Cookies, Crumbles, and Meltdowns

I have been saying recently that I would like this blog to take a new turn, and to perhaps broaden it’s horizons; I’d like it to go on, and become a blog about food, as I learn to cook it, too. I’m not too focused on a subject for this blog, however, food would like to be something I include within it’s parameters.

So, the day before yesterday, I made cookies. I’ve never been much of a cookie baker, or indeed a baker of any kind. I make tray-bakes, but muffins are simply not my friend. I overwork the gluten, and sort of make sweet-bread. But cookies? Well, my black and white ones seem to be getting every time I make them, and I’ve made quite a few batches lately. I quite enjoy making cookies. I think it’s something to do with the fact that it’s kind of a childish pleasure; there’s something wonderfully juvenile about cookies, and their association with milk.

And who doesn’t love the cookie monster?! (1)

Anyway, the baking is going well; the muffins made me cry a bit, because of the gluten situation, and I couldn’t find a way to remedy it. I’ve made a few batches now, to absolutely no avail. I’d like to think that practice makes perfect; Saint Delia would certainly agree.

I made myself an omelette for breakfast, and I know that that sentence seemed rather, well, pointless. The trouble with my omelette was that I couldn’t quite manage to execute the folding; the folding seemed to be a skill that was just beyond my comprehension, and the problem was further compounded when I realised that my book, that was telling me how to make the omelette, was hovering dangerously close to the gas ring. So then I kind of panicked, a little bit, and turned off the hob, thinking that if I were to burn the house down whilst making brunch, my Mum would be more than a tad upset.

Anyway, I managed a kind of open-faced omelette, and I filled the middle with smoked ham and tomato, and added a small sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top, but not too much to make it a cellulite trap. (I’d already been to the gym before brunch, and so I was feeling a little bit virtuous). I also added a touch of basil to the egg mix, with lashings of salt and black pepper, and a dash of Tabasco sauce. I think that I should take out shares in the company; I go through absolutely tonnes of the stuff, because it’s almost as versatile as Worcester Sauce, in terms of flavour, and adding something of an undercurrent.

Anyway, I have to go now. I have to buy my little sister a birthday balloon, and I have to get dressed for work. I hate getting dressed for work, but there it is. I suppose I’d look strange waitressing in shorts and a vest top. Hope everyone has a lovely Sunday.

(:

(1) http://fortheloveofcookies.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/orig-14366331.jpg

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Slutty Spaghetti, and Other Stories

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Ack. That’s the only word to use to describe the last few days. Work has been terribly, terribly busy, and even this, my half day off, is turning out to be something of a tricky one. But anyway. I’ve made some serious progress on the domestic goddess front. For instance, I have learnt that there is in fact a right and wrong way to cook pasta, and rice. There ought to be a cup of rice to two cups of water when cooking. And on Wednesday I’m planning on making muffins or cookies, and something nice from the Nigella Lawson Kitchen book. It’s turning into a necessary part of the day. I think my Mum is enjoying all the cooking.

I rather want to make white chocolate and raspberry muffins. The trouble is, I haven’t got a recipe that doesn’t make me want to cry. If anyone has any recipes that are tried and tested, I’d be most appreciative!

Something else I tried last week; Slutty Spaghetti, or Spaghetti Puttanesca. I think the Slutty Spaghetti nickname has more of a ring to it than the latter, but there we go. The sauce was perfect, and the bitterness of the capers seemed to counteract the building heat of the chilli flakes. It wasn’t that difficult to make either, although the smell of fresh garlic is rather pervasive, and lasts for days afterwards. I think that might just be a kind of homely smell; the smell of home cooking, and not using powdered garlic. In culinary terms, it seems that garlic powder is akin to devil worship.

Because I have a house now, I will be able to put little plant pots on the window sill, or on the patio (it’s really odd, knowing you have your own patio, complete with furniture), and grow little fresh herbs. I draw the line at growing vegetables (I don’t like mud, and gardening, and I like having clean fingernails), but I like the idea of growing herbs.

