Making a train more like a plane

Now that I’m not commuting all the time, I want to make the times when I do take a longer train journey pleasant.

And who knows better about making a long journey bearable than the people who run planes?

Trains and planes are pretty similar in many ways. You sit in a seat, next to someone who haven’t chosen. You can walk about, but it’s discouraged. You can go to the loo, but it’s uncomfortable.

The major difference that I’m addressing here is that on planes, people bring you stuff. They may pretend that it’s because you might get hungry or thirsty, but really I think it’s just too distract you. “Everyone” hates airline food, but you always eat it. Or at least open the packets and fiddle with it.

I’m talking about the good kind of plane of course.

My instructions for making a train more like a plane

Basically this boils down to – get yourself some good technology, and go to M&S at the station

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Wasabi peas!

The snack they give you when you reach cruising altitude

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The pot of fruit was the most expensive individual item

The actual food

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I suspect that Percy Pigs contain an ingredient that will in future be banned for being addictive

The sweeties

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This one was not bought at the station

The entertainment system – especially good now that BBC iplayer lets you download shows to watch later.

And there you have it.

Chinese Dumpling Soup (cooking for one)

Now that I’m not commuting so much, you’d think that I’d have more time to cook, but it’s difficult to summon the same motivation when the only person who will say “yum, thanks” is you.

The shorter commute also brings the pub-dinner dilemma. Previously, if I went for even one drink (don’t laugh, it is theoretically possible that I might have just one drink), I knew I’d be home “late” so I may as well either eat at the pub or choose from one of the options available at King’s Cross. As a side note, the options at King’s Cross are really quite good now. Living under half an hour away, I can kid myself that I shouldn’t get pub dinner because I’ll be home “before I would have been home if I’d left on time, before” (do you follow?). Then I stay in the pub, discover that the food options on the Northern line are much less interesting than those at major train stations, and get home starving.

You don’t have to have been in the pub to make this, you don’t have to only be cooking for one, you don’t even have to be in a rush.

Things you need to keep in the house
Frozen Chinese dumplings
Tomato juice
Soy sauce

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I bought these at the Chinese grocer

Things you can compromise on
Vegetables – you can use pretty much anything you have lying around

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I try to always keep carrots and celery around for dipping in hummous

Your source of other flavour – chilli, garlic, ginger, onion, etc

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This might work, might not, I picked it up when I bought the dumplings

Method
Fry veg that need frying (e.g. onions)
Add tomato juice, other veg that need to be made softer, heat up
Add dumplings, simmer for a bit (the packet says to boil in water for 10-12 mins)
Add soft veg (e.g.  peppers) near the end
Eat from a large bowl with chopsticks and a spoon and soy sauce and plenty of napkins.

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Big bowl of red. Very dark soy sauce is best

10 things I learned while flathunting

Random building giving advice

Random building giving advice

I looked at 10 houses/flats while searching. I don’t know if that’s a lot. I do know that I had two weeks where I didn’t get home before 10 any night (moving cities means long trains after evening visits). In the words of one colleague, I “caned it”, seeing lots of places and getting it sorted relatively quickly. I do highly recommend spareroom.co.uk – it’s a little like online dating but that’s a good thing, you can filter by number/age/gender of flatmates and other useful things as well as area and price.

I got turned down by a few places (there’s a lot of competition) and turned down a few myself, but I like to imagine that in each place I learned something new.

I haven’t actually thought this through entirely, so I hope it will work out.

HOUSE 1 I learned that I was going to be OK with the whole “sharing” thing, after not having done it for a few years.

HOUSE 2 I learned that some people think it’s a good idea to set up a visit without checking if the rest of the housemates are going to be in.

FLAT 3 I learned that it is possible for people to be “too quiet” for me to think I’d enjoy living with them (previously I had only considered “too loud” to be a potential problem)

FLAT 4 I learned that some people genuinely never eat on the sofa

FLAT 5 I got the details of a good pub quiz (although I haven’t yet tried it)

FLAT 6 I learned that giving 23 year olds the benefit of the doubt (they might not act that young really) is a waste of my time

HOUSE 7 I discovered that sometimes people build houses with huuuuge living/dining rooms and tiny kitchens

FLAT 8 I learned that some people are not competent when it comes to ticking or not ticking the “this flat has a living room” box on the website. If someone is using it as their bedroom, it’s not a living room.

