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Lazy Sunday

I’ve always been a lazy person at the weekend. I usually sleep in until noon, or if I have plans I wake up at the latest possible moment and rush to get there. It usually works well for me, but I can’t deny I sometimes yearn to be a get-up-and-go kind of person.

However, I’ve recently discovered a much more satisfying kind of weekend laziness. It still involves spending a good chunk of the morning in bed so don’t panic!

This morning I woke up at 8:30 am which is very early for me on a weekend. Why? Because I decided to attempt (for the first time) making one of the best breakfasts I have ever had: bircher muesli! This involves soaking oats in apple juice overnight, and then assembling the dish in the morning. So having put the oats and apple juice in the fridge last night, I was extremely excited this morning to make the dish and see if it would be as nice as when I’ve tried it before. That’s probably why I woke up so early – I was basically experiencing the Christmas morning effect but for yuppies who get excited about farmers markets and organic oats (don’t worry, I’m judging myself).

If you’re wondering, the rest of the recipe involves mixing the soaked oats with some grated fresh apple, yoghurt and topping with fruit of your choice (I used blueberries). If you want a slightly more coherent version of the recipe, the one I used is here on the Guardian website. One small variation is that I used freshly squeezed apple juice (thanks to my housemate’s juicer), to avoid any added sugars found in store-bought juice.

It was absolutely delicious! I would happily have this for breakfast every day. Because I’ve never been a big oat eater, I only recently discovered this dish during a weekend brunch session at a local cafe. I fell in love with it which is why I decided to try making it myself. It’s incredibly fresh and light, while at the same time moreish and satisfying. For those who have never tried it, I’m including a picture below in the hope you will be tempted (disclaimer: not a picture of my actual bowl, as I literally ate it too quickly and forgot to take one!)

Bircher muesli

So having had my muesli, I made myself a cup of coffee, and with no other plans for the morning, I returned to bed to continue my lazy Sunday morning. This involved watching an episode of a very old Jamie Oliver show I discovered (I know, food food food!) where he travels to exotic destinations to discover their local cuisine (basically a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations). I watched the first episode where he travels to Morocco. Having never been myself, I was overwhelmed with a desire to pack my bags and go after seeing Jamie walking through the markets filled with mountains of spices, enjoying a home coked tagine in a local’s riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard – an oasis!), and sampling the delicious street food late at night. If you live in the UK and want to watch this, you can find the show on 4OD (just search for “Jamie does…”).

I think the show has also inspired my next cooking challenge! Jamie made a Moroccan “snake cake”, or M’hanncha, which is basically flavoured almond paste wrapped in filo pastry and baked to crispy perfection. I found a recipe for this here, and I will be making it the next chance I get!

To round off my lazy morning, I read a bit while listening to Australian band’s Boy & Bear two albums: Moonfire and Harlequin Dream. I’m seeing them tomorrow evening, so I wanted to get in the mood. On the one hand, they’re the kind of dreamy indie rock that has become omnipresent nowadays (I’m not selling it I know), but at the same time I find them quite different from Mumford and Sons or similar bands. Most of theirs songs are quite dreamy and comforting, while at the same time being upbeat and showing some interesting influences I think. They’re definitely worth a listen especially if you like this genre, but would like to try something slightly different.

Boy & Bear's two albums: Moonfire and Harlequin Dream

Boy & Bear’s two albums: Moonfire and Harlequin Dream

So that was my lazy, but very satisfying morning. Hope yours was equally enjoyable.

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5 Songs This Week…

Oh my, it’s been a long time! Something suddenly reminded me that I had this blog, and I feel compelled to have another go at semi-regular posts. Perhaps it’s because recently I feel like I’ve been bulldozing through life without giving myself a chance to breathe. Writing is a chance to slow down and contemplate, and I think I’m ready to do that.

In any case, I don’t want this to get too deep too soon so I’m going to stick to ‘what is says on the tin’ (a favourite phrase among Brits, which I love): five songs for the week! It’s a varied offering so if you stumble, pick yourself up and keep going.

White Rabbits – Percussion Gun

I feel like I’ve posted this song before, or at least meant to. In any case it deserves to be on this list just because of the repeat plays today! A bit of indie rock never hurt anyone and I really like the singer’s voice on this track, very husky!

Jeff Buckley – Just Like a Woman

Any OC-watching-indie-kid has listened and cried to Hallelujah: “it just speaks to me”! I don’t believe that mass consumption can ruin a track if it’s truly beautiful, and that’s the case with Hallelujah. However, I think Jeff Buckley is worth a deeper look. His album Grace is soulful from start to finish. However, this cover of Bob Dylan’d Just Like a Woman is accomplished in every way it needs to be, and so powerful emotionally. Once you’ve heard it, you can never forget it.

