Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Pembury Tavern, 90 Amhurst Road, London, E8

One of my most well used phrases is "There is always something to do". I know it drives the dear Wig nuts as it's usually uttered before I reel off some list of chores or other and is usually just as he has got stuck into a re run of 'Top Gear'. But the thing is, due to all this time spent at home lately, I actually don't think there is anything left to do. In the last couple of days, we trimmed the communal front bush (I told you before, this is not a euphemism), scrubbed the communal paintwork on the steps leading up to the front door (not as thorough as the last time I did it but seeing as I can't really bend over, I didn't do too much of a bad job), had the hallway carpet and sofas Steam Cleaned, got up to date with my accounts, washed all my make up brushes and washed out the washing machine drawer (?!). So now, there really is nothing left to do apart from sit and wait and field the texts/emails/calls I have started to receive asking if anything interesting is happening. (Although, I can't sit and wait etc on the sofa's as they take 24 hours to dry). Thank God for the Rocking Chair that's all I can say. I probably looked rather odd furiously rocking away in front of 'DIY SOS' looking like a big old pink egg (I am wearing a pink sweatshirt today). But thankfully no one was around to see me in my splendour.

Not only is everything ship shape at home, we are, I think, as prepared as we will ever be for when things start happening down below, so to speak. We have a list of labour friendly cabs on standby, all hospital bags are packed and the dreaded TENS machine has been tested. The TENS machine is a curious contraption which one hires or buys to help with the pain of contractions. It has 4 sticky pads which get stuck onto the lady's back to give electric shocks of varying degrees of intensity which are controlled by a handset during contractions. Apparently it is the job of the bloke to control the level of shocks which seems slightly sinister to me but most people have said trying to figure out how to use the TENS gives the afore mentioned bloke something to do. It reminds me very much of my Slendertone belt which I bought from Boots a few years back to try and shrink my waist while avoiding all forms of excercise and continuing to inhale white wine by the gallon. It didn't really work but I cant say it was the belts' fault, I just found it too painful. Doesn't bode well for labour that does it! Anyway, we'll give it a go and see how we get on. It might end up being thrown out of the window or at The Wigs head but at least it will be a distraction of sorts.

All the chores I've been ticking off the list left me far too knackered last night to attend to my fiance-ly duty of preparing the tea for when The Wig returned from work, so we popped up the road to The Pembury Tavern for a glass of vino collapso and a pizza. In the 5.5 years I've been in my flat, I've only been to The Pembury once despite it being visible from my front windows. Its a funny old place on a busy junction with little distinguishing features from the outside and even less distinguishing features on the inside. However, one can't deny they do make a delicious pizza.

Look familiar? Thats right my friends, this is blue sky!

And this bright ball is the sun!

As you can see it was pretty quiet when we went in but it was only 6:30pm on a sunny Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the current licence here wont allow them to play music which is why I think I have only been here once. It's odd to be in a pub without any background noise but hopefully this may get sorted in the near future. On the upside though, if you have a pet ferret or snake you are more then welcome to bring it into the pub, no problem.

My delicious and vast pizza, £5.95 for a Margharita which is really good value I thought. And yes I did polish the lot off. What a hog!

As well as the pizzas they also do salads, pastas and other Mediterranean food as I think the chef might be Italian. But I believe most people go to The Pembury for the beers. They have a huge selection of Real Ales and beers from many micro-breweries around the country so its definitely a good place to go if you are into beer. I think the only problem (apart from the lack of music) is that it doesn't really have an outside space. There is a tiny court yard area but this is unfortunately behind metal gates and next to a busy road, so its probably more of a winter pub than a summer one. Anyway, I would rate The Pembury a high 6 ferrets out of a possible 10 for food / drink / atmosphere. Cheers!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Abigail's Party, Wyndham's Theatre, 32-36 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DA

A couple of months ago we bought tickets to go to see a matinee performance of Mike Leigh's 'Abigail's Party' at the Wyndham Theatre. It seemed like a good idea at the time while I was a lot more mobile. "One final theatre visit" we thought, but yesterday, when the day came, I would have paid quite a large sum of money not to have gone. The bump weighs a tonne, the need for toilet stops is constant, as I can't move very fast I get relentlessly barged into / shoved past / knocked around by Joe Public and the trains from Hackney were buggered. But since we had bought the tickets and had really good seats (Row B, second from the front), we hauled my bulk up to Charing Cross Road yesterday for the 3pm performance.

