Monday, 6 June 2011

A foody celebration

I've had some time on my hands. Two and a half weeks before going back to work, to be precise. So what better way to use it than to plan a little tea party. And since we'd been to America (duh), I decided to theme it on the US of A.

Which mainly meant lots of red, white and blue and a large dose of sugary, fatty food. Nom nom, etc. Here's the most part of the spread.

Yup, my apron has my name on it.

And that bunting? It goes all along the length of the other wall and it took me a few hours to make. But it was worth it when a lovely friend said it was the neatest bunting she'd ever seen. I didn't have enough time to sew proper bunting (I started it the day before the party, whoops), so I made it out of coloured card and punched holes to thread string through. Easy peasy.

When it comes to cooking, I'm no chef. I can handle one-pot dishes and a roast dinner but that's about your lot.

Baking, however. That's my thang. I follow the recipe to the T and - huzzah! - the cakes come out almost like the picture in book. That's the sort of cooking I like. So I made cakes. Many many cakes. So many that we had some left over (YAYS).

And when I say I like baking, I also like the glory that comes with it. There was a little surprise when I cut into that rather large (and slightly wonky) beast of a cake your saw above...

EEK, IT'S AN AMERICAN RAINBOW CAKE!! There were gasps of delight all around and I was very chuffed indeed. It tasted pretty dang good, too. The cupcakes were either red velvet, white or blue vanilla, too, but I couldn't have told you that earlier or I'd have ruined the surprise.

Other tasty American-style treats included (but not all in the pic above) these stinky corndogs, pastrami sandwiches, pepperjack cheese sandwiches, beef and veggie slider burgers, pretzels, cheese puffs and pickles. Mmm.

Oh, and this incredible American flag pie made by Adam's fair hands - arguably even more impressive than the rainbow cake. I'd like to take credit for finding the picture of the pie and the recipe on the interweb (it's my party and I'll boast if I want to!) but credit where credit's due: the boy done good.

Here's a close-up of the cherry and blueberry delight.

It went down a treat with some squirty cream.

Altogether a successful little party. Oh, and in case you're wondering, there were actual real people in attendance. We just didn't have the camera out because we were too busy stuffing our faces.

Can you blame us?

Monday, 30 May 2011

Martha, I love you

Martha Stewart, that is: high priestess of homemaking.

Last autumn I got Martha's 2010 Halloween Handbook and wanted more more more. But I've struggled to find other Martha-branded mags over here so I was super excited (yes, I even squealed) when I found the May edition of Martha Stewart Living in Borders in Ann Arbor.

It's FULL of pretty pretty things, recipes, party ideas... and because this one was based around florals, it had a section on Northern Californian flower growers and markets. We planned to find some around San Francisco but didn't get the time (great story, I know). I also managed to nab the June issue before we flew back, this one with a summertime theme.

In other trip-related Martha news, I found out about Martha Stewart's line of products at Macy's department store on my favourite food blog. She has a whole selection of bakeware and accessories, but what I was after was this little piece of genius.

Breakfast To Go. This baby takes Tubberware-type containers to a whole new level. It has two clever compartments where you can separate the different elements of your breakfast. Stick cereal flakes or granola in the bottom and it won't go all mushy by the time you get to eat it because that naughty yoghurt has its own little level.

There's more. It comes with a spoon! It lives under the top layer, and you just click the two bits together. So you don't have to have a rogue piece of cutlery knocking around your handbag, clanging against your sunglasses case and getting caught up in your keys. So clever.

Adam was jealous of my find so I bought him one, too. Oh, and one for big sis. I'm starting a UK Martha Stewart Breakfast To Go revolution, me.

But I couldn't leave Macy's with just a a handful of Breakfast To Go pots. Oh, no. I wanted MORE. (Well, I wanted all of it, to be precise, but there's only so much you can sneak onto your boyfriend's credit card account and indeed fit into your suitcase.)

This marvellous invention came home with me, too. Lunch On The Go? Yes, please.

OK, so same concept: the different parts of your meal stay separated in their own little plastic homes. Stick your sangers in the bottom and then have your fruit and some cookies in the top two sections. Lovely.

But the most exciting part about this set is that it contains a REMOVABLE ICE PACK. Come on! (Notice also how the little tubs have measurements on them. Nifty.)

No longer will the full fridge at work render my sandwiches office temperature as they sit under my desk (no one likes sweaty cheese, do they?).

I will simultaneously have the coolest lunchbox and smuggest pre-lunch face my office has ever seen.

Lunchtimes will never be the same. Especially if I use my Breakfast To Go pot as a clever snack receptacle. Carrot/cucumber/celery sticks and houmous. Raisins and crackers plus peanut butter. Oatcakes on the bottom, cheese and grapes on top.

Oh, the possibilities... I can't wait to use them. Is it time to go back to work yet?

LA: revisited

Venice Beach gave us a pretty nice 'welcome back' in the form of this beautiful sunset.

As crazy and lively as the beach is in the daytime, I think it comes to life most in the evening when the masses depart and the beach can speak for itself.

Pretty huh? I got a bit creative with the next one, and used my sunglasses as a filter. Artiste? Moi?

Those footprints belong to Ad's big hoofs. But let's pretend they're The Hoff's. Some of Baywatch was filmed here, after all.

So that was Wednesday evening. Thursday was a bit of a write-off. We slept in, left at lunchtime to go to Newport Beach, drove around trying to find anything that looked like The OC and then gave up, sat on the beach to eat a soggy tuna sandwich (Whole Foods let us down this one time), then drove two hours back through rush hour traffic on the freeway and that was that. The evening, however, was better with a little trip to a Santa Monica cinema to see Thor. FYI, Milk Duds rule.

