Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas fever and Vegetarian delight in Bath

As I am a lady of leisure and have nothing better to do than relish in the company of my favourites, I went down to spend 5 days or so with my big sister and Carl to indulge in some Christmassy relaxation, spa sessions and cooking frenzies.

My sister Jennifer works very hard from home as a designer, and so we made every effort to ensure we enjoyed each spare moment she had between work! As she is a perfectionist she sometimes doesn't have a lot of time to prepare meals as she would like, and as I love to cook it seemed the perfect opportunity to help her out.

I spent the afternoons cooking while she sent important emails and delighted in the smells of mushroom and squash risotto and carrot and coriander soup. I also planned to make a vegetable stew and dumplings but then we got a bit carried away with skiving off and so went to a restaurant or two including the very tasty and highly recommended ''Las Iguanas'' a Chilean food house in Bath where we ate from the reasonable early bird menu before watching a movie and of course we did lots of shopping and turning around town for ''design research''.

The highlight of the weekend was the day we spent in the historical city of Bath. The Christmas market there is like most other markets in big British cities, full of the scents of mulled wine and hot mince pies, with lots of food and drink samples to be relished, amongst the Christmas gift and craft stalls. The market looked wonderful with lights, music and carols and the cold woke us up after our spa treatments at the famous Roman spring spa facilities. All in all, we were raring to walk round and peer into the brightly lit wooden huts. We went to two separate liqueur and whisky vendors and drank some samples to warm our hearts, mouths and bellies!

Jennifer bought some Russian Wooden dolls decorated with traditional Santa designs and we debated about who would like this and that for Christmas. In truth though we were mostly angling towards the Vegetarian restaurant 'Demuths'', we planned to visit which did not open until 5, and we had shared only half a brie and grape sandwich in the spa between sessions a fair few hours earlier. We were definitely hungry!

Jen had been to the restaurant before and it sat on a corner near all the festivities. We were sat down as the first guests of the evening, and enjoyed a glass of Somerset cider. This was incredibly musky and strong, I guess it tasted as proper cider should, fresh from a barrel and strong enough to give you a good hangover the next day if you drank in excess!

We ordered starters and mains of course.
Jen ordered an Asian style aubergine-wrapped vegetable roll for starters which was decorated with wispy green leaves and pink radish. The smooth yellow sauce was a delight and the whole thing was wonderfully presented.

I ordered the potato rosti which wasn't as pretty but it was served in a delicious tomato and garlic herb sauce and the rosti itself was warm and crispy and went superbly with the cider. Trust Jen to order the pretty food! Everything on the menu here was wonderfully vegetarian and thankfully there was no 'vegetarian' spam in sight!! What a relief to enjoy vegetarian food as it was meant to be…..vegetarian!

For main, I had a vegetable and baby onion pie, served with leafy kale and cheesy mashed potato, yummy comfort food!! You could not fault this as a vegetarian delight, gorgeous pasty, creamy smooth mash and sweet thick red wine gravy. The kelp was a neat alternative to cabbage and added a lovely texture to the plate. Jen had a nut roast served with roasted vegetables and gravy. Equally as excellent and once again pleasing on the eye!

To finish we went out to the market and ordered a mulled wine and hot mince pie with custard which we ate while we browsed around with no intention of buying anything else, just simply to absorb the Christmas cheer with a definite full belly.

What a wonderful week that was shared with my wonderful older sister. I will add it to my memory bank so that next year when we are back in Korea for Christmas, I can feel sorry for myself in knowing what I am missing while abstaining from a true British Christmas. The thing is, I guess I appreciated everything about the holiday season so much more than I would have if I had not spent one in Korea. There is very little in the way of Christmas decoration in Korean homes, cities or spirit at that time of year, despite there being a large Christian population, and there is a definite big fat zero for Christmas food intake. Oh well, I will have to make the most of this year eh!!!