I haven't been up 'West' for about 3.5 weeks since stopping work and really felt like I was looking at the place with 'fresh eyes' yesterday. Roadworks everywhere, bus diversions, suspended train services and trillions of people - Welcome to London! I've been working in Soho for 16 years and never really noticed before how hectic it is. With not very much apart from my laptop and Radio 2 for company these last few weeks it was a real shock to be amongst so many people. However, I'm so glad we persevered as the play was brilliant.

First of all, I'd never been to The Wyndham's before and it is stunning.

Theatre lovely, weather not so lovely.

Its not a very big theatre but the architecture and interior is amazing. As I said, we splashed out slightly and got really good seats but I think if we had got any of the less pricey tickets we would have had an equally good view of the stage. The theatre is not so huge that if you were sat further away from the stage you wouldn't see anything, all the seats looked good to me.

Beautiful theatre ceiling, dodgy photo taken whilst trying not to get told off. 
Photography is Verboten!

Lovely balconies.

'Abigail's Party' was written in 1977 and "is a suburban situation comedy of manners, and a satire on the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s". I would think the most famous performance of this play is the one starring Alison Steadman as the character of Beverly which was filmed also in 1977. I've seen countless clips of this but never watched it in its entirety so to be honest, I didn't know the story too well.  This is probably one of the most well known scenes:

The stage play stuck very closely to the TV version / original play even down to the set which looked eerily like it could have been based on my front room in Kelvedon Hatch in the 1970's.

Stage set of 'Abigail's Party'.

My front room circa 1979. A vision of orange and brown, apart from my outfit which I can only presume was some sort of fancy dress. Unless my parents really did hate me and they dressed me up like that as some sort of cruel punishment / joke... This photo also brings back painful memories of another kind: The Glass Door. *Shudder* Firstly, my older brother used to sleep walk and could apparently be found most nights with his face pressed up against the glass thus scaring my father shitless in the process. And secondly I smashed my way through this door sometime after this photo was taken. My Dad often used to move the furniture round at home (it was cheaper and less hassle than moving house) and once he put two armchairs either side of this door. One day I decided it would be good fun to swing between the two armchairs using them to propel me as far forward onto the carpet as I could. However, being less Olga Korbut and more Ronnie Corbett I let go of the chairs too soon and swung backwards. Straight through the glass to the other side. Ouch.

Anyway, the performance was superb. Jill Halfpenny (Byker Grove, Eastenders, Strictly) as Beverley was by far the best thing about the play and although her characterization seemed very similar to the Alison Steadman version she did a wonderful job. I did find one of the characters slightly over the top but I wont say which one in case you go and see it. Overall though, it was a brilliant play and I would rate it a very high 9 pineapple chunks of cocktail sticks out of a possible 10. Absolutely worth the bladder pain, you really should try and go to see it!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Portuguese Custard Tarts

The clock is ticking. Yesterday, in theory, I have 1 week left until the baby is produced. I'm not holding out much hope that it will be on time though since apparently only 5% of babies are born on their due date. But whatever happens, the clock is definitely ticking. I still haven't given too much thought to the actual process of what is going to happen (ie the actual birth part) as I am just going to have to go with the flow. It actually feels quite exciting to not be in control of things, but this may be blissful ignorance. I'm also secretly hoping that I might be one of those people that goes to the toilet and a baby just slides out. I've read about those sort of people in Take-A-Break magazine. Alongside the people that inadvertently marry cannibals and the people that dress their pets up as Unicorns.

So, I'm trying to stay busy at home as much as I can which is quite hard when I keep nodding off.  So far this week, I've cleaned the flat several times, tidied the garden lopped down half a tree, taken all our towels to the launderette and my Aunt also paid me a visit. She very kindly brought me lunch and the best book I have seen in ages. It's a book about The Queen! Hurrah!

I shall REALLY enjoy getting stuck into this.

Since I knew I was having a visitor, I thought I would make some Portuguese Custard Tarts but it turned out to be my first culinary flop in a very long time. I've never made these before and haven't ever actually eaten one to know what they are supposed to taste like, but I don't think they are meant to be like mine turned out. Our friend Jon tried one and felt that the pastry was the issue (thank you for your honesty Jon . .  .) so if I make them again, I'll have to make a few tweaks to the procedure.

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Shopping List

1 x Pack of Puff Pastry
Ground Cinnamon Powder
130g Creme Fraiche
1 x Egg
1 x teaspoon Vanilla Extract
5 x tablespoons Golden Caster Sugar
The Zest + Juice of 1 orange

* Pre-heat the oven to 180C Fan oven, and butter a muffin tray.
* Dust a board/worktop with plain flour. Roll out the pastry and sprinkle with cinnamon.

