sat: 6.15am - 4.30pm | Closed Sundays
If you're lucky, you can get parking directly in front of the shop but there's only three or four street parks so I usually go down Zigzag St (the first right after ITP) to find a park then walk up. La Vosh and NoNo's aren't part of the shopping centre that includes the 7Eleven so you may be towed if you park there! The shop itself is accessible though the doorway is quite narrow, but parking situation might make access difficult. No toilet facilities that I'm aware of. All meals are paid for at a low counter. EFTPOS available.
Menu omnivorious but many vegetarian options (it is a patisserie afterall!). No vegan items on the menu, but you can do a "build your own" bagel or sandwich. Some gluten free options available.

We went to La Vosh a few years ago to eat one of their bagels. Oddly, even though we loved it, we didn't go back until a few months ago when, famished one day, I got a hankering for a bagel. I tried another cafe (which will remain nameless) nearby but was horrified to find that the only vaguely vegetarian option would require me to remove half the toppings and still be charged $14 for the privilege; no thank you! So I went to La Vosh, got their veggie bagel (no cheese, add guacamole; $8.95) and began an absolute obsession. Honestly, every time I come here, I get one bagel and by the time I get back to the car, it's already gone and I'm wishing I'd bought another.



La Vosh make everything in their (tiny!) shop daily; they have a range of bagels, which are made the "traditional" New York Way, and none of which are egg-washed (hurrah!), as well as a selection of other baked goods (sadly none vegan). If you're ever in need of a quick and delicious lunch, seriously stop here. Or just grab a few bagels and make toppings yourself at home.

Mamm's Thai Noodles 'N' Rice
Shop 5, 160 Musgrave Road, Red Hill
www.mammsthai.com.au (they also do online ordering)
Sat-Thurs: 3.30pm - 9pm | Fri: 3.30pm - 9.15pm | Deliveries are conducted from 6pm til 30 minutes before closing
See parking and accessibility information for La Vosh Patisserie above.

Menu is omnivorous with vegetarian items interspersed. Last time I went, I was told that any meat dish can be made with tofu on request, but it's best to double check that there are no other animal ingredients in the sauce. They will happily leave fish sauce out of dishes on request.

While there is nothing particularly individual about the menu here, the food is delicious (though I've heard from others that it's a bit hit and miss) and, the few times I've been, they asked if I wanted no fish sauce when I ordered vegetarian food, which is incredibly refreshing (and a relief, to be honest). Staff seem pretty knowledgeable so should be able to help you with what's vegan on the menu. Though I haven't tried it, they also offer coconut ice cream (dairy free) on their dessert menu, so your sweet tooth won't be left wanting!

NoNo's
158 Musgrave Road, Red Hill
07 3369 5691 | www.nonos.com.au
7 Days: 10.30am - 8.30pm
See parking and accessibility info for La Vosh Patisserie above.

Fair warning: they are still cash only, so come prepared, otherwise there is an ATM at the 7Eleven.
Menu is mix of vegetarian and omnivorous, but most vegetarian items are also vegan. Most items are gluten free so be sure to ask if you need to check anything.

NoNo's has been a fixture in Red Hill for many years; it's incredible how many people from all over Brisbane know about it (even if not for the name, "Oh, that Lebanese place in Red Hill!"). And believe me, what it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in delicious.

The obvious choice is the falafel kebab (probably the best in Brisbane; $8), but don't look past the salads! That delicious, creamy potato salad or those garlicky chickpeas? All vegan! Ah, tahini, you are beautiful... The menu proudly proclaims that everything is dairy free, just in case you do get worried! You can get various container sizes for the different salads and dips ($6/$8/$10), so I'd recommend getting a mix of them. Sadly, only the halva is vegan of their dessert selection (I've never been a fan), but after you've eaten a kebab and a box of salads, you'll be lucky if you can find room!

Recently, the owner has been on a bit of a health-kick journey so they have added a range of health food products, from coconut sugar/flour/oil to goji berries, to their small selection of traditional Middle Eastern groceries.

Plum Tucker
5 Enogerra Terrace, Red Hill (corner Musgrave Rd)
07 3369 0610 | plumtucker.com.au
Sun-Thurs: 6am - 2pm | Fri-Sat: 6am - 9pm

Limited onstreet parking nearby; you may have to find the closest park you can and walk. Inside and outside seating area are quite cramped which may impede mobility; toilets are up a steep flight of stairs (I'm unsure if they have accessible toilets). Table service. Food is paid for at a low counter. Menu is omnivorous, with vegetarian, vegan, paleo, dairy free, and gluten free items (or options) clearly marked. Staff seem knowledgeable with any questions regarding dietary requirements.

