WFH, WTF?

Wow, it’s a bit armageddonny out there isn’t it?

I’m sure like me your work has been thrown into disarray. I’m now working from home (WFH) with only Baron Pepperoni OBE for company. I’ve had to cancel a lot of international work gigs which has been heartbreaking as I’ve spent months working on them but hey, I’d much rather my colleagues live to see the other side of this. Right now I feel like I’m firefighting the fall out from all those cancellations which on the one hand is an opportunity to do some creative thinking and planning, but on the other hand feels like the blind leading the blind.

Many moons ago when I lived by myself the first time around, while writing my thesis, I spent a lot of time perfecting the art of WFH. With no structure or anchor point to my days, just the endless and thankless task of writing the 80,000 words (and I guess my part-time job), I learnt that having a daily and weekly routine helped a lot with remembering which day of the week it was. I went to the gym most days (not anymore!) either at the beginning or end of the day so that I had a clear run of work either side, I tried to keep my working day between 10 and 6 because I was most productive then. I made time to see my friends for dinner, or on days out at the weekends. Some of these things feel less familiar now than they should.

Right now I also have to deal with trying to process a set of worries – worries that hang on uncertainty and the unknown. They are not tangible things, nor are they things I can manage or foresee. However, I can tell you that the following things are on my mind a lot:

  • Do I have enough tins of tomatoes in my larder?
  • Is ordering stuff from Amazon keeping the economy afloat or am I putting people’s lives in danger?
  • Have my family killed each other yet?
  • When will I get to buy a bunch of bananas again?
  • Do I have enough inhalers?
  • How are my neighbours doing, especially the elderly ones?
  • I really wish that Microsoft Teams was never invented
  • Do I have enough tins of tomatoes in my larder?

I hope that some of you can relate, especially to my anxiety about tinned tomatoes. Yes?

Because of this global pandemic, I am having to do my full-time day job in a whole other work environment (my home of all places), I’m not allowed to leave my flat, and I only have 3 tins of tomatoes left. It’s all a bit scary and daunting, n’est pas? WFH feels less of a comfort than it used to because I feel like I am forced to replicate my ‘normal’ work schedule at home, which isn’t how I usually roll. Working from home is great when I have breathing space to focus and concentrate. Not so great when I’m a little bit concerned about everyone around me (and also me) dying.

I have always found that building boundaries around work/life while WFH helps separate when you are working, and when you are resting/having fun. I will admit that right now, this is a little harder for me to do. In these uncertain times, it has become increasingly more important for me to have structure to my days and week, mainly so that I can remember what day it is and function like a human being. So I’ve tried to take back control (does that phrase give anyone else shudders?) of my working day by creating a structured environment and a routine for enhancing my productivity and focus; taking into account time for dealing with distractions (laundry) and fussing Baron Pepperoni OBE. The past week, I’ve been trying hard to be disciplined around the following things:

Remember self care?
Even though I only see my colleagues via video calls, I still make a point of actually showering, blow-drying my hair and wearing make up in the mornings. I may not be wearing work attire, but I am definitely not wearing loungewear. My getting-ready-for-work routine remains the same; I make sure that I look and feel presentable (no, I’m not wearing joggy bums under the desk). This distinguishes a work day from say, a rest day where I would quite happily slob around in a uni hoody covered in ketchup stains.

Setting working hours – and sticking to them!
My WFH hours are 8am – 4pm. Any time before or after is me time! I find this almost gives me ‘permission’ to go and have some fun! I’m also making a point of having luncheon too. I’ve found for the first time in literally years, I am not feeling guilty about taking an hour out of my day to have lunch, NOT al desko. My sleep pattern during the week and weekends are the same as normal, though I get an extra 30 minutes lie in during the week because I don’t have to commute!

Having weekend-specific tasks
When I am at home at weekends, my Saturdays always start with waking up late, doing the washing up, putting on the laundry, cleaning the flat, then having a shower. This is my Saturday ritual, and it continues to stay that way even in lockdown. The temptation to do laundry during the week is OVERWHELMING but I hold off, and save it for when I have time at the weekends to distinguish a work day from a weekend.

