Just one post…

I was asking birthday girl’s boyfriend whether she liked Nutella, and was rewarded with a resounding yes (for which I was glad, because I’ve been dying for an excuse to make a Nutella cheesecake for ages). The answer was then followed by a jokingly-made caveat – actually, he liked Nutella so she must like what he liked! I probed as to whether he would know whether birthday boy liked Nutella, and pre-empted the correct response – he would like what he liked too. A very informative conversation (at least someone at the table would like Nutella).

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Interestingly, after this light-hearted exchange, I witnessed one of my colleagues receiving a massive bouquet of pink roses for her wedding anniversary, and her indignant comments that followed:

“I hate pink and I hate roses! This husband of mine! I have been married to him for 30 years and he still doesn’t know what I like. He sent me these pink roses just because he likes pink roses and imposed them on me!”

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Sometimes a choice is dictated – perhaps dictated is a strong word; affected – by the preferences of others who are important to us, either that we were indifferent in the first place, or that we were too polite to say “yuck” in their faces. Sometimes, we grow an adhesion to these preferences, and end up liking something we perhaps maybe didn’t in the first place. Sometimes, the line between an actual personal preference, and a preference influenced by a significant other, is blurred.

But I agree with my colleague. Pink, yuck, and roses, yuck.

I also asked “what goes well with Nutella”? One response was “bread”, an answer which I can only respond with exasperation – exasperation at the fact that it was a correct answer, but it was not an answer which my question had implied for. Further prompting resulted in “banana”.

In the end, from consulting both birthday girl’s boyfriend and birthday boy’s girlfriend, I gathered: she likes cheesecake (and what her boyfriend liked, so hopefully Nutella). He actually wasn’t as keen on Nutella, but liked cheesecake and chocolate, and said he would eat banana if I managed to incorporate this fruit element into the cake. So I settled for this: a banana curd filling between a layer of Nutella cheesecake and a layer of plain cheesecake, marbled on the outside, double-dripped with chocolate ganache, then topped and garnished with nutella/banana macarons and a handful of babybreath dropped where I felt like it.

gather.

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Chicken Soup for the S(e)oul

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Those well-versed either in Chinese history (my mother) or Stephen Chow movies (the local Hong Kong public) would be able to identify the “ninth” rank as captioned above as the bottom level of a government official. Starting out life at the very bottom rung of the legal/corporate ladder for me has continued to be a box of chocolates, although the current selection has veered towards flavours such as anise-liquorice, artificial-banana and those of the like.  Nothing has changed from work-life-balance-what?, and the incessant mental chatter in my head trying to grasp at the meaning of this all doesn’t help with the growing number of distractions and interruptions each day. There was an increased urge to literally fly away from the 0.5sq. meters of office space I occupy and eat, breathe, and have on some occasions slept. Thanks to the Easter public holidays which overlapped the weekend, I was able to hop on the everything-Korean-is-the-current-trend! bandwagon a.k.a a flight to Seoul.

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Most of the days were hazy as with my mind and the occasional rain-shower…daily itineraries were planned around the myriad of restaurants, food stalls, cafes and bars that Seoul had to offer…and I don’t think there was a single moment I was hungry with something either savoury, sweet or caffeinated in my paw.

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I was also quite struck by the alarming number of coffee shops and cafes dotted around everywhere… each with its own style and diligent attention to detail in its interior design. The one with the loft – doesn’t that look like where Colin Firth, in earnest Portuguese,  proposed in Love Actually?

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Eat
Bibigo – chain fast-food restaurant for bibimbap
Korean Fried Chicken and Beer
. From anywhere. Nuff said.
Min’s kitchen – somewhere between traditional and modern Korean food
Osulloc – matcha roll, dessert and tea
Siwhadam – modern Korean fine dining; part of Relais & Chateaux
Two-Ppul, found at 532-9 Sinsa-dong, Garosu-gil – melt-in-the-mouth Korean Beef BBQ
Tosokchon (토속촌) – heartwarming ginseng chicken stew to warm up my insides after a whole day outdoors trekking on the DMZ tours
Woodbrick – Viennese coffee (where I burnt off half of my mouth), ice-cream macarons
*be on the lookout for all types of street food; I had this massive croquette-like item stuffed with kimchi for breakfast twice it was so yummy, not to mention inhalation of a variety churros, soft-serves, ice cream macarons… etc.