*  Roll the pastry back up into a sausage shape and cut slices off at 0.5cm intervals.

* Push the cut slices into into a greased muffin tray curly side down. Stretch the pastry up the sides of the tin to make the sides of the tart bases.

This is where my problem occurred, my slices were too thick (about 1cm in width) and my muffin tray was too small, so when I make them again I would cut 0.5cm slices of pastry and use a bigger tray.

* Place the tray in the oven and cook for 10 minutes.

* Remove the tray after 10 minutes or when the tart cases have browned slightly. Push down the bases of the tarts with the back of a spoon to make room for the filling.

I think this was my second cock up. I should have left the tart bases in the oven for longer.

* Once the pastry is out of the oven, make the filling. In a bowl, mix together the Creme Fraiche, Egg, Vanilla Extract, 1 tablespoon of the Sugar and the zest of the orange. Combine then spoon into the pastry bases.

* Return the muffin tray to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes. 
* While they are in the oven, put the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan with the juice of the orange. Heat and stir until caramelized.
* When the tarts are cooked and the filling has set, remove from the oven and pour the caramelized sugar and orange juice mix over the top of the tarts. Leave to cool.

* As you can see, they look very pale and you couldn't even see the sugar/orange mixture on top. So if you make these, make thinner pastry bases, use a bigger muffin tray and cook for longer. Good luck!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Easy Lemon Cheesecake

I realised on the weekend that not only has the pending new baby stolen my lovely wedding, it is also going to steal my celebration of the Queens Jubilee. I can't believe it. I love the Queen and the thought of the Jubilee has been exciting me for the last few months, but the chances of me being able to go up into town to see any of the celebrations are slim to none. I will either be wandering around at home like a zombie (probably with piles and/or excruciating nipples if rumors are to be believed) if the baby has arrived, glued to the sofa on an absorbent pad waiting for the waters to break or at the hospital suffering all manner of indignities. Like I said, I can't believe it. It's a catastrophe. I'll just have to gather together all my Queen memorabilia, make a shrine to her Majesty and celebrate on my own. God Save The Queen.

I have 2 huge plaques of The Queen rescued from from a Town Hall refurbishment. Sadly they are in storage until we have more wall space, but they are awesome. One even has make up mirror light bulbs  all around the outside. Here is a tiny picture of the largest one, its 3ft high. Awesome.

Framed picture of The Queen bought from an Antique shop in Holt.

Busts of The Queen and Prince Philip from eBay made by the Greenwich House Pottery in New York.

My favourite postcard of The Queen, look how happy she is! Even in the rain she is a beaut.

Official Cecil Beaton Portrait. Swoon.

This is not The Queen, this is my late Grandmother, Olive. 
She was beautiful and always reminded me of the Queen.

This is also not The Queen. This is being an idiot at the Museum of London.

As well as the Jubilee I am also unable to go to this exhibition at the National Portrait gallery which my Aunt told me about and begins on Thursday. 

I would LOVE to see this but in my current state of zero bladder control its way too risky. Luckily the exhibition is on until October so hopefully I'll be able to go before it finishes if I make it out of hospital alive. 

So plans for this week include lots of sitting around and waiting. We have 11 days until the due date and I have lots of 'Antiques Roadtrip' to fit in before the world stops revolving around me. We had quite a busy weekend so I'm glad to be winding down now and trying to conserve my energy for hours of squeezing and panting. On Saturday we met friend for lunch, had a friend round for afternoon tea then the Wig's Aunt visited us on Sunday for lunch. Amazingly, the weather was glorious so we sat in the garden to eat for the first time this year. I was so excited about the sun finally making an appearance, I made a Lemon Cheesecake. I've only made this once before, for my nieces 2nd birthday 2 years ago, but its very simple and very delicious.

Harriet Lily and the Lemon Cheesecake. 
Not the most sophisticated birthday candle but it's the thought that counts.

To Make Easy Lemon Cheesecake

Shopping List:

150g Digestive Biscuits, crushed
60g Butter, melted
1 x 397g Can of Condensed Milk
250g Original Philadelphia
Zest of 1 x Unwaxed Lemon
Juice of 3 x Unwaxed Lemons
Fruit of choice for top

* Crush the biscuits in a bag with a rolling pin while melting the butter in a pan on the hob. When the butter has melted, pour the crumbs into the pan, combine and tip into a prepared springform tin. Squash down the mixture with the base of a flat bottomed glass. Place in the fridge for about an hour to harden.

