Sunday, 6 April 2014

Happy birthday to my blog: seven today!

The seventh year of the blog has felt a little slower in terms of post published. However, I've just checked and wrote ninety seven posts over the last twelve months. A lot more than I expected and not a bad haul.

The highlight of the year was probably the mind blowing leopard hunt that I saw in Zambia. The rest of my African adventure in Malawi was pretty special too.

As you'd expect on the blog there was a lot of eating. I was spotted on the Guardian running blog, and set a new personal best in the Abingdon Marathon. Not bad for a stomach ulcer affected race. In fact it was my hardest running year to date. I probably averaged over fifty miles a week for a continuous six months up to Christmas.

It has felt very special to have Becks at my side over the past twleve months. We had a delightful week in Paris and got to share my favourite meal of the year

Top ten posts of the year:
The Blogger stats and Google Analytics vary wildly, which is odd, as they are both powered by Google. Below are the top ten posts according to Analytics (as that is what I have used in previous years).

1. Reading the Economist for free on the Kindle - hopefully the Economist's lawyers will never read this one and come knocking on my door.
2. Best kebab in Istanbul - a couple of awesome kebabs from my visit to Istanbul.
3. Garmin Forerunner 100 unboxing - tech reviews can be a real hit. Just a shame I don't know what I'm doing!
4. Habberfield: Ricotta cheesecake taste off - two very good cheesecakes get the recognition they deserve.
5. Camelbak Hydrobak review - runners of the world have come to read the post.
6. Top Eats - people clearly love to search for restaurant recommendations. Bit of a shame I haven't added anywhere to it recently!
7.  Project Sourdough: Air bubbles, the elusive texture - I haven't posted about my bread making much recently, but still enjoy to bake.
8. Galtaji Rajasthan - A non mover at number two in the charts. Indian women in their brightly coloured sarees at Galtaji gets a lot of hits.
9. Kenwood KMix Unboxing - unboxing the mixer for my bread making. Shipped all the way from Germany to Sydney and now back to London.
10. Cooking: Coconut and lime slice - people obviously love recipes containing coconut and lime.

Thanks if you have stopped by during the year.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Restuarant Review: The Brockley Mess, Brockley

Buck Rarebit
On Sunday we had a late lunch at the Brockley Mess. With its attractive looking array of brunch options, the place has a bit of the Kiwi / Sydney café vibe that we both find so appealing. Both Becks and I were left wondering why we hadn't visited before. I blame the location in Brockley's midtown. Its is too far away for a quick bite, but not far enough, as a venue when out for a walk.

We started off with a couple of milkshakes. I chose the banana shake and Becks the chocolate version (both £2.75). Becks declared them the milkshakes were the best she'd had in a long time.
Banana and chocolate milkshakes
I ordered the tabbouleh (£4.95) from the specials board. A comforting mix of tabbouleh, salad, haloumi, felafel and pitta bread. The haloumi was my favourite bit of the dish. While the salad didn't arrive dressed an accompanying bottle of dressing arrived at the table to save me from a naked salad. The felafel were a little bland, but thankfully not dry.

Becks ordered the Buck Rarebit (£4.50), a Welsh Rarebit with a poached egg on top. A good mature cheddar and just enough Worcester sauce made it a pretty damn good cheese on toast. The poached egg was a little over cooked for me, but Becks declared it just to her liking.
The bill came to under £15, which was excellent value as lunch for two. With lots of attractive looking brunch options on the menu we'll be back.

Brockley Mess
325 Brockley Road
The Brockley Mess on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Restaurant Review: The Red Lion, Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire

Pig mixed grill
For the last few years I always had the next fine diner I wanted to try mapped out in my mind. It wasn't until Becks brought up Michelin stars back in January that I realised I didn't have a fine diner on my current wish list. As I flicked through the latest Michelin guide nowhere (which doesn't have an insanely long waiting list) particularly inspired. Then the idea struck me to have a smart meal during our weekend away in Oxfordshire. There isn't anywhere Michelin starred in the immediate vicinity of my parents house, but the Red Lion at Britwell Salome got a mention in the guide this year so I thought we'd check it out with my school friend Will.
Langoustine two ways
I been to the Red Lion, in its previous the Goose, back in 2005 to celebrate mum, dad, Ruth and grandma's birthdays which mass together in August. Has it really been so long since my last visit?

We were seated in the back dining room of the busy restaurant and settled in to look at the menus. The three of us were horrendously indecisive and we sent the waiters / waitresses away a couple of times before we were ready to order. I went for the strategy of ordering dishes that no one else was trying.

From specials board I ordered the langoustine two ways. The bisque had a deep and wonderful flavour, while the potato, claw meat and homemade mayonnaise looked the picture, but I didn't taste much langoustine in the mix which was a shame.
Melted Brèzain
Becks ordered the melted Brèzain with celeriac & mustard and cornichons. The dish looked the picture. I had a small taste of the melted Brèzain which tasted similar to raclette that I fondly remember ski holidays in France and who doesn't like a cornichon?