FLAT 9 Is the one I’m now living in – I’m sure I’ll learn many things… No comment ;-)

FLAT 10 I learned that having a dining table is very important to me (sadly the website didn’t have a checkbox for that)

New house, new me?

Not just a new house (flat, technically), but a new city.

After over two years of commuting, I’m moving to London. And of course I have a lot of ridiculous ideas what I’m going to do with the extra time and the new location.

I will…

- Walk to work sometimes, if it’s sunny (it’s just under an hour’s walk)
- Find a new gym and go there more than once a week. The only reason I don’t go much now is because I don’t get home til late. Uh-huh.
- Be tidier in the new (smaller) flat
- Eat more healthily and/or give up sugar and/or eat more vegetables and/or stop eating crisp sandwiches and/or eat more fish or something
- Spend weekends going for walks in the park, or visiting museums. Even though evidence suggests that nobody does this

Er, yeah. Totally going to do all that. Because it’s not just a new house, it’s a total personality transplant…

New Year’s Resolution

My new year’s resolution is to spend my money/time/energy on experiences rather than objects.

They say they money can’t buy happiness, but if you’re going to try, this is the best way to go about it.

I did just spend some money that I got for Christmas on sheets from The White Company (in the sale of course). They are technically objects, but compared to the five year old sheets from Tesco that I got as a student they also count as an experience.

Two Christmas Cocktails

There’s nothing actually Christmassy about these – you could drink them any time. In theory this is one for the beginning of the day and one for the end.

Breakfast martini

  • 2 shots vodka
  • 1 shot cointreau
  • 1/2 shot lemon juice
  • 1 dessert spoon marmalade

I got a hamper from work with marmalade in. I don’t eat marmalade. But I can drink it.

This comes out quite boozy and rather sharp/bitter -which I like. I do like a drink at “breakfast” (as long as it’s a relaxed late breakfast) but I prefer something a bit longer – a Buck’s Fizz (in the US they call these a “mimosa”, which sounds fancier) or a Bloody Mary. This is very tasty but I haven’t quite worked out where it fits.

Breakfast martiniEspresso martini

  • 2 shots espresso (ideally cold but it doesn’t matter)
  • 2 shots vodka
  • 1 shot Kahlua (I only had Tia Maria, that’ll do)

This is the opposite of the breakfast martini – it’s a good after-dinner drink. I was very pleased at getting the “crema” on top. I saw someone put a little bit of Baileys in too once, not mixed in (that would ruin the look) but poured down the twiddly stem of one of those long spoons, to pool at the bottom of the glass.

Espresso martini

 

Mince pies – the good, the bad, and the ugly

I had a bit of a baking fail yesterday. I may fill you in on the rest of the fails later on, but for now I’ll tell you about the one that I managed to rescue – the mince pies.

Mince pie filling:

  • get a jar of mincemeat (you know if you are or are not the sort of person who will use up the rest of a bag of candied peel – I am not)
  • add dried cranberries (Mary Berry said they were OK in the Christmas Bake Off Special)
  • add a splash of brandy
  • stir it about

Mince pie pastry:

  • 130g plain flour
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 75g butter
  • rub until it’s a bit like breadcrumbs
  • add 1 egg yolk (save the white)
  • add water until it makes a dough

What NOT to do:

  • roll out to about 4mm thick
  • cut circles that just cover the bottom of your shallow bun tin
  • put in lots of lovely filling
  • cut stars to go on top that don’t quite reach the edge
  • put in oven until brown
Lots of lovely filling

Lots of lovely filling

Lovely filling explodes over edges, welding pies to dish. Bad move.

Lovely filling explodes over edges, welding pies to dish. Bad move.

What to do if you want them to be nice:

  • grease bun tin with butter
  • roll out until really quite thin
  • cut bigger circles
  • put in just a bit of lovely filling
  • cut bigger stars
  • brush some of the egg white on top of the stars
  • sprinkle some cinnamon
  • put in oven until only just a little bit brown
This is much better

This is much better