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Do
Changdeokgung Palace and the secret gardens
DMZ tour – a visit to the North/South Korean border
Shopping in Myeongdong (skincare), Dongdaemun (clothes)
Yeouido for cherry-blossom during April
Wander around Samcheong-dong – boutiques and cafes; art galleries

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Travel / lifestyle blogs, which I reverently study before jet-setting, make it look all too easy; holidays too relaxed. When one’s pulling all-nighter after all-nighter for a month, and bringing a suitcase into work just so she can go straight to the airport from getting off at 12am, just to make those four days or so out of town possible…although I’m thankful for the out of town breather it seemed to add on another type of stress. Or maybe I’m just still incompetent/have anxiety issues. This trip was one that the highly-strung me desperately needed, and somehow I felt that it wasn’t towards the end that I was able to loosen up..which by then sadly of course it meant the inevitable office-life came looming up again.

IMG_5422But if I don’t stop trying…maybe one day I’ll get it right.

 pining

Chai

I found myself quite heartily disagreeing with, out of all things, the quote my gmail inbox offered me with my Earl Grey tea this morning : “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.” – Sylvia Plath.

Nursing the flu and a horrendous cough and cold, I could only shudder at the thought of peeling even one layer off my five (one of which is heat-tech, fyi) only to plunge myself into yet another change of temperature, with the prospect of my fingers shivering up like prunes and my mind wishing for the water to be scalding hot but my already-peeling sore red nose and face shying away with reluctance.

(Much ado about what constitutes as hygiene and perhaps another first world problem, but I am sick, so bear with me.)

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On the other hand, what could lift my spirits would be a mug of hot tea, and I don’t think I’d need to go at lengths to be able to find hundreds of quotes that would advocate for this. I miss the days when I had the time to wait for my tea to brew rather than just scalding my milk when I dump it in hurriedly now. I remember when I was ill last year Y would come along with her ginger and spices and saucepan and tell me that adding black pepper to chai (“it’s CHAI! Not Chai Tea  – Chai means tea! Have never understood this ‘Chai Tea Latte’ nonsense!”) would clear my chest and nose. There was so much more to just that mug of chai – it was those nights laughing so hard snoozers across the otherwise silent gardens would stir (sorry!), freezing nights pressed up on the radiator trying not to topple over on those three-legged stools, with warmth not only from that steaming mug of tea but from friends with the kindest hearts that took turns in surrounding each other.

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Yoanna’s Chai (I can almost hear her voice in my head reading out this recipe!)
for three cups of tea, because there should always be more than one mug around

1 stick cinnamon
1/2 inch of ginger
7-8 cardamom pods
2 cloves
1 assam tea bag
milk, as necessary

Brew the tea with the spices for a couple of minutes, until it boils. Let it simmer for 2-3 more minutes. Slowly pour in the milk, (about two or three circles of it around the saucepan,) and simmer until the desired colour is reached. Careful not to let the milk over boil and flood.

and thank you to for the Keep Calm and Drink Tea poster!

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postscript

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

Virginia Woolf based “A Room of One’s Own” on her series of lectures at Newnham College, Cambridge. Be it the fairytale-like glean of this beautiful town that inspired her writing, her description aptly sums up those who are lucky enough to be living in that very piece of picturesque fiction. Every experience of life is so surreal – masked under the Cambridge bubble effect it’s even a separate world – and yet each piece of fiction would one day weave itself to become such an intricate part of life to look back on.

wading through

Babybreath

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No elaborate feast-cooking, no tireless gingerbread decorating this year. Nothing ambitious. Just a simple something to go with a cup of Lapsang during this rainy Christmas. The sense of actually being able to project my mental images into real life is still one that’s unbeatable.

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Lately? Nothing’s changed much except maybe shorter tempers, deeper sighs and intensified resignation. Grateful for the few hours to spend time on this simple lemon drizzle cake, tinged with ginger and clove – subtle festive christmas spices. Bracing myself for the next couple weeks of a continual getting-used-to-things, refreshing myself for a constant lookout of inspiration, and reminding myself not to give up. Not to give up.

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It’s been a while, but here’s a recipe!

