Cambridge, Supermarket Addiction & the “I didn’t go to Brussels”…Sprouts

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I had planned a Brussels visit toward the end of the trip. I was going to visit my brother in Cambridge and then hop on the train to Brussels for the day. But the London Rail is a thing to be reckoned with, and my super awesome planning skills clashed with a rail strike. Seriously, it started the day I arrived and finished the day I left. I did not feel like battling on the train for almost 2 hours to London, then possibly having my Brussels train delayed or cancelled. So I decided to save whatever little money I had left and go bankrupt in Cambridge instead of Brussels.

I spent about a week in Cambridge with my brother, chilling and catching up on some much needed sleep. We watched the entire “Burning Love” series, which was hilariously fantastic by the way, and a good portion of “the League”. Once again I failed to find “Its always Sunny in Philadelphia” very funny. For a genius, my brother keeps holding on to this irrational hope that I’ll find it hilarious and brilliant one day. I still hold out hope that Joey will leave Pacey for Dawson so we all have our impossible dreams.

We did go out quite a bit as well. Cambridge is everything you’d imagine a University town to be – collegiate, cultured, lots of cafes, old stone buildings, tree-lined walkways and grassy squares with groups of people lounging about and discussing something that will probably make me feel like Penny in the Big Bang Theory. I did just feel smarter being in the town. Those Cambridge people also live life on the edge – there is also the constant threat of being hit down by a cyclist. I cannot stress how many bicycles there are in this town.

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Apart from these near death experiences, we visited King’s Chapel, saw Kitchen Bridge where Stephen Hawking & Jane Wilde courted (and is most recently featured in the Theory of Everything), and saw the Cambridge version of the Bridge of Sighs, which apparently leads to exam rooms at the end of the semester. Ah, genius humour.

King's Chapel

King’s Chapel

We also went punting on the River Cam, which is a classic and cool Cambridge experience. Tourists, parents, friends, (we even saw a wedding party!) get to sit quite comfortably in a little boat and travel down the river with guides using only their sense of balance and a long stick to navigate. It’s quite entertaining to see people that are not guides choose to navigate – let’s call it an aquatic version of bumper cars.

This is what happens when you're so busy getting the perfect picture that you don't notice someone about to run into you :/

This is what happens when you’re so busy getting the perfect picture that you don’t notice someone about to run into you :/

Generally, my brother tends to describe (apparently) odd things that I do as very “Indi”. So staying home one morning to wait for an Amazon delivery of the best cookies I have ever tasted in my life? Very Indi (and very worth it!). Geocaching? Indi. Listen to a guy performing in the square then finding him on Facebook to see if he has an album out? Indi. Leaving me for a second in the liquor aisle and coming back to find me in the same aisle with two new dinner plates in my basket? Indi. Going to a different supermarket to browse every single day? VERY Indi. One day we went twice. Don’t blame me. Blame my parents and grandparents. And ok, blame me a little. But I mean seriously, how can one resist the nearby Farmer’s Market, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer? If I lived there I’d probably never spend my money on anything else.

Another “very Indi” thing is that when I travel, I get the urge to cook and try different ingredients that you wouldn’t normally get in Guyana (or is super expensive). I love restaurants, don’t get me wrong, and we went to our share of those, but I love the feeling of inspiration I inevitably get whenever I’m in the supermarket. It’s like crack to me. I pick up all these weird combos of stuff and can’t wait to go home and make it or eat it. How can you resist the impossibly cute vegetables in the produce aisle? I listened when the baby Brussels sprouts called out to me. Then I listened again when the cherries, zucchini, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and 3 types of lettuce greens called out to me as well. You can call me the Vegetable Whisperer. I don’t mind.

We generally ate at home in the mornings, a wonderful combo of fruits and veggies and hummus – a tub of which was somehow destroyed by yours truly in less than a week. Coffee was made by my brother in a cafetière (what a showoff). We usually ate out at lunch and dinner was either me cooking, or a guilty purchase, knowing that we had leftovers in the fridge. Our greatest triumph was ordering food online while we were out and having it arrive literally 5 minutes after we got home. These are honestly the little joys that I live for.