Creating a designated workspace
I tend to be quite disciplined anyway about where I allow myself to work in my flat – strictly something I only do in the study, and occasionally in the living room. NO WORK ENTERS MY BEDROOM (or bathroom for that matter). This way I train my brain to associate types of activity to particular spaces e.g. the study = work mode. At the moment I am only working from my desk in my study which means when I step out of the room to have lunch or power down, I can switch off my work brain.

Exercising
I don’t know about you but I get a really bad old-lady back from sitting at my desk all day and I also get quite restless. In normal day-to-day life finding time to squeeze in another exercise class was always a bit of a ballache so I’ve taken this opportunity to do a bit of YouTube yoga during or after my work day (Adriene – isn’t she a dream?). It’s still early days for me yet but I find some gentle stretching really helpful for my aches and pains and a good way to decompress.

Checking in on my colleagues and mates
You read correctly. I just used the word ‘mates’. As a sociable person, I totally crave human contact at certain points of the day. There has always been a part of my work routine that has meant that I would have to work remotely on occasions but this will be the longest period of time I will be out of the office away from my in-house colleagues. Not all people will show obvious signs of stress and nor will everyone want to talk about it so I’m making a conscious decision to check in on colleagues (and friends) who may not be coping so well with the change in circumstances. Oddly, the lockdown has had an interesting affect on the way that I socialise. I have made it my mission to find novel ways of engaging with my friends virtually. So far I’ve done a cookalong via Whatsapp, played virtual scrabble and tested out the Houseparty app which I totally recommend for shits and giggles.

Owning my distractions
It is totally normal to be distracted during the first few days/weeks of working from home. I think you expect the opposite because… you’re at home. I have found that if I am distracted, I am not doing my best work anyway, so having a few minutes or an hour doing something completely different really helps. I always seem to have an impulse to go and prep my next meal (probably not a surprise to anyone who knows me) but it’s not because I’m hungry or greedy (?!), it’s because the process of chopping vegetables or weighing out ingredients requires a thought process very different to the one that I apply to my work-work. I can see the progress that I am making right in front of me, unlike work-work where progress is often this intangible thing that I can’t see or gauge. Here is my distraction montage for some inspiration:

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Some distractions that may or may not involve a cat.

My approach to WFH may or may not be everybody’s bag, but I think the most important thing is to reach out to someone else if you’re struggling. We are living in strange times right now and I think the impact of recent events affects us in ways we don’t always notice.

Sending everything but thoughts and prayers to everyone out there who is self-isolating. I would love to hear your thoughts on WFH too. Comments welcome!

xxx

 

 

[Insert Egg Pun Here]

Easter. A time for me to reflect on my love of eggs. For your reference, here is a list of my Top 6 types of eggs:

  1. Steamed eggs with pork
  2. Scrambled eggs
  3. Scotch eggs
  4. Fried eggs
  5. Boiled eggs (so versatile)
  6. Century eggs (in the context of salted pork and century egg congee)

I’m not sure whether it’s because my mum ate A LOT of eggs when she was pregnant with me, or whether because they are super versatile, but I bloody love an egg. One of the 3 reasons I could not become vegan full-time (reason 1 = meats, reason 2 = cheese). As long as you don’t overcook them, you can use them as a source of cheap and easy to prepare protein. I love how they bring together a load of disjointed things on a plate or in a bowl – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to have a ‘fridge clear-out’ dinner before going away, and bringing it all together with… a fried egg on top, and perhaps some hot sauce of sorts.

Eggs feature a lot in my childhood food memories. I remember my first trip to Hong Kong (I was pretty young, maybe 6?) I developed a slight obsession with the fried egg sandwiches there. Bread in HK is extremely white and almost fluffy – with no crusts. Perfectly squared-off loaves are available in every supermarket and bakery. It is the perfect base for a hot fried egg sandwich; part sponge, part egg-blanket. This was also the occasion I discovered fried egg and corned beef sandwiches, but I’ll save that for another day.

Scrambled eggs were the first thing that I ever cooked on a hob (i.e. ‘proper cooking’). I think I had to do it for a Brownies badge so it forced my parents into letting me near an open flame. A 9-year old me did a little air punch. I remember having to cook this at my friend’s house (no idea why, maybe we thought we were being helpful by making a huge mess in the kitchen) and beating the eggs very thoroughly and procrastinating a lot over how much salt to add. Also, black pepper – I was incredibly confused by black pepper as we didn’t use it at all at home. We also pan fried some slices of ham (we hadn’t graduated to raw meats yet) and I was delighted by the result. I think I may have force-fed my mum and dad scrambled eggs every weekend from then on.

