British Museum

After a quick squizz in the Liberty and Schott Music shops, we ended up spending the rest of the day in the British Museum. The Rosetta Stone is the first thing you are presented with in the Egypt halls, yet we didn’t see it because it was surrounded by people which we mistook for simply a group of tourists. We wandered around admiring huge granite Babylonian lions, Assyrian friezes, marble chunks of the Parthenon and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, vaguely wondering where it was. Luckily there was a guided tour at 5pm that led us right to it. There was also red figure Greek pottery, bits of a marae, bronze age jewellery, coins from the Thames, cuneiform tablets, mediæval clocks and mechanisms, and Roman mosaics. So much history!

Salisbury Cathedral

Today we went to Andover to visit a special music shop, and then on to Salisbury Cathedral, via a quick rubber-neck at Stonehenge off the A303. We arrived in time for Evensong to hear the Leighton Magdalen service. The cathedral is huge, nearly 800 years old and beautiful, and the history of its construction inspired Follett’s novel, Pillars of the Earth. The Magna Carta document (or at least, one of the surviving four) hangs out the back on display in the 13th century chapter house, behind the cloister.

Then we went to a nearby pub, called The Chapter House, for tea, then back to London.

Changing of the guard

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Is this not a quintessentially London image?

An hour on the No. 3 bus takes us to Westminster, alighting outside Parliament Buildings. From here we can have a look at Westminster Abbey, the new Supreme Court and then hang around until 11am for Big Ben to go “bong”.

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The gilded statue atop the Victoria Memorial, outside Buckingham Palace.

Then we leg it down Birdcage Walk to Buckingham Palace to join the ten thousand other tourists massed around the beautiful gilded Victoria Memorial, to watch the changing of the guard. One of the Royal Army bands played (among other things) arrangements of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and the theme from Game of Thrones. It’s also always a treat to hear cornet players wailing Birdland Maynard Ferguson style.

From there we had lunch at the Lodge Café by the Queen Elizabeth gates to Hyde Park, and strolled around Hyde Park for the afternoon. There are deck chairs out on the grass by Serpentine Lake, and they’re £2 an hour to sit in, which is… an odd thing to charge money for. I’d also forgotten that it’s 20p to use the loo!

A weeping elm in Hyde Park.
A weeping elm in Hyde Park.

We found a massive weeping elm that doubles as a house.

After that we went to Marble Arch and along Oxford Street to sort out SIM cards and suit fits for Hamish & Louise’s wedding, a bit of shopping and then to the pub on Kingly Street round the corner from Steve’s work, and catching up with some of the usual London suspects for curry.

Sunny London welcomes all passengers

After 30 hours of flying in sealed metal tubes breathing other people’s coughs and farts, we’ve finally arrived in London.

Thermokarst lakes in West Siberia
Thermokarst lakes and gas rigs in West Siberia (Google Maps)

The flight from Shanghai to London flies a great circle over Mongolia and northern Russia, Finland, Denmark, across the North Sea, and then along the Thames River estuary. The West Siberian taiga is dotted with remote oil and gas rigs, and pocked with a zillion circular lakes that look like ancient impact craters. They’re not craters; they’re thermokarst lakes, formed from the melting of permafrost.

Circling Heathrow we got a nice aerial overview of some important landmarks. Heathrow Terminal 3 itself however is a cramped Soviet-era concrete affair, replete with peeling vinyl wallpaper, worn-out door latches, leaking refrigerant and blown fluorescent lights; but bright burned-in plasma screens with cheery signs intrude on the squalor, promising to ease your immigration check with speedy e-passport stations. They weren’t working however, which meant that it took 70 minutes to queue and get our passports rubber-stamped.

Sunrise from the air, East China Sea
Sunrise from the air, 12 kilometres above somewhere in the East China Sea.

Steve picked us up and we went home via Hammersmith and Earl’s Court, past where he used to work; it was nice to see bits of London I haven’t seen for nearly 15 years, and try and (mostly fail to) regain my bearings. Much of the way was noticeably leafy, and being summer, all the trees are in full greenery; elms, alders, oaks, planes, sycamores and chestnuts, deciduous trees that immediately invoke “English countryside” for me. I haven’t actually seen a conifer yet.

