Friday, 23 March 2012

The Willow Tea Rooms

I am aching to go on holiday again. Nothing big or fancy or far-flung, just a short two day break from real life. Unfortunately, real life is rather pressing at the moment (isn't it always). In the absence of an actual break, I decided to relive my recent holidays by taking a trip through my photos. It reminded me that I had yet to post these images from our visit to both Willow Tea Rooms while in Glasgow.  

We arrived in Glasgow just before lunchtime, and discovered that the Willow in Sauchiehall Street was just a short stroll from our hotel, so headed there to fill up and warm up. 
The holiday ended just as it begun, with a visit to the Willow Tea Rooms, this time at Buchanan Street. If you're ever there, I suggest you try for a table in the blue-tinged Chinese Room, so much more atmospheric!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Voltaire and Rousseau

It's no secret that I love a good messy bookshop. In fact, I try to seek out at least one whenever I'm on holiday. I found out about Voltaire and Rousseau just before my trip to Glasgow last December, and made it a point to visit it while I was in the city.
Behind that rather unassuming exterior on Otago Lane lies a treasure trove - piles upon upon upon shelves upon boxes of boxes. It's a minimalist's worst nightmare. It was my idea of heaven. 
It may not seem immediately obvious, but the shop is actually divided into several sections. The front room is the £1 section - every single book there costs £1. It's just a matter of finding something that takes your fancy. I found too many, and ended up spending more time culling my selection than I spent selecting them in the first place. 

The inner room is roughly split into sections such as Drama, Music, Cook Books, Military History and others that I can't recall. Those are very vague delineations though - the actual sorting system seemed to be: find a pile which doesn't look too precarious, place book on top, make sure it doesn't slip off, walk away. Repeat. The old men who ran the place practised this system very conscientiously while I was there. It's the exact same sorting system I use at home.
There's also supposed to be a shop cat somewhere in there, but I couldn't find him. Him? I felt the cat was a him, after all, everyone else working there was a 'him' too. We ended up leaving with only about 30 books. Only 30? Well, I could easily have bought more - trust me, there were some beautiful books in there - but my purse and Manbacon's arms could only stretch so far. 
Voltaire & Rousseau

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Village Food (Part 1)

Our first two days in Thailand were mostly spent visiting relatives who lived in Hankha in Chainat Province. It was about 3 hours away from the airport in Bangkok, so of course we had to stop at a shack by the side of the road for some fresh coconut juice. 
After that refreshing stop, we were off again, for more food of course. Sitting in a car for hours is hungry work! About an hour later, we stopped at a river side restaurant for a huge meal with the HUGE extended family (long story involving multiple families in multiple countries...). The restaurant looked, well, fairly shabby, to say the least, and rather empty, so I guess I wasn't expecting too much. Of course, I was wrong! Most of the best food I've eaten in Southeast Asia have often been from the dustiest, shabbiest hole-in-the-wall, and this was no exception. Look and drool, my friends...

Gigantic grilled river prawns. Look at the size of those legs! This one almost looks like a baby lobster. The prawns were stored in a pool at the front of the restaurant, and only picked up and grilled when ordered. They were cooked without any seasoning, but came accompanied by a bowl of dipping sauce (fish sauce, chillies and ginger, I think). These were some of the sweetest, juiciest prawns I have ever had, and I was content to eat them plain.

Lots of fish dishes, including fried fish cakes, and steamed fish served in a number of ways. I especially liked the one that came in a fish-shaped dish on top of a heated container. 
A sort of omelette with glass noodles -sort of plain but strangely addictive. 
Homemade steamed cakes with grated coconut and steamed corn (below).
All these items were consumed within my first two, maybe three hours in Thailand. Jealous?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Herman zee German Friendship Cake

It may go by the sweet, innocuous name of 'German Friendship Cake', but anyone who receives a containerful of pale brown, fermented slop is likely to question their commitment to carrying on that friendship. Trust me, I was one of those who received said containerful of slop last weekend, and was this-close to breaking off a nearly two decade old friendship.

Wait, what the hell am I on about? Let's start from the beginning, shall we? At the Bake Club meeting last weekend, we were told by Haryo, that week's host, that he had a little something for us to take home. That turned out to be Herman, the sourdough starter essential for baking the Friendship Cake. We were given instructions to stir Herman daily, feed him at a specified time, divide him into four and pass him on to 3 other unfortunate souls, and then finally, to bake him up according to the instructions.

It's the cakey equivalent of those email chain letters from the 90s. Haryo had received it from his friend, who had probably received it from his friend...Needless to say, we were none too please to be burdened with caring for what was, essentially, a living thing. I mean, it had a name and everything! And there it was, bubbling and frothing away beside us...
A quick search on the interwebs will tell you that Herman seems to be pretty trendy these days (well, trendy for bakers, that is). My mum-in-law remembers it being a big fad back in 1980s Poland - she made and passed around a few Hermans herself back then. Maybe us Baker Clubbers are just a bunch of unfriendly anti-social grumps? Anyway, we decided not to risk our friendships, and duly brought Herman back, cared for him and then baked him. 

The full set of instructions are available here. There are also instructions for creating your own monster Herman in that link, if you're so inclined. I must confess to deviating slightly from the recipe - mainly using less sugar, but also a number of other ingredients. Here it is, in case you wish to bake something similar.

Herman The Friendship Cake (adapted from here)

225gm plain flour
120gm caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
2 heaped tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
160ml vegetable/sunflower oil
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cubed
50gm walnuts
50gm almonds
50gm prunes, cut into cubes

For topping
50gm brown sugar
50gm butter

- Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Mix everything together and place into a large lined baking tin (mine was 9 inches by 11.5 inches)

- Sprinkle with 50 g brown sugar and 50 g melted butter.

- Put into the oven and check cake after 25mins, using a skewer. If the skewer is clean when removed from cake, then Herman is ready!  It may take 45 mins to an hour to bake through, although mine only took 25 mins due to the larger size of my tin. 

- Allow him to cool and then enjoy!

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Some new-old wedding photos and other ephemera, a gift from the divine Kitty Valentine
A vintage Christmas card featuring a cut-out Christmas stocking...

with this family tucked inside.

Gorgeous wedding dress, definitely one of my favourites! Can I have a second wedding so I can wear something similar? 

Wonderful bridesmaids' dresses...