Thursday, July 23, 2009

precisely two weeks

It is two weeks until I get on a plane and go to Europe for two months. I have been furiously studying and writing up until today, trying to finish a miniature version of my thesis for my supervisors before I go - and suddenly, there are no more major hurdles to cross before I go. It's frightening.

Because I'm a history geek, I thought I would share with you some places that I am DETERMINED to visit.

Krakow, Wieliczka salt mines, where salt has been produced since the 13th century. The miners themselves sculpted these salt figures around the mine. COOL.

An abbey somewhere in England. This one is Rievaulx Abbey, but I'm happy with any, really. This will only happen if, at the end of my trip, I have enough money for it.

Tower of London. Everyone who's been there who I've talked to has said it's not all it's cracked up to be. And still, I want to see it. Gruesomely enough, I just think it would be amazing to stand in the place where Anne Boleyn lost her head, or where Elizabeth I was imprisoned.

Budapest, Statue Park, where the Soviet-era statues are kept.

And because I'm a history geek with a particular interest in Marxism: Karl Marx's grave, Highgate Cemetery, London. Actually I'm planning on visiting a whole heap of cemeteries in London.

Jane Austen's grave, Winchester Cathedral. Self-explanatorily cool.

The Church of Bones, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. Since I have a taste for the grotesque, how could I NOT visit a church that is decorated with human skeletons, some from the Black Death or the Hussite Wars?

Auschwitz-Birkenau, or Oświęcim. Poland. Not at all cool but just something that I think I need to see.

This is all on the assumption that I don't lose all my bags, or get robbed, or do something really stupid within moments of getting to the UK, and turn around and go straight home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

I went to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on the weekend - surprisingly, loved it! The only Harry Potter movie that I liked up until now was the Prisoner of Azkaban, although the Goblet of Fire wasn't bad. So I wasn't expecting much.

I think they did a fantastic job of making a complicated book understandable. They cut things out, yeah, and the purists will have an issue with that, I guess. But we all know that when you turn a novel into a movie you have to change stuff, and I think they changed the right stuff.

The two stand-out performances were, for me, the young Tom Riddle of Dumbledore's memories - who looked like a choir-boy but was deliciously creepy. The other was Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn. I've always liked Jim Broadbent - it's difficult not to - but I don't know if I've ever liked him as much as I did in this movie. He was exactly the right choice for Slughorn. He also made me giggle with delight for approximately two minutes after his hilarious, PERFECT performance at the funeral of Aragog.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

are you kidding me?

I was woken at an unknown hour last night by the telephone. I have the privilege of one of the larger, more sunny bedrooms in the flat but the disadvantage of being the only one likely to hear the telephone at night. After a moment of lying in bed going "nnnnnnn" I decided it could be an emergency and jumped up to get it.

"Hello?" I grunted.

"Hi, is Wendy there?" [Not her real name. A guest who is currently sleeping in the sleep-out - a room attached to the garage rather than the house.]

"Yes... but I'm not going to take the phone to her at this time of night."

"Oh, okay. I'll ring her back some other time."

HANG UP. Turn on my cell phone to check the time; it's 2:50am.

Seriously??? You had to wake me up at that hour of the morning on the assumption that I would stagger out of bed, put on shoes and warm clothes, and carry the phone to your girlfriend (as I think it was her boyfriend calling) whose bedroom is not inside, and who is probably asleep? All for a non-emergency?

Possible reasons: a) sheer stupidity; b) forgetfulness; c) the assumption that as we are all students, we party the nights away in blissful freedom from the necessity of sleep; d) cruelty?


Saturday, July 04, 2009


Tomorrow the theme at church is going to be "Memories", apparently. I was rung up and asked to be one of three people who will share a few of their vivid memories of anything. Hm, I thought. What will mine be?

Sometime during the years 1988-1990

Finding out that some food (generally my favourite) is bad for you. Before, I had thought that my parents wouldn't give me more dessert or chocolate or whatever because they didn't have any more, or they wanted it for themselves. The day I found out that when I was a rich grown-up, I still wouldn't be able to eat all the chocolate I wanted - that was the day I lost my innocence. I compare it to finding out about death.


My big brother married a Chinese Malaysian woman, and so at their wedding there was a traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony. I was one of the family members chosen - because I was younger, I would serve them tea and they would give me a red envelope with a whole FIVE DOLLAR NOTE in it. It was very exciting.

When the ceremony was announced at the wedding reception, my mother poked me in the arm. "This is your turn," she said. "Off you go." I walked nervously out of the crowd towards the tea table, and everyone started laughing at me. It was NOT my turn. I felt completely humiliated as everyone laughed at me and said how cute, and I had to walk back into the crowd, and then out again when it was my real turn. Mum apologised but I have never quite forgotten the embarrassment, even though I think now, "well, it wasn't THAT bad, as embarrassments go".


Reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time.

I re-read it recently, after a long time of not reading it, and besides enjoying it HUGELY, I got very vivid flashbacks to when I read it the first time - a feeling of absolute delight that an author like this existed. It felt like my own discovery.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I share meals with two of my flatmates, so I cook at least once a week now. Which is great, because if it's only once or twice a week I have the energy to try new things, be creative. Some of the things have turned out beautifully so I thought I'd share them with you! Starting with this:

Butter chicken soup

I ate the leftovers for lunch today and only remembered halfway through to document the process for you. Here is half a bowl of the yummiest soup I've had in a while. Unfortunately you can't see the white blob of yoghurt and the coriander scattered on top - because I ate them! - but it looked very pretty at the start.

I got this recipe a long time ago from a recipe book called "Destitute Gourmet", but didn't use it until last night.

Marinade for chicken:

1 TB lemon juice          1 t coriander            1 t grated fresh ginger

1 t cumin                       1 t chilli powder       2 cloves garlic, crushed

(I cheated and used already crushed garlic and ginger.)

Soup ingredients:

1 large boneless chicken breast        1 TB butter

1 finely chopped onion                       1 t coriander

1 t cumin                                               1/4 t chilli powder

1 t ginger                                               1 can diced tomatoes (with juice) [400g/1 lb]

3 cups chicken stock                           1/4 cup basmati rice

2 TB tomato paste                              1 TB plain flour

2 TB brown sugar                               1/4 cup cream or milk

Natural yoghurt and fresh coriander to garnish

Marinade thin slices of the chicken for at least one hour in the fridge.

To make the soup, melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add marinated chicken and chopped onion. Stir constantly until chicken is sealed and the onion is soft. Add the dried spices and ginger, then stir in the tomatoes and chicken stock.

When simmering, pour in the basmati rice, stir, and simmer for 10 minutes. Mix together the tomato paste and flour and whisk this, a little at a time, into the soup. Add the brown sugar and cream, and season to taste. Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of natural yoghurt and some chopped fresh coriander. Provide some torn-up naan bread for dunking. (Although I just used a baguette and that was better than fine!)

Such a yummy meal. If I do say so myself, I don't think I've ever had a nicer soup. And there are so many things in its favour - butter chicken without the fattiness of the original curry; a more authentic-tasting butter chicken without the skody Westernization that tastes like, well, butter and chicken; it's really quick - probably about 30-40 minutes including preparation; almost all the ingredients are things that we would have in the pantry or freezer anyway. The only things I had to go and buy were the coriander, which totally makes the meal (and which is now growing on our kitchen windowsill), a tiny tub of natural yoghurt, and the baguette.

It's a really good hearty meal for winter (we are freezing in our student flat, and meals have to warm us) but I have a feeling it would not be too much in summer either. It serves probably about four hungry people as a main, or if it was an entree it would serve six easily.