Breath taking

It’s Sunday and again, the world seems to take a breath and sleep a little later.

It was quiet just after 8am when I was roused from sleep. I lay cocooned beneath the covers for a few indulgent minutes, burrowing into the warmth while I drifted gently towards the morning. No radio alarm. No noise from the neighbours. No sporadic chatter from passers-by on the footpath outside. No rise and fall of traffic hum in the street. Time to wallow in the quiet stillness, in that sweet, sweet spot – you know the one – before nature calls, the covers are thrown back and the day begins.

I finally sat up, swinging my legs over the side of the bed and into my slippers. There was an unusual stillness in the air and my heart skipped hopefully as I padded towards the window and drew back the heavy curtain.

Before my eyes lay a world transformed: Fat white flakes swirled down from the insipid sky and settled softly over a garden already shrouded in white. It was a scene of such silent and untouched beauty that it was a few seconds before I realised that I was holding my breath.

It was snowing…

Snow on the Gidday patio

Snow on the wall

Snowy trees 1

I stayed by the window for a while, feeling the smile crinkle the corners of my eyes and child-like wonder fill my heart.

The MET office has been forecasting snow in the UK for a few weeks but a fall and subsequent settling like this in London is unusual. Just last week, a flurry of snowflakes wafted around me as I walked to a meeting and I thought that might be as much as we were likely to get until the New Year. But this is proper snow (for London anyway), one that took a deep breath in the dark hours of last night and then covered my Sunday in a blanket of white.

Snowy trees 2

Snowy rooftops

Even the neighbour’s cat has been over to explore…

I know I won’t be alone in my snow-posting today (and not everybody will have such romantic notions as I do) but I can’t help myself. There’s something magical about it, the way it quietly transforms the world. I can see the snow still falling from my spot here on the comfy couch and I keep interrupting my tapping to wander over and gaze out the window again.

Days like these fill me with a quiet, simple joy and there’s always room for a bit more joy in the world.

So stay warm peeps and have a breathtaking Sunday.

A dinkum daughter

My name is Kym Hamer, I am 46 years old and I have just cooked my first BBQ.

Yes yes I know. As a dinkum Aussie sheila, I ought to be ashamed of myself for not mastering this patriotic part of my culinary repertoire before now.

It’s not that I’ve been blind to the art of BBQ – I have actually been around BBQs most of my life but it has always been someone else pricking the snags and flipping the burgers.

23KYM

My introduction to BBQ-ed vittels started early in life – but Opa (back middle) was in charge of the cooking.

And quite frankly these BBQ bastions have been happy for me to do my part by plonking a few salad leaves artfully in a bowl and scattering a few condiments around, so who am I to argue (with glass of wine in hand)?

But the weather was looking good…

Phone temp

…my outdoor setting had been re-oiled after a long and rather exposed Winter…

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…so Aussie-K came over for a barbie.

Of sorts…

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To be honest, my turkey and chilli burgers stuck a little and would probably have been better served by a hotplate…

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…but they tasted delicious alongside the lime and chilli mayo, salad and warm ciabatta straight from the oven. And wine of course.

(I would not want you to think I was some sort of kitchen maestro or anything so I must confess again, this time to not making the ciabatta myself.)

And we topped it all off with a slice of shop-bought (just keepin’ it real here peeps) lemon tart, fresh berries and cream.

So on this Mother’s Day, with our respective Mums on the other side of the world, chatting in the sunshine and eating good food together was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

As was ticking my long overdue BBQ baptism off the list.

Mum would be so proud…5KYM

Happy Mother’s Day Mum from your fair dinkum Aussie daughter.

Patio sessions

It is a gloriously blue sky day here in London and I’m out on the Gidday HQ patio catching up on a spot of reading.

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Whilst Aussie-K came over for a coffee  yesterday – the day seemed too good to waste so we chatted about life’s trials and tribulations and scoffed some millionaire’s shortbread bathed in gentle sunshine – today was the first real patio session of the year. The cushions have been dusted off and placed on the chair and I have a few magazines and a bottle of water at my elbow. It’s only 10 Celsius but sheltered from the wind, it feels warmer so I’ve stretched my luminous winter legs out onto the chair in front of me.