Thank you Bath, Christmas and most of all Jennifer and Carl for having me!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Wasabisabi and a flying omlette

Another wonderful weekend, more wonderful blog fodder!

My sisters and I conspired to plan a fun filled weekend for my mum. We wanted to take her somewhere special and a bit different to celebrate her birthday and decided to buy tickets for her (and us :) to see 'Joseph and his Technicolour Dream Coat' at the Lyceum in Sheffield.

So, I had a little look for a restaurant in the area where we could enjoy ourselves for the afternoon before the early evening show (which was really great by the way...'close every door to me...')

I discovered a little Asian gem on Sheffield's London Rd. Wasabisabi!!!

A Japanese Teppenyaki and sushi restaurant where the food is cooked in front of you as a kind of spectacle while you wait. Sounded fun. I had to sneak in to pay a little deposit for the Teppanyaki table on the Thursday, and the atmosphere and cute paper lantern decor was really funky and sweet much like the advert!

We went for the lunch menu where it turned out there was less atmosphere, but more value for money and a little more privacy as and we were actually the only people at the Teppanyaki table at that time. Some other people were eating in the restaurant from the regular menu, but we had chosen to experience the food up close and personal.

We sat on comfortable high chairs around the large cooking plate, and tentatively discussed what we thought all the sauces were on the side. We didn't really know what to expect and felt a little self concious being the only ones eagerly awaiting the good looking young Japanese chef!

The friendly Japanese waitress brought us some miso soup which is pretty much the same as the Korean dwenjjanjiggae. It is soybean soup so that makes sense!

Jennifer and Mum with their miso soup.

Me, Mum and Victoria.

We decided to order some  rainbow sushi and seafood dumplings from the normal menu for starters. Glad we did... the rainbow effect on the sushi was created using the varying pinks in the raw salmon and tuna and this was wrapped around rice along with some creamy avocado which was pleasing to the eye. It went down really well with some wasabi and soy, and a dash of jasmine tea! It was difficult getting used to the wooden chopsticks as I have been using the silver kind with grippy ridges commonly used in Korea. The wooden kind were a little bulky and harder to control. I am out of practice already!!

After our shared appetizers, the chef brought out the teppanyaki steaks, salmon and shrimps. We had each chosen two from the menu, and of course I chose the second and third options. My word, the guy really prepared his work space, moving his spatulas around in a swift sweeping action. He also made use of half a kitchen roll wiping his surfaces thoroughly in an efficient manner!

He salted the prawns and salmon and set to, with fire!

Watch your eyebrows!

The prawns were chiseled and flipped, and finally landed on a rectangular plate neatly presented with some Japanese mayonnaise, which was a delicious warm and thick dressing. Seriously amazing flavour. Cannot recommend enough!

Mum and Jen had the Salmon for start which I had for main while the others tucked into their steak (pic to follow). The chef continued to flip and juggle and then seemed to gain a little confidence. He asked if we would like to play a game, catch the egg?? Me feeling brave gestured, ' Yes, Jen will' and he then turned on me, poised to throw a whole 'fresh from the chicken' free range at my face! Luckily this was a joke. He quickly cracked three eggs, whisked them about on the hot plate, and rolled it up like a pancake, roughly slicing it into pieces. He then launched the egg pancake pieces at my face 3 times in all, and each time, I completely let the side down. The poor waitress ran about picking up bits of egg off the floor for the next 15 minutes as we each attempted time and again to catch the egg! Hilarious table tricks, not sure I would have been as enthusiastic if we were not the only ones there for lunch, but it was really fun! I think Jen had the best skills. Victoria caught hers mainly in her hands, and mine flew past me as I shielded my nose like a girl, (Quote clueless ''my plastic surgeon says I am not allowed to take part in any activity where [eggs] fly at my nose).

Can you spot the egg flying through the air!?

After all the excitement, we had the giggles so it seemed appropriate to order some warm sake.

