Experiences not objects – Harry Potter Studio

I am definitely Ravenclaw - I am a higher percentile for "clever" than I am for "brave" or "kind" or "ambitious"

I am definitely Ravenclaw – I am a higher percentile for “clever” than I am for “brave” or “kind” or “ambitious”

I bought this experience-not-object as a present for a friend’s birthday, and it was totally a present for her, not a present for me, oh no definitely not.

This particular friend had the Harry Potter theme tune as her ringtone when we were in University, so I thought I was pretty safe. On a side not – polyphonic ringtones. Remember those? And remember being able to program ringtones by typing in a3, b6, etc?

/nostalgia

Right. Harry Potter Studio Tour thingy. Not “Harry Potter World”, that’s in Florida. We are not children (as you might have noticed). Neither were most of the people visiting. One couple had brought a long a baby and a three year old, which I thought was slightly optimistic, but I hear you’ve got to indoctrinate them young.

So you either want to hear if it’s good, or you want to know if I have any hilarious anecdotes. It is good if

  1. You really like Harry Potter (I do)
  2. or you find the process of filmmaking really interesting (I do – I love reading TV Tropes and thinking about storytelling concepts)

It is NOT a Harry Potter theme park. No rides, no attempt to make you think that it is “real”, it’s all about the creation process.

My favourite part was slightly unexpected and so I don’t want to tell you what it is because it’s so lovely.

My next-favourite parts included:

Outfits in various stages of distressed-ness for filming asynchronous parts of the battle of Hogwarts

Outfits in various stages of distressed-ness for filming asynchronous parts of the battle of Hogwarts

Tiny little beds (fine sixe for 11 year olds, not so much for over-6-foot Neville) and socks hanging on the boiler

Tiny little beds (fine size for 11 year olds, not so much for over-6-foot Neville) and socks hanging on the boiler

All of the ingredients! I love a historic pharmacy, and the Potions classroom is just as good.

All of the ingredients! I love a historic pharmacy, and the Potions classroom is just as good.

I didn’t take a photo but I also loved the pictures of the animal actors (is that a ridiculous thing to say? The trained animals). The idea of having one ginger cat who was good at chasing things and one who just wanted to lie around (“the perfect cat for holding”) is genius. Crookshanks was a very ugly cat though!

A picture is worth a thousand words – but sometimes words are better

What do you call the little plaques next to paintings in a gallery? The ones that tell you the name of the artist, the title, the year, etc?

Well, I like them a lot, especially if they have extra information.

Especially if that extra information tells a story.

Tate Britain

Today I went to the Tate Britain, as part of my experiences not objects resolution. It’s free, it’s less than two miles from my flat, and since it’s free I can wander in and leave after 10 minutes if I discover that I’m not in the right frame of mind. Turns out I was in the right frame of mind, and I wandered through sculptures and paintings for a good while.

Ethel

A hairbrush wouldn’t go amiss

See this picture here? Don’t worry, I turned off the flash and didn’t get in anyone’s way taking the picture. It’s called “Ethel”, and it’s a picture of a girl called Ethel. Great. The official catalogue entry says it was painted by her brother in law when she was 14. Now you see why she looks slightly sulky. Her sister’s boyfriend has come round and is insisting that she sit still and do nothing (many pictures of girls have them reading books, at least they’ll be less bored) while he paints her.

Ethel plaque

This information isn’t in the catalogue!

Now for the story. Nothing dodgy with the brother in law, and and slightly dodgy if you think about her being 14 in the picture (she was older by the time this happened). Someone came to the gallery, liked the look of the girl in the picture, asked for an introduction and MARRIED HER!

Is that romantic, or just really really odd? He liked how she looked when she was 14, thought strongly enough about this to seek out an introduction, and then they got along well enough to eventually get married. It must be fate*

 

*I don’t believe in fate.

Slow cooker roast beef

Beef in slow cooker

I forgot to take an “after” picture so you’ll have to make do with this “before” one, I’m afraid.

I live near a Lidl, and while they are great for fruit and veg (apples are apples, and in this shop sugarsnap peas are sugarsnap peas) I’ve always been a bit wary of the meat.

Technically I still can’t vouch for the meat, because this cooking method would be good for anything. I got a “beef roasting joint” at about £7 a kilo. No mention of what cut it was. This is slightly less than Sainsbury’s charge for their generic roasting joint (and they charge the same for brisket) so let’s assume it’s not anything amazing and that I’m not doing it a horrible disservice by slow-cooking it rather than roasting it rare.