I think I might try cooking some kind of chicken dish this week, or fish. Rick Stein has some excellent fish recipes, and I might see if I can make a decent jambalaya. I think my family would quite enjoy that, and I think my housemates will enjoy it, too. Y’know, as long as I don’t set fire to a griddle pan, or make the microwave explode. Whilst these things sound a little far-fetched to the normal, adult person, it’s all entirely possible if I happen to set food in the kitchen. This is because my clumsiness knows no bounds; just yesterday, I was carrying hot food at work, and my napkin slipped, and as I caught the dish, I touched a pan that had just come from under a red-hot grill. I seared my thumb, and I have a little blister for my trouble.

There’s little news from the literary sphere from me, at the moment, because I’ve been caught up in the wonders of domesticity, and learning things about cooking, and lifestyle. So that’s what might be cropping up more often on here; perhaps there’s a food blogger in me yet!

(:

(1) http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_KznaiPtvdRw/TMW_KSx14gI/AAAAAAAAAMs/ZOHD_OrJeG4/s1600/Kitchen+Nigella+Lawson.jpg

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Sarah Alice Becomes a Domestic Goddess

 

Lately, I’ve decided that due to my new house, and to a certain extent, my Mum goading me into learning how to cook, I will have one of those houses that is always full of people, and food. I’m not an amazing cook; see the episode with the brownies. But with a degree of vigour, I decided to make learning some recipes into nothing short of a revision session; note writing, studying. Like I would study for an exam.

And so, like any British woman in times of great culinary trouble, I called on the services of Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater. I now own a wonderful volume called ‘How to Cook’, written by Delia Smith. And Delia Smith is my new domestic inspiration. She honestly has me believing that with a turn of the hand, I could summon up a casual three course dinner for eight people with homemade chutneys and apertifs to follow. The power of the woman is simple unbelievable.

Nigella Lawson as well, is just as inspiring. She doesn’t exude the same wholesome air as Delia, but she gives of a kind of naughty aura, as though cooking can be rebellious and exciting. I suppose that she wasn’t christened the queen of food porn for nothing. I always thought that this was more to do with her love of silk dressing gowns, as opposed to anything else, but I’m starting to think the connection here between food and sensuality extends beyond her choice of nightwear.

I’ve also been caught on several occasions lately scouring shops for place-mat sets and coasters (I’m happy to announce that I’ve found the perfect set). I seem to enjoy searching the internet for casserole dishes, something I never realised was a necessity. But according to the biblical writings of Delia, Nigella and Nigel, I think I’ll have to invest in one specially for my ventures into the culinary sphere.

I look like this everyday whilst I’m preparing dinner. (1)

So, last week, all this inspiration was going admirably, I was plodding on with my learning, and planning grown up dinners, and learning recipes for things like aromatic shoulders of pork. And then the unthinkable happened. I was struck down, (and down I did fall), with some kind of horrible stomach complaint. Everything hurt; the sides of my tummy were agonisingly painful, and the space between the bottom of my ribcage and my bellybutton felt horribly full, for want of a better word. I spent much of the morning facing the bottom of the toilet bowl. And after a distressing trip to the doctors, I had a shot of whatever they give you to halt the spontaneous volcanic eruptions, and things improved slightly.

However, all the resultant lying around in bed gave me plenty of time to ponder casserole dishes, and chocolate rum cake. And once I started feeling better a couple of days ago, I continued on my mission until I needed to take another nap, or eat another dry cracker. Which happened every two minutes. But then again, I suppose the path to perfection never ran smoothly.

(:

(1) http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2010/10/21/article-1322394-0BAEDB03000005DC-542_468x376.jpg

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Mixtape

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I’m going to put this out there, because it was incredible. I honestly cannot believe how lucky I am. Yesterday, I was at work, and I was fairly fed up. My cold was annoying me, and my shift had been dragging on for far too long. But then, I met Voldemort. Yes. Lord Voldemort. Or Ralph Fiennes really. So anyway, I run back into the kitchen, kind of hopping and bouncing around a bit. And after I finished doing that, I went home and watched Harry Potter films all night. It was amazingly cool. And, having just read back that paragraph, I realise that I sound a tiny bit as though I don’t get out enough, but there we go. I thought it was awesome.