When the food finally reached our plates, it was as full of flavour as we had anticipated, for the meat lovers, there was seared steak...

And for me a beautiful salmon fillet crisped on one side with salt and garlic, yum yum...

The chef then cooked us some stir fried veggies and egg fried rice with the egg left over from before.

The finished product.

My gorgeous baby sister with some more than adequate chopstick skills!

So all in all, loving Wasabisabi!

P.s. Happy birthday Mum.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tom's bday nosh in Ilkley and a Bakewell treat.

Being back in England has given us both a real appetite!
Luckily then, we were given some birthday money by my Dad and Janis towards a nice lunch for Tom's quarter century birthday.

Birthday boy.

We spent the morning shopping in Leeds, and it was mighty cold but this just helped us build up a hunger. By the time we got to Ilkley we were looking forward to our lovely dinner. Ilkley is a lovely little town in North Yorkshire between Skipton (Tom's home town) and Leeds. It has a real dales feeling to it and a walk by the canal with the ducks and browsing the boutique shops makes for a lovely afternoon. We have been a few times for fish and chips and funnily enough my Dad told me afterwards he and my Grandad went to the same spot a few times.

We chose Farsyde which was perfect during Tom's 21st celebrations so we decided to return and try the lunch menu. The good thing about this restaurant is it is good honest food cooked in a true British style so it was really a treat for us recent re-patriots!

 Farsyde restaurant- Ilkley

So what was on the menu??

Starters, was a gorgeous date and blood orange salad stuffed with warm goats cheese. Cheese is something I have really been missing as Korea is not big on dairy. The dates were so delicious, I am going to have to try that myself.

Tom chose the seafood salad which was a really delicately arranged and more importantly a flavoursome dish.

For main, I had crab fishcakes which were so fresh and citrus-y it made a change to taste crab flavour which did not come from an entire halved crab boiled in my soup. :)

Tom of course chose the steak, which came with mashed potato and caramalised onions. Then he ordered chips just in case he missed out, they were delicious though!

We were too full to have a dessert, but we planned to go home and have the bakewell tart I picked up from my weekend in Bakewell at the bonfire! Thanks for that little treat Derbyshire!

Bakewell Tart with icing topping.

For anyone who is interested... Bakewell tarts are delicious and should definately be attempted by any amateur baker. There are three basic stages, the pastry casing, the jam filling and the almond batter topping although some are iced with fondent and decorated with a single cherry. I have included the Bero recipe link for anyone who wants to attempt it but you won't beat the original bakewell shop. The alternative Bakewell puddings however are a different dessert made with a bowl-like pastry case filled with jammy filling.

Bakewell Pudding

I visited and took this photo of The Old Original Bakewell Pudding shop when I visited the weekend before.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Remember, remember...

