Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beijing - Imperially modern

Temple of heaven

Beijing is powerful and imposing, you can tell as soon as you arrive that you are visiting a city assured of its own significance.  The sheer scale of the structures here immediately makes you realise that this land knew it was going to be powerful, influencial and densely populated - how's that for planning ahead.

This city is also a hybrid of themes and styles; soviet-inspired communist monuments and buildings merge with imperial temples and palaces.  Beijing seems improvised yet it is perfectly organised and has traditional elements fused with quirky modern touches.

I loved hanging out trying some traditional cuisine whislt enjoying the view in Houhai, Beijing's lake area.  Walking around in general took its toll as everything is huge but at least my legs were toned by the end of it.  Shopping was a lot of fun here, from the smart boutiques of Wangfujing to the crazy hassling and haggling of the Silk Market - you can't walk by a stall without the vendor shouting out "You want to buy _________?  I give you best price, very good quality."  It is a sight to be seen and is wonderfully exhausting. 

Houhai at night - the only time to go

Part of our brief trip was a visit to the great wall, which was an added bonus and a life-long dream.  We chose the Simatai region as it is unrestored and untamed, the ideal location for a great  hike.  Another benefit of this area is that it is virtually empty, we must have seen no more than 10 people for the few hours we were there, an absolute contrast after the crowded, bustling streets of Beijing.   

The Great Wall - practically deserted

After the Taj Mahal, I thought nothing could ever leave me in awe again but the wall has her own breathtaking tricks.  Being able to amble through the watch towers practically alone gives you an idea of the vastness of this epic structure and of China as a whole.  The wall weaves over a patchwork blanket of green, extending as far as the eye can see for some 6,000 kilometers or 4,000 miles. 

I was happy to return to China after having lived in Hong Kong in 1997 just after the handover back to the Chinese (wow was it that long ago?).  It remains a fantastic destination and Beijing in particular sells you memories you are happy to pay for. 

Next week:  Japan

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A passage through India - more photos

Incredible, indelible India

"So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked." Mark Twain

For me this quote sums up India better than I ever could.
India is unique, unlike any other country I have ever visited. She enters your soul, gets under your skin and steals a piece of your heart all at first glance.

This ancient country is a sensory overload of colour, taste, sound and smell and is so rich in custom, history and culture that it takes you on an unforgettable journey with enough tales and fables to fill a lifetime.

It is the vast contrasts that make India so incredibly memorable.  Decadent structures, monuments to endless wealth and ancient dynasties stand alongside crippled children walking on their hands begging for change, dragging their mangled legs behind them.

The unbelievable Taj Mahal

Beautifully adorned women in jewel-coloured saris decorate the streets and goats and cows stroll along as if browsing the markets and running errands.

A goat out window shopping in Jaipur

I have wanted to visit India for so long and now that I finally have, I can't think of anything else but going back.   India didn't disappoint on any level, all the years of waiting only made me wish I had discovered her sooner. 

Even though I only visited four locations on my trip, it was enough to make me want to renounce my worldly possesions to roam free. 

Arriving at the airport in Delhi, bound for Beijing, I was left in tears as we said goodbye to our driver, I didn't want to be parted from my new found friend India. 

Gandhi Smriti - touchingly simple

With our driver Aadesh at the airport

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Comfort food

Sharing food with my Brazilian family is always a rewarding experience. So much energy and emotion is invested in cooking, eating and discussing food; life literally revolves around food here and I have to say that I absolutely love it.

Although I am by no means a cordon blue chef, I love cooking and I am always looking for typical English dishes to introduce them to. So last weekend I decided to take on the mammoth task of making my Mum's apple crumble.

I was quite nervous as I had never cooked it before, and I had also decided to make custard from scratch which was an added challenge and again something I had never done before. Knowing that my efforts will always be rewarded with praise and that I will never experience a Gordon Ramsay-style tirade gives me the confidence to try new things. So more often than not I am cooking dishes for the first time.

To my surprise the crumble turned out really well, not quite like my Mum's but close enough. The only thing I regretted was that she wasn't there to taste my first apple crumble and custard. I was able though to tell her about it during our weekly call the very next day.

My first apple crumble

Mixing the custard - service with a smile!

Ready to eat!

Miranda's Mum's Apple Crumble
Serves up to 6

300g Plain flour

Pinch of salt

170g unrefined brown or demerera sugar

200g unsalted butter cut into cubes

700g apples cored, peeled and cut (ideally Bramley but any kind will work)

Pinch of cinnamon
2 tbsp of water

Crumble mix

Mix flour and sugar together really well. Rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. If the mixture sticks together when pressed in your palm it has enough butter.

Apple filling

Cut the apples in 1cm slices and mix with with the water and cinnamon being careful not to break the fruit. Grease the bottom of a medium sized pyrex dish or 9" circular pie dish, spread the apples along the base so that they lie flat. Add the crumble mix over the top and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

Miranda's custard

4 egg yolks

30g Caster sugar

570ml milk

55ml single cream

1 Vanilla pod or 1/2 tsp essence

2 level tsp cornflour

Heat the milk, cream and vanilla pod (if using) over a low heat and bring to simmering point. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and conrflour in a seperate bowl. Take the pan off the heat and pour into the bowl, whisking all the time. Return to the pan, add vanilla essence and cook on a low heat until thickened. Serve immediately. To prevent skin forming place in a jug and seal with clingfilm.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Music to my ears

Since moving to Brazil I have taken up running, but this week I found myself back to square one after having a break of nearly four months.

In an effort to get motivated I decided that a new workout playlist would be just what the doctor ordered. I really want to get back to running 3k three times a week but right now it seems like a distance and soewhat unreachable goal.

After much research on the net I felt totally uninspired when I found out that the most popular workout song was Eye of the tiger - come on! That would make me burst out laughing, not at all what you need when running - oxygen is already at a premium.

I needed some serious help and input...

It's times like these when networking and social interaction sites like Facebook and Twitter really come into their own. I asked my friends for some suggestions on which tunes to add and what came out was an ecclectic selection that was a mixture of favourite songs, life references and new discoveries. I am still working on my list and I believe that it should be an ever-evolving creation as my boredom threshold is very high and I need all the motivation I can get when it comes to excercise!

My new playlist, with a little help from my friends now looks something like this:

Start Me Up - Rolling Stones

Mina Do Condominio - Seu Jorge

Oh (Plugs Remix) - We Are Band

A Galera - Ivete Sangalo

Without Words - 4hero

Everybody - Martin Solveig

Should I stay or should I go - The Clash

Running up that hill - Kate Bush

Feeling for you - Cassius

Dance - ESG

(You're love keeps lifting me) higher and higher - Jackie Wilson

Put your hands up for Detroit - Fedde Le Grand

Enter Sandman - Metallica

Fame - Irene Cara

Needy Girl - Chromeo

Magic Love - Bent

Donkey Ride - Mr Scruff

You can't turn me away - Sylvia Striplin

Cool out - Leroy Houston

What are your favourite workout tunes?