One night we decided to make dinner and clear out the remaining untouched veggies (basically brussels sprouts) in the fridge, partially because I wanted to cook, and also because nothing else could really fit in the fridge. I admit, I have made this dish for breakfast in the past, and it actually works as the first meal of the day. Have the Brussels sprouts with scrambled eggs and you’re good to good for the morning. It’s an incredibly simple recipe that I came up with a while back. I don’t know why people say that brussels sprouts are disgusting. I’ve never come across a green vegetable that I didn’t like except okra, but come on – the okra fan club is pretty small isn’t it?

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This is also a really simple side dish and is very low maintenance. You want the sprouts to get a little burned. It gives it that charred, BBQ-y vibe without too much effort.

I didnt go to Brussels...Sprouts

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: less than 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

3 cups mini Brussels Sprouts (regular sprouts will work as well)
3/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/3 – 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 1/2 tbsp. Olive Oil

Cut Brussels sprouts in half lengthways. If using regular sized sprouts, cut into quarters. Warm Olive oil in a skillet, and swirl the pan around to make sure the oil is somewhat evenly distributed. Place Brussels spouts cut side down and season with 1/4 tsp salt & 1/4 tsp black pepper. Cover and let cook on medium heat for one minute. Remove cover and let cook for another minute.

Stir sprouts (you do not need to keep it facedown at this point), season with remaining salt & pepper and let char for another minute or two. Keep a close watch to make sure sprouts do not char beyond your desired texture. Add cheese to skillet, stir to distribute evenly. Let cook for another minute until sprouts are crispy and cheese bits are melted.

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In summary: Cambridge is great. The intricate history of each building, the collegiate rivalries, the eclectic combination of students, distinguished professors and parents glowing with pride fills the air with a calm frenzy and makes you ask yourself on more than one occasion – “London Who?”

Rome Part II: The Colosseum, Vatican, Marinara Sauce & Assorted Fails

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Today we’re hopping back to Rome. I know, I’m making you dizzy with my disorganized posting, right? Sorry – I have a few more posts before my travel series is completed, so just bear with me. As the name of the post suggests, the lack of geographical or chronological order of this series is Fail #1.

So. Roma. I’ve always wanted to see the Colosseum, and for a long time it was the number one destination on my travel bucket list. I even voted for it in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, along with Petra in Jordan, Hagia Sophia in Turkey, Macchu Piccu in Peru, the Acropolis in Greece, Christ Redeemer in Brazil, and my eternal favourite, the Moai on Easter Island, Chile. Of my choices, 4 were chosen as the new 7. Just call me a semi-psychic.

Of the seven wonders chosen, I had only ever seen the Great Wall so the Colosseum was my second, and it did not disappoint. It is also super cool to happen upon the Colosseum the way that we did. One minute, you’re minding your own business as you turn a corner onto a road with lots of traffic (forget smiles, traffic is the universal language) and bam! There’s the Colosseum just chilling out at the end of the busy street. You push past the gelato stands, souvenir stalls, salesmen hawking selfie sticks, and stop to marvel at this relic from the Roman Empire. Getting inside is a bit of a task, but once you do, the sheer magnitude and detail of the internal structure is overwhelming. I mean seriously – having been sucked into the intense black hole of time that comes with construction, actually understanding the effort that went into the construction of the Colosseum is mind boggling.

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Once you get over the impressiveness that is the Colosseum, you look over and see the Roman Forum in the shadow of the Colosseum. Travel guides really do undersell the Forum. You read about it and generally understand that it was the city’s main Piazza and served as the political, commerical and judicial centre of the city. I admit, I skipped over a lot of the reading because it seemed too dry to me – we get it, every town has an old market. Being there however makes everything come to life. In this rubble of the Roman Empire, every stone, every monument, every pillar has a story. You see the intricate carvings that adorn the curve of the Arch of Septimus Severus (which made me think about Alan Rickman nonstop – points to you if you get my reference), you visit Palantine Hill where Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome lived, and you marvel at the Temple of Caesar (where Julius Caesar was cremated). This is one place that I really didn’t devote enough time to and if I ever get the chance to visit Rome again, I’ll definitely go back.