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I miss my patio time over the winter months and as soon as it’s warm enough, I spend my weekend hours out here. As I read my latest issue of Intelligent Life – now with the new moniker 1843 – the washing dries in the sun, the birds twitter and squawk and the neighbour’s ginger cat ventures over to investigate.

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I love my patio. It has played host to celebrations with friends and visits from family. There have been Saturdays full of brunches, lunches and catch up coffees and many solitary Sundays spent trawling through the magazine reading that lapses a little over the winter months. I always promise myself I’ll do it during the week but I can’t help but flick open my kindle for just one more chapter of whatever happens to be my latest commuting addiction as I drop into my seat on the tube.

But most of all it’s my haven and today’s session has invigorated my mind, calmed my soul and given me a little respite from the hurly-burly of life. So I’m hoping that we may have turned the corner into the early stages of Spring and with a few more days like today, I might get on top of the reading pile…

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…eventually.

Composers, Canalboats And Christmas Cheer…

What with lots of changes, challenges and general excitement over the last few months I’ve been a little lax in my pottering about London (note I do not include my recent tourist-ing with Lil Chicky in this – that was by no stretch ‘pottering’) and today it was a combination of music and markets that had my full attention. Having been in Chicago for work this week (and slept the morning away yesterday ‘in recovery’), today saw me up, about and out the door for a little culture and some festive cheer. 

First stop (well after the tube ride and the large soy cappuccino purchase at Caffe Nero) was Kings Place for Bach Unwrapped, a one hour concert featuring the work of JS Bach, his protege JG Goldberg, and his son, CPE Bach. For those of you in the know about these things, today’s Trio Sonatas programme consisted of:

Trio in G for flute and violin
Trio in C for two violins (collaboration with Goldberg)
Trio in D Minor for two violins (collaboration with his son)
Trio Sonata from Musical Offering

(For those of you who know nothing about these things, the violin, cello and harpsichord were joined by another violin for the second and third pieces and a flute for the first and the fourth.)

Apparently the last piece, Musical Offering was borne of the composer’s meeting with Frederick The Great in 1747 – the King challenged Bach to improvise over a theme he had written and while Bach rose to the immediate challenge, on returning home he composed Musical Offering and despatched it to King Frederick. The programme note claimed that Musical Offering has been dazzling musicians with its brilliance ever since.

While I don’t know very much about classical music, I find it incredibly moving and very easy to lose myself in the ebb and flow of the music so after an enjoyable hour, I wandered out and headed back to Kings Cross Station in a leisurely snap-happy stroll. 

Despite my having been there several times, I had never actually walked out the back of Kings Place before today – lo and behold there’s a rather lovely deck which overlooks Regent’s Canal…


…and the stroll back to the station along the canal was quite pretty too.



The area around Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations has been undergoing a major redevelopment since 2008 and in the midst of the construction site, there’s quite a pleasant walkway – dotted with titbits about the area’s history – which connects the stations to Regent’s Canal. This is the view coming back from the canal, the spire of the Grade I listed St Pancras International station building standing tall above the ‘debris’.

The forecourt between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations.

The second half of my Sunday foray was spent wandering along the Southbank Christmas Market. There is something deliciously festive about this market. The decorated stalls stretched along the riverside path from The London Eye to the National Theatre with stallholders plugging their wares (hand made gifts and eclectic arts and crafts feature heavily), tempting passersby with a fresh waffle, a little glühwein or perhaps some kind of German sausage concoction.

Nearly there – this glimpse of Big Ben framed by the railway bridge caught my eye from Concert Hall Walk on the way to Southbank.
This ‘urban’ paint job decorated the entrance at the back of Royal Festival Hall. 
Traditional festive cheer above one stall…
…faced off against Scrooge on another.
German sausage concoction? Enough said…

The twinkling lights, the smell of roasted chestnuts…I just love it. Even the nip in the air as I snuggled deeper into my coat, hat and scarf was a reminder of the merriment to come…in just 31 sleeps.

Needless to say I’ve started my Christmas shopping…

Proving A Point…

Yesterday I decided that Sunday would be baking day at Gidday HQ.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I got the More Secrets from the Beechworth Bakery cookbook for Christmas. Reading through it has made me think how wonderful it would be to develop some proficiency in bread making so that I could just whip up a tasty loaf or two on a whim rather than it occurring like an enormous ordeal.