Steamed egg and minced pork is possibly one of my favourist things from my parents’ food repertoire. They used to make it in a large dish for dinner and I would always stall my eating to make sure that I got the last dredges of it. It was so delicious, I don’t think I ever chewed a mouthful properly. When it is in the steamer, the egg puffs up and becomes almost souffle-like. But then as soon as it is lifted out, the egg immediately deflates, not that it looks any less appetising though. My parents would always mince their own pork (usually belly – when it was cheap!) using a cleaver – this became my job when I was trusted enough with a knife that was the same size as my face. For my parents, the meal was nutritious and easy to make – something that influenced a lot of our meals as we always ate about an hour before the takeaway opened.

Today, I eat steamed egg a lot less, mainly because there are so many other things to eat. It’s something I go to when I need something that isn’t too heavy but is filling and warm. And no, I can’t make it like how my parents make it. I’m not sure what I do differently but it never tastes the same.

Ingredients:

  • Some pork (er, maybe up to 100g ish?) – I use shoulder but you can use belly and even loin if you want but some fat in it would make it more tasty. You can also totally skip the mincing part and buy pre-minced pork.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • Sesame oil (optional)
  • 1/4 cup Water
  • Soy Sauce

(Serves 2 as part of a meal with other dishes, or 1 if serving standalone)

  1. Mince your pork using a cleaver/mincer. Or use pre-minced pork (I prefer the texture when I mince it myself). Place the meat in a shallow dish (this will make cooking quicker) – n.b. make sure it’s big enough!
  2. Crack 2 eggs into the dish, add salt and a few dashes of sesame oil (optional) – beat with chopsticks.
  3. Add the 1/4 cup of water (pre-boiled) and beat again.
  4. Put a steaming rack into a large saucepan or wok – let it come up to the boil. Place the dish into the pan/wok and turn the heat right down to a gentle simmer – I would recommend using the smallest burner as you want it to steam on a low-med heat. Cook for about 15 mins (you can check whether it’s cooked by poking the centre with a chopstick to see if the egg has set/meat has cooked through).
  5. Drizzle soy sauce on the top and serve with boiled rice!

 

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Ta-da! Steamed egg with pork! I’ve put spring onions on top for fanciness but they really don’t add anything to the dish.

 

I eat my steamed egg with plain boiled rice – I kinda stir it all together and wolf it down because very little chewing is needed!

*DISCLAIMER* Now, I know that the top of this steamed egg is all bumpy and not at all refined. First of all, I didn’t grow up with the refined version because my parents didn’t have time. Secondly, because this contains meat, you need enough heat to cook it through within a reasonable amount of time. Vegetarians/steamed egg lovers – you can make this sans meat, steamed on a super low heat (like, the lowest setting on your smallest burner), and you *may* be able to achieve a smooth top and almost custard-like texture (this really depends on how low your hob can go!).

Give it a go and see what happens!

Happy cooking!

xxx

 

Dedicated to my egg-cellent friend Sophie.

Bring Me Congee

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My pimped congee with salted pork topped with preserved vegetables and chilli oil

Congee, or ‘粥’, conjures up memories of… being sick as a child. Fevers, colds, stomach bugs, and everything in between. For me, it is food that I still turn to when I’m sick, run down, or just need a hug in a bowl. A basic-bitch congee is made from rice and water which is easy for your body to digest, especially if you’re unwell. A bit like tea and toast, but way better.

It’s also super cheap to make – as a poorish undergrad student (I really had no excuse, I had a part-time job) I once reported to my mum that I’d made some congee because I was a bit skint. She asked me what I’d eaten with it (gods forbid I ate it plain) to which I responded ‘a pork chop’ – sliced and cooked in with the congee. Obviously not *that* poor that I couldn’t afford to buy myself some meat. LOL.

粥 is a staple in many Hong Kong markets, often eaten for breakfast with salted pork and century egg (my personal favourite) with a side of delicious 油炸鬼 (fried dough sticks – literally translated to ‘fried oil ghosts’) or fried egg noodles. I love a bowl of congee whenever I go back to Hong Kong – even in the 30+ degree heat. The ingredients and flavours are so simple which is probably what makes it so comforting.