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At the western end of the city, the Vatican is a totally different experience. St. Peter’s Basilica is a sight to behold, and so is St. Peter’s Square. You stand there and look at this world- famous building that seems to strike the balance between old world power and modern day grandeur. I can’t even fathom the way it must feel to be there during conclave or when the Pope is in residence.

Kudos to Rabin...'s camera.

Kudos to Rabin…’s camera.

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We got the opportunity to climb to the top of the Basilica, which has an incomparable view of Vatican City and Rome, but also proved that claustrophobia can pop up when you least expect it.

Hey there, Rome

Hey there, Rome

When I was younger, I used to read about Nancy Drew being trapped in a small secret passageway, or when I would see movies where the people shimmied through air ducts, I’d feel my throat constrict. Actually, that still happens to me. The thought of it was terrifying and I believe that that reason alone is what made me abandon my dream of becoming a world famous detective (Mustang not optional). St. Peter’s Basilica brought all those fears rushing back. You climb 320 steps in a narrow winding passage with so little space that you can’t put your hands on your hips without your elbows grazing the walls.

Don’t get me started on the staircases. I was panting quite loudly and although I’m sure everyone had a good laugh at the unfit chick, I was more on the verge of hyperventilating. Also, I’m kind of unfit. While the view was amazing, my panic was not. I also started to think about St. Peter and “upon this rock I shall build my church”, and my mind drifted to Angels & Demons again. The antimatter was placed on the tomb of St. Peter in the catacombs below the church, and I couldn’t think of a more terrifying scenario than being trapped under the rubble of the already ridiculously narrow walkway.

This imagination of mine can be a serious burden. Fail #2.

Sooo let’s take pictures of panicked Indi instead of calming her down :/

Apart from the claustrophobia and the extreme tiredness brought on by copious amounts of pasta and bottles of wine, the only other fail was Rabin’s. Relax! He wasn’t the fail, his self-imposed challenge was. He had pompously informed me before the trip that he would be spending a day only eating pizza in Rome. This decision was taken after I had mentioned that the guidebooks suggest that you order it “al taglio” (by the slice). I congratulated him, but to be honest, I didn’t care. I was more taken with the idea of eating nonstop pasta, cheese & mushrooms. I also know that when Rabin makes these sort of weird self challenges, if I stay very quiet and don’t remind him, he’ll either forget or lose interest in it.

Ta da! I told you I was semi-psychic. He was so inexplicably intense about it that we ended up eating no pizza whatsoever.

So today’s marinara sauce is very simple, and is actually not a bad sauce for a pizza or flatbread once you cook it down (and therefore reduce the liquid) a little more. You don’t even need many additional toppings since the sauce is kind of chunky. I used a simple classic recipe but added my own twist – i.e. wine. I used it with the Baked Arancini I posted about a while back.

Supercharged Marinara Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 14oz tin Diced Tomatoes
1 14oz tin Tomato Sauce
2 tsp Garlic, diced
2 small Onions, diced
1/3 cup Red Wine
3 cups loosely packed Spinach
1/2 tsp dried Oregano
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions

Warm olive oil in a pot. Add onions and cook until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute until sizzling and fragrant.

Add red wine and cook until liquid has reduced by about 1/3 – 1/2 the original amount. Add both tins of tomatoes (diced and sauce), along with oregano, pepper & salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until thickened.

Stir in spinach and cook for another minute or two. Remove from heat.

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Also, why did I write about pasta and rice when I planned to have salad for lunch today!? Ugh. Fail #4.

London, Coronation Chicken & a Tribute to a Friend

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Less than two months ago, I sat at the Oscar Wilde Bar in London indulging in my first High Tea ever, with 4 people that I had only ever spoken to online. Sounds weird? It was my first blogger meet-up. A fellow blogger, Selma (of Selma’s Table) had organized a wonderful afternoon.