I hardly ever bother to pre-brown meat for the slow cooker – especially when it’s going to be in a sauce, but this time I thought it would be worth it. I chucked the meat into a frying pan for a couple of minutes each side, chopped an onion and a couple of carrots very chunky to keep it off the base of the slow cooker, put the beef in and covered it with salt and pepper and thyme. I put about an inch of hot water in the bottom of the pot too. Then turned the slow cooker on high for 5 hours or so. Something like that anyway. The whole point of the slow cooker is that you DON’T have to pay too much attention

I used the liquid at the bottom to make gravy by bunging in some extra beef stock cube and cornflour – resulting in a bit of a “just stir it Una” situation with lumps, but a tasty gravy.

Three lip crayons (none of which I paid for)

It’s magazine freebie time again!

Well, two magazine freebies and one beauty box product.

Three lip crayons

I have always been much more about the eyes than the lips when it comes to makeup. Possibly because I used to have the most terrible overbite, so I didn’t want to draw attention to my mouth. Possibly because I came of age in a time of lipgloss and my hair always got stuck in it. Who knows?

In the last few weeks I have accidentally come into possession of not one, not two, but three lip crayons. And you know what? They’re rather nice.

The first (both chronologically and in the picture) came with the “August” (read – July) issue of Cosmopolitan. As I’ve said before, I generally only buy magazines if there is something that I like the look of on the cover. The name of the brand has worn off already – not a great advertisement for their quality, but this helpful blog says it’s something called New CID. The second was on Glamour magazine – they often have very good branded gifts and this was Clinique. The third was from a Birchbox (a gift try-lots-of-little-beauty-things box) and again was a brand I’ve not heard of – this time Laqa & co. t’s also called “lip lube”, which is rather offputting.

Smell: Cid – fruity and very sweet. Clinique – says “stawberry” on it but smells more like lipstick than the other two. Laqa – minty (weird but may give the appearance of “fresh breath”?).

Taste: Having grown up with Body Shop lip balm I have to check if they taste like they smell. The answer is “not really”.

Colour: Cid – a lightish neutral pink, not far off the colour of actual human lips. Clinique- a darker slightly more purple pink. Laqa – almost coral.

Colour staying: All – hardly any. But that’s OK really. Maybe a little more for the Clinique because of the darker colour.

Feel: All – soft but not sticky. Like a lip balm that comes in a stick. Not a chapstick though, a creamy one.

Am I converted? Maybe. But it’ll be a long time before I need to buy one!

Experience not objects – Recipease (Jamie Oliver) Thai cooking class

Recipease Thai Dinner feast

You can tell it’s Jamie Oliver themed because there’s an entirely-unnecessary wooden board

At some point I may have mentioned that my New Year’s resolution was to spend more of my money on experiences rather than objects.

My friends clearly heard this, because in the rash of birthdays that happens around this time of year a lot of the presents exchanged have been experience-based.

The first one for me was a cookery lesson of my choice at “Recipease”, a vaguely Jamie-Oliver-related small chain of cafe/shop/school places. I picked the “Thai dinner feast”, mainly because it was 2 hours and 3 dishes and I wanted to get my money’s worth.

I’ll copy the recipes from the official end-of-lesson recipe book, and annotate where it differed.

The kitchen before we made a mess of it

The kitchen before we made a mess of it

Hot and sour soup

Ingredients
1 litre stock (I am obviously not going to make my own veg stock)
2 small green or red chillies
2 medium shallots
1 small piece ginger (about 2cm)
4 small tomatoes
150 g oyster mushrooms
8 each king prawns (shell on) (we only got one each! also – shell on is messy and pointless)
50 ml Fish sauce (this is a LOT of fish sauce and yes we did use a lot)
2 dessert spoons Palm sugar (I asked about substitutions here because I’m pretty unlikely to go and buy palm sugar – any brown is good, light muscovado nice for caramelly flavour)
3 Limes (juice) to taste
Coriander (stalks and leaves separated)
2 strips spring onions, thinly sliced

Put your stock into a pot and bring to a boil, turn the heat down to low then simmer
Cut the shallot in half, remove the skin, then thinly slice
Cut the tomato in half and remove the seeds. Put the seeds into the stock, then slice the
tomato flesh into strips
Peel the skin from the ginger, then julienne it (thin strips like matchsticks)
Using a pin prick the chilies with small holes. Throw this straight into your simmering stock
Peel the oyster mushrooms into strips using your fingers
Peel the prawns keeping the tail on. The shells can be used in the stock for flavour then
discarded before eating
When the stock is simmering add in the fish sauce, lime juice, coriander stalks and palm
sugar. This is added to your taste. Don’t be shy with these ingredients, these will help you
get your sweet, salty and sour flavour. Adjust to your taste
Your stock can now sit until you are ready to prepare the soup
Ten minutes before serving the soup, remove the prawn shells
Heat the stock then add in the sliced ginger, shallots, tomatoes, oyster mushrooms and
peeled prawns.
Simmer until the prawns are cooked. This will only take 3-4 minutes
Adjust the flavour to your taste; Salty(fish sauce), sweet (sugar), hot (chilli), sour (lime
juice). For an extra kick, add a tiny amount of shrimp paste
Portion out the soup and garnish with thinly sliced spring

Apparently salty is the opposite of sweet, and sour is the opposite of hot, so taste and balance.