Today we went for a walk around Dulwich where we’re staying to figure out where the shops are and buy some bread. Otherwise a quiet day in to recover, ring the bank, get UK SIM cards sorted out so we don’t get charged $10 a megabyte, and maybe have a nap. More soon.

Shanghai airport

…is huge. Just the terminal we’re in is over a kilometre long. Thunderstorms and 26°C air at near 100% humidity with a hint of coal smoke exiting the plane, sure is a nice change from Wellington winter.

Departure!

All packed and off we go. Apparently bits of Wellington Airport were on fire briefly, so here we are sitting on the A320 posting selfies onto the internet.

Update: it turns out said fire alarm and the ensuing evacuation of the airport caused one of our bags to end up on a different aircraft. Hooray!

Cheesy grins

Allergy-free Carrot Cake

Bake this for friends with small persons allergic to nuts, eggs, and dairy.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz (125 g) dairy-free margarine
  • 6 oz (¾ cup) sugar
  • 4 tsp egg-substitute starch (2 eggs’ worth)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 inch of ginger
  • ½ cup soy or rice milk
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 8 oz (225 g) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Soften the butter, whisk the sugar into it until fluffy and nearly white. Shove the carrot and ginger through a juicer (or fine grater) and add the juice and pulp to the mix with the egg powder, and beat. Add the baking soda to the milk and microwave (30-60 seconds) until frothy, and fold in. Sift the flour and baking powder in and fold gently until just combined. Turn into a greased (with margarine) and floured cake tin and bake at 180°C for 30-40 minutes until done.

Note: I used Orgran egg-replacer, but have a look at the Allergy NZ site for other egg substitution ideas.

Feijoa Jam

Here’s the recipe for 10 kg of feijoa jam.

  • 6 kg feijoas
  • 500 g stewed apple
  • 300 ml lime juice
  • extra hot water
  • 4 kg sugar
  • Lots of jam jars

Halve or quarter (depending how keen you’re feeling) the feijoas into a very large pot. Don’t peel them or scoop them – use the whole fruit. The skin contains the distinctive, beautiful feijoa fragrance, and it should be present in the jam.

Tip the stewed apple and lime juice in, and cook it on moderate heat until the fruit starts to soften. Keep stirring to prevent it caramelising (or burning) on the bottom.

Stick-blend it once the fruit has heated through and has softened, and bring it up to a gentle rolling boil. You may need to add hot water to thin it (if it gloops and spatters big gobs at you, it’s too thick). Simmer it like this for a good 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring.

Tip in all the sugar. Dissolving sugar is endothermic and will cool the mix, and take several minutes on high heat to get back up to a rolling boil. Once boiling, it will take a further 10-15 minutes to get to setting temperature. Keep stirring.

When the jam has reached setting temperature, pour while still hot into preheated glass jam jars, and put the lids on immediately. As the jam cools, it will create a vacuum seal under the lid.

Testing for setting: you can do this with a jam thermometer, and wait until the mix gets up to 104°C. Or, watch for the way it drips off the spoon. If it runs off the bottom edge in one stream, it’s not ready yet; it’s at setting temperature when you get multiple, thicker drips from the spoon. Or, put a knife in the freezer. Drip some small drops from the spoon onto the cold knife and wait for them to cool. If the surface of the drops wrinkle when you prod them with your finger, it’s set.

 

A note on jars: use only glass jars with quarter-turn metal lids. Save them in a box in the garage for just this sort of occasion! Plastic jars will usually warp when you drop hot jam into them, and also probably contain Bisphenol A. Screw-turn metal and plastic lids won’t seal anywhere as well as quarter-turn metal lids.

Chilli sauce got a little out of control

So this time, I picked 16 kg of late, red jalapeño from Penray Gardens, fire-roasted it, and smoked it.

Along with several kilos of tomatoes and red bell peppers, this was a huge amount of ingredients. Luckily I had help from Shadley, Andrew and Tara in picking, roasting, smoking, chopping, stirring and tasting duties, and a fun time was had by all.

This all went in the pot with much the same recipe as last year (see my previous post). This time I made up a label in Inkscape using some nifty fonts from Font Squirrel, based on a 1920s French wine label.