Panna Cotta Recipe

Blog: How to make panna cotta

Who says desserts have to be heavy? Sweet, delicate and deliciously creamy, the panna cotta is my go-to solution for when I’m in the mood for something beautifully light and refreshing at the end of my meal. Easy-to-make and even easier to eat, it’s the perfect finishing touch for when you want an indulgent treat without the guilt-factor.

cocktail glass

The traditional Italian version uses a simple milk, cream and gelatine recipe; lightly baked, set, and then turned out on a plate with a tantalising wobble. To avoid extra stress in the kitchen, I prefer to set mine in pretty glassware and serve them straight from the fridge. I also commit another sacrilege to purists everywhere by incorporating whatever fruit I happen to have laying around, blending it into a puree or jelly for an extra hit of flavour to offset the cream.

For this version I also folded in a few dollops of strawberry and rhubarb yogurt. It’s a great way to add some instant intensity without compromising the fragile texture of the mixture.

Jars

 

Ingredients:

Panna Cotta

280ml Double Cream

100ml Milk

150ml Rachel’s Gourmet Low Fat Yoghurt

1 Sachet Gelatine

3-4 tbsp Icing Mixture

1 Vanilla Pod

Jelly

2-3tbsp Frozen Mixed Fruits

2tbsp Caster Sugar

1 Sachet Gelatine

 

Method

Begin by making up a batch of jelly. Using a blender, roughly blend the frozen fruits into a juice. Add one pack of gelatine to 400ml just-boiled water, whisking vigorously until granules have dissolved. Combine both mixtures and pour into the bottom of your containers, placing in the freezer to set quickly.

For the panna cotta, place the double cream and milk into a saucepan, bringing to the boil. Score open the vanilla pod and add to the mixture, leaving it to gently simmer for 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, make up about 2 tablespoons of gelatine mixture using the same method as before.

Take the cream mixture off the heat and leave to cool down slightly for 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve to remove the vanilla pod, then mix in the gelatine and fold in the yoghurt.

Pour the mixture over the set jelly and leave to set for an hour or so in the fridge. Use fresh fruit to decorate the glasses when ready to serve.

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Culture: The 24 Drinking Game

Before we had Breaking Bad; before we had Mad Men, we had The Sopranos. And while Tony and his dysfunctional gang of nodding hench men were busy changing the face of television as we know it, Jack Bauer was bringing us the perfect light-hearted, explosion-filled antithesis. While the revolutionary new gangster genre brought us things like meaningful layers, complex characters and hard-to-spot references, 24 brought us guns, explosions and more plot twists and changing baddies than could possibly fit into several years, let alone a mere 24 hours.

24

Yes, yes I’m sure my A-Level Media Studies teacher would have wanted to point out the contextual themes of a show that first aired in 2001 and is about good guys fighting terrorists. It’s always fun to note how the nationalities of the terrorists change from Russian to Middle Eastern over the seasons. Plus I’m sure there’s some kind parallel to be drawn to the Greek Tragedies in terms of a lone hero going up against both the bad guys and toxic power structures (Why are the politicians and agency heads always so misguided?! Why does no one trust a man that has saved America so many times?!) But the real fun in watching 24 is in not taking things to seriously, which is where the 24 Drinking Game comes in.

So grab some friends, fill up your booze cupboard and join me in drinking to the themes and tropes that make this show so great.

Take a sip every time:

  • Jack says, “Dammit’
  • Jack says, ‘Right now you don’t have any other choice!’
  • Jack says, ‘Like it or not, you’re going to have to trust me.’
  • Jack says, ‘Cover me I’m going in’
  • Jack yells at his boss, ‘You don’t have time!’
  • Someone gets tortured
  • Jack gets tortured
  • Someone gets shot
  • A terrorist gets offered an immunity deal
  • The Justice Department investigates Jack
  • Jack gets arrested
  • Kim or another woman needs saving
  • Chloe rolls her eyes
  • Someone says, ‘CTU has a mole’
  • Anyone else says, ‘Dammit’

 

Finish your drink every time:

  • Jack whisper shouts, ‘You’ve read my file. You’ve seen what I can do’
  • Jack yells at the president/anyone, ‘Millions of innocent lives are at stake!’
  • There’s an explosion
  • Someone underestimates Jack or makes a fate provoking comment like, ‘They’ll never find us.’ (Oh you silly, silly terrorists)

I’ve just realised that based on past seasons, you’ll probably be drinking a lot. I take no responsibility for what happens!

If you have any 24 Drinking Game suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Natalie x

 

 

 

 

Lewis Caroll

Society: Happy International Women’s Day

Lewis Caroll

Today is the day to celebrate being rad ladies. It’s a day to be sisters and think about how far we’ve come and how much further there is to go; for us and for everyone around the world.