* Once the base has hardened, whisk together the condensed milk, philadelphia, lemon zest and lemon juice in a bowl until the mixture is well mixed. Pour this mixture onto the biscuit base and return to the fridge to set for a couple of hours.

* Once the cheesecake has set, remove from the tin, place on a plate and arrange slices of fruit of choice on top, or leave naked if you prefer.

*Easy. Peasy. Enjoy!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Peanut Butter Biscuits

Everyone said this would be a lovely time of the year to be in the final stages of pregnancy. Sadly, everyone lied. I had visions of myself wafting around the garden in the sunshine, drinking homemade lemonade whilst wearing a kaftan. But the reality has been less 70's Earth Mother and more 90's Spinster History Teacher. The weather has been so awful, the heating has been on constantly, I've been smothering myself in anything made of wool and my agoraphobic tendancies have started to creep back. For example, the other day, I needed a lunch pudding. Anything would have done. A chocolate bar, a cake, a biscuit, even a yoghurt would have done, but we didn't have anything in the house. So rather than go outside in the wind and rain to cross the road to the corner shop, I made some biscuits even though I didn't have all the ingredients. I now realise the importance of an egg when baking. It's to bind the  ingredients together, no egg = a biscuit that disintegrates as soon as you touch it. Luckily the lack of egg didn't detract from the taste, it just meant the end product had to be inhaled rather than eaten in a solid form. 

To make Peanut Butter Biscuits x 14

Shopping List:

50g Crunchy Peanut Butter
50g Butter
50g Caster Sugar
45g Brown Sugar
100g Plain Flour
1 x EGG (beaten)

* Preheat the oven to 180C
* Mix in a bowl the peanut butter, butter and sugars until creamed and well combined.
* Stir in the beaten egg. Mix well.
* Add in the flour and mix well again until it resembles a dough.
* Divide the mixture evenly into small balls (about a walnut size), place them on a lined and greased baking sheet and squash down with your fingers or the back of a fork.

* Bake for 20 - 25 minutes then cool on a wire rack.

(Photo taken with extreme care).

* Snort biscuit with a nice hot drink.
* Fin.

I said to my friend the other day that I was feeling a bit like the Pope or the Queen Mother. Unfortunately if anyone wants to see me, they are having to come to me, or at least my postcode, rather than me to them. It's not a lazy thing, its more a weather + waddle x possibility of slipping over situation. Luckily I have had a couple of visitors this week which has been a nice break from eating extremely crumbly biscuits and deciding whether to wear the black jumper or the grey jumper.

On Wednesday night, our friends Mole and Mrs Mole came East and we went to L'entrepot for wine and food. The wine is still delicious but after 3 visits in month I've decided it's quite a pricey place to go (and I didn't even pay!). Wine is between £5- £6 for a small glass of wine and you have to order a lot of food in order for it to touch the sides. On reflection, on this particular visit, we did get slightly carried away with the food ordering and I'm pretty sure we ended up trying the entire menu which was far too much/greedy. But its either order a few of the side dishes and still feel hungry or order the lot and feel like the famous over stuffed walrus at the Horniman Museum.

As well as wine, they also sell beer, this one was very nice and tasted like squash. 

Charcuterie plate and broad bean and parmesan bruschetta.

Cheese plate and baked ham plate.

The photos got worse for some reason at this point, my one glass of Chardonnay obviously had more of an effect than I thought. This is Guinea Fowl Gnocchi and some sort of Cabbage and Caper dish that I can't remember the name of.

Confit Duck Leg. Our table looked like something from Henry VIII's house by the time we had finished. The only thing's missing were a roast Peacock and a beheaded Queen.

On Thursday, I had another visitor who was coming for lunch but had driven from Fulham which ended up taking over 2 hours. I'm surprised she stuck with the journey to be honest but she did and by the time she got to mine it was 2pm and I was ravenous for food. As an ex-boyfriend from the North East used to say, "I was so hungry I would have eaten a scabby hoss" (horse). So we trudged through the rain to The Old Ship on Sylvester Path, E8. 

I don't know how long this hotel/pub has been open as its a little bit off the beaten path in Hackney but I saw it for the first time a coupe of months ago when I was looking into local hotels for a friend. The place was empty when we arrived, which made me a bit nervous to eat there but I think it had more to do with the fact that it was pissing down rather than the food not being good. The staff were super friendly, the chef even came out of the open kitchen and wished me luck with the baby when we left and the food was pretty good to boot!

Cheeseburger and chips. Very precise pile of chips but were slightly undercooked in my humble opinion. The burger was nice although I didn't eat the top bit of the bun.

Onion rings, very crispy.

Delicious home made chocolate torte with berries.

