Tag Archives: weekend

Practising for Masterchef

24 Mar

Recently I’ve been joking that I am going to apply for Masterchef. I say it every year when I get swept away watching episode and episode and spend most of the evening salivating at what the contestants have managed to cook up. I didn’t expect that last night when I had been invited to a cat’s first birthday (yes, a cat not a human called Cat) that I would be able to get some practice in.

I was suspicious when I arrived when the table was covered in a cloth and there didn’t seem to be a lot going on in the kitchen in terms of food preparation for the invited guests. Soon the plan for the evening was revealed.

First we selected at random our cat ears in keeping with the party theme. I ended up with black ears and also a bow tie and a tail. Then we were told that we would be helping to make the meal for the evening. There was a twist though. We would be cooking in a relay and we weren’t allowed to talk to the next person who was taking over the cooking. This is one of my favourite challenges on Masterchef because it means you have to think on your feet. Every one had 13 minutes to cook and then they had to leave the kitchen for someone else to take over. The items that we used to cook had to be bought from the market and we weren’t allowed to spend more than 40 CHF in total, which is a big ask in Switzerland.

As if this wasn’t tricky enough our host threw in some wild cards. The actions on the cards had to be performed during your allotted time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I had bad luck with my card – I would only be able to cook for 10 minutes. Those who were not cooking had to stay in the “cat den”, also known as the guest bedroom, which was decorated and had lots of cat themed games to play while we were waiting for our turn.

When it came to my turn I was overwhelmed. I was the fourth cook out of 6. Things were already in the oven and the majority of the budget had been spent. I realised that the person before me wanted me to boil potatoes because some were washed in the sink and there was a pan of boiling water on the stove. I did that and then bought some pak choi from the market. I knew I didn’t have time to cook it but I washed it and left it so that the next cook would hopefully see what I intended. With time rapidly running out, I decided to make some cocktails but I only had time to splash some rum in the glasses before the timer went off.

img_5401.jpg

By now I was hungry but only two more people were left to cook so there wasn’t long to wait. The clock buzzed for the last time and we were ready to eat. There was food to eat but it wasn’t very cohesive. We ended up with:

  • two chicken breast stuffed with mozzealla;
  • roasted vegetables (which was intended to be blended into a soup but no one realised –  we made the soup quickly later);
  • a mushroom cream sauce;
  • pak choi cooked with a chilli sauce;
  • 2 kg of potatoes;
  • 3 kg of spaghetti (courtesy of Araz who didn’t see the potatoes already cooking, panicked and decided to cook all of the pasta as well)
  • one portion of cat food.

I was criticised for buying the cat food because it was sold in the market for an inflated price and actually devoured 25% of our total budget. But the birthday boy had to eat so I thought it was more than reasonable. In all the excitement I had forgotten about the part about us having a strict budget. Admittedly, a poor show from the only qualified accountant in the room. But Araz played a wildcard to strike my (*cat pun alert*) purr choice from the budget when she was allowed to delete one bought item from the list, so we ended up spending 35.20 CHF.

The food wasn’t bad considering we had come over to celebrate a birthday and found ourselves chopping and dicing things in a mad panic in a kitchen that we’re not familiar with. And no one can say that there wasn’t enough carbohydrates on the table!

Luckily dessert had been made in advance and we were able to tuck into a delicious chocolate and strawberry cat cake made by the original star baker, Stefan. The sparkler on the top of the cake was impressive as well.

Thank you to Mark and Stefan for hosting the event, coming up with such a great evening of original and fun entertainment and allowing me use of their photos, my fellow cooks (Araz, Jana and Stefano) for not poisoning me and, of course, Macka for the invitation to his celebrations.

As for my application to Masterchef, I think I need more practice before sending it in!

A weekend in Bucharest

11 Feb

I know that it seems as if I am constantly on holiday (and most people who know me tell me this on a regular basis) but this is all in aid of Challenge 2 on my 40 Before 40 – visit 40 countries in Europe. My trip to Romania means that I have now visited 28 countries in Europe.

Here are some of the things that we got up to on our long weekend in Romania.