It was a bit odd when I came to write down the ‘recipe’ as it occurred to me I’d never weighed or measured any of the ingredients – like boiling rice, it’s all about eyeballing. However, I measured my ‘eyeballed’ amounts and it went something like this:

1/2 cup rice (I use Thai Fragrant rice because I’m a snob)
5 cups of water or stock
Pork (1 chop/steak’s worth!) – optional, depending on how skint you’re feeling…

Makes 2 portions. Cooking time: around 20 minutes.

Method:

  1. Wash your rice and soak overnight – you can skip this part, especially if you’re impulse cooking, but I find that this makes the consistency smoother when it comes to cooking the rice.
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Soaked grains of rice

 

2. Drain the water and put your soaked/unsoaked rice in a saucepan. Add 5 cups of water and bring it to the boil. MAKE SURE THE LID IS RESTED ON THE SIDE OF THE PAN OR IT WILL BOIL OVER. Once it comes up to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes (again with the lid rested on the side of the pan to prevent boiling over). You can use stock if you’re feeling fancy but I’m not a huge fan of drinking synthetic stock. Stir occasionally.

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Rice simmering away gently.

 

3. Slice your pork thinly (you can use pretty much any cut – my favourite is shoulder) and add to the congee – cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can also salt your pork the night before by sprinkling about a tablespoon of salt onto the chop and rinse off before using. This helps create a lovely stock while it cooks.

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I actually only used half of this as I had a really thick steaks

 

4. Your congee should end up looking a bit like the picture below. If it’s too thick for your liking, add some more water but make sure you bring it back up to the boil once more before serving to ensure it’s piping hot throughout. Add salt to taste.

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5. ‘Garnish’ and eat! I added some preserved vegetables and chilli oil to mine, with a dash of soy sauce.

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You can also top it with fried mince pork and cabbage (flavoured with ginger and sesame oil).

 

Storage: you can keep congee overnight in the fridge – just make sure that it’s properly cooled before you pop it in. To re-heat, pop it in a saucepan with some additional water (it will thicken up overnight) and bring it to a boil slowly. Or, and don’t tell my mum I do this, you can microwave it – make sure that it is piping hot before eating.

There are so many variations of what you can cook in or serve with the congee – a delight when you are not sick! Pork or chicken is always a winner as they help create the stock while cooking. I always add soy sauce, and sometimes I plop in some preserved bean curd for some savoury umaaminess. For vegetarians or vegans the addition of some preserved veg or spicy preserved hot turnips, and a side of stir fried green leafy veg is very appetising and nourishing.

Ok, now off you go and make yourself some congee. It’s not just for sick people!

Happy cooking!

xxx

We need to talk about that vegan artichoke and spinach dip.

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Pre-oven

Vegan Feast

Post-oven

Spinach and artichoke dip – it’s the American dream. I have to admit that I’ve never experienced the full-dairy experience and that this vegan version is the closest I have got so far. I’ve seen it in so many forms – often in the middle of the day on the Food Network. Apparently it’s a thing when the Superbowl is on?

I made up this recipe based on non-vegan versions I’d seen and since I had a vegan friend coming over, I thought I’d give it a go. What could go wrong? It has artichokes AND spinach in it! It was really easy to assemble – can be served with pita, tortilla chips or just bread! Make a meal of it if you like!

Recipe-ish (I eyeball a lot of these things – it’s more about ratios than exact measurements):

1 tub vegan cream cheese (I used a garlic and herb version)
1 small onion (about 2/3 of a cup)
2 garlic cloves (more if you like garlic)
2/3 – 1 cup cooked spinach (all the water is squeezed out then roughly chopped)
1/2 – 3/4 cup artichokes (drained and chopped up into scoopable pieces)
1 cup vegan cheddar-style cheese (grated)
Dash of soya cream
Salt and pepper to taste (paprika too if you fancy!)

  1. Dice onions finely and mince your garlic – pan-fry both in some oil until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, spinach, artichokes and half of the cheddar-style cheese.
  4. Add the fried onion and enough soya cream to loosen the mixture – it needs to be scoopable so make sure that it’s not too runny or thick. Stir and season to taste.
  5. Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the remaining cheddar-style cheese and bake! I’d leave it in the oven for at least 25-30 minutes for the ‘cheese’ to melt. Serve – but make sure that you share it with others.