Lemon Drizzle Cake – Christmas edition

125g unsalted butter, unsoftened
175g wholegrain spelt flour, sifted
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g maple syrup
Grated zest of one lemon
1tsp ground ginger
2 pinches ground clove
4 tbsp milk

To glaze
2 tbsp ginger preserve
1-2 tsp maple syrup

1.     Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and grease a loaf tin.
2.     Cream butter until pale and fluffy in a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer or Kitchenaid. Add 2-3 tbsp of flower and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3.     Add the rest of the flour, baking powder, salt, maple syrup, lemon zest, ginger and clove, and fold in gently. Finally, add in the milk and fold until the cake mixture is smooth and of a good consistency.
4.     Scrape the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning it out on a cooling rack.
5.     To glaze, mix the maple syrup and ginger preserve, and brush over the top of the loaf. I love the kind that has extra bits of ginger to nibble on.

back to babysteps

Tea Advent

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I can feel the seconds of the minimal amount of sleep I can afford every day slipping away but this has dragged on for a week too long and if before I know it Advent will be over even before I manage to drink any tea at all..

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I have so much tea at home that I might as well have been spending more time buying tea than drinking it. Similarly I also spend more time thinking and not actually doing, or have the time to do. When Advent rolled around last weekend I rummaged around all the  cupboards and managed to come up with a variety of 20 odd different teas, ranging from tea bags to loose tea leaves, black to white. And as if I had all the time in the world, I packaged them all into 24 tags and gave myself my own Advent present.

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Treasuring the countable minutes spent outside of a glass room and a desk more than ever…and grateful for the advice and encouragement of people who have heard out my animated commentaries…

Wake, commute, work, taxi ride, shower, sleep, repeat. at least 12-13 hours of my life per day can be broken down into 6 minute intervals on time sheets. And constantly reminding myself that this is perceived normal.

EQ training and facing unreasonableness with reason. Knowing when to step away in time to avoid a breaking point.

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Reaching out for that spark of light at the end of the tunnel, praying that it isn’t just the headlights of an oncoming train.

three more

Falling into Autumn

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Misperceived. Uniform circular discs sit side by side in the oven, looking pretty and glossy as a responsible macaron should. I’ve left them in for a minute or two longer than I should, so I take them out, and realise it was the tinted oven glass that made me think they were browning. I peel one off the baking paper. It comes off as a gooey mess on my fingertips.
____________. Famous last words for hinting an anticipation to join the workforce, because at least you can still wander around in trackies and uggs as a student, because I’m feel like I’m now stuttering around like a new-born goat.

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Over-doing it. So I try again. Working more quickly. More methodologically, weighing out all the ingredients to begin with rather than doing it as I add bits and bobs into the mixing bowl. Might have mixed a bit too rigorously; the next batch were just ugly porous disks.
____________. But then when do you know when it’s overworking that’s the problem, and even if you are whether it’s ok to stop?

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Take three four five…lost count. Sometimes it’s about getting all the intricate mechanisms in mixing, folding, piping right. Other times it’s about good timing, but most of the time it’s down to luck.
_____________________________. Starting each day hoping I’ll do something right for once, and wondering how many more second chances I’ll be given. What if life will always be about going through the motions, or even beating the motions just to afford the extra five minutes just to stare into space? Or even determining what are the right motions to go through?

To answer the voice in my own head, maybe living is just down to finding that one thing that can keep you going, whether it be during the day (packed lunch of steamed rice and chicken), week (yoga Mondays), month ([to be confirmed]), year ([to be confirmed]). And to somehow not lose yourself amongst it all, whoever yourself is.

—–

P.S. I actually had half of this post typed out in September, and somehow without me noticing, autumn has crept up upon us. Two months ago I broke into a sweat wherever I walked, now I’m thankful for the crisp breeze as I scurry along, cursing mornings and eternally grateful to the inventor of caffeine (and seeing as I’m so grateful I should maybe learn said inventor’s name). Thank you for those who’ve wondered whether I’ll write again, and for motivating me to do so; I’m trying (which also happens to be a word I use about 100 times a day) to find my work-life balance. And perhaps more of a note to self than anyone else, I’ll (try to) keep this going.

define.

Corks and Chocolate Chips

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I am a hoarder. In other words, I refuse to throw things away, resulting in boxes, jars and shelves filled with cinema ticket stubs, plane tickets, tags off presents, and bottle corks. Recently, after seeing a picture of Dominique Ansel’s cookie shots, I decided to give this a shot myself (ha!) – and finally put something I hoarded to use.

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Since coming back to Hong Kong it’s taking a lot getting used to the heat, the rain (yep complaining about the weather), the massive crowds, concrete jungles, time difference. I’ve also been watching Friends, and seeing Joey and Chandler in London (Westminster “Crabbey”) made me go awwww a little bit more. But then there are also perks, such as finding 2-inch cake tins with a removable base to make these cookie shots and a one-stop-shop for baking ingredients. Yummy homemade food and dim sum. Quit complaining.

