Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Coffee break

Best mates can be ace but just as they enlighten you with joy and understanding, they can also ruin everything. Well, perhaps not everything, but certainly coffee. The simple, if overpriced, act of going out for a delicious latte has been ruined because, to be honest with you, lattes are a bit shit, although I only realised this when NZ-living KT dragged me* to Flat White on Soho's Berwick Street and made me sup on an actual flat white. With one taste, coffee imbibing would never be the same again, and I would like to thank our antipodean cousins for caring enough about the bean to conjure such delicious alchemy as to reveal Starbucks to be peddlers of coffee-esque cordial.
Not long after this epiphany, I discovered Monmouth Coffee, the beautiful purveyor of delicious coffee in both Covent Garden and in the heart of London's food mecca, Borough Market,

order drinks here

It's where the beautiful and caffeine-bereft go to redress the balance, 
 The beautiful people at breakfast
...to share stylish thoughts and titter knowingly at hidden meanings in highbrow text.

attention and neglect
But luckily, they let plebs like me in too.

Sadly, I thought that a decent coffee was the preserve of the black-lunged folk of our capital city, but the good word seems to have infiltrated the shires too and the God of Coffee has bestowed His Magical Elixir a little closer to my home, at least. Behold - The Black Dog Cafe:

Apologies for the rubbish pics: I was using my new phone and hadn't quite got to grips with it. However, what I can say is that the coffee was delicious: they use Monmouth beans so it's a quality cup of deliciousness. The staff are uber friendly and if you're feeeling peckish, they have a good selection of fodder (menus available on their website.)

Ok, so they haven't embraced latte art, but the taste is delicious, wholesome and invigorating. It's a small independent cafe in an area of Tunbridge Wells that is stoically independent, slightly bohemian and without the cloud of snobbery that hampers so much of what is wonderful in that town, so I urge you to go to keep that spirit alive. The coffee is wonderful: why would you not go?!

Can I just state that my coffee snobbery hasn't extended to home...yet, although I do prefer a freshly brewed cuppa as opposed to instant...
cworfeee (d2d, day 2)

However, I certainly wouldn't judge a friend who gave me a cup of instant unfavourably: drinking at home and drinking out are different experiences. Granted, they don't need to be, thanks to readily-available coffee machines, mail-order beans and youtube instructionals. But coffee in a friend's kitchen, good banter and a welcoming face can elevate even the shoddiest instant cuppa into something celebratory, the oil to grease the wheels of conversation if it should be needed. As long as there are cookies or cake, you can give me any old sluice. Which leads me neatly to...

This recipe is a bastardization of one from The Borough Market Book, which is in turn a version of a recipe by Sara-Jayne Stanes, author of the promising-sounding 'Chocolate: the Definitive Guide'. Now, this tart is everything a chocolate tart should be, although those attributes may seem contradictory: crisp, smooth, sweet and sharp. Use as strong a chocolate as you prefer, but not milk chocolate. I admit that, despite my earlier witterings, I did use instant coffee just because I couldn't be bothered to brew some espresso, but as long as you have a couple of tablespoons of strong black coffee, it doesn't really matter which type it is: it's just there to give the chocolate a bit of balls (technical term).

Wooahhh Mama! Chocolate Tart 'o' Joy!
90g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
80g unsalted butter
30g ground almonds
60g golden caster sugar
1 large egg (free-range, natch, yet beaten)

240g plain chocolate (I used 70% cocoa)
60g unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separarted
90g golden caster sugar
6 tablespoons double cream
2 desertspoons strong coffee

  • butter and flour a suitable ovenproof dish: mine was a shallow ceramic one, measuring 7.5"x11", though my book specifies a 9" round flan tin
  • first, make the pastry: in a large bowl, sieve together the flour and cocoa powder
  • add the sugar, ground almonds and stir together
  • cube the butter, add to the powdery mixture and rub together with fingertips only to create a chocolatey crumble
  • add the beaten egg to bind it all together in a ball of doughy promise, wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes (or 24 hrs and 30 mins in my case as I forgot I was going out...)
  • on a lightly floured surface, attempt to roll out thinly to a size suitable for your dish
  • attempt to hoist the rolled dough into the greased receptacle, tutting as random shapes drip off your rolling pin Dali-style before exclaiming 'Oh fuck this' and popping pieces of rolled dough into the dish, squidging the seams together until it is fully lined and respectable looking
  • pop the mangled case into the fridge for another 30 mins
  • preheat the oven to 200C / 400F / Gas 6
  • line the case with foil, cover with baking beans or dried beans (that you are not hoping to cook later) and bake blind for 15 minutes
  • remove the beans and foil and bake again for another 15 mins
  • now make the filling: melt the chocolate and butter together and allow to cool
  • whisk the egg whites to form soft glacial peaks
  • in another bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until frothy
  • add the double cream and coffee to the bubblesome yolks and stir gently and respectfully
  • pour in the buttery chocolate and using your respectful spoon, marry it all together
  • fold in the egg whites with reverance...oh  and a big metal spoon
  • pour into the tart case, even out and bake for 20-25 mins 
  • allow to cool and serve with cream, ice cream or a good mate and weak-ass coffee (though delicious coffee of groovy brewing would be better)
 Such was the potency of its' deliciousness, I completely forgot to take a photo of it, so you'll have to make do with this sadly executed digital scribble which, however, is a pretty accurate representation:

*dragged me, my arse: we skipped as if we were on the yellow brick road.  