First Impressions

Arriving when it is starting to get dark and trying to navigate yourself around an unfamiliar city is not one of my favourite activities. Large cities always look unwelcoming, dangerous and dirty at night. But it was clear that the Old Town was liveliest place to be in the evening, even if there were enough massage parlours to make you think that you might have ended up in Amsterdam by mistake.

img_5024.jpg

But during the day, the place was transformed with blue skies and busy streets. Some of the buildings are quite run down but the city has a certain charm to it and it is cleaner than a lot of Western European cities that I have visited. The influences of Communism can still be seen in the architecture and other parts of life.

Food and drink

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might have trouble finding dishes to eat in Romania. The main ingredient in almost every dish seems to be meat, meat and meat. You can by huge mixed grill platters, slow-cooked pork knuckle and different sausages and stews. We were keen to try the local food and beer and even tried the local shots called palinca, which definitely warmed us up on a cold February morning.

We also tried mici, which are small sausages, as well as a cold meat platter which was excellent. There were quite a few dishes that I didn’t get to try because all of the food was so filling.

Free Walking Tour

It is second nature for us to find a free walking tour as soon as we arrive in a city that we were visiting. More than 75 people turned up for the tour and we were split into two groups. The guide that we had was one of the most entertaining guides I have ever had and the 2.5 hours we spent standing with the cold wind on our faces in various parts of the city flew by with his interesting spin on things. We learnt a lot of surprising things about the city, the history and what life was like under Communist rule. I still find it mind-blowing that people living not so far away from us were being suppressed by dictators during our lifetime. It doesn’t really seem possible.

Thermal spa

A friend recommended a thermal spa to us, as he had discovered it on his trip to Bucharest a few years previously. There were an awful lot of people there but it was a great experience. There was an indoor pool, where you can enjoy a cocktail or beer in the pool, an outdoor pool with jacuzzis, aromatherapy pools, massage beds and saunas. The disadvantage of so many people being there was that people were queuing for the saunas, so we didn’t wait for them. It was great fun but not really the type of spa that I had expected – people drinking, smoking (outside) etc.

The Romania Parliament Building

The Parliament in Romania is the second largest administration building in the world, after the Pentagon. We had heard that visitors are able to take tours inside on production of a passport or ID. When we arrived a security guard stopped us at the gate and said that the tours had been fully booked out. The tours are less frequent from now until June 2019 because Romania currently holds the presidency of the EU and the building is being used more frequently for meetings for EU specific topics. It was disappointing as there are not many parliament buildings that are open for the public to view but if I ever go back to Bucharest that will be the first thing on my list to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was relaxing, with plenty of walking and fresh air and some nice food and drink.

I have already planned my next trip to another European country – Poland in May. It seems like a long way off but it will give me some time to do some research so that we can maximise our time there.

Weekend wanderings

2 Dec

This weekend is the first weekend I have spent in Zurich since the middle of November. We have been to visit the UK twice so things have been a bit hectic travelling from one place to another. This is the reason why I have been neglecting my blog in recent weeks but that means that I do have some things to write about!

London (South)

Late November is my annual trip to London to see the ATP World Tennis Finals. I managed to get tickets in the pre-sale this year so the overall cost of the trip was a lot less than in previous years. I was disappointed that Roger Federer didn’t make it to the final but we were treated to a fantastic match.

We also did some Christmas shopping. Even though it was the middle of November, London was very Christmas-sy and you could easily mistake the time of year for being a week before Christmas.

We also got caught up in a protest against Brexit which was going down Regents Street. It did remind me of the time that we spent earlier this year in South America where there seems to be an aggressive protest about everything all of the time.

We also managed to catch up with some of my friends that I have known from my university times. We don’t get together so often but it is always nice to catch up with them.

Manchester (North)

The following weekend we headed north to visit my family and to go to the wedding of one of my good friend who I met a long time ago playing hockey. The weather was overcast but the actual ceremony, reception and evening do was excellent. I was surprised by how good the food was because at some weddings it can be a bit ropey. It was my boyfriend’s first experience of an English wedding. Weddings in Switzerland and very different to weddings at home. For one thing, there is a lot more drinking. However, we both enjoyed it immensely. I also got to catch up with some friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.