I almost didn't order the guinea fowl, homemade black pudding and dauphinoise as I was feeling peckish and mistakenly thought the guinea fowl was a small bird. Luckily it didn't put me off ordering the dish and I discovered the fowl was easily the same size as a duck leg.

The homemade black pudding was excellent, subtler and not as iron rich as some of the commercial black puddings I've eaten before.
Guinea fowl
Becks ordered the mutton shoulder wrapped in filo and served with couscous. Visually I didn't think it looked as good as the other dishes of the night. However, that didn't distract from the slowed cooked mutton which was as tender as the lamb shoulders I'd cooked the week before.

Will ordered the pig mixed grill (top photo). Neither Becks nor I got a look in and Will declared it one of the best plates of food he'd ever eaten. High praise.
Mutton shoulder
None of us had space of dessert, but fancying something sweet we ordered a selection of truffles from Tutu Delicious in nearby Wattlington. It turned out to be a good choice, with the salted caramel a particular favourite.

Dinner at The Red Lion surpassed all of our expectations. I was particularly impressed with the consistency of the dishes. At under £40 per head including (not many) drinks and service it was excellent value too.
Truffle selection

The Red Lion
Britwell Salome,
Near Watlington,
OX49 5LG

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A National Trust Bonanza

Basildon Park
Last weekend Becks and I decided to make the most of our soon to expire National Trust passes by visiting a few places in and around Oxfordshire. The weekend was made extra special by the fact we elongated it with two days off work and the glorious early Spring weather we had.

On the Friday afternoon we visited Basildon Park. I didn't think I'd ever been before, but when I saw the back of the house I remember a summer concert / jazz event type thing I'd been to over a decade before with my school friend Will and his family.

We started off with a walk through the grounds which took us about an hour. It thankfully wasn't too muddy on the tracks we took as I'd only taken one pair of shoes with me for the weekend and they were completely unsuitable for mud.

After our walk we had a quick rest in the deck chairs arranged on the lawn to soak up some of the afternoon sunshine and then it was into the house. We whipped through pretty quickly as it was approaching closing time and we wanted to see some of the formal gardens as well.

The house had been used to film the Downton Christmas special (I've still never seen an episode) and there were a few photos from the filming around the house. I also, oddly, remember the carpets. The NY have had special carpets made which replicate both the design of the original rugs in the house and the floorboards. Walking on carpeted floor board was a little wierd.

The tour of the house finished in the 1950s kitchen which was formica cool. An NT volunteer in the kitchen was baking biscuits and we wall tasted one as we left the house.

On Saturday we visited Mottisfont, a house built out of a medieval abbey. The gardens were covered in spring bulbs (which I did well not to capture in the photo above).

We again started in the gardens, admiring the winter garden before checking out the walled garden. I'm not usually one for plants, but the red twig dogwood was rather nice. I can't believe I've just written about a plant, middle age beckons.....
Walled garden at Mottisfont
After lunch in the café we headed into the house. For me the most interesting part of the house was the Lichfield photography exhibition that they were showing on the upper floor. There were over fifty excellent portraits capturing key figures from the 1960s onwards. Definitely worth a look.

After visiting the house we had a quick walk along the river, a visit to the shop and then it was time to head home. Becks and I both managed to fall asleep in the back of the car on the way home.

Greys Court
On Sunday we went for the hat trick of NT properties with a visit to Greys Court, a 16th Century house that was lived in until 2004.

We were basking in our third day of sunshine which had brought out the crowds. Seeing a packed café we decided to start our visit with a walk round the grounds. The woods were pleasantly quiet compared to the crowds on the lawn.

When we got back to the house we made a bee line to the café for a late lunch. The recently renovated café had been caught on the hop by all the crowds and was running out of food. The service was dreadfully slow. I know a lot of the staff are volunteers, but they need to sort their systems at the tills out!

After lunch it was into the house. Having been inhabited by elderly residents relatively recently it was stuck in a rather charming time warp, decorated with the possessions of the Brunner family. Like Basildon Park there was a volunteer in the kitchen baking biscuits. Sadly this batch had a slightly odd flavour.
Becks in the garden
After lunch we had a look around the walled garden and a climb up the tower. The walled garden was divided into number of spaces and it would be great to visit in summer when some of the mature planting is in full bloom.

We finished our afternoon reading the Sunday papers in the garden with the warm sun slowly going down behind the house.
Water feature in the walled garden

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Restaurant Review: Meze Mangal, Brockley

Mixed meze and garlic prawns
I've been looking for a reason to visit Meze Mangal since their renovation at the end of last year. Having good friends John and Natacha in town was the perfect excuse to have a catch up over dinner.

Gone are the days, 10 years ago, when I originally moved to Brockley and you could drop in to Meze Mangal any time and they'd find you a table. Even on a Wednesday night they were packed and it was a good job that we'd booked as we had the last table in the expanded restaurant.

After some incredibly indecisive perusal of the menu we decided to go with the classics and it was the mixed meze (£16 for two) to start with. The prices may have gone up over the years, but it is still an enormously generous starter.