For further caffeine inspiration, why not follow The Guardian's helpful trail, or perhaps plough your way through Time Out's comprehensive list. The fabulous Cosy Coffee Shops blog produced a top 10 in January of the UK's best coffee shops, which, Hurrah!, also includes places outside of the London sprawl. It also includes some fabulous coffee shops from around the world as they are currently 'on tour'.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Treasure hunting for adults

My name is yump and I am addicted to charity shopping...

I like to think of it as 'Treasure Hunting for Grown Ups', although I may be kidding myself because I am actually just a tight wad thriftily minded. There is just something about finding something wonderful, that fits, is keenly priced and is no longer wanted, needed or badly fitting to someone else. In fact, the majority of my wardrobe is now cobbled together from the excessive mores of other people's fashion whims, or the remnants of a bored housewives' desparate attempt to achieve some semblance of peace & purpose via the extensive flexing of an ill-advised credit card. And God bless every last one of them!

Now this is a charity shop that I had been in countless times without realising that there was a whole world of wonder upstairs. It reminds me of the charity and retro shops I used to visit as a student in Nottingham in the early 90's and has therefore become one of my favourite charity shops. Venture up a snug little staircase to find small themed rooms (apologies for the pics: I'm just getting the hang of my new phone..)

everything you need for a shimmery shiny, sequin-tastic night out, or just to make that Friday night takeaway curry a little more special

everything for the bride on a budget with a lust for meringues and sexual amnesia

'Rehab'? More 'Retox'

...a welcome for 'groovy chicks'...

Just behind me in the mirror, you can just see one of three rails, packed with every shade of man-made fibre ever knitted. I think my camera couldn't cope anymore and just said 'Enough now'. I'll get a pic when it's calmed down a bit

But don't forget that charity shops are a fantastic source for wonderful books, tossed out by ingrates, gawd bless 'em.  Here are some I picked up recently:

from top: Dan Rhodes is a wonderful author, who lulls you into a cosy world of calm and warmth before kicking your much-loved cat down the stairs, although you do feel better for him doing so nonetheless. This book, however, stays warm and buys you a pint. Read him.

middle: the late Elspeth Thompson wrote the fabulous 'The Wonderful Weekend Book', an inspiring read to really help you make the most of your weekend. I bought it when I left my own weekend job and aim to gradually work through the suggestions.

bottom: I love Gisele Scanlon's energetic and informative 'Goddess' books, and 'The Goddess Experience' is just beautiful and addictive: I can't help but dip in and read about a life so remote from my own, although it contains enough attainable morsels for me not to feel depressed or inadequate. Sheathed in a perfectly functional and pretty white jacket, look what's underneath...

mmmm; pretty!

...as is the back

...as is the inside

Another useful resource is Green Metropolis: make a wish list, let it fester for a few months and feel like Xmas when one of the titles becomes available (I only ever seem to want books that no one sells on there.) I once bought a perfect copy of Andy Goldsworthy's 'Wood'...for £3.75! Wonderful! (actually, I think with postage it touched 5 whole pounds...)

Here are some handy rules to follow in order to get the most from your charity patronage-ing:
  • Give clothes a good sniff: if it smells of wet dog / death, put it back. In my extensive experience, no amount of washing or fragrance dousing / pickling will get rid of that smell. You will think you've managed it until it meets the rain; that moistness will awaken the sodden-hound odour. Save your energies for something worthwhile, like knitting or tree hugging.
  • Unless you really like 'upcycling' clothes and can do it competently without friends patting you on the head, saying 'Lovely dear' whilst slipping Prozac into your tea, do not buy anything that 'just' needs its sleeves shortening / waist nipping in / collar re-shaped etc. Know your limits and step away: let some other fool seamstress tackle it (or you could get a professional to do it, if you really think it'll be worth it)
  • Ponder what an 'upcycle' looks like and whether or not they are easy to ride
  • Only buy something that really grabs you: if you think 'It'll do', put it back and move on. Drag some weak-ass understanding of karma into your brain, determining that if it doesn't leap out at you with joy, it is not meant to be and the universe will shun you and that feck-awful drop waisted devore sack you are tempted to buy just because, compared to the racks of beige polyester surrounding it, it looks 'interesting'
  • Take your own carrier bags: it's one way to avoid the pinched-lip tut of the volunteers on the tills (carrier bags are like gold, though not as precious as The Decent Coat Hangers)
  • Don't laugh and point at something on the rail, screaming 'My feckin eyes!!! What is it?!' I guarantee the person behind you was about to buy it and will now be left to shuffle solemnly out of the shop to re-evaluate not just their taste but whether it is connected to their inherent loneliness within
  • Be careful not to buy back your own stuff, unless of course you are doing it for altruistic reasons, or because your minamalist spouse finally cracked and 'donated' it all
  • When buying books, check that all the pages are there and in the right order. Then check the blurb to see if it's something you will actually read
  • If you are a serial horder, consider the 'one in: one out' rule. The stuff we surround ourselves with should make us smile, not like we're trapped in a never ending ball pit of shoddy crockery, stained paisley and shit
  • Do not argue / physically assault fellow treasure hunters over an item, unless the item in question is a brand new pair of Toast trousers, in your size(ish) for, no really, £2, in which case use every ounce of cunning and muscle tissue to get them
  • Do not buy something that is not your size (especially important for teacups): you're just setting yourself up for a fall. Buy clothes once you've lost the weight: in the meantime, utilise belts and braces with quiet smugness
  • Don't haggle! It's a charity shop for feck's sake! Unless your need for a Karen Millen (one button missing) jacket is more important than the cure for cancer, pay the price on the tag, you selfish idiot.
Happy shopping!