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From left: Me, Justine, Ginger, Marita & Selma

On the day that I met the girls, I was panicking a little. Ok a lot. I was tired, I had flown in that morning from Geneva and I kept putting off breakfast because I wanted to 1) check in 2) get through security 3) get on the plane 4) get my luggage 5) check into the hotel 6) change 7) change at the train station after I realized the restaurant had a dress code. By the time I had breakfast, I was frazzled, tired, and had a burning in my chest that only intensified after I ate. I had also misaveraged the time to meet up because I tend not to consider travel time in Guyana – everything is 15 minutes away and people are always late.

I was planning to use the tube, but the lines were ridiculous and I thought that a taxi would be faster. Spoiler alert: it was NOT. Dammit Google maps – I checked it after I got into the taxi. I also didn’t have water with me, so I was panicked, my chest was burning, and I was dehydrated. I was so frazzled that when the concierge asked me if I wanted to check my coat and purse, I gave him the plastic bag I had in my hand containing the comfy crocs that I had changed out of. Yes. That was all I gave him. A plastic bag of well worn shoes. I’m so classy. You can take me to all the fancy spots.

When I was leaving, I couldn’t find my tag, so he asked me what I had checked. I told him and he very nicely said, “ah yes. I remember you.” Serious respect to him for not being condescending (at least to my face)…I do love those Brits and their manners!

The most British day ever.

The most British day ever.

After adding that experience to my “Adventures of Awkward Girl” repertoire, I found the table, met Selma and the others that had arrived already (I wasn’t the last one there! Whew) and proceeded to have a lovely and very memorable afternoon.

How did this Tea happen? About a month before that, I had emailed Selma to tell her that I’d be in England for a day or two, and if she was available, maybe we could meet up for coffee? Not only did she respond almost immediately, she volunteered to round up other London based bloggers that I might have met virtually and make an afternoon of it. She even suggested Tea, which was awesome because a legit afternoon tea was on my food list. She took care of all the details – finding a restaurant, the reservation, contacting the other bloggers, confirming dietary restrictions – all I had to do was show up.

I had never met Selma in person before that day. She was a blogger that I met over at Fiesta Friday and then bumped into her at the monthly “In my Kitchen” meetup over at Fig Jam & Lime Cordial. Both meetups host dozens of participants, and quite often you might come across cool blogs, comment a few times on their posts, and then get lost in your daily life so you might not check in for a while. Selma wasn’t like that. She was a regular visitor and hosted Fiesta Friday on many occasions. One of her recipes was featured on Food52, and while that could have probably ignited jealousy in some bloggers (me included), Selma was so nice that you couldn’t help but be happy for her and thoroughly impressed. Because of Selma, I was able to meet Justine of Eclectic Odds & Sods, Marita at MyDinner.co.uk, and Ginger over at Ginger & Bread.

Sadly, Selma passed away about two weeks ago. The lovely Fiesta Friday gals put together a virtual tribute to her, and today I’m sharing a recipe that reminds me of Selma.

Selma on the right

Selma on the right

I’m sharing my attempt at Coronation Chicken. I don’t eat pork or beef so that kind of eliminates 3/4 of the popular British dishes to try. Coronation Chicken was created to honour Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1952 and is still reasonably popular today. You even see fresh coronation chicken sandwiches packaged for sale in Marks & Spencer, and it is a popular sandwich on High Tea menus (apart from cucumber sandwiches). Because Selma was responsible for my first blogger meetup and high tea, this recipe reminds me of a good friend, the power of food to connect people, and a lovely lady who will be missed.

Coronation Chicken

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Recipe adapted from BBC Food

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Ingredients

2 cups cooked Chicken, shredded

1 tbsp Butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

½ tsp Red Pepper flakes

2 tsp Curry Powder

2 tbsp Tomato Purée

3½fl oz dry White Wine

3½fl oz Water or Stock

1 tbsp Apricot Jam

3 ½ fl oz Mayonnaise

1 fl oz Heavy Crream

1 tsp chopped fresh Coriander

1 tbsp Lemon Juice

Salt and Black pepper, to taste

¼ cup slivered almonds (toasted lightly dry frying pan)

Instructions

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the shallot and red pepper flakes and fry for 2 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cook for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the tomato purée and cook for an additional minute. Add the wine and continue to cook until the volume of the liquid has reduced by half.