The mixed meze comes with a taster of (nearly) all the cold starters on the menu and you choice of a hot starter too. The humus, aubergines and acili ezme are always a favourites.
Mixed grill
Our second classic of the night was the karisik kebab / mixed grill (£16.50). The smokey flavours that they achieve on the charcoal grill are fantastic. The adana (minced lamb skewer) is my favourite and the smokey flavour even had me tucking into the kidney. And you can't forget the piece of bread they place underneath the meat to soak up all of the juices.

Over estimating our appetites we also ordered the vegetarian guvec (£10), a mix of aubergine, onions, mushrooms and garlic, topped with cheese and baked in the oven.
Vegetarian Guvec
The expansion Meze Mangal has meant you are no longer seated so close to the grill or wood fired oven and the place as lost a bit of theatre as a result. However, they are still rocking the old smokey flavours, which is a good thing in my book.

All of the pics were taken on my phone, explaining the somewhat dodgy quality.

Meze Mangal
245 Lewisham Way
Meze Mangal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Time lapse camera experiements

While I was in NY a couple of weeks ago I picked up a time lapse camera, the Brinno TLC100. I bought the camera to record an upcoming house project and my requirements were that it was weather proof and cheap. Weather proof because it will spend a good few months outdoors and cheap because I think my limited creativity, not the camera, will be the limiting factor in the movie I create. I also don't trust it not to go walkabout if I leave it in the garden and I would be more likely to replace a cheap camera.

The Brinno also appeared because it takes AA batteries and records onto a USB memory stick, both of which should be quite easy to swap over each week as the project goes on.

The camera was much larger than I expected, noticeably bigger than the palm of my hand with my fingers outstretched, but as I don't need a small camera that shouldn't matter.

One of my concerns was that the software which comes with the camera only runs on a PC and I have a Mac. I was at my parents over the weekend and was able to 'set up' the USB memory stick using their Windows based PC. The setup seems to be a one off event so I should now be good to go. (I plan to purchase at least one more memory stick so I have a back up as well.)

I made a couple of time lapse videos over the weekend just to play with the camera. The camera has a light meter and you can set it not to take pictures during the dark / night and as the manual isn't particularly clear, I wanted to make sure I had this set up correctly.

The first time lapse I tried to create didn't record.

The second was of Becks and I having breakfast. As an experiment with the camera it worked really well, but it isn't particularly flattering so I won't be sharing that one.

The third movie was taken out of the widow to test the night sensor function. I proved I'd set the light meter up correctly as it didn't record during the night, but as a movie it wasn't so great. The picture frequency wasn't high enough and the camera caught its own reflection in the window.

The fourth and final experiment of the weekend was taken out in the garden. I perched the camera on a wooden stake in the garden and the wind blew it off, twice. However, when it did take pictures the capture rate of a photo every 5mins worked better.

Here's a compilation of the videos I took this weekend. Definitely no masterpiece, but I'm pleased with the camera and what I've learnt about the settings during the past weekend.

First Timelapse Camera Experiment from Richard Elliot on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Mum and Dad's 40th Wedding Anniversary

Mum and Dad 40yrs ago
It was mum and dad's fortieth wedding anniversary yesterday and Ruth and I decided to throw them a party. We didn't think a surprise would go down to well, so they knew about it before the day, but we tried to make it for them as simple as possible by taking on the invites, catering and drinks ourselves.

The night before the party I found some old photos from their wedding day that my mum and brought back from my grandmothers house. It was the first time that I'd seen them and they were great to have a look through.
Mum, Dad, Ruth, Andrew, Becks and I
We were incredibly lucky with the weather having the first decent day of sunshine for the year and were able to have most of the party outside in the garden.

I masterminded most of the cooking and decided to go for an Ottolenghi inspired menu that was going to be easy to put together for a large number of people and would allow most of the work to be done in advance. Basically I was aiming for some Mediterranean flavours with a few eastern spices thrown in.

The centre piece was a Nigella recipe of slow cooked shoulder of lamb with pomegranate. The pomegranate providing ruby jewels fitting for the day. Accompanying the lamb were three salads. A rice salad with chickpeas, currants and herbs, a winter couscous and fresh slaw. The food worked as well as I hoped, both in terms of taste and ease of preparation. The only mistake I made was in the quantities, producing nearly twice as much of the salads than we actually needed.
Those who attended the wedding 40yrs ago as well
For dessert we decided to bake a number of cakes. Ruth baked two of them and I made a Hummingbird Cake. I never usually bother to ice my cakes, but decided that as it was a special occasion I'd give it a go. It looks pretty good in the photo below, but when you look closely it was a long way from perfect. We didn't over cater on the cakes, with all three being eaten and most people having seconds.

After lunch we'd asked dad's best man on the day forty years ago, Andrew, to propose a toast.

The party went on well into the afternoon with lots of people staying on to watch the England vs. Wales rugby game in the six nations.
Group shot
Rice salad, couscous salad, slaw and pulled lamb shouder
A close up of the lamb
Dad's baking awesomeness  - sourdough round and two milk loaves
Hummingbird Cake