Nina Simone – Feeling good (Nicolas Jaar edit)

An electronic mix of a Nina Simone song?! Why why why? Because it’s amazing that’s why. It makes me think of summer and sitting on a terrace with a beer and friends…and I’m feeling good.

JJ – Still Dre (Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg)

This is where my ignorance shows. I’d never heard of this song (the original) until I went away with my friends for New Year’s (always a great musical education). The original is very good, but I could listen to this modern, dreamy cover with it’s old school beats in the background  over and over again (which I have done). What I like the most about listening to music is our ability to create an association between a specific event and a song, and then every time you hear the song you are overwhelmed by that feeling! It’s a wonderful thing and it’s exactly what this song does for me.

Jay Z ft. Frank Ocean – Oceans

While I was away many things happened: Jay Z released a new album, I saw Jay Z live, JT came out for Holy Grail, we were all happy, and after many repeat plays of the album I decided this song was my favourite. Phew, what a journey. In all seriousness, I love this song and I’m so glad it introduced me to the wonderfully dreamy voice of Frank Ocean.

I’m back living and working in London and that also means a return to the gruelling daily commute! On a side note, I’ve been working on another back to London post, on my house-hunting experience. Call it writer’s block or a reluctance to revisit the traumatising events, but I haven’t been able to finish it yet. Hopefully it will be coming soon.

Back to the topic at hand! When I lived in London before, my commute was a fairly easy one on the Central line, which is quick and reliable. No such thing can be said about the Wimbledon branch of the District line, which is what I have access to now that I live in lovely Putney! It’s possibly the moodiest form of public transport I have come across. Luckily there’s another, quicker option: the overground from Putney to Waterloo (fun rail fact: Waterloo is the busiest train station in the UK).

So for the past couple of weeks since being in my new house, I’ve been getting the train to Waterloo. My office is in Covent Garden, which is only a 15 minute walk from the train station. Most of my co-workers who get into Waterloo prefer to walk but I find it a little testing in the morning (I’m not a morning person). For the first week I got the tube to Leicester Square. However I realised that between the time it took me to get from the platform to the tube, wait for a train and walk from Leicester Square to my office, I was adding time to my commute! Not good practice for an efficiency loving economist. That should have thought me to man up, stop being lazy and walk, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. My second attempt involved making the last leg of my journey by bus. This has definitely been a lot better and quicker than the tube.

However, I knew in my heart that there was a better option. And then the answer came to me: cycle from Waterloo to work on the infamous Boris bikes! They’re now a common sight around Central London and most people who live or have visited the city have probably given them a go. Not me however, and that’s shameful!

So this week (on Wednesday) I got myself to Waterloo a little earlier than usual in the morning, purchased 24-hour access to Barclays Cycle Hire  for one whole pound, and cycled to work. I’m not great on a bike but not a disaster either. Hills are my biggest problem but luckily there’s not many of them on my route from Waterloo.

My bike release ticket!

My decision to attempt cycling to work is partly due to a desire to get in shape but also inspired by all my co-workers who cycle in from places like Wimbledon or Putney. I think it’s a great thing to do and while I know I’m not ready for a full home-to-work cycle commute, this way I can at least start getting ready.

So what was it like? Two words immediately come to mind: scary and exhilarating. As is to be expected, cycling through London rush-hour traffic is not going to be a relaxed experience. From talking to people who regularly cycle, I knew to watch out for buses! But no matter how mentally prepared I was, cycling through the Waterloo roundabout with a double decker less than a meter away did not leave me indifferent. And when the bus makes a stop you’re pretty much stuck behind it, except if you’re one of the experienced cyclists who dare to overtake on the outside – and that’s definitely not me yet.

But once I was past the terrifying stage, I absolutely loved the experience. The best thing about cycling in London is that you’re not alone. There’s a flock of you, all pedalling furiously in defiance of the monopoly that cars used to have on the road. And it’s a great feeling to be part of this kind of early-morning stampede.  In London there are now cycle lanes, designated cycle routes and even cycle traffic lights. While we’re not as advanced as some of our friends on the continent in terms of the bike-friendliness, I definitely think we’re on the right track. You can tell from the sheer number of cycles on the roads that something is changing in people’s mentality.

When I got to work I was paralysed by the fear that I had been forced to block out while I was on the bike. But soon that passed and all that was left was sheer excitement about what I had just experienced. I was jumping around the office like a little kid!

In terms of the actual Barclays bike system, I found it relatively easy to use, despite the bike being quite heavy and hard to get in and out of the dock for a relatively short girl. But I think once I get my technique down that won’t be a problem. Many people say that the bikes are quite heavy to ride and I must agree. Compared to all the other bikes out there on the road they are definitely slower, but again that wasn’t a problem for my as my inexperience definitely means I neat to take it slow and steady. The number of docking stations in Central London is impressive and I was able to get a bike from the station in front of Waterloo during rush-hour which I thought was great.