Positioned on the end of the row of shops that also includes Botanica, Plum has a the same problems that plague many places in Red Hill: great visibility, low accessibility. You drive past and it's right there but unless you're somehow in early enough to grab one of the few nearby street parks, you'll need to find a street park further afield.


Thankfully, it is mostly worth the walk. For breakfast, Plum have a few set menu items ("breakfast our way", from $5.5-19) and then a "build your own" breakfast (all elements are $2-5), which I found most appealing. While they do have a tofu scramble on the menu (which was why I initially wanted to try here), I would pass on that for one of the more flavourful breakfast options (the baked black beans are quite tasty). There are a couple of items marked as having a "vegan option"; thankfully the waitstaff understand what vegan is, so if you have any questions they can help you out.



Inside are some couches but a majority of the seating is outside in their courtyard. It, if a little crowded, quite pleasant, especially with the water feature drowning out most of the sound from Musgrave Road. In future, I will have to try one of their set menu items, though it's hard to pass up all the options of the build your own! And there's also the appeal of being open 7 days.

For lunch, you can either have the all-day breakfast or try their vegan burger (helpfully called the Vegan Burger). I found it quite spicy, so chilliphobes beware! (Also I believe it was the patty itself that was spicy so I'm not sure if they could reduce the chilli on request if you're chilliphobic). The veganaise is delicious, though, and all in all I really enjoyed the burger.

I'm yet to try here for dinner (though the dinner menu just seems to repurpose lunch and breakfast items for vegans) so that's my next task!

Craft
196 Musgrave Road
07 3367 1383
Sun-Mon: 10am - 8pm | Tues-Wed, Sat: 10am - 9pm | Thurs-Fri: 10am - 10pm

Limited onstreet parking; you may have to find the closest park you can and walk (there are often street parks on the street directly after Craft, though it is a very steep street). Some parts of the shop are pokey which could impede mobility. Items are paid for at a low counter.

A beacon of hope for wine, beer and cider lovers, Craft is one of the few truly independent bottle shops in a sea of re-branded and re-packaged liquor stores. The staff can answer pretty much any question you have, providing very helpful recommendations (rather than just suggestion the most expensive thing) if you're at a loss with the sheer selection available in their relatively small shop. And, best of all, it's all quite reasonably priced. They also have a fridge of more standard bottle shop fare (Cruisers and the like) placed in the fridge near the door, in case you should come with someone who is looking for something along those lines. Beers and ciders (both local and imported, some from tiny breweries, others from larger) take up the fridges and shelves on the left side of the shop, with wines taking up every other inch of spare space, save behind the counter which is taken up with a dizzying array of spirits.

Because I trust the taste of the owners, I take every visit as an opportunity to try something new, and I'm rarely disappointed; I highly recommend doing the same.


And there you have it! It's always exciting to see new food coming to a suburb, and it's been wonderful to watch the scene in Red Hill slowly unfold over the last couple of years.

As always, please let us know if we've missed anywhere out so we can update this post! And let us know what you think if you've been to any of these places and have tips or recommendations that could help.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Melt! Festival 2014, Summary and a Guide for Australians Going In Future

I've wanted to go to Melt! Festival for years, so when I finally had some time off accrued and needed a holiday, it seemed the perfect place to start my holiday (I actually bought my ticket for Melt! before I bought any other tickets).

I've only ever been to Australian festivals, so this was my first Real Festival Experience, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

Melt! is held at Ferropolis (in Gräfenhainichen), an open air museum showcasing huge industrial machines from the 20th century. And I mean seriously huge. It provides a stark and impressive background to the festival, as the machines are lit up, or erupt fire as night sets in.