    Remember, remember, the fifth of November
    Gun power, treason and plot…… and then I don't remember the rest!!
    For the majority of my childhood, November 5th has been one of the most exciting and memorable evenings of the year! On this date in 1605, the King of England lived to see another day despite the efforts of Guy Fawkes and his revolutionary friends. Mr Fawkes planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament while the king sat inside. Of course when he was caught red-handed, Guy Fawkes was hung drawn and quartered for treason! On that night people lit bonfires to mark the King's survival. This progressed into a ritualistic burning and endless stream of colourful fireworks, whooshing rockets and popping bangers.
    Back in the day when I was a wee bairn, I would help my sisters build a 'Guy' using screwed up papers which we stuffed into my dad's old work trousers and paint/wax stained shirt. I cant remember what we used for a head but I know our efforts were always brought to life when he was strapped into a broken chair and placed on top of the fire waiting for his fate! What a cruel and foul trick this may sound to a foreign mind, but to me this was the best night of the year… even better than Christmas Eve!
    Every year my family would host a huge bonfire party in our field for friends, family and the Baptist youth club across the road. My dad's furniture workshop provided perfect fodder for building a huge fire using scrap wood and broken furniture. He would clear the field and very importantly check the fire for hibernating hedgehogs. My sisters and I would wrap up warm in woolly tights, jeans, wellies, hats, scarves, gloves, jumpers, coats, even though when the fire was lit, we would be far to hot!
    When everyone arrived, Dad would stand a safe distance away and let off what seemed like 100s of fireworks which he selected from a huge steel chest. I always felt very proud of my Dad!
    My mum would serve an amazing effort of delicious bonfire food and this is where the real memories start! Yorkshire parkin, gingerbread, toffee apples, jacket potatoes, baked beans or chilli and melted cheese, soup, and flasks of tea with milk or hot chocolate. We would share the food resting on the wobbly folding tables in the field and the feeling of community filled you with warmth around the fire. What delicious treats! To complete the treasonous feeling we would light some sparklers and write our names or just inhale the gunpowder fumes!
    This tradition is deeply ingrained in my subconscious and every November I really love to bake some gingerbread and enjoy the end of the Autumnal outdoors while eating a jacket spud wrapped in foil! This year I didn’t deviate and attended two bonfires. One HUGE one at Winterton near my Dad's house, and one in Brushfield, Derbyshire where the lovely Mullan family have recreated a little of that childhood memory for the past 3 years.
    My contribution was some gingerbread, a rich treacle cake, injected with ginger and mixed spice, is your mouth watering yet??
    Here is the recipe followed as always from the genius that is the Bero baking book. I also threw in a selection of Bonfire pictures!
    Ingredients and Method
    225 g (8 oz)
    Be-Ro Plain Flour
    2 x 5 ml spoon (2 tsp)
    ground ginger
    1 x 5ml spoon (1 tsp)
    mixed spice
    1 x 5ml spoon (1 tsp)
    bicarbonate of soda
    50 g (2 oz)
    soft brown sugar
    100 g (4 oz)
    175 g (6 oz)
    black treacle
    50 g (2 oz)
    golden syrup
    150 ml (¼ pint)
    2 medium
    eggs, beaten
    50 g (2 oz)
    sultanas, (optional)

    Heat oven to 150c, 300f, Gas Mark 2. Grease an 18 cm (7 inch) square deep cake tin.
    Sieve together flour, salt, ginger, spice and bicarbonate of soda. Stir in the sugar.
    Melt margarine, treacle and syrup gently. Gradually beat in milk and allow to cool.
    Add the beaten eggs and mix well. Stir treacle mixture into the flour and add sultanas.
    Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake for about 1¼ hours.

    Catherine, Hannah and I at Middlefarm family bonfire!
    Kat and her sparkler.
    Winterton Bonfire and fair.
    Lighting the Bonfire.
    Big bangs!
    My sister Victoria and her toffee apple.
    The crowd at Winterton. 
    Victoria, me and Dad, while Janis took the picture.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Buddhist temple stay

Last weekend I went on an adventure to find 'Zen' whatever that may be. A great group of girls came along for the ride and we had a memorable weekend of a lifetime. The lovely Helen, once again organised and translated for us as we attended a temple for an overnight experience in which we would eat, sleep and live like monks,
Beomeosa Temple in Busan was celebrating it's 1000-something birthday so we didn't really experience the usual temple stay environment. I think it was better! There were many other visitors and celebratory activities or attractions for people to join in with and enjoy. The events included a 2 hour concert exhibiting an orchestra, opera singers, guitar players, harmonica renditions, and a monk rock band (who would have thought!!).  There were also loads of arts and craft activities, for example we made brightly coloured lotus flowers which made great souvenirs.