My vegan friend, who took home the leftovers, reported that it is excellent warmed up and spread on toast the day after 😉 If you want to try the full-on dairy version, just replace all the non-dairy products! Oh, and if you’re a carnivore – add bacon.

Happy eating!

xxx

Vegan Food Made Easy

FYI – I haven’t turned vegan. But I admit to being a bit ve-curious, whether vegetarian or full-on vegan. Let me just quickly remind you that the humble chip is in fact vegan (assuming you’ve not ordered them at the Black Country Living Museum). It’s quite hard to go out these days without noticing the growing number of vegetarian or vegan options on the menu. I mean, there are even restaurants and cafes dedicated to plant-based eating! And about time. I love meats but recently I have made a conscious decision to eat less of it for issues of wellness. But I do still love a steak.

I love meals that are ‘accidentally’ vegan. I compare it to the feeling of going to the checkout only to find that your item has been unexpectedly reduced in price for no reason. I mean, you’re going to buy it anyway so it is an added bonus that it’s even cheaper. With accidentally-vegan fare, it’s like you’re contributing to sustainability, without even trying very hard.

I have been doing some recip-experimenting (some on a vegan friend) and have found the following things invaluable for ‘ve-mergencies’:

  • Puff pastry (Lidl’s is vegan)
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Spices (I have a jar of pre-mixed spices as per the Souk Spice Root Vegetables recipe in Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Sirocco’ – literally delicious on everything)
  • Pulses (usually chickpeas or beans)
  • Those vegan shroomdogs from Sainsbo’s that I have become a bit addicted to

Pastry can be used in many, many ways whether you’re vegan or not. My favourite is to make a pie or a tart – depending on how much time I’ve got. Tart’s are well easy – shove a load of things you like on the top and pop it in the oven (don’t forget to create a barrier by scoring lightly with a knife to create the border – nobody wants SPILLAGE FFS). I particularly love the combo of artichoke, onions, mushrooms and Gary (or vegan cheese). I had a vegan artichoke pizza in a lovely restaurant called Billy and Lucy in Melbourne last year and was baffled by it’s simplicity and nommyness. Artichoke, onions and vegan cheese. In the words of Guy Fieri ‘that’s all she wrote’, and when I came home and started topping everything with artichoke, onions and Gary immediately.

Artichoke and Mushroom Tart

Vegan Artichoke and Mushroom Tart

Tinned tomatoes are a staple in my larder because they are so versatile; soups, curries, sauces etc. you name it, in they go! They’re particularly great for stews and one pot meals. Combine with the holy trinity that is celery, carrot and onion (the only time I will eat celery knowingly) and you have a brilliant base to which you can add spices and pulses for something warm and filling. FYI, this is vegan – unless you fancy adding some meats and cooking it low and slow. See? Easies.

Vegan Feast

Lower right – vegan chorizo and lentil hot pot

Spices are a godsend – again, for any food, not just vegan or vegetarian food. They perk up a bland dish and turns it into something completely different. I always have a jar of pre-mixed ‘souk spices’ (thank you Sabrina Ghayour). The original recipe is as follows:

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp garlic granules

I usually quadruple the recipe, pop it in a jar and it’s there ready when I need it. Great for any roast vegetable combinations (and also meats). I’d recommend adding some fresh mushed garlic too for added yums.

Cavolo Nero and Souk-Spiced Butternut Squash

Cavolo Nero and Souk-Spiced Butternut Squash

This is a bit of an introduction to how I’ve adapted the ways that I like to cook (as a carnivore) to suit my new-found part-time veggie/accidental vegan ways. I have a few  other ideas up my sleeves (I NEED TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE VEGAN SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE DIP) and will tell you all about them v. soon!

Happy eating.
xxx

 

Around the world in 80 (x 4) days

It’s been 343 days since my last post, and it’s been 343 days for a reason. This time last year I was living a mini-dream in Sweden – a holiday I decided to indulge in because, quite frankly, I was having the worst time in actual real life (professionally). It happens to us all, and it’s not the first time it had happened to me. So when I returned, I decided change needed to happen. I concentrated my energies into making that change happen and in January this year, I got myself a fably new job. The added bonus of this job? I got to travel the world.