I wasn't entirely sure how to get to the festival, and then I read on the website about the Melt! MiXery Train. Basically, the train takes you to the festival, serves as your accommodation while you're there (each cabin has 6 beds (loosely speaking...)), and then takes you back. The train starts at Köln (Cologne) so I thought it would be worth it to catch it from there and get The Whole Experience. There's a bar (with a DJ) on the train that runs the entire time so it is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I stupidly didn't look at the map properly, so, at the end of the festival, I caught the train back to Köln (it's something like 8 hours, and a lot slower when everyone is dead because they've been partying for three days), and then caught a plane to Berlin... which is only 2 hours north of Gräfenhainichen. Great work, James. I discovered this from a couple who shared my cabin; they caught the MiXery train back to Magdeburg (or possibly Braunschweig) and then caught a train from there to Berlin, which probably took them 3 hours and I think cost them about €30. Sigh.

I think the MiXery train is a great idea, and it's really convenient (and cost effective; you can also order the train ticket and your festival ticket at the same time through the MiXery website). My major problem was the beds were really uncomfortable, other people are grubby, and it was SO HOT. My bed got the first rays of light in the morning and by about 8am, it was so hot it was impossible to sleep. The shared shower and toilet facilities were nice and modern but, unsurprisingly, after about a day, they were grotty as all hell. So, I'm glad I had the "festival experience", and I would recommend it to people who are into that or haven't had it before. Next time, though, I'm booking a hotel with my own bed, shower, toilet and aircon.


Aside from the MiXery train, a majority of people who come to the festival camp. MiXery provide a range of camping options that are all done for you, otherwise you can rent a camping space and either bring your own tent or rent equipment so it's all waiting for you when you arrive at the festival.

My favourite thing about Melt! is their sense of social responsibility. People who wear homophobic, misogynistic or racist t-shirts are banned from entering the festival; all artists have "meat free Friday" (the first day of the festival), and festival goers are encouraged to do the same); through some weird token system (which no one explains to you but Europeans just seem to understand it?), they encourage you to bring back all bottles you buy so they can be properly recycled. God knows why they don't ban smoking to get rid of that environmental mess but anyway... There's an organisation there handing out earplugs (how sensible!); if you don't want to schlep everything you've brought with you back home, they have collection centres to donate everything you don't want to charities for the homeless; and finally, every stage has a wheelchair accessible area near the sound manager so everyone can enjoy the show.

Of course, this is technically a food blog, so I should probably mention that. At the camping ground, there was only one veg food stand, and everywhere else the only real options were chips, so I was incredibly nervous about what the festival itself would bring. I shouldn't've been worried because it was AWESOME. There were about 3 or 4 dedicated veg food stands, and many of the other stands had veg options. Even the waffle stand HAD AN ENTIRELY SEPARATE VEGAN MENU. Standing on a beach, dancing barefoot to Alex Banks while eating waffles... it's hard to top that.

Seriously. All the food.

I heard a rumour that the organiser is vegan, which is why there's so much vegan food available. Even better, though, the food was actually delicious. None of this hotbox rubbish that is foisted upon us at Australian festivals: at the falafel stand, they were actually making falafel in front of you; there were delicious Hungarian dumplings served with freshly cooked caramelised onions; one of the vegan stalls sold non-canned baked beans... this food was seriously good. And it's pretty well priced: at one stand I got a chicken burger, a carton of soy milk, and a Twilight bar for €7. Seriously. THERE WAS EVEN A STAND WHICH MADE FRESHLY SQUEEZED JUICES AND SMOOTHIES (and you will need some of that by day 3...)

Anyway, since this is meant to be a guide, I should probably actually provide some guidance.

THINGS YOU THINK YOU'LL THINK OF BUT PROBABLY WON'T because I did
Rest up before the festival
The festival was my first real stop in Europe, so I'd just done a stupid international flight, then had a crazily early flight to Köln, had to wait around all day for my train, then... do that. It was stupid. I was sick and exhausted for the entire festival (BUT IT WAS STILL AWESOME). Next time, I'll be positioning it squarely in the middle, after a relaxing week in Italy. Maybe. I haven't decided yet. Also keep in mind that it's the middle of summer and you're in southern Germany so it gets hot really quickly. Nap throughout the day if you manage to find a cool place.

Drink ALL THE WATER and wear ALL THE SUNSCREEN
Buy a bottle at the festival grounds (if you're staying there) and refill that through the day. You can't take empty bottles onto the festival ground (but, for some reason, you CAN take sealed tetrapacks of juice (...)), so do the same thing there: buy a drink to start the day, then keep refilling that throughout the evening. Return it for your refund at the end of the evening and repeat the next day. The acts don't start until 15-17:00, but it's still pretty hot, and the sun doesn't set til 20:00 or 21:00; one act had to do an almost acapella set because the sun pretty much melted their drums. On that note, I don't know why I didn't bring sunscreen but I didn't (idiot), so do that, stay out of the sun, consider wearing a hat during the day that you can then fold up and store in your pocket as night sets in.