On a completely unrelated note, I’m starting to get very excited about my impending trip to Washington D.C. I’m especially excited about going to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I like looking at all the mechanics and engineering behind space travel, and space exploration, and the shuttle, Discovery is living at the museum for the moment. I’m going to go and see that! I particularly like looking at  the scale of these things. They make me feel like a very tiny blip in the world, when you compare yourself to the machinery that means we can actually walk on the moon!

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There’s a cupcake shop in Washington, called Georgetown Cupcakes, that my little sister is just desperate to go and visit. She really can’t wait, because she watches their television series. She’s also an excellent baker, and makes the most adorable and delicious cupcakes. I’m a very big fan of her red velvet ones; they’re somehow creamy and moist all at once. Her face lights up whenever I mention cupcakes. It’s so lovely. And because she finishes school, ready to go to college this week, I bought her two brand new cupcake books, so she’s got something to do over the summer. She’s fifteen, and will be until the end of August, which means that by law, she can’t work this summer, even if she wanted to. I think she should just start a business plan for opening a bakery, and I could help her do the promotions.

At this point, I must bid this post farewell, because I have to go to work soon, and I have some ironing to do. The joys of work, but maybe Voldemort will still be there…

(:

(1) http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/images/content/107094main_discovery-launch.jpg

(2) https://sarahalicewaterhouse.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/cupcakes.jpg?w=300

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Cooking May Never Be My Forte

Food is one of the key ingredients to life, however most of us in the Western world spend a fairly large portion of our lives wondering about food. It’s nutritional value, whether we eat too much, or too little, or whether we ought to follow a diet. Food impacts our lives in such a massive way, and it contributes to whether we are larger or smaller, slim, or curved. In the image crazed world in which we live, food underpins the way we all feed about ourselves, whether we’d like it to or not.

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I am admittedly, a dreadful cook. Examples of my culinary expertise have been discussed in previous posts, purely because they provide the basis for so many amusing stories. I’m a legend in my house, because of my ability to burn everything, including peas, of all things. I’d like to note that I’ve been compelled to improve though, because I didn’t want to starve at university. I have got much better, although my use of the hob unsupervised is still prohibited, because, and I quote “We don’t want to be burnt to death…”.

Food is one of my favourite things, and it’s one of the reason’s I’d love to live in a big city one day; there’s always a huge range of choice, and many varieties of cuisine to be tested. I love to be adventurous with food, and I love spicy things, especially. I also thoroughly enjoy fish, in particular, sushi. I’m not a fan of the one with the omelette on though; I’m not quite sure why, really.

Eating in posh restaurants however is a minefield of its own; the more hyped up the restaurant, the more pretentious the food, and inevitably, something called “jus” winds up on the place, usually next to a teaspoon full of mashed potato. Cep jus is by far the worst of the “jus'”, because it looks like spittle. And it’s thoroughly unappetizing, in my opinion at least.

However, I’m not a food snob, at all. I’m perfectly happy with sausage and chips. I just like eating fancy things sometimes too, possibly because my parents are excellent at cooking. By far the best thing about coming home is eating my Mum’s cooking again. She says I could cook the same things, however the problem is I couldn’t; I couldn’t make it taste as she does, and I think it’s something to do with having your dinner cooked for you, by your Mum.

(:

(1) http://www.cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/cartoonists/rma/lowres/rman8657l.jpg

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Oh, What It Is to Be Excited…

I'd like a bed like this one day. (1)

So here we are again; another sunny Monday morning with the prospect of university essays, the gym, and the laundry to be doing. However, today is an exciting Monday, because today is the day of the Asda deliver. I promise that I’m not getting excited purely for the delivery of vegetables; I’m excited because I found a double duvet and pillowcase set, with pretty trees on it, for £2.77. And so obviously, I had to buy it. I love duvet covers. I especially like clean ones. So I’m really quite looking forwards to the changing of the duvet, later tonight. Which, as a I read that sentence back, I realise sounds a little bit sad. But nevertheless, I like pretty stuff. I especially like it when it is on sale. I think it’s a genetic programming issue.