Stir in the jam and water / stock, continue to simmer until the volume of the liquid has reduced by half again. Set aside to cool.

Add the mayonnaise and the heavy cream to the curry dressing. Stir in the lemon juice and coriander.

Add shredded chicken, and add salt & black pepper to taste. Top with slivered almonds.

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Rome Part I: Arancini, Bernini & the Eternal City at night

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The Pantheon – literally right behind our apartment. Love this pic – very proud of myself :)

Italy has been my dream destination for as long as I can remember. I’ve wanted to visit every part of the country – Rome, Venice, Pisa, Florence, Milan, Turin and Pompeii. We almost didn’t even go to Rome on this trip because of two reasons: I wanted to do the entire Italy in one trip, and I was actually kind of afraid that the country wouldn’t live up to the hype in my mind. Ok, it was more the latter. Rabin convinced me to add Rome to the trip and I’m so glad he did. It was by far my favourite part of the trip and totally lived up to the hype. I love Rome so much that this Rome post is split into two parts – you’ll read Part II next week.

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Love this pic. Photography fluke but I’ll call it skills.

Being in Rome at night feels like the whole city is invited to hang out. You come out after dark, make your way through cobblestoned streets, pass centuries-old buildings and sculptures of deep historical significance, stumble upon dimly lit narrow streets that would pass for alleyways in other parts of the world, flatten yourself against the wall as vehicles manage to squeeze through, and sit down at a randomly chosen cafe or restaurant for what you know will be a fantastic meal. Order a bottle of wine, take your time drinking it and then set out again, planning to get lost.

That book there is was my Food Bucket List #nerd

That book there was my Food Bucket List #nerd

Insider tip: arriving into the city at night means that you’ll see everywhere lit up. The modern places will somehow melt away and your heart will jump into your throat when you see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica appear, illuminated from somewhere beyond your line of sight.

Before we went, I reread Angels & Demons by Dan Brown. Granted, it is not a history book, and huge parts of it are fiction. But that’s what I like about these kinds of books – you get your thrilling fiction and also walk away having learned something. I liked the book a lot more than the DaVinci Code, and I remember being enthralled by the way he managed to intertwine an entire story with the existing monuments and structures. At the time, I googled every place he mentioned, and remember literally gasping when I saw the picture of Castel Sant’Angelo and the Angel’s sword pointing downwards (and no, not a spoiler alert. The book came out almost 10 years ago, so the statute of limitations has long passed). Seeing that picture was one of the best ‘life meets literature’ moments that I’ve ever experienced. Seeing it in person was indescribable.

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I was also bowled over by Piazza Navona and the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana de Quattro Fiumi), designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Rabin and I googled the fountain and walked around it, reading out the symbolism and picking it out – did you know that the four male sculptures at the base of the statue were meant to represent the 4 known rivers in the world at that time (The Nile, Danube, Rio de la Plata and the Ganges)? Animals and plants from these regions are also artfully placed throughout the statue, and in the middle stands an Egyptian type Obelisk, meant to represent Papal power at the time. Among others, Bernini also designed St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The three rows of pillars are situated in such a way that if you stand at a certain angle, the rows disappear, and you only see one line of pillars. As much as I suck at remembering any type of history, there is just something about this city that makes me want to get lost in the endless history, myths and legends.

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Fontana de Quatto Fiumi

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The view from the Spanish Steps

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Piazza Navona

Ok enough gushing. I think Rome has figured out by now that I have a not-so-secret, head-over-heels, embarrassingly girly crush on it. Today I’m bringing you Arancini, a fried risotto (rice) ball popular in Italy. Arborio rice is cooked, shaped into a ball, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The more sophisticated type of arancini has a cube of mozzarella stuffed in the middle, so when you crack open that ball, the cheese just oozes out. So amazing! Since I’m against frying, I decided to bake mine, and also make my own marinara sauce. My Marinara recipe will feature in Part II next week.