Get a locker at the festival
There's a portable locker van just outside the festival grounds which is really cheap; get one. I kept my wallet, passport, and some of my travel stuff in that, and just took my phone and cash into the festival (there's also an ATM right next to the lockers, so you can get cash out easily).

Go for a swim
Ferropolis is right on a massive lake, so get your valuables in a locker and then go for a swim. The water was beautifully cool and I'm pretty sure it's the only way I avoided heatstroke.

Charge your phone in the toilets
This was the worst part of the whole experience. They do have charging stations at a few places across the campsite but, of course, they were always full of people and, sensibly, in direct sun. Yeah, that's a winner. Instead, I had to sit in the (gross, filthy) toilets for an hour waiting for my phone to charge (because you can't just leave it there and trust no one will take it). On the other hand, no one else seemed to realise that it was there, and it's nice to have an hour to just sit down in a covered area. Alternatively, don't use your phone for 3 days.


Small bag is best!
This is sort of just a general travel tip. You don't need a huge checked bag; take only essentials and fit it in a carry-on bag (I got this bag from Kathmandu, which was a perfect size; it's also really nice to walk straight off a plane and not have to wait around for hours for your bag to come out). If you're camping or doing the MiXery train, you'll need to do this anyway as there's very little extra room for luggage storage. Remember also to get a locker to store your valuables.

AND OF COURSE
As tempting as it is to get wasted on the substance/s of your choice, you'll be tired and dehydrated enough as it is. And, hey, if you need to get high to enjoy the music, you probably aren't there for the music, and getting there ain't cheap. I probably spent €40 a day on food (sometimes more because dancing makes you hungry and also SUCH FOOD); if I'd also had alcohol, that probably would've been more like €100 or €150. My bank account is still sending me love letters.

Oh, also, don't get sick, cause I was the entire time and it sucked more than you can ever know.

All of that aside, attending Melt! is among the best experiences I've ever had. I got to see some musicians I never thought I would, and I finally went to a festival I've dreamed of attending since I was in my early teens. Fingers crossed I can go again next year.
L-R, T-B: Chet Faker, Haim, Robyn & Röyksopp, Alex Banks, Sleigh Bells, Breach, SOHN, Moderat, Portishead

__________________________________________

This is the first in a series of posts about my adventures overseas in the middle of the year. Next up: Berlin!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Easy Chocolate Mousse

There are millions of vegan chocolate mousses out there and they vary from the ridiculously easy to the stupidly overcomplicated (and, usually, with very little payoff). Similarly to brownies, there is a lot disagreement among what people expect from a mousse: some people want super fluffy (the texture I associate with that creepy brown paste served at fast food "restaurants"), others want something rich but still light, as though someone put chocolate in a cream gun. Other people don't care as long as it's chocolate.

This is an incredibly dense chocolate mousse; I'd love to say that a couple of spoonfuls is enough but yeah, that's a lie. My one big tip is: don't tell people what's in it until they've eaten it! And then they'll be amazed and you'll give them the recipe and they'll go home and make it and the deception will spread across the world...

HA.

The craziest thing about all that is that most people don't know what's in mousse anyway, but if you give the slightest hint that it's not "normal", they'll freak out. "You mean it doesn't contain BUTTER?!"

Anyway...

The easiest way to do this is using a stick blender, but you can always use an upright blender if you don't have one (but then go out and get one, seriously, why don't you have a stick blender). You can easily double the recipe, but keep an eye on the size of the container; the first time I made this, it ended up about half a centimetre below the top of the container, which made blending... very nerve-wracking.