The bike I used in the evening, back in the docking station at Waterloo.

So what’s next? Well I have resolved to buy myself a year-long membership to the Barclays scheme and a helmet, and cycle to work from Waterloo as many times as I can in the morning, and back again in the evening. Hopefully I’ll be on track to buy my own bike and cycle to work all the way from Putney by next September (that’s of a rough target I’m giving myself). If you’ve been thinking about giving cycling to work a go, even for a short portion of the trip like I am, I think you should just go for it and see what you think.

Gelato run

Since being on holiday here in Rome I’ve been eating A LOT of gelato. I’ve had it most days, except Thursday. However, considering I had it twice yesterday, the one day break doesn’t really count. I’m quite shocked at my apparently insatiable appetite for the frozen treat. I wasn’t into ice-cream at all before coming to Rome but then again I wasn’t used to temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius on a daily basis. However, I think the main difference is in the way ice-cream, or rather gelato, is eaten here. Instead of consuming it as if it’s a dirty little secret, in the privacy of their own home or in the darkness of the cinema, Romans eat ice-cream out in the open, on the street, sociably. On my first night here, my uncle and his wife took me out for pizza. After leaving the pizzeria, we got back in the car but instead of driving home we went to a gelateria, which is an ice-cream shop. We had to wait at least 10 minutes to get served, due to the long queue of people hungry for gelato at 11pm! I asked my uncle if this was normal and he said yes. Everyone goes for gelato late at night!

Last night, after having dinner at home, we got in the car, in the search for gelato yet again. My uncle’s favourite gelateria was closed, probably because yesterday was a public holiday here in Rome. This didn’t discourage us however, and after a half hour drive through Rome’s crazy late night  traffic, we once again found ourselves holding cups of gelato.  While tourists seem to mainly eat gelato during the day, to cool off while sight-seeing, which is something I’ve done myself, Romans mainly have it at night, after dinner. Young or old, weather they are heading back home or out clubbing, most people hit the gelateria between 10pm and 1am.

In addition to the sociable aspect of eating gelato, the diversity of flavours and the amazing taste is light-years ahead of our favorite kind of American-import ice-cream in the UK (you know the one I’m talking about). My new-found love for gelato is one of the many things I love about Rome! Last night after having our gelato we drove to one of the city’s many hills to take in a panoramic view of Rome at night. It was breathtaking and although I’ll be leaving Rome soon, I will definitely be coming back soon, if only to have some gelato.

Which one to choose?

Quote of the day

Exams are now imminent, and as the panic sets in I am trying to keep in mind this quote by Robert Frost:

Image

For some reason I have always been a panicky person when it comes to exams, don’t ask me why. Overcoming the fear is part of the journey. Every time.

Alex Clare – Too Close

This is very popular at the moment and Radio 1 have been playing it over and over…quite commercial but I like it nevertheless. I’m not sure it will age very well however.

Hooverphonic – Vinegar and Salt

I used to listen to Hooverphonic a lot when I was young and every once in a while I rediscover one of their songs. This one is an all time favourite. It’s very emotional and beautiful.

Fun – We Are Young

Again, this one has been all over the radio but I think it’s a very sweet song and it makes me feel happy and nostalgic at the same time. And sometimes you just need to feel that way. PS: If you haven’t seen the video yet you should check it out it’s pretty…interesting…

Ellie Goulding – Jolene (Cover)

Ellie Goulding’s voice is beautiful and this cover is absolutely stunning. Enough said! PS: I usually enjoy the Radio 1 live lounges. Slow acoustic versions of songs just have a way of getting to me.

Niki & The Dove – The Drummer

The weekly dose of electropop! I actually hated this song when I first heard it but I think it’s one of those they call ‘a grower’. I don’t have anything else to say about it…just listen and see if you like.

Earth Day 2012

It’s that time of the year again! It’s bigger than Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, Diwali, the 4th of July or even the Queen’s birthday…today is Earth Day! And the reason why it’s bigger is because Earth Day doesn’t limit itself to any one group of people. It’s literally targeted at the whole Earth. The tradition started in 1970 in the United States and it went global in the 1990s, with more than 500 million people in 175 countries observing it today.

This time last year I had only just heard about Earth Day and I wrote a blog post about it exploring a bit of the history and also discussing an article offering some environment related volunteering ideas. I’ll obviously try to do something different this year.

Some people might dismiss things like Earth Day as hippie, naive or foolish. But I think it’s naive and foolish to think that Earth Day isn’t important. Earth Day is not about holding hands and singing folk music together (as lovely as that may be). It’s about stopping and realising that certain habits of our society are self-destructive and unsustainable.

This powerful video from artist Chris Jordan shows us his unique photographic take on what Western culture looks like today and he manages to translate some meaning from shocking statistics. His pictures and words are deeply moving. I won’t say any more but I encourage everyone, believers and non-believers, to watch this video:

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