Another upcoming event, with perhaps a tad more significance, is my impending birthday; I’ll reach the grand old age of nineteen, very soon, and therefore that’s an excuse for a party. Or in this case, a venture to a nice restaurant with ten of my oldest friends. The restaurant “Las Iguanas” is a place I’ve been desperate to try, however it is a little bit too expensive to justify it on an everyday basis. However, birthdays mean special things can happen, and therefore I feel the pressing urge to eat South American fare. I shall consider it a prelude to my visit to the continent in 2014. A necessary training exercise, one might say.

I really enjoy celebrations; not surprise parties, or massive community hall get-togethers, but I like a nice dinner, with all my favourite people. All I really want to do with my family for my birthday is snuggle up with my Mum and Dad on the sofa, and watch Swamp People, an ingenious television program about the alligator hunters of America. I wouldn’t mind eating a steak whilst I do it, maybe with some peppercorn sauce. I think celebrations ought to be as large or as small as one would like. Equally however, I’m excited to get dressed up in something pretty, and go out with all my friends.

But before this, I get to see one of my best friends, because she’s coming to visit me at university at the end of term. It’s going to be a mini-holiday, in lieu of going on a proper one; we’ll use my flat for a holiday house, and do holiday-type things; going to the beach, going out for cocktails, and watching DVDs. It’s going to be a wonderful few days, ended by the cross-country train journey back to reality, work, and home.

In conclusion then, I’m quite excited, about lots of things. My friend visiting, my Asda order, and my birthday plans, to name just a few. It’s going be amazing. Now, I just have to tackle that essay…

(:

(1) http://www.terrysfabrics.co.uk/images/P/Lottie-Duvet-Cover-Gold.jpg

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On Climbing Mountains

Of late, things have been evolving somewhat; from the inane and obvious, such as diet, to the more complex and frankly more interesting, attitudes. Experience, or the power and beauty of youth, becomes more obvious when you realise that you take it for granted; a failure to maximise one’s time, or energy as a person who is young and exposed to a plethora of opportunity is an intolerable waste, and once this dawned on me, I suffered something comparable to an epiphany, albeit in a more practical sense as opposed to a spiritual one.

Who wouldn't want to climb up there? (1)

So, in the last six weeks, I’ve been doing lots of things very differently than I had been before, for example, I’ve given up eating supernoodles for breakfast (or for any other meal), and instead, eat porridge made with skimmed milk. I’ve also taken to early morning trips to the gym; at seven-thirty am, instead of switching off my alarm and going back to sleep for four more hours, I’m on the cross trainer, or cycling, or something. I’ve found that the adrenaline kick that immediately succeeds the exhaustion is worth getting up early for. Without sleeping all day, there is far more opportunity to do things, and exposure to daylight naturally raises serotonin levels, making for a much happier person.

I think however, there’s more to this change than the somewhat superficial, in that I’ve been offered the chance to take part in a month-long trip to Africa next year; a climb up Kilimanjaro, all the way to the very, very top, volunteering with children and refurbishing schools (or something of this nature), and going on a walking or cycling safari through Hell’s Gate. The trip would give me the opportunity to see Kenya and Tanzania, and work with children, build some things for charity, and climb the world’s highest free-standing mountain. Research suggests that Kilimanjaro isn’t for the particularly weak-willed, and since I want to be able to say “I’ve stood on the summit of Kilimanjaro”, the opportunity seems too good to miss. The organisation of the trip itself will be something to add to a CV also; fundraising that kind of money, and seeking sponsorship is a practical skill. Overall then, it’d be incredible.

The trip has provided a little inspiration for getting up early and wandering around, thinking about acclimatising to a more normal “work-day” and eating much healthier food. It transpires that stereotypical student life doesn’t quite agree with me; but this element of student life, opportunities to travel, and so on, are very much my cup of tea. I’m glad there’s a goal that’s more substantial than ‘to look nice in a bikini’; there’s something much bigger, as well as the long-term health benefits of an attitude change.

There’s an awful lot to be said about mind over matter.