I got to spend some time with my niece and nephew. I cannot tell you how much colouring in I did or how many times I read the same story book over and over again. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Now we will be spending the next few weekends preparing for Christmas. We need to buy a tree, finish getting presents and do the shopping for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m glad we had a few weekends away to relax and enjoy some time together before we start to get busy in December.

Autumn Days

12 Nov

The clocks have changed and it is dark all of the time – welcome to Autumn! I can’t remember the mornings being this cold and grim last year. I’m not sure if this observation means that I am officially old because I can’t remember 12 months ago. The rich autumn colours on the trees make the daylight hours bearable but I am still struggling to get used to darkness in the early afternoon.

Speaking of struggling, I have been struggling with a cold for the past ten days. I woke up with a bit of a sore throat which developed into a streaming cold, a bit of fever and a general feeling of complete crap-ness. This was awful timing as it was in the run up to my last week of revision for my exam. I didn’t get done half of the work that I wanted to do but I had already resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t possibly learn any more with a brain and body that was aching from my flu-like systems, so I resigned myself to my fate and concentrated on getting myself better. The exam itself turned out to be ok but considering how poorly I was feeling a few days before, I am just glad that I was able to sit the exam in relatively good health.

The problem with the nights drawing in and the temperatures plummeting is that there is a huge temptation to stay indoors and not be particularly active. Yesterday, however, the afternoon was quite bright and sunny so we decided to go for a short walk to the local farm shop to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner.

I was quite surprised by how many people were outside enjoying the afternoon, either on foot, jogging or on a bike. Perhaps we are all subconsciously making the most of it before the snow arrives.

On our walk we bumped into some very inquisitive cows who were also enjoying the last of the mild weather before they, like us, are kept inside in the warmth for the winter.

One more challenge completed!

16 Sep

I’ve been thinking for the best part of the last week if I have completed another one of my #40Before40 challenges.

I wasn’t sure if that I had done counted or not but, after I wrote down on paper the criteria, I am now convinced that I have completed Challenge #20 from my list: to throw a birthday party for myself.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday party. To be honest, I am not really a huge celebrator of birthdays not because I don’t like getting old, but more because it is a bit of a faff to organise and people tend to let you down. I thought I make the effort to have a party and see if this time that I felt different about inviting people over to celebrate.

In my consideration of the criteria for a party, I came up with this list:

  • Invited guests
  • Uninvited guests
  • Selection of food and drink
  • Birthday cake
  • A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday
  • Presents
  • A speech from the celebrating person
  • Party game
  • Huge amounts of tidying up

Let’s look in turn at each of these:

Invited Guests

Either by Whatsapp or by mouth people received an invitation to come. My original idea was to make handmade or printed invitation but then I would need to find out peoples’ addresses to send them. It was a lot easier to send everyone a message and get a quick reply if they were able to make it or not.

Uninvited Guests

There is always someone who turns up unannounced or someone brings some one to the party who hasn’t specifically been invited. In my case, this was the neighbours’ cat. As we had a BBQ, we were outside and the cat made an appearance. I think he was scared about the number of people who were there and he didn’t stick around for long.

Selection of food and drinks

If anything, we prepared a selection of food and drinks that was far, far too much. One fridge was full with beer and the other was full with food. There was plenty of food to go on the grill, salads, finger food and desserts. We had so much left over but enough room in the freezer to save it for another time.

Birthday cake

I didn’t plan to have a birthday cake but I was fairly confident that one of my guests would bring one for me. Luckily, my friend, Stefan, didn’t let me know. He made me a fantastic Spider-Man cake that I am sure that he spent hours and hours made. It not only looked amazing, but it tasted incredible too.

A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday

I was treated to Happy Birthday in English and in German, which I think deserves double points. I think I did have Happy Birthday sung to me last year but it is an essential part of birthday party.

Presents

I was treated to some lovely presents. The main theme of my presents was a high alcohol content. I think I should be ok for alcoholic drinks from now until next March. I will need to consume it all before I take on my challenge of not drink for a year. It seems more and more unlikely that I will be able to achieve this and I haven’t decided when to start this challenge yet. I have been trying to find a “good time” to do it but I don’t think that such a thing exists.