The silly part is that I’ve already had some previous successes with a scrumptious Rosemary and Walnut Loaf and my very first attempt at Easter buns being rather light and fruity (and delicious with lashings of butter) so my thinking’s that I just need a little more practice.

Anyhow after an inspirational Saturday evening watching my favourite foodie movie Julie and Julia, I decided to face up to last year’s Easter bun bomb and have another go.

Getting ready…I like to have everything measured out before I start.

Thirty minutes in and the first proving had appeared to have gone nicely…



Results of the first proving look promising

With hopeful spirit, I folded and rolled my dough and submitted it to its second proving…

Back into my home-made prover (hot water in the sink with a towel over it!)

I’m attempting Tiger Bread which involves painting the top of the proven dough with a paste of plain flour, rice flour, water, caster sugar, salt and vegetable oil. So it’s swish swish swish with my brush and into the oven…

My basted Tiger Bread goes into the oven

…and about 40 minutes later look what I had!

Tiger Bread: looks more like leopard spots to me but who am I to argue with the Beechworth Bakery?

I tapped it on the bottom to make sure it was cooked through then left it to cool a little before carving myself a slice.


It was delicious! So much so that I decided that the only thing for it was to whip up a batch of pumpkin soup to go with it for lunch.

I feel positively Delia-ish!

And now that I’ve proven my point – albeit to myself – I can’t wait to dip back into the secrets of the Beechworth Bakery and try something else. Easter’s just around the corner you know and I need to redeem myself with regard to my unauspicious output from last year…

Gidday Disclaimer:
This is a bread-maker free home. I do not need another gadget to take up more valuable space at the back of the cupboard and the addition of my beloved birthday coffee maker to the Gidday HQ benchtop last year is as far as I’m prepared to go on that score.
Yours in Baking Earnestness
The (Only) Gidday Bread-Maker

Another Rainy Sunday…

I can’t quite believe that I’ve been back five weeks. The days have flown by and it feels like much longer since I sat under that hot blue sky and felt the fierce Australian sun on my shoulders. Particularly since I have been rugged up at home this weekend keeping the chilly grey dampness outside well at bay.

This afternoon I’ve been watching Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I’ve seen snippets of it before but have never sat and watched the whole thing through. What an amazing movie – kind of like Beaches and Thelma and Louise (enduring female friendship flicks) combined with The Help and To Kill A Mockingbird (for commentary on racial injustice). If you haven’t seen these films, I’ll let you google them for yourself to avoid this sentence getting a little ‘link-crazy’. 

 
The four leading ladies are extraordinary and I can only surmise that there was some stiff competition during the 1992 awards season for while Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates received nominations at the Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes, the ‘Whistle Stop Cafe’ trophy cabinet remained strangely empty.


Rear: Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker
Front: Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy

There are times when I still find it difficult to believe that the era of black oppression and the Klu Klux Klan actually existed. But then prejudice is still prejudice no matter what the ‘colour’ and I think about Sarah’s Key (which I saw recently at my beloved Phoenix as part of Holocaust Memorial Day) a film that tells the story of the 13,000 Jews rounded up by the French authorities in Paris in 1942 for transportation to Auschwitz and my visit last September to the old ghetto areas of Krakow and the camp itself.

And then I think about the recent ‘burkha debate’ that has reared its rather unattractive head in various institutions of ‘learning’ across Europe and of a recent book I read called The Cypress Tree (the Book Nook 2013 #3) by Israeli-born journalist Kamin Mohammadi and it seems to me we’ve not come so very far at all.

Anyway, the final credits rolled and I found myself wondering why I’d never watched this movie before. And it strengthened one of my ‘resolutions’ (for want of a better word – I don’t really do resolutions) to branch out from my traditional favourites and to watch some older, unseen films when the comfy couch beckons again on another rainy Sunday afternoon.

There’s No Place Like Home…

I’ve been back from my holiday for a week now. Colleagues have enquired about my Christmas, commented on my relaxed face/glowing tan and shared their own festive family stories. I am starting to sleep through more than 3 hours at a time and feel hungry when I should so am hoping I’m through the worst of the jetlag. And I’m settling back into my cosy routine at Gidday HQ.