In an appropriately sized, microwave-safe container (pick depth over width; an 8 cup pyrex is a good size), blend until completely smooth:

300g silken tofu (I use Morinaga tetrapack tofu which says it's 298g)
150g chocolate coconut or soy milk (if you don't have chocolate milk, you can just use plain)
50g liquid sweetener (I used golden syrup; using liquid sweetener means you don't have to worry about granulated sweetener dissolving)
5g vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Add 300g good quality dark chocolate (I use Callebaut). Microwave for 1 minute on high, stir well, then microwave for 30 second intervals (stirring well each time) until the chocolate is almost completely melted (chocolate will melt at around 36 degrees, so it really doesn't need to be that warm to melt properly; 1-1:30min should be enough). Stir until the mixture is a uniform colour. Blend with the stick blender for a couple of seconds (this will pull air into it and give it that sort-of Aero texture), then cling wrap and place in the fridge OR distribute to smaller serving glasses, cling wrap them and then refridgerate. Small servings should set in one to two hours to set, but overnight/overday is best to be totally sure (and a must if you're just going to do it in the one container and then eat it with a spoon, which is what I do).

If you're feeling particularly decadent, use it to ice a chocolate cake. And then thank me.

And you're done! Seriously, that's it.


I will be back soon with seriously belated travel-related posts, or maybe another recipe so I can just keep on delaying actually finishing the travel posts... we shall see!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

On Robin Williams' passing.

Note: I hesitated to post this, in all honesty, with it originally going to be a lightweight beard vanity piece containing a veganised muffin recipe, and somehow turning into an overwrought overshare and an unworthy almost-Eulogy of the late, great Robin Williams. But, as I stared at my good-looking but average tasting muffin and listened (for the first time) to Antony & The Johnsons'  "I Am A Bird Now", something deep within me wanted to put this out there. And what is life, or death really, if it isn't putting yourself out there?

Please take this in the spirit it was intended. Rambling awkwardly with respect.

One of the perils of being a man and having a beard is that some days - it's unavoidable - you wake up with a case of "bad beard". Whether it's sticking up at the corners of your moustache and making you look like Ye Olde Time Fruitcake Fellow, or whether it has been dreaming of the ocean and has curled to the side, therefore going Full Mermaid on you, there's not much you can do. The Beard has a mind of its own and resistance is futile. 


Waking up sad, with a case of a Mermaid Beard.

I woke this morning, saw my beard, grumbled, rolled over and checked my Twitter, only to receive horribly sad news. The great man who smiled and laughed through the pain, Robin Williams, had died. Of apparent suicide. What can one say, really? Not much that could be of any comfort. 

As an only child whose parents got divorced and were *not* getting back together, Mrs Doubtfire was a huge comfort for me. As a child of *parents and step-parents who were people, too*, with broken hopes and dreams, busy careers, but ultimately loved their weird, precocious, lonely performer kid as best as they could despite still trying to find their own way, Mrs Doubtfire made me feel less alone, and more understanding.

As an awkward gay pre-teen who didn't fit into any conventional boxes, and long before gay couples and families were in vogue in Hollywood, The Birdcage made me laugh - and showed me a beautiful, real, boring/exciting, openly affectionate but not sleazy, happy-in-their-quirks gay couple who, with a little effort, patience and understanding, found the love of an extended step- and in-law family; and loved a son who also loved them. Something to aspire to.

As a Genie who cared fiercely for those around him, watching them fall in love and live a life he would never live, while yearning to be free, I related to him. 

As an overweight, hairy, awkward, unstereotypically-masculine teenage alcoholic suffering from mental health issues who tried to crack jokes through the pain in between various private and public meltdowns, I sought solace in seeing my own pained smile reflected in his, understanding the depth and complexity of his expressions, and his desire to make others think, and laugh.

Enough rambling.

Robin Williams was who he was, who he wanted to be, and who he didn't want to be. So were his characters. He defied convention, insisted on being real. The characters he portrayed were so human, always touching your heart with their combination of love and loneliness, always with a sense of "standing on the outside, looking in". Thanks for the love and understanding, Robin. We can only offer you that in return, and hope that you're now free.

Because - as another beautiful, beloved, complex character (the fiercely intelligent and always comforting Nigella Lawson) would awkwardly phrase it on her TV chat show - "life is a combination of light and shade", I was also going to post a veganised/adapted version of Nigella's Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Muffins that I made this morning, to comfort myself. They're not chocolate-chocolate chip, just chocolate chip. But... although they looked fine, on the inside, they didn't quite taste up to standard in their vegan form. So I'm going to keep working on them.



Here's to Robin and Nigella, who both will always make a difference by living their lives in their own ways, who are deeply complex, with unshakeable dignity, now and forever. And here's to all of us who live our life as flawed, complex characters, who don't always know that someone, somewhere *gets* what is going on understand the surface of our smile, and appreciates our existence. Love is always somewhere.

Matt