In conclusion, The Old Ship is definitely somewhere I'd go back to for a nice local pub lunch and I would score it a high 7 crows nests out of a possible 10.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Kings Head, High Road, North Weald, Epping, CM16 6BU

The March Hare is coming to you today live from the The Hackney Picture House. We have come out for what could be my last visit here for a while. This morning the walk here seemed endless and I think I'm going to have to stay closer to home for the next couple of weeks. The bump has become rather too cumbersome to walk for longer than 10 minutes now and the constant need for a toilet break is proving far too distracting. Along with the lethargy that has hit me during the last day or so, I think I just want to stay indoors, eat cakes and sleep.

My tiredness has definitely not been helped by the busy week we have just had, racing around, looking at houses, but just as we were on the verge of making a very big, possibly insane, decision we have come to our senses and decided to stay put for a while. I don't think it would be fair on a new baby to be born into the upheaval of moving house, so I think we just made our first decision not based on us! Also, sniffing around other peoples houses has made me realise how much room we have where we are and actually for the first few months at least, we will be fine space wise. It feels good to have made that decision and now I can get back to the serious business of relaxing.

As well as looking at houses with kitchens smaller than the one we currently have we also went to Lewes on Saturday for a good old poke around the antiques. Unfortunately we got there a bit late in the day and only had half an hour before the shops closed at 5pm, but that didn't stop me from buying some old things I didn't need. I haven't bought any antiques for such a long time I couldn't help it. I think I've got a condition.

A small dish celebrating the Coronation of George V. I love anything Royal, I'm not ashamed to admit it and couldn't not buy this little fella. Its over 100 years old and was only £5! 
For the Queens Jubilee this summer, I could fill it peanuts. Or one mini sausage roll. Its only little.

This is a lovely copper picture frame on a chain.
It cost £6 and at some point I'll change the picture. Maybe I'll put a picture of the Queen in it. Or my beloved Judge Judy.

This was by far the most exciting purchase. Its an old wooden sledge. I've been looking for one for ages so that at Christmas I can put it under the tree with presents on. They are quite hard to find and the ones I have seen have been between £60 - £80. This one however, was £25 and is still in really good condition considering it must be at least 60 years old. Until we can put it into storage later on this week we can use it as a handy coffee table.

Yesterday we took a trip out to my beloved Essex for a Sunday Roast. We didn't really know if it would be any good but our gamble paid off. Not only did we get to drive through some lovely countryside and Epping Forest, we also saw a fox and were served by possibly the friendliest waiter I've ever met in my life. He was even more friendly than the cafe owner we met last week on our house hunt, who took me to his house so I could use the loo as there wasn't one in his cafe! What a nice guy.

Oil seed rape fields. Beautiful. These always remind me of growing up in Essex. Lovely.

Usually I can't stand foxes but this one looked so healthy! Not like our ratty old urban foxes which usually have an ear missing or a bald arse.

The extremely wonky Kings Head.

The Kings Head is one of the oldest pubs in Essex with parts of the building dating back 450 years. It was originally built using ships timbers! Totes amazeballs!

Woodwormy timbers.

The Wigs Calamari.

My prawn cocktail. 
I love prawns. A prawn cocktail is my starter of choice for a deathrow dinner (followed by Spaghetti Bolognese and Tiramisu), however I have been a bit confused about the 'prawn rule' during this pregnancy and not had any for months. Can you eat them at all? Are they ok as long as they are cooked? Anyway, I took my chances and they were delicious.

Roast Beef. 
The only table we could reserve was one at 2:30pm so by the time we got there most of the roast dinners had sold out (turkey, lamb, chicken) so it was either this or the pork belly.
They had also run out of roast potatoes but I think that shows how popular this place is. 
It wasn't the best roast I've had but it definitely wasn't the worst. That doesn't really sound like a compliment but is it.

Yep, we went for it. 3 courses! 
I haven't done that in a while but since we don't know when we'll be able to do it again I thought it was worth giving myself stomach ache for.  Apple pie and vanilla ice cream. The pastry was more cakey than pastry but very nice nonetheless. 

Lovely old features. 

So, in conclusion I am going to score The Kings Head in North Weald, 9 prawns out of a possible 10. Danny the waiter was faultless, the building was lovely, we weren't rushed and the food was good. It's a great place to go if you need to take your folks somewhere for a family lunch at a reasonable price and somewhere out of London. You would definitely need to book but can do so via their website. For 3 courses each and 3 drinks, the bill came to £46 not including a tip so very reasonably priced I think and well worth it. Get yourself down there babes!