After a long week at work, I curled up on the comfy couch on Friday night to watch an old movie favourite, Love Actually. I love the opening scene: the Arrivals Hall at Heathrow crammed with expectant faces and open arms, a testament the narrator says, to the fact love really is all around. And it took me back to my own Arrivals Hall moment just two weeks earlier, walking through the doors to my own sea of expectant faces and finally into the open arms of my loved ones.

As a frequent traveller, I see a lot of Arrivals Halls but there is nothing like searching out the faces that I love in the throng, that moment when I first catch sight of them, when my heart leaps, my step quickens and my travel-weary face beams. And this search was made all the more poignant by an unexpected voice to my right as I headed towards Mum’s smiling face, a soft ‘hello chicky’ which made me swing around with delight and in just two steps, enfold my Lil Chicky in my arms. And yes, there were tears of joy and love and relief that the long wait to see each other was over.

The 12 days in Melbourne flew by. Joined by my itinerant old man and stepmum, there were family days out – like a visit to see the Sand Sculpting and a day trip to Williamstown – and chilling out time with Mum and Lil Chicky – massages, shopping, mani-pedis and many a soy latte. I even managed to squeeze in a couple of old friends (old in the sense that it had been 25 years since we’d been at school together) where conversation flowed between like and open minds as the years between the words simply disappeared. I remember thinking how funny it was that people don’t change. Not really anyway.

So I drank in the magic and nostalgia of Marvellous Melbourne: the people, the food, the weather, the relaxed and cosmopolitan vibe of the city I used to call home. And on a glorious sunny Sunday morning, whilst sipping yet another soy latte, feeling the warmth on my shoulders and the colourful energy of the crowds at Southgate, my heart was assailed by the most overwhelming wave of homesickness. For London. Its damp grittiness, its eclectic colour, its commuting-friendly infrastructure, its mix of cultures. And for my very own Gidday HQ with its cosy warmth, comfy couch and familiar bed. And I felt my divided heart tear – just like last time I visited. And the time before that, and the time before that.

I’m back in Fab Finchley now with my first working week back behind me. All of the washing has been done, the fridge is full and there’s a vase of fresh flowers – purple and white tulips – sitting prettily on the table in the kitchen. Workday routines and weekend rituals are settling in again. And here I am, curled up on the comfy couch on a chilly Sunday night tap-tap-tapping away. The memories are wonderful and will help to sustain me between hugs and lattes.

But there is indeed no place like home.

Film Favourites…

It’s Sunday again here at Gidday HQ and after a month of on-and-off work travelling, I am looking forward to being at home for a few weeks. Today I’ve done the washing, vacuumed and cleaned, and even popped out to replenish my lately depleted stock of vegetables. I have plans to cook some favourites: there’s a veggie stir fry, a warm Mexican chicken salad and some sort of pasta on my culinary horizon this week. 

It’s brisk and cold out today and right now I’m curled up on the comfy couch watching You’ve Got Mail. It’s one of my favourite films. I have watched it so many times and yet I still well up when Kathleen closes the store and Joe’s ‘bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils’ brings a smile to my face every time. My favourite line is when Kathleen’s wise old friend Birdie tells her that closing the store is the brave thing to do because she’s daring to imagine life without it. It’s such a beautiful sentiment and really strikes a chord with me. 

Yesterday was a different kettle of fish. It was grey and damp after the overnight rain yet the prospect of being indoors all day was making me feel restless. So I hopped on the bus just after lunch and headed down to the Odeon Cinema at Swiss Cottage with Skyfall in my sights.


I’m not what you would call a Bond fan. I have seen a few, enjoyed a few and have Sean Connery firmly placed on The Best Bond pedestal. And I’ve had my doubts about Daniel Craig’s iteration of the world’s most famous spy.

Not any more. Skyfall was brilliant.

For two and a half hours I was glued to my seat – from the opening chase and the strains of Adele’s thrilling Bond theme right though to the closing credits. Javier Bardem may just be the best Bond villain ever and Ben Wishaw’s Q is brilliant as the world’s coolest gadget man. The story shines, the stellar cast sparkles and Craig has finally won me over.

A fellow blogger has bemoaned the similarities between this and Batman: The Dark Knight and while there are some parallels, there is a richer story than such a simple comparison offers. I’m not one for issuing plot spoilers here on Gidday From The UK – suffice to say I would recommend you avoid finding out what happens and just enjoy the journey. In the meantime, I have been left in a state of excited anticipation, wondering what this brave new Bond world will bring. Bring on number 24 I say!