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One novelty in my first year of university was the hype of “Midnite Cookies”. We found flyers under our dorm room doors telling us cookie delivery after around 11pm would be available if there was a minimum £10 order worth of cookies, and you would have a boxful of warm, buttery goodness for a midnight snack feast. Whenever we had a “midnight cookie meeting” we would make sure we had a pint or two of milk, which we would dunk these as-big-as-my-palm cookies in. This craze continued for another year or two, where we would call in different accents, or adopted names such as “James Bond” when making our deliveries. Then we started making our own cookies, maybe because Midnite Cookies stopped delivering (or maybe they stopped believing James Bond would order cookies). We even made some in the shape of the letters of our names. These gluttony treats saw me through essays, “deep meaningful conversations”…

…and motivation to go to the gym the next morning.

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Shots
Cookie recipe adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

113g unsalted butter, softened
130g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out the cookie dough
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
110g dark chocolate chips
150g dark chocolate
corks and 2-inch cake tins (or I’ve read that popover tins also work)
makes 8  – 10 shots

1.     Preheat oven to 170 degreesC.
2.    Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, then add the egg beat until incorporated. Turn the speed to low and beat in the vanilla extract.
3.     Add flour, salt and baking soda and mix well by hand, scraping the sides of the bowl down. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips. Put the dough in the refrigerator so it’s easier to roll.
4.   Wrap 8 corks with foil, and grease the wrapped corks and the cake tins thoroughly. Cut out a circular piece of dough to go on the bottom of the cake tin. Then, wrap a strip of cookie dough around the cork, and insert that into the cake tin too.*
5.      Bake for 16 minutes, then let the tins to cool for a couple of minutes before removing the corks and the cookie shot from the tin. Allow to cool completely.
6.    When the cookie shots have cooled, melt dark chocolate (either in a microwave or over a pot of hot water) and carefully pour into each shot up to its brim. Wait for a minute or so then pour the excess back out, so that you have a layer of chocolate coating on the inside of the cookie shot. Check to make sure there aren’t any cookie bits exposed – this will otherwise cause your shot to leak when you pour milk in.**

*I did mine in 4 batches since I only bought two of those cake tins – it was kind of an experiment and I wasn’t sure whether it would work!
**I’ve heard Baileys is also a very good idea…

P.S. Thank you TJ for the pretty dish!

revamp

By the Sea

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The sea isn’t crystalline, the sand isn’t sink-in-soft. It’s not a Mediterranean-standard kind of beach but this coastline of Norfolk and the quaint town of Hunstanton offered a different getaway.

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Hunstanton is about 1.5 hours away from Cambridge, which can be reached by a bus from Kings Lynn. This seaside town is a purposely-built resort town that dates all the way back to 1846. My first impression was a run-down town full of old people, but I was way too excited at the prospect of seeing…

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these long whiskered fat blobs! The seal tour was originally fully booked (I threw a tantrum) but then I called again begging to be put on the waiting list and miracles do happen – the man said I was in luck; they’d decided to send out another vessel. And the seals were SO CUTE! I could just about see them lulling about through binoculars, and as the vessel turned closer to them they all waddled to the edge of the sand bay to investigate what was going on. Inquisitive little big creatures!

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We stopped to get soft serve cones. The wind was so ridiculous I couldn’t even take a bite without my hair being dyed white by ice cream; at least I didn’t end up looking like this poor kid (I don’t blame him)…

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The signature striped cliffs of Hunstanton was another something I did not expect to see in the UK. The three layers are white limestone chalk, red chalk and carrstone respectively, the reddening colours reflecting its iron ore content.

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Market Bistro in King’s Lynn is strongly recommended by Tripadvisor, which is where we headed after an hour of slotting in 2p coins into the Coin Dozer – not winning anything but fully understanding why this mindless arcade game was just so addictive. We sat our tired selves down to gin & tonics, and a dinner of crab, quail, pollock and trout. Market Bistro dishes are seasonal, and they claim that their catch(es) of the day depends on what they receive from suppliers every morning. This Alaskan Snow Crab Salad below is inspired by one of the starters we had. Crab salad, air delivery from UK to HK.

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Hunstanton to me was no breathtaking, love-at-first-sight town. But I guess life’s about learning to find that one thing to appreciate in a setting and giving second chances.