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The recipe I chose was taken from Better Homes & Gardens. I amped up the seasoning a little more and removed the spinach. You can find the original recipe here.

Baked Arancini w/ Mozzarella

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

3/4 cup Arborio Rice

1 tbsp Olive Oil

2 1/2 cups Stock

2 medium Onions, sliced

3 cloves Garlic, minced

8 fresh Basil leaves

2 Eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup Flour

3/4 cup Panko Breadcrumbs (regular breadcrumbs should be fine, but panko will crisp up better)

4 pieces Mozarella cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes

Cooking Spray

Instructions

Warm oil in a saucepan. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and basil and cook for an additional minute, until fragrant. Add rice, and pour about 1 cup of stock to mixture. Stir until liquid is almost fully absorbed, then add additional cup, then remaining liquid. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for approximately 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Before you remove the risotto from the fridge, place eggs, flour and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls. Put some potable water in a fourth bowl and cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and remove risotto from fridge and divide into 4 equal parts. Take half of one portion and shape into a ball, then press down to make a deep indent. Place mozarella in the indent, and add remaining portion to cover the mozarella. Make sure that the ball is tightly packed and that no mozarella is exposed. Roll in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining three portions.

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Place on a baking sheet and spray generously with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with marinara sauce.

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Sorry for the crazy amount of pictures, but this is me editing myself :D. Happy weekend!

Hanging out on the Spanish Steps, thinking about my next meal

Hanging out on the Spanish Steps, thinking about my next meal

Sunday Funday: 10 books at the top of my reading list

Sometimes, I find that online book browsing, updating my Goodreads bookshelf, making reading wishlists and checking for book sales (especially checking for book sales!) is as enjoyable as reading itself. Then I start an amazing book that very nearly physically pulls me in and the real world grows more distant by the second. When I emerge from whatever universe I’ve been visiting, I realize that although sales are fun, nothing quite compares to a great book.

Today I’m taking a break from cooking and travel and talking about the books I want to read in the upcoming months. Salma at the Write Balance & Dixya at Food, Pleasure & Health posted their reading lists not too long ago, and it inspired me to put together mine. Don’t be fooled – my list is literally made up of 450 books at the moment and continues to grow every day. This excludes cookbooks. This list is just the top 10 that have my book nerd juices flowing right now!

I tend to fly through fiction pretty quickly, but my non-fiction interests vary a lot and I tend to take longer to read them. Although this list has some amount of non-fiction, I will put together another list soon. For now I just want to chill and revisit a lot of authors / characters that I’ve met in the past. Here they are!

1. The Almost Nearly Perfect People – Michael Booth
I’m reading this right now actually. Many studies rank the Scandanavian / Nordic countries as the happiest in the world and it’s really refreshing and interesting to see a book that challenges that perspective. Don’t get me wrong – it’s one of my dream regions to visit. The Fjords, Fika, Northern Lights, their Environmental culture, the birthplace of Ikea and H&M? When I hit my midlife crisis and decide to disappear for a while, I want to at least know in advance where the best place to go is. It is so fun to plan my spontaneity!

2. Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
Who doesn’t have this on their reading list? Seriously. I remember being underwhelmed by To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it in school, ignoring the fact that it was the first book I stayed up until morning light reading (on an out of town trip) because I simply couldn’t put it down. We assume that books on our school syllabus aren’t that interesting, but as we get older, we (ok well me) realize that maybe those teachers knew what they were doing. My favourite piece of literature of all time is a Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams, and I have my 6th form Literature teacher Ms. Pyle to thank for that. I have since also realized that To Kill a Mockingbird’s status as a classic is very accurate and deserved.

3. The Harvest Man – Alex Grecian
There are certain key words or elements in a book that will make me pick it up once I see that the book contains it. Forget the rest of the plot. Victorian London? A reimagined historical event / fairy tale? Jack the Ripper? Alex Grecian’s newest installment in the Scotland Yard Murder Series has all of these elements, and pairs it with characters that I actually really like. I did a silly dance for joy when I saw that his new book was released. The Scotland Yard series enthralled me from the beginning, and now that he has introduced Jack into the series, I cannot wait!