A speech from the celebrating person

I did make a small speech to thank everyone for coming and making the party a success. I was actually really pleased about how many people had made the effort to come.

Party game

There was a Swiss game of King’s Chess that was played in the garden area outside. I’m still not 100% sure what the rule of the games were but it involved throwing wooden blocks at your opponents’ posts and being the first to knock down the King in the middle.

Huge amounts of tidying up

It’s strange that you spend so long cleaning your place for guest to come round and when they have left you have to start the cleaning all over again. The washing machine was put on about five times, the floors in the apartment had to be wasted again, the recycling taken to the recycling centre, crockery returned to the right guest and tables and chairs that we had borrowed from relatives returned as well.

Looking at the evidence, it is fair to say that I have now completed Challenge #20 of my #40Before40.

I did genuinely enjoy the party. I wasn’t able to talk to everyone as much as I would have liked (which is the downside of hosting so many people) and it was hard work getting everything ready and tidying up but it was worth it and I would do it again. Thank you to everyone who came to join the celebrations!

Photo An Hour – August 18th 2018

19 Aug

Yesterday I took part in August’s Photo An Hour. This is a small challenge in which you try to take a photo every hour to record your day. I tend to find these days are my most productive because I want the documentation of my day to be interesting!

Here is what I got up to yesterday:

7am: Good morning world!

8am: Even though I’ve got quite a bit to do today, I’m going to do some reading. Starting this book today after finishing one last night

9am: DIY time

10am: Waiting for the second coat to dry before touching up the paintwork

11am: Painting and jobs done so it’s time for a shower

12pm: Cuppa soup for lunch

1pm: I love that our new apartment has a washing machine

2pm: Done the shopping

3pm: Washing almost dry

4pm: Finally getting started on some short story ideas

5pm: Made a game to help me learn German Modalverben. Might have to go on Dragons’ Den with this one!

6pm: Making dinner

7pm: Dinner time with newly painted table

8pm: Refreshments for film watching are ready!

9pm: Halfway through a film! My last post for the night.

Vegan BBQ

27 Jul

Last weekend to celebrate the end of my vegan challenge, I invited some friends round for a vegan BBQ. I say vegan but there was steak and chicken on offer for those who wanted it. However, all of the other dishes that I prepared were vegan (and that included not one but two desserts).

I was glad that everyone was keen to come round and see what food would be on offer and no-one backed out because they thought that the food would be so bad that they would go home hungry.

There is no way anyone was walking away from the party hungry because I grossly over-estimated how much food that I needed to prepare for 10 people. Here is a list of the food that I prepared:

  • Vegan Bratwurst
  • Green Lentil Salad
  • Tuscan Bean Salad
  • Guacamole
  • Hummus
  • Courgette Spaghetti
  • Greek Green Beans
  • Spicy Salsa
  • Smokey Tofu Pate
  • Homemade flatbreads
  • Orange and Chia Seed cupcakes
  • Raspberry and Custard Whirl
  • as well as a range of vegetables for on the BBQ.
  • b349ec96-0fb3-4d54-a6c1-b51aaee9ff43.jpg

Everyone was complimentary about the food. However, I was really disappointed about how the Raspberry and Custard Whirl turned out. I think that the custard wasn’t thick enough and I was happy to admit that it was a failure (which I guess you shouldn’t technically say to your guests but it was true).

To make things a bit more fun, I asked everyone to bring an exotic vegetable to go on the grill. I was so surprised about how everyone was happy to get involved. People turned up with vegetables that I have never even heard of before. Have you ever heard of a dodi, for example, or a zebra tomato?

There was a unconventional prize for the winner. I am not sure how to describe it so I will just show you this picture here.

img_3325.jpg

Hanna was the lucky winner of Mister Melonman. She was literally lost for words!

Thank you to everyone who came to the BBQ and to Stefan who took the photos because I forgot to take any!

It just goes to show that you don’t always have to put meat on the grill. I have found that there are lots of alternatives that you can find which are just as good if not better!