(:

(1) http://www.safaris-tanzania.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Kilimanjaro-summit.jpg

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Packet Mix Brownies Are Harder Than They Seem…

Today was one of those days where I decided to be one of those lovely dinner guests, who bring dessert. They bake you something delicious and bring it round in a Quality Street tin. I decided to make brownies, and I should have known the venture wasn’t going to go exceedingly well, when I bought the packet mix. You know the one. With the “just add water” instructions on the back. But nevertheless, I thought, “hm… what could possibly go wrong?”. The answer of course, was just about everything.

To start with, I didn’t have any greaseproof paper, which would have been perfectly fine, except apparently when using baking tins, it’s something of a necessity. The next error was that I had no scales. No scales to measure twenty-five grams of butter, and had to sort of go with a “wing it” approach. Using a tablespoon. Which, in case anyone was wondering, is a wildly inaccurate way of adding ingredients to a packet mix.

I’d just about managed to get the mix into two rectangular tins. Being a student, I do not have a seven-inch square tin, lined with greaseproof. I had a seven by four-inch rectangular tin, that was no so much lined with greaseproof paper, as with grease, the variety that comes from butter. The mix also seemed to be spread awfully thinly across the tin. I was assured that it would rise, and that no one would even notice. The problem really started to appear when I put the two tins into the oven.

"Oh, they look nice"... "Errr...I wouldn't get too hopeful about the ones I'm bringing"... (1)

The instructions told me that I should bake the brownies for fifteen minutes, on one hundred and seventy degrees celsius. I’d even remembered to pre-heat the oven first. Another, rather important, element that seemed to have slipped my mind though, was that our oven, again, being a student oven, is less than reliable, and is much more uneven than otherwise. So in the brownies went, me bumbling along, doing some clearing up, thinking that the brownies will be done in the blink of an eye. But when I looked in the door, they seemed very flat. The white chocolate mixture in particular, seemed to have formed a rather hard shell, that was preventing the mixture below from cooking. So I left the brownies for a few minutes, checked back, and it seemed that nothing had really changed. So there I was, pondering how I could get the middle to cook. At this point, I got bored, and decided to make some lunch.

After about forty-five minutes cooking time, the cookie-dough brownies looked almost acceptable (except for the little hole my flatmate had put in them, causing them to sink…) and so I put them on top of the hob to cool down. I also extracted the white ones, which had at this point, formed a biscuit-y sort of slightly burnt around the edges tray bake. Obviously, that didn’t stop us, and we thought we’d better “check to see if they were okay”.

As far as I can tell, the best of the bunch are cooling on the hob at the moment. The white ones have been confined to scrap bin, i.e. my flatmate’s mouths. You never know, if I’m really lucky, the cake goblins will have swooped down and murdered my little brownies, making them flat and burnt too. In fact, I’d better go and check…

(:

(1) http://www.nikiaguirre.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/brownie.jpg?w=300

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On Exploring Budapest

Eastern Europe holds a certain allure, because it is essentially on the same continent as France, or Germany. However Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia are rather alien in terms of culture and social convention, although less so in terms of religion. We, who call ourselves European, are in fact rather sheltered from the essence of Europe, and so this summer I’m hoping to rectify the situation by visiting Budapest with a friend. I’ve always been curious about the history of Hungary, and the history of the Hungarian Jews, ever since looking at the impact of World War Two on the country.

I rarely go on holiday to cities; as a family tradition, we tend to sit by swimming pools or on the beach; anything to avoid the appearance of money belts and explorer shorts, and the taboo socks and sandals combination. We sit by the pool and complain that we are hot; we are typical British people on holiday when it comes to discussions on the weather. We don’t often visit cities; we’ve seen New York and Boston, and had a day in Pisa; but on average, city breaks are not a family venture, especially when you have younger children; pulling them through blistering heat with a plethora of other tourists is an organisational mission, as well as requiring the patience of  a saint.

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St. Stephen's Basilica (1)

However, cities have a vast number of opportunities for cultural exploration; museums and access to authentic cuisine is one of the highlights for me in exploring cities. I have found that eating at the same restaurants as the locals improve’s one’s understanding of the local food and local traditions, especially further afield. However, if you’ve been touched by the cruel hand of food poisoning, there’s really nothing wrong with a McDonald’s. Our Western digestive system isn’t always trained for layered cabbage dishes, or in more extreme cases, stuffed lamb heads, or stewed insects. You do become accustomed to things assuming you are prepared to try them however.