4. Sense of Deception – Victoria Laurie

Speaking of silly dances when new books are released. Victoria Laurie’s Psychic Eye mystery series always keeps me moving (busting out the robot and sprinkler for this one). I love the idea of a psychic helping out the police and FBI and there’s something about the way she writes about Abby’s gift that makes me wish so hard that I had psychic powers. Abby, Dutch, Milo, Candice…she’s created this fictional world of zany friends that I get to visit once a year or so. The first book I bought in this series was as a gift for my mom, but very quickly the purchases stopped being for her and started being gifts for myself. Sorry mom! You can borrow anytime.

5. The Violinist’s Thumb – Sam Kean
I loved Sam Kean’s book on the periodic table – the Disappearing Spoon. It is truly one of the coolest books I’ve ever read because he intertwines science with the true stories of how the periodic table came to be. Geniuses are competitive, people are petty, politics play a part in everything, and it was amazing to learn about the reasons behind the naming of certain elements. Now that he’s tackling DNA, I am ready to be enthralled!

6. Royal Wedding – Meg Cabot
Nostalgia reading! the Princess Diaries, all grown up? Yes please! Meg Cabot’s previous Princess books project Mia as witty, sarcastic, self-deprecating, and dramatic. Mia’s voice is so much more real in the book than in the Disney Anne Hathaway/ Julie Andrews movie, and I can’t wait to see what grown up Mia will freak out about.

7. The Code Book – Simon Singh
Published in 1999, I had this book on my Goodreads to-read list for a while now. I recently saw the Imitation Game that featured the life of Alan Turing and it reignited my desire to become an awesome code breaker. At the very least, I’ll settle for learning to decode my light bill.

8. The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith
I will read anything that J.K. Rowling writes, even if she writes as someone else. The lady revolutionized pop culture as we know it, creating a whole other universe for us to live in. I enjoyed the Cuckoo’s Calling, and I decided that I would stagger her books – I do that with authors that I love. I try to hold out as long as I can so that by the time I finish their book, if I particularly loved it, their new book would be out soon so that I could jump right on it if I really truly needed to. So even though this book came out last year, her new book is due in October. I can finally stop depriving myself!

9. Picnic in Provence – Elizabeth Bard
Elizabeth Bard’s first book ‘Weekend in Paris’ not only made me want to go to France and eat French food with friends and family, it opened up a whole new genre of books for me – food memoirs. How can I NOT read Picnic in Provence?!

10. Sistine Secrets – Benjamin Blech & Roy Dolner
I’m a sucker for hidden codes and messages and mysteries that span decades. Plus you’re telling me that this book says that these mysteries were hidden it in art? Coupled with the fact that I’ve been to Rome and am completely in love with the place?

There you have it. I may need more than a few Sunday Fundays to read all of these books – can you guys get together and work out a schedule to deliver food and snacks for me please? I would seriously owe you one. Or ten. :)

What are you reading now / plan to read? Leave me a message in the comments below. I’m always open to a good book recommendation!

Herbes de Provence Baked Fries & Fangirling

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I had never heard of Èze until the day before I went there. My awesome friend Nadine put together an amazing itinerary, and because I was hyper planning every other part of the trip once I finished the leg of the trip with her, I was pretty much hands off with the finer details of that part of the trip. I even tried to limit my research time, often literally scrolling through stuff she sent me with one eye closed, forcing myself to skip over pictures. I wanted to be stupefied over how miraculous the world is and I didn’t want pictures to dull the experience beforehand. Yes, I know, I’m big on having perfect experiences.

Anyway. I digress. Èze is a small medieval village located in the south of France. It is tucked away in the hills that define the area. At every bend in the winding road leading to the top of the hill, you’re either treated to breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, lush foliage, or villas dotting the hillside. It is located in the Provence region, which I had heard of, mainly through reading French food memoirs, and because of an herb & seasoning blend called Herbes de Provence.