And on top of all of that, I have ‘discovered’ Swiss Cottage – well the intersection where the cinema, tube station and bus stop all congregate…

THE Swiss Cottage at…Swiss Cottage

Seems to me that that’s a weekend very well-spent.


ps…speaking of weekends, I heard on the radio this morning that there are only 5 weekends left until Christmas. That makes it sounds really close. Let’s stick with the sleeps to go thing shall we?  So that would be 37 sleeps to go. See? Plenty of time really…

The Fabulous Baking Boys…

After a couple of weeks of travelling, this weekend I have curled my exhausted body up on the couch and caught up with some of my fave telly. This has included a dip into The Best of Saturday Kitchen – with Tom Kitchin making an amazing mallard and cabbage roll and James Martin pulling together a mouth-watering monkfish curry, all in the time it took me to have a couple of crumpets with peanut butter and a coffee. 

But I digress – easy to do when there’s food involved.

The piece d’resistance of my comfy couch-based catch-up has been the quarter- and semi-finals of my favourite bastion of Britishness, The Great British Bake-Off.

Clever clogs: one of the contestants this series actually made this
(For the life of me I cannot remember who…sorry!)

I LOVE this show. There is something so quintessentially British about a bunch of baking boffins wielding their spatulas and icing bags in a big white tent in the middle of the English countryside. Having had a little go at baking myself, I can completely appreciate how skilled, clever and brave these men and women are, much more so than me. 

While I have, quite literally, not been in a position to experience the flavours and textures of scrumptious scones, donuts and petit fours, watching the critique from GBBO duo Mary Berry (great baking surname) and Paul Hollywood (super showbiz moniker) brings a smile to my dial every time. The contestants’ trials and tribulations also make for many highs and lows in the baking rollercoaster. In the meantime, hosts Mel and Sue meander around the marquee revealing the human side of baking, providing words of encouragement, shoulders to cry on and a ‘Mel and Sue’ sandwich for each week’s evicted baker.

L to R: Sue, Mary, Paul and Mel

After last year’s all female final, this series has been ambushed by the men and Tuesday’s Final will see Brendan, James and John battle it out for line honours. It has been a generational joust with the experience and exactitude of Brendan’s years going head to head each week with 21 year old James’ experimentation with form and flavour. And John – well 22 year old John has ridden the rollercoaster in between the two, producing both the awe-inspiring (like his gingerbread Colosseum in the quarter-final) and occasionally abysmal. He has also been the source of the greatest drama with a bloody injury mid-series saving all bakers from the usual weekly eviction (only for them all to face a double eviction the following week). I always knew puddings were not for the faint-hearted.

L to R: Finalists John, James and Brendan await news of their fate with Semi Final evictee, Danny

So on Tuesday we will see the back end of this season’s BBC baking bonanza and after a joyful – and delightfully pastel coloured – romp through cakes, breads, biscuits and pastries, one of GBBO’s fabulous baking boys will wear the crown. And it’s really anyone’s race – any one of these runners could snatch the winning bake by a nose. So I’m not sure who to put my money on.

What a shame it’s too late for a trifecta.

The Spirit of the Games…

There’s the small shindig happening in London later this month. It’s happened a couple of times before. A gathering of sporty types who’ll bring their best, enter the arena and fight for the gold in front of a global audience. Dashin’ and prancin’…
…the Olympic Games are comin’ to town.
And the Olympic flame, that which symbolises the spirit of The Games, has been wending its way to London through rain and shine (but mostly rain) to inspire the people of England.
On Sunday afternoon, a few folk gathered along Hatfield Road in St Albans to eat, drink and wave a flag or two. The vibe on the street was dry (surprisingly enough) and humming with excitement and anticipation…

All of a sudden, the convoy had arrived and with it, the flame…

…and before too long, it was on its way again, safe in the hands of Huddersfield Supply Chain Manager, Glyn Carter.

Just as well we snaffled a sneaky snap while Glyn was waiting his turn…

…to show we were really there!

Only 17 days to go peeps. Are you ready for the Games of the XXX Olympiad?

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This post is part of July 2012’s Post of the Month Club