I’ve been in this new job exactly 9 months and 9 days now and it’s taken me this long to jot down and acknowledge my many wanders. I’ve been to so many places, met so many brilliant people, (ate lots of delicious things) I had no idea what to do with all the information. So I’m going to try and break it down a little here, as a sneak preview of what’s to come on Connie Talks.

Back in April I spent a month in Australia (yes, for work), a country that had been on my hitlist since FOREVER but timings and finances never seemed to pan out. Flashback to my conversation with my new manager in January:

Manager: ‘Connie, how do you feel about staying in Australia for a month? We know it’s a big ask.’

Me: [externally] ‘Oh, I’m not sure, can I think about it? Can I take my cat?’
[internally] ‘YES OKAY WHEN NOW I CAN GO NOW CAN PEPS COME WITH ME?’

I’m not going to lie. I was bloody delighted. 2 weeks in Brisbane and 2 weeks in Melbourne was the perfect combination. I was a stone’s throw from the Great Barrier Reef (although I didn’t quite make it that far – turns out ‘a stone’s throw’ actually means ‘the distance between France and China’ in Oz) in one direction, and literally on the Great Ocean Road in the other. My work and travel itinerary became very full very quickly. The highlights included koalas (which turned out to be my other spirit animal – my first being pandas), kangaroos and nature in general. All of a sudden my geography GCSE became real. Oh, and I think I need to talk about the coffee. It is officially okay to ask for a latte out there without being spat on. But I would highly recommend getting a hot flat white – just to be on the safe side. And take a reusable cup.

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Fraser Island

On my way back from Australia, I decided to pop in to see the fam (uncles, aunties, cousins, fake uncles and aunties too) in Hong Kong. Although I’ve been many, many times, this time was slightly different as I’d not been since my granddad’s funeral in 2013. My intention was to have a proper tourist holiday, sans my immediate family. Anyone who has traveled back to their Motherland with immediate family understands that the trip is never a holiday but an itinerary of obligations and family dinners. As much as I love family dinners, I wanted to see HK at my own leisure. Lamma Island was a surprise delight, even in the gazillion degree heat. I even lugged back a jar of some delicious chilli oil that I ate there – probably the most random souvenir from any of my trips.

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Lamma Island. Can’t believe it only costed us a few quid to get there and back.

In the height of summer, I thought it’d be a good idea to go to Italy – again, in the gazillion degree heat (I am yet to pack away my summer wardrobe). The Holy Motherland of All Things Pasta and Art. As an art historian, I am so ashamed to say that I HAD NEVER BEEN TO ITALY before. Now I’ve been, I feel much less like an impostor. I spent a glorious week in Bologna with day trips to Parma, Modena and Florence immersing myself in traditional Italian food, culture and obvs, art history. I left the UK not knowing a word of Italian (apparently pasta shapes don’t count) and returned still not knowing a word of Italian (but have expanded pasta vocabulary significantly). I came back with cravings for lasagna which I attempted to make – the Italian way. Recipe to follow…

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That time I couldn’t decide which pasta to have so I had all three.

I’m sat at my laptop now, still in a state of culture shock, having just returned from Shanghai less than 2 days ago. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with China having had a bad experience there with the fam a few years back. However, I can honestly say Shanghai has changed my perspective; the city is international, accessible (but don’t try and pay with a credit card) and has a lot of good eats. I miss the smell of food everywhere, the Bund and the bustle, but definitely not the pollution.

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Yang’s Fried Dumplings – with a side of curry noodles which I really didn’t need but was greedy so ordered anyway.

So the next few posts will be me trying to process my thoughts on these wonderful places that I’ve visited and probably all the delicious things that I ate too. Next week I travel to Chile for the first time and no doubt will return an empanada addict. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Sweden: Blogpost 1 of 1,000 – #connietravels

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since I returned from beautiful (but rainy) Sweden. This post (and the ones that will follow) has been a long time coming but coming to write it hasn’t been particularly easy. Not because I didn’t have the time of my life, but because remembering it all has been a) difficult (we did A LOT) and b) reminded me that I’m not there right now. The latter breaks my heart a little bit – a feeling that I’m sure any Wanderluster knows well.