I’m thoroughly looking forwards to having a look round the Hungarian National Museum, and visiting the shopping centres and markets. The Saint Basilica has a certain appeal too, venturing into the Roman Catholicism world and the history thereof. The architecture of the building also has roots in Greek architecture and Roman history and therefore we’ll be exposed to neo-classical elements of Budapest too. I’m hoping to look around the city and night, eat some Hungarian food and go to the Hungarian opera.

The only challenge is to make the trip as cost-effective as possible; stay in a hotel in the centre of the city so that we save money on transport costs, and hopefully, somewhere where breakfast is included. As Michael McIntyre says, on holiday, we convince ourselves that we won’t need lunch, because we never want to eat when we’re hot. I’m rather hoping that we’ll be sufficiently busy that we won’t need to be thinking about food all the time; four days isn’t very long to look around such a beautiful city, but I think if we fill all moments of consciousness with interesting activities, we should be able to maximise the time we’re there for.

(:

(1) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Saint_Stephen%27s_Basilica_Budapest.jpg/800px-Saint_Stephen%27s_Basilica_Budapest.jpg

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On Crossing the Orient

One of the biggest dreams I’ve had, ever  since I was a little girl, is to travel across Russia and China on the Orient Express. The decadence of the train itself, as well as the history behind it, completely fascinates me. I think I’d feel as though I’d entered a Poirot story, and would get horribly caught up in things like dressing for dinner, and using the appropriate cutlery for each course. I regularly find myself flicking through the website, dreaming of being able to afford to go on such a beautiful and extravagant journey.

Train travel is rather a reassuring method of travelling, compared to via car, or aeroplane. Trains are reliable, safe; they cross land at a steady pace, smoothly. It lacks the stopping and starting of a car, or the prospect of waiting in endless traffic queues; bathrooms are always available, and the British service station can be completely avoided. Whilst British trains are hardly comparable to the Orient Express, they are functional and serve their purpose. They transport you from A to B. However, the use of the overpass in a railway station is something that continually irks me; when you use the train to travel a significant distance, you have luggage. In my case, I had an entire suitcase, because I was travelling with enough luggage to last me a month. The stress involved in dragging the monstrosity over the overpass was completely disproportionate; the underground ramps seem to serve a much more practical purpose. The elderly find these easier than ninety-seven stairs; I find them easier with a gigantic suitcase. After this journey, I made an executive decision: to travel lighter, and with a backpack instead. It was possibly the best decision I’ve ever made.

Carriages on the Orient Express (1)

This is the reality of my travel aspirations however; I’m not especially concerned with luxury, or seeing the opulence of a location. I’d much rather use the money to travel to the rural areas, live with the locals and experience the cuisine of the area. There is nothing so wasteful as going to an English pub whilst abroad. There’s always one within a mile or two within reach at home. The food of other cultures has always fascinated me somewhat; Japanese food especially, Chinese, and middle Eastern cuisine. I love to try out the new things. Travelling on the Orient Express would offer a plethora of fantastical dining options; I’d know, since I’ve explored the sample menu section of the website frequently. Obviously there would be an appropriate outfit for the consumption of beef fillet. I realise this might be fantasy running away with me, but this isn’t the only fantasy of travel I have.

I do however have a much more realistic aspiration; a trip around all the countries of South America in the summer of 2014, with a couple of friends, a backpack, and an acceptance of limited hair washing opportunities. All my money will go towards this rather ambitious plan, but helpfully, train travel is cheap; flying won’t be necessary very often, which bodes well for me, since I don’t like to fly. (A pressurised metal tube, in the sky? Just, why?) Food is cheap, voluntary opportunities are plentiful, and I think you’d meet some amazing people. It’s going to be fantastic. I just need some money and an itinerary.

(:

(1) http://static.orient-express.com/vsoe/images/720x300images/vsoe_720x300_slovakia01.jpg

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