It’s quite easy to become frustrated when debating feminist issues. Why can’t everyone just agree that all people are equal and demand respect? I was thinking this when I read Sarah Ditum‘s intelligent rebuttal to Pairs Lees on Hollaring Back to Street Harassment. The horrendous Paris Lees piece on Vice (I won’t link) angered me to see so many young male commenters sneering at the women who spoke up to say street harassment made them uncomfortable.

Lees writes, “I love catcalls. I love car toots. I love random men smiling “Hello beautiful!” like my mere presence just made their day. I like being called “princess” and ignoring them as I giggle inside. I like being eye-fucked on the escalator and wondering if I’ve just made him spring a boner.”

It’s disappointing to me, although not surprising considering she is writing for Vice, that Lees has fallen down on thinking about this issue critically or from another person’s viewpoint. Just because she enjoys the attention, that doesn’t mean that all women do or that there aren’t sinister undertones to this type of catcalling. Indeed later in the post she goes on to recount more aggressive and upsetting instances without examining the relationship between these and more harmless “compliments”.

Others have pointed out that as a trans-gender woman, perhaps Lees might find this kind of attention to be more of a reassurance of her femininity than a cis woman. I don’t know Lees’ motivations, nor do I suppose she speaks for every trans woman. What I do know is that every woman has the right to be able to walk down the street and feel safe and equal, and this will never happen while she is being blatantly “eye fucked” or tooted at.

So my feminist (and not feminist) sisters and brothers, for this International Women’s Day, let’s all try and do one thing: let’s just listen to each other. Because no matter how far we’ve come, we’ll always have further to go and that’s ok.

Natalie x

 

 

 

Woman in traditional African dress shopping for fruit in Brixton Market

Blog: I walked through Brixton today

Woman in traditional African dress shopping for fruit in Brixton MarketI walked through Brixton market today.

I do this most days, but today was different. I paused and took in every sound, every smell.

I haven’t walked down Electric Avenue in the sunshine for months.

Most days on my way home i’ll stop off at Nour, the cash and carry that i’ve been loyal to for years, to buy supplies for that night’s dinner. I’ll walk fast, with my head down, between tall trollies, cardboard boxes and detritus from the day’s trade. It’s always dark, 6pm, and there’s always wind i’m running from. The slow shoppers are all gone and the market is filled with working people, trying to get things done quickly so they can get home and warm.

But today it’s 3.30pm on a Friday. Nour is filled with old women studying plantain and taking their time. Today I have all the patience in the world to wait for these women to pass in the narrow corridor. I nod and smile as I wait for one and she calls me blessed.

As I leave Nour with vegetables, picked with care, since I have the time today, I browse the other stalls I usually ignore. I’m looking for hass avocados, since they’re sweeter, and Nour doesn’t stock them today. I find 4 for £1 and silently bless Brixton as I hand over the coin.

I walk slowly back down Electric Avenue and I feel sure in the sense that I love this place i’ve made my home. It’s hard to love Brixton sometimes, when the journey from the tube is just too long in the wind and rain and the bus is too full.

I open my ears to every sound. Wet fish slapped on ice. Tuts. Clicks. Teeth kisses. Hoots. A “hey gov’na!”. I recognise familiar faces. I see new ones. It feels like I haven’t looked at it in this light for so long.

On the journey home the bus is too full of school kids. I lift up my shopping bags to let a small child pass and a woman shouts “get ya bag off meh leg, cha!” A dark cloud threatens to blacken my mood but I let it pass. This is Brixton. Thorny.

[Image from www.london-attractions.info]

How to make mini cacti garden

Blog: How to Make a Mini Cacti Garden

How to make mini cacti garden

I’ve been hankering after a mini cactus garden in a glass bowl for a while now but was always put off by the prices of the ones you can buy in garden centres or markets. A couple of my colleagues gave the the inspiration to make one myself when they brought in some jam jars filled with mini cacti for their desks. Being in no way green fingered, I assumed it would be difficult to make but they assured me it would be ridiculously easy: so here’s how you do it.

You’ll need:

  • A glass bowl or some jam jars
  • A little soil
  • Some mini pebbles
  • Cacti
  • A mini trowel or failing that a spoon!

Start by heading over to your local garden centre and picking out a selection of tiny cacti or succulents and getting the soil and pebbles. I chose a couple of taller plants for the back and then some smaller cacti and some pearl plants to provide some depth.

Cactus

Fill the bottom of your bowl with a layer of pebbles. This helps with the drainage as planting these in glass bowls can cause all types of problems with rot as there is nowhere for the water to go. Next add a layer of soil and pop your cacti in the bowl. Pat everything down and add a layer of pebbles. See, I told you it was easy! I planted my garden at around half way up the bowl, but you can do it higher or lower depending on what plants you’re putting in.

Mini cactus jam jars

Repeat the process for the smaller jars. I added ribbon to my jam jars as I thought they looked cute, but you don’t have to.

You really don’t want to over-water these cacti, especially as there is no drainage in the bowl. Aim for about once a month, when the soil is looking completely dry. Also try and keep them by a window as cacti like lots of sun.