Alaskan Snow Crab Salad

(From when I was young up until now, my dad has unfailingly given me a hand (or two) with shelling crustaceans. This was no exception; without his help I would still be wedging crab flesh out of its shell.)

approx 10 legs of Alaskan Snow Crabs, flesh removed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pack salad leaves
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 purple sweet potato, cubed
3 radishes, sliced
6 mint leaves, torn into shreds
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp (or more) tabasco
salt & pepper

1.     Place the salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, sweet potato, radishes and mint into a large bowl, leaving a couple of slices of each for garnish. Drizzle olive oil over it and add salt & pepper to taste.
2.   In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise and tabasco together (you get tabasco mayo that can be used for dipping chips as well!). Empty that into the salad bowl too.
3.      Squeeze lemon juice over the crab flesh to get rid of the salty/fishy taste (dad’s tip!). Keep a few shreds to put on the side, and empty the rest into the salad bowl as well. Cover the salad bowl with a large plate and give it a couple of good tosses to mix well. Garnish and serve!

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References:

token

Full Circle

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I’m still here. It’s been a hectic three days trying to cram all that I haven’t managed to do in the past 10 months into 72 hours. I definitely wasn’t ready to leave, and I don’t think Cambridge wanted me to go either – there was a battle with pre-ordered taxis that never came, a coach that was 40 minutes late and two ridiculously overweight suitcases, an overflowing travel bag and a handbag which ate my phone. I finally made it to the boarding gate still giggling at my final souvenir from Cambridge: the images of P and I yelling at the taxi driver – “go go GO!” – and E’s face of determination as he raced beside us on his bike to stop the (wrong) coach from leaving firmly stuck in my head.

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Goodbyes are more difficult with age. As the commotion of today died down it hit me that this was no simple “see you later” kind of goodbye. Graduating from a Bachelor’s degree and leaving London was difficult enough but I didn’t have any concrete plans confirmed when I left. This goodbye to Cambridge and to the UK had a stronger sense of certainty to it, a certainty of the close to a stage of life. This time I’ll be stepping out of a sheltered cocoon into the “real world”. I don’t see myself ever having this much freedom as a student again.

Please don’t burst my (Cambridge) bubble. This academic year started in complete disarray, when there were definitely uncountable occasions where I felt like being thrown into deep waters not knowing how to swim. And then it wasn’t so bad after all. From initially causing havoc on a bike to weaving round zero-awareness tourists on Kings Parade single-handed (still trying to master no-hands!), from not even knowing what “bow” and “stern” was to racing in Bumps…this year I manoeuvred a number of things from scratch and finding my footing finally gave me something to be I’m proud of (albeit with a lot of help). Not to mention finding a bunch of amazing friends from all over the world that always looked out for me in college, on my course and on the river. I’m so grateful for every tear shed as well as every laughter sounded. Thank you for all the epic unforgettable memories.

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Clover Clubs. I spent my last night in Cambridge drinking the first ever cocktail E and I ever made together again and eating chicken at 4 in the morning. This Lemon, Garlic and Tomato chicken was one of my first ever creations – in first year I somehow thought of throwing these ingredients together while grocery shopping without an extensive study of a recipe, and understanding why the three secrets of French cuisine would be “butter, butter and butter” (No Reservations). At the start of this year, this was also the first thing I made after stitches came out of my thumb from a bread knife accident. That scar is barely visible now.

Full Circle. Like other simple constants and repetitions that intentionally or unintentionally painted a few amazing years of university life, this uncomplicated recipe is dotted around the patchwork of my time in the UK from beginning to end. And this phase of life comes to a wrap, I’m hoping to carry forward things worth retaining and anticipate the next.

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Lemon, Garlic and Tomato Chicken

5-6 pieces of chicken thighs and drumsticks
25g unsalted butter
5 cloves of garlic, minced
10 cherry tomatoes
zest and juice of half a lemon
2 sprigs of thyme (optional)
salt & pepper

1.       Preheat oven to 175degreesC.
2.     Rub butter and salt onto the thighs and drumsticks, followed by the minced garlic. Then, place the cherry tomatoes and chicken into a casserole dish. Finally, sprinkle zest drizzle lemon juice over the chicken and add thyme and black pepper.
3.      Bake for 25-30 minutes and you’ll get a dish of goodness swimming in lemon-butter, which I have the tendency to soak with bread or use to go over pasta!

so I say thank you for the music