As the title of this blogpost may suggest, the next 1,000 blogposts will be about Sweden. I might even re-name my blog. ‘Connie went to Sweden that one time and won’t shut up about it’. I’m not sure if it’s because I did a lot whilst I was there, or because of all the drama in the lead up to, and during the holiday; but I have a lot to say about the place. This post will ‘set the scene’ of the first evening and the rest will be about specific places I went. I think. Do let me know when it becomes boring. Actually, I don’t care. So let’s start with everyone’s favourite: the drama. I’ve written it as a list of thanks for you:

  1. Thanks Monarch airlines for going bust 4 days before our flight.
  2. Thanks train cancellations.
  3. Thanks Swiss International Airlines for losing my luggage for 24 hours.
  4. Thanks Stockholm Central Station for your mediocre signage which meant that me and friend couldn’t find each other.
  5. Thanks Google Maps for misdirecting us to the wrong apartment.
  6. Thanks (genuinely) to our Airbnb host for coming to meet us at the station… but we were already stood outside the wrong apartment.
  7. Thanks AirFrance for going on strike so that my friend had to rearrange her flights AGAIN.

There. That wasn’t too bad. That was a bit like therapy. I find that ‘thanking’ all those involved acknowledges that we survived the experience, but equally, it gives a passive-aggressive nod to the stress they put us through. However, we did see a niche in the market and have considered setting ourselves up as Holiday Disaster Consultants.

My journey (up to the point where they lost my luggage and didn’t even apologise) was delightful. The highlight was being in charge of the emergency exit en route to to Switzerland; I have never felt such authority. It was like fulfilling my dream of becoming cabin crew for an hour and a bit. Not sure how much use I was as I spent most of that time asleep but hey ho. Food-wise, I was given nommy snacks on both flights including a yummy kish. All good plane snacks are worthy of a mention. I also made a plane friend who sat next to me on both flights – a young chap who worked as a holiday rep who was flying all the way to Stockholm to meet a lovely lady he’d met that summer. I hope they end up spending the rest of their lives together, but not in Stockholm because it’s far too expensive and I can’t even imagine what house prices would be like.

Our apartment (when we finally found it) was located in a lovely residential suburb of the city, just a few stops on the metro from Central station. We were surrounded by other apartments and lots of autumnal, leafy avenues. The downside was that there weren’t really many places to eat nearby, so dinner was often on the ‘mainland’ or on one of the surrounding islands. Having said that, we were around a 5-10 minute walk away from a supermarket which was very handy, considering my circumstances.

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View from our kitchen

Having found out that I only had the contents of my hand luggage with me for at least 24 hours (our Airbnb host gave me a right scare story about how he waited 6 weeks for his to turn up), we made an immediate trip to the local supermarket. Oh my days, it was so beautiful. I bloody love a supermarket abroad – so many things to look at and touch. Supermarkets are like museums of anthropology; they tell you so much about the culture in which people live; what they eat, what they wear, how they cook, how much they earn. Dreading that I was going to have to wear the same set of clothes again the following day, I was the most relieved when I found A SALE RAIL. BOOM: Jumper dress for £8. I also bought a pack of pants and spare tights. Oh, and a questionable t-shirt to wear as PJs. We also treated ourselves to D’aim ice creams.

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My new PJs

After buying too much and for the fear of bankrupting ourselves earlier than anticipated, we decided to go and hunt for dinner. Not literally obvs, we’re not barbarians. Now, apparently, according to the Millennial’s Bible Buzzfeed, the Swedes love a burger. So a burger we did have. We stumbled upon Lily’s Burger which is pretty much burger heaven. Don’t let the retro American Diner decor fool you: they mean business. I opted for ‘The Bad’, because: Sriracha mayonnaise. The best surprise were the cheeseburger spring rolls – patty meat and american cheese wrapped in filo and fried. I am taking this back to The House of Wan. The burgers were most excellent; perfectly pink with the perfect balance of accompaniments. Nobody likes a burger that is 50% salad. We shared those fries by the way. And no, we did not finish it all.

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So, to sum up our first evening, I’ve put together a series of observations:

#1: Bottles of ketchup are huge in Sweden

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#2: Hipster beers are prevalent

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#3: ‘infart’ is a word (meaning ‘entrance’) – sounds like an oxymoron in English.

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#4: This was how I found the cheese the next morning. I was on holiday with a monster.

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Coming up next: Our first proper day in STHLM.