Mini cactus garden

The whole thing cost me around $50, which is a lot less than the ones I’ve seen to buy ready made (plus I made the three mini ones too).

 

Mad Men Betty Draper

Blog: In Defence of Betty Draper

Betty Draper Francis isn’t exactly Mad Men’s most loved character. Beautiful, cold, shallow, detached, manipulative, unpredictable, a prick tease: these are all statements that could fairly be used to describe her, and both character and actress have received a sizable amount of flak from fans and commentators. She’s even been called “a full-on textbook narcissist, and not incidentally, the worst mother on television since Livia Soprano kicked off in 2001,” by Vulture.

Betty Draper Mad Men January Jones

So why is she the character that I identify with the most? Why do I so staunchly feel the need to defend a woman who seems completely incapable of being happy or growing as a person? Betty unlike, say Peggy, Joan or even Sally, is living through a period of immense  social change for women yet seems incapable of letting go the outdated ice-princess, 50s housewife role. The other women on the show are embracing their new found freedoms and yet Betty is caught in the same old cycle.

In this week’s episode, The Better Half, she finds herself yet again being hit on at the exit to a party while her husband makes her wait for him to make a call. It’s almost a mirror image of an earlier episode when she waits for Don and Henry hits on her. Betty has completely changed her life by divorcing and remarrying. She’s faced her biggest fear, which was letting the perfect facade of her marriage slide. She even had a full on identity crisis when she put on weight and wasn’t the beautiful Betty anymore. So why is she still stuck in the same place? The Betty Francis getting ogled by the service station attendant is still the same old Betty who enjoys being a two-dimensional male fantasy.

betty-draper-500x448

The Better Half was an episode filled with pairs and doppelgangers; Don vs. Ted, Butter vs. Margarine, Roger’s Son vs. Roger’s Grandson, Megan’s two acting roles. Everyone wants to be butter but worries they may be margarine. In the pairing of Betty and Megan, Betty finally managed to switch roles. She was spending a sordid night with Don while poor Megan waits, lonely at home (and even gets called a prick tease herself). Betty finally gains the upper hand and yes, she seems genuinely happy for the first time in ages, but she still only manages to achieve change within the narrow spaces left for her by the men in her life. She still only achieves her goals through manipulation and playing on her looks rather than empowering herself.

In a show that is as clever and multi-layered as Man Men, why would creator Matthew Weiner choose for one character to not progress or change at all? Maybe we just expect too much of Betty.  She was born and raised to be the perfect trophy wife female. It’s all she’s ever known so is it fair or realistic to suddenly expect anything else from her? Just because the world has moved on and attitudes have changed, does that mean that all women are suddenly free to throw off the shackles of patriarchy and become copy chief or a director of an advertising agency? For each Peggy and Megan out there in the 60s, there would have been hundreds of Betty’s (and there still are today).

Having said that, this week’s episode was the first time we saw Betty genuinely happy in a long time. She’s learning not to be so emotionally dependent on the men around her so maybe this is the first slow step towards empowerment for Betty. I for one can’t wait to see what she does next.

 

Yoga 213, Hip Hop Yoga, Melbourne

Blog: Hip Hop Yoga and 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About

As many of you may know, I’ve recently made some major changes in my life; including moving to Melbourne so apologies for not blogging in ages! I thought I’d get back into the swing of things by blogging a short post about what I’ve been doing to relieve the stress of moving thousands of miles and to also get out of the bad habits that come from not having a settled routine.

Lovely Melbourne

Lovely Melbourne

Lately I’ve embraced a sort of “clean living” philosophy as a way to combat the unhealthy lifestyle I had gotten into. Not to mention the fact that I now live in an exciting new city where great food is practically a religion. I was not only feeling a little overweight but was also fed up with feeling sluggish and lacklustre most of the time. I had initially resolved to visit a nutritionist as I was convinced I was developing some mild food allergies, but on seeing the cost, decided to try and take matters into my own hands by changing my diet and lifestyle.

The first step to a healthier lifestyle came with the discovery of my love of yoga, specifically when it is done to awesome hip hop music. Inspired by the yoga studios in LA, where Hip Hop Yoga is often used as an outreach scheme in troubled communities, Yoga213 blends Vinyasa flow with feel good tracks, played loudly to get the blood pumping and make the class a vibrant, energetic bundle of fun. Taking the stiffness out of yoga actually makes it easier to just relax and focus your mind.

Yoga 213

The studio on Chapel Street in South Yarra is the epitome of laid-back, surfer chic: taking its cue from downtown LA. It’s already been featured on several local design blogs. I think the things that sealed the deal for me was the photo frame of Frank Ocean in the foyer (his music features heavily in the classes), and the surf board in the corner of the studio.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a book they sell in the reception; Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About by Steve Ross. I’ve not finished reading the whole thing yet as it’s quite intense but it’s really inspired me to change my outlook and lifestyle and I would definitely recommend