Sticky beef

A drizzle of Vegetable oil
2-3 teaspoons Cornflour
600 g minced beef
3-4 teaspoons chilli and garlic paste (just chillis and garlic bashed up in a pestle and mortar)
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 dessert spoons Palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
Fish sauce, to taste
Rice vinegar, to taste
Small handful Basil and mint leaves (we only had coriander)
3 strips Spring onions
Small handful chopped cashew nuts (we didn’t have any of these, possibly due to allergies?)
Lime wedge on side
Cooked Jasmine rice
Sauté greens (broccoli and pak choi quickly fried in the same pan as the beef with a bit of oil and fish sauce)

Put the beef into a large bowl, then add the cornflour and using your fingers coat every
lump of beef with the corn flour. Don’t be tempted to use too much cornflour
Heat a large sauté pan and add in the oil
When the oil is hot add in the crumbled beef mince and on a medium heat cook the beef
until it is golden brown all over and slightly crispy
Add in the chilli and garlic paste and cook for 30 seconds, then add in the thinly sliced
shallots and sweat till soft
Add in the palm sugar, fish sauce and rice vinegar – taste the beef and adjust the flavour to
your taste. You are looking for an even balance of sweet, salty, sour and hot
When you are happy with the flavour add in the roughly chopped mint and basil leaves and
half of the sliced spring onions sauté till the herbs are mixed in well
Add your cooked jasmine rice to the middle of the dish, the sticky beef to one side and the
sauté greens to the other
Garnish with sliced spring onions and lots of fresh coriander with a lime wedge on the side

Results

Both were very tasty. The third dish was a coconut rice pudding made with the leftover rice which I’m not going to talk about here because

  1. I didn’t make it at all
  2. I don’t like sweet coconut

The soup was nice but didn’t feel like I was learning much (apart from the salt/sweet, hot/sour opposites, which I’ve yet to test) because I quite often make Asian-y broth soup for dinner anyway. I’ve just tried to find a link and apparently ‘ve never blogged this even though it’s one of my staples, so expect it soon!

The chilli beef was very nice and crunchy/crispy. We weren’t given a lot of advice over how much chilli to use, and apparently shop-bought chillis can be very variable in heat. Using mince and cornflour seemed like a great idea, and easier than trying to get steak strips exactly cooked enough. I’ve bought pak choi before and not known exactly what to do with it so I was pleased there too.

The afternoon was well-run and the chef giving the instructions was entertaining and good at speaking. I’d definitely recommend.

Review: Body Shop Ginger Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

TL;DR – it works if you use it right

Body Shop ginger shampoo banana conditioner

Banoffee pie with ginger biscuit base anyone?

Longer version:

Dandruff is one of those yucky things that are more embarrassing than they should be. It’s not contagious, it doesn’t make you smell bad, but for some reason it’s really embarrassing. Maybe because it’s on your head. Maybe because it’s caused by a fungus (although I’m not sure how many people precisely know that). Or maybe it’s because everyone is secretly worried that they might have a little bit of it.

Skin constantly renews itself, which means that you’re always shedding skin everywhere. Your scalp is made of skin and is no exception. So when do you call it dandruff? I’ll have to get a bit gross here – when it starts being chunky – sorry, I told you it was gross.

So, does this stuff work? Yes. My scalp no longer has giant flakes of whiteness falling off it – or in my case stuck in my hair as curly hair tends to trap the “bits” (yep, gross again).

The important thing to remember is that this is medicine for your scalp, not just shampoo for washing your hair. So get in the shower, wet your hair, rub this in til it foams up, massage it into your scalp a bit, then do everything else while leaving it in contact with your scalp. Rinse, condition (conditioner is not magic, it’s just to make your hair easier to detangle afterwards). Repeat every 2 days or so.

I picked the banana conditioner because it’s silicone-free and therefore curly girl friendly, and also because I want to smell like a dessert. That’s a lie, I don’t even like ginger biscuits. It does seem to “go together” though and I have been strongly conditioned (pun unintended, it’s the only correct word) to feel that I need my shampoo and conditioner to “match” somehow.

Happy hair, or some other hair-based salutation :-)

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.