Due to all the changes, we were not able to eat an evening meal with the monks. I had been looking forward to this as it seems to be one of the key pillars of monk-dom called balwoo gongyang. Food is taken as medicine to cure greed. Balwoo is a measure of food enough to sustain the body only. This is under the premise that equal portions of food promote harmony among groups who live together. There are 27 steps of eating, which is performed in the lotus position to ensure the ceremony is correctly orchestrated. For example, they cannot mix their food unless into the specified mixing bowl, and they must not leave any food uneaten. Monks must cover their mouth with their bowl while eating and must eat from four separate bowls in a certain order. Their eyes must not wander while eating. The other main point is that Monks eat no animal products and consume a vegetarian diet. I was excited to see what we would eat and if it would be anything different or unique.

For our evening meal, the temple stay organisers had made us each a gimbap. This is a traditional Korean food and is made very much like Japanese style sushi rolls you can buy at home but I think much tastier and wholesome. There is an outer wrapping of seaweed, and inside is packed rice and vegetables with egg and ham. You can order these with cheese, fish or even beef in most Korean restaurants so it was nothing special. I was not expecting the monk's gimbap to have processed crabstick inside either, so I am not sure how authentic this meal was.

However, it was lovely eating it under the stars with good friends and surreal entertainment. The organisers chaperoned us around and ensured we were well fed and watered while watching the concert. We were given hot tea and immediately wrapped up in the softest fleece embroidered blanks when I inadvertently shivered while watching the music. We really received the VIP treatment. There were also chunks of Makkoli rice cake being passed around to snack on. This was delicious. Makkoli is a rice wine, traditionally drunk from copper dinted looking kettles in Makkoli houses. Rice cakes are made in an infinite variety or textures, colours and flavours all over Korea. The combination of the two foods was genius and really mixed up the rice cakes which can sometimes be a little bland. Hazel, one of Helen's ex-English students at the college, also came along for the weekend and she took extra special care of us. Here she is passing around the snacks. She also took lots of pictures on our cameras for us to capture the moment. I hope she had time to enjoy the weekend herself!

 Makkoli rice cakes.

Hot tea refreshments. 

Lovely warm blankets and friends.

We watched the concert until 9 pm and then went to our temple to sleep as we had to awake at 3am. After waking we would then partake in the Monk's pre-dawn ceremonies which involved stirring the universe with 4 different musical instruments, including a huge drum. This was the highlight of the weekend- watching the monk play the drum under the stars. After the ceremony, we returned to our own quarters to bow 108 times from standing palms together to a foetal positions. After each bow we threaded a single bead onto a string. It was a killer on your thighs. The monk said it was not compulsory and as I felt like a complete zombie, I and a few others skipped a few bows to concentrate on threading the beads which was a task in itself. We were told to bow to the person we respected most in the world and not to 'Buddha'. This was refreshingly honest and we did not feel pressure to be converted to Buddhism or made to feel like hypocritical participants.

After making our beads.

I was pretty hungry by this time. We were shepherded down to a canteen area for breakfast. It was full of very old looking men and women who helped themselves to vegetarian, healthy food at an enormous food hatch. I can only assume it was some kind of community soup-kitchen. We had a separate area with a sign saying 'temple stay'. I think we missed out on the authentic experience by eating in this environment but it felt humble (and early at 6am!). We had basic Korean sticky rice, dried chilies in an incredibly bitter wet orangey sauce, stir-fried mushrooms (delicious) and spiced and slightly fermented leaves for wrapping around the rice. There was of course the traditional Korean side dish -Kimchi- which is served with every meal. I don't care for it much myself raw, but BBQ'd it is great. There was also a cloudy sweet soybean and cabbage soup. This was similar to the one we sometimes have at school, minus the farm smell and much sweeter.

All in all, I am not sure we ate like monks on our weekend, but we certainly felt humbled, warm and both respected and respectful which was really wonderful.
I would definitely recommend a temple stay or temple festival to anyone visiting Korea as a priority. The monks had so much personality and warmth. I had anticipated a distance which did not materialize. Thank you Buddha for a great weekend! Click on the link to see more pictures of the Beomeosa temple on October 9-10 2010. For information on Buddhism click this link.