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My life kind of came full circle when we happened upon a spice & herb stand in the hills of Èze. Trays and trays of different blends, all written in french (I do believe learning french is easier when you’re in a supermarket), somehow preserved by the fresh air. I bought Herbes de Provence IN Provence! I had a serious food nerd freakout…I rushed to my friend and the conversation sort of went like this:

Me: “we’re in Provence, right?”
Nads: “Well, we’re in Èze, but -”
Me: “No, but we’re IN the REGION of PROVENCE??!”
Nads: “Yes” (slowly backs away)
Me: *runs to the stand while trying to look nonchalant like I buy herbs and spices in the mountains all the time*

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We also got to check out the famous Fragonard Perfume factory. For such a big brand, it was amazing to see how small the operation is, and the speed at which the operators work. We got to play a blind smell test game, and while I identified two of my favourite scents (coffee and lemon) correctly, I’m ashamed that the bored looking men on the tour seemed to be able identify more scents than I did.
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What I’ve noticed is that Herbes de Provence refers to a generally standard combination of dried herbs, but the amount of each herb varies. You can easily make your own combination and refine it based on your taste. The Herbes de Provence mix that I bought goes heavy on the thyme and rosemary, and there are varying amounts of marjoram, oregano, and savory. Many combinations include lavender, although that seems to be optional. I’ve even seen recipes with sage and fennel. Martha Stewart’s Herbes de Provence recipe found here is a pretty decent mix and seems to best resemble the combination that I bought, once you switch the rosemary and savory measurements.

Whenever I come across a new spice blend, I tend to use it in the most foolproof, regular way possible to really taste how it is, and to figure out where to go from there. I decided to go with old faithful, oven baked fries. You can rarely go wrong with good old potatoes.

Lemony Herbes de Provence Oven Baked Fries

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Time: 1 hr
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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Ingredients
1 tbsp Herbes de Provence
3 Medium Potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
3/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 tsp red Pepper Flakes
2 tbsp Olive Oil
Juice of one Lemon

Instructions
Preheat oven to 410 degrees. Toss potatoes with olive oil, Herbes de Provence, salt and black pepper. Bake in oven for 30 minutes. Flip fries over, and bake for another 15 minutes until crispy. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve immediately.

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I had these fries with moutarde – I will continue to call it moutarde because hey, it’s still funny. Check my Salade Nicoise post if you don’t get the joke.

Introducing KidBox!

I know, I haven’t been very talkative lately. Let me put you at ease – I’m still talkative *pauses for your collective sigh of relief*, I’ve just been extremely busy. I have a few exciting projects in the works and I can’t wait to tell you about them in the upcoming weeks. While I often have reasonably okay ideas, my Achilles heel lies in my brain. No, I’m not a futuristic foot-brain alien. I basically always talk myself out of an idea before it can even become anything. The first and only time I jumped into something without painstakingly considering every possibility was starting this blog, and it’s been one of the best decisions I ever made.

Taking the leap once again, I’d like to introduce you to my new side business – KidBox Guyana. I know a lot of you don’t live in Guyana, but for those of you who do, KidBox is a monthly Gift & Activity Box subscription for kids, ages 6-11. Every month the boxes are themed so you’ll receive 4-5 small items or 2-3 large items that fall under the theme for that month. You’ll also receive activity cards with additional ideas & games to play.

I’m now taking orders for our July KidBox, which will be delivered to your door on July 25. The theme this month is Backyard Camping which will come in handy now that your kids are on Summer / August holidays!

If you’d like more information, you can find us (and like us!) at http://www.facebook.com/kidboxguyana, or http://www.kidboxguyana.squarespace.com. You can also email me anytime at kidboxguyana@gmail.com .

You might ask “can’t I just buy this stuff for my child anyways?” Sure you can, but we curate a unique box that gives you the entire experience – our activity cards are full of fun ideas and concepts, and everything is yours to keep so you can utilize the games, toys and activity cards anytime.

I’ve also been getting some really great support and comments and based on responses, I have a feeling that KidBox may even grow up soon! Stay tuned! :)