Friday was more eventful. Universal Studios!

First thing we did was take the Studio Tour, on a big trolley. That's our tour guide.

Dur-da....dur-da....dur-da-dur-da-dur-da-dur-da...DUR-DA! Argh.

This is us getting ready to be be thrown around, 3D style, by King Kong. Excitements. (PS, where's my tan?)

Then we found out about some unlikely neighbours. That's Wisteria Lane, home to Desperate Housewives...

...right next door to Whoville (from How The Grinch Stole Christmas)...

 ...oh, and there's Bates Motel from Psycho. What a nice little community.

The tour continued past cars on fire, impromptu floods and New York streets. And then finished up near this big blue screen. In front of it is the (currently dry) lake where they film water/lake/sea screens, like the one from Pirates Of The Caribbean where Cap'ain Jack is floating in a little row boat. Kinda take the Hollywood wonder away...but cool all the same.

That night, our last in America, we went to an awesome Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica called Lula Cocina. De-lish. I had fish tacos and a mojito (I meant to order a margarita but got confused). Muchos tequila and cool paper decorations. On a par with the Taco Joint in Chicago, I'd say. Well, nearly.

On the way back to Venice, we passed this. I've no idea what it represents or why it lives on a pharmacy's outside wall, but I thought it summed up this part of LA pretty well.

So there you have it. America, we had a blast and we'll see you soon.


Monday, 23 May 2011

We're back!

We survived flying on the day that the world was supposed to end, which was nice, so now to deal with the inevitable burden of post-holiday unpacking and washing.

I'll be back with another couple of posts from the last days of our trip once I'm through with this...

...and this.

Wish me luck.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The central coast

Up until the beginning of this week we'd been really lucky with the weather. Not that it had been sunny all the time, but the weather did what it should do where we were when we were there.

Apart from for the drive down Highway 1, that supposedly picturesque cruise past turquoise waters through Monterey, Big Sur and down to LA.

Picturesque it was, but the water was not turquoise. In parts, we could barely see it! So here's how you do wet weather days out on the Pacific Coast...

Buy taffy, and lots of it.

Find the pretty pink flowers in Pacific Grove.

Take arty pictures of your hire car by the beach (I took this one, despite it looking like one of Ad's).

Have your photo taken on a big rock in front of an even bigger rock (Bird Rock, to be precise) that's covered in birds and seals.

Cough up $9.50 for the 17-mile drive. It's totally worth it, though the Lone Cypress is a little underwhelming, especially when two coaches unload as you park up.

See where the rich people play golf at Pebble Beach, and spend your dinner money on a hot chocolate, a coffee and a half of ale at the Lodge At Pebble Beach. You could stay in the Lodge if you had $500 to spare per night (we didn't).

Drive round to Carmel Mission and don your history hat.

Battle the rain along Big Sur.

Get your woodsman pose on in the State Parks.

Become mesmerised by the waves in the bay at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but less so by McWay Falls at low tide (I hate to say it but it kinda looks like someone's having a big wee from behind the cliff).

Discover that you can never fully plan your route when you've driven right up into the clouds on a detour around the landslide on the way to Hearst Castle only to find out that the US army have literally just closed the road you're driving on and you've got to go back to where you started to get to where you're trying to go (a laboriously long sentence to describe a laboriously long drive).

Still, get to where you're going you will - San Luis Obispo (the happiest town in America, no less) - and stay in a swanky hotel to mark the near-end of your trip. Celebrate the fact that that hotel provides fluffy white robes, unlike anywhere else you've stayed in the past six weeks.

And finally, finally, you'll find that the sun does shine on the coast at Santa Barbara.

San Fran: the whole shebang - Bay To Breakers

Where in the world do walking plants, gnomes, sasquatch, naked bottoms and texting bananas get together and unite?

At Bay To Breakers, one of the biggest parties in the world. And to think we almost left to go to a Travelodge on the edge of the freeway instead. We'd have missed the centennial of the event as well! Shame on us.

While the official race for the runners started at 7am, we headed out about 9am and wandered sheepishly (especially in Adam's case) through The Castro towards Haight St where the apparent action was.

When a guy passed us and asked "What's the occasion?" as he chortled along with his teeny dog, we started to worry. Americans don't do sarcasm. Do they? Oh dear. Maybe no one's going to be dressed up. Maybe we're just a bizarre group that consists of Rey Mysterio, a flamingo, a sunflower and a sheep/bunny hybrid walking the streets on a Sunday morning...

 How wrong could we be.

Thank you Fell Street. So dedicated are the party goers that they're pretty much all pished off their faces by about 10am. There's music everywhere - whether it's coming from someone's costume or one of the houses on the street.

In case you haven't realised yet, Bay To Breakers is the fancy dress Mecca - which makes incredible inspiration for future costumes. This one, in particular, blew me away.

A frickin' People Wash! With music and bubbles! Inspired.

My sunflower costume was a pretty big hit, if I do say so myself. And I only got used as a trash can once. If you can get into a flower pot, I urge you to try it. Much fun to be had! And if you happen to find a watering can in the shape of a flamingo, then think outside the box and make yourself a flam-bag (flamingo handbag, geddit?) a la Sian.

Here are some of the best costumes we saw (WARNING: you will see a wrinkly, naked old-man bottom below - there were lots of this sort of bottom on show on the day).

Head over to for more pics from the day. You should spot me and Ad in there (on page 17) too!

I'll finish with me hanging out with the local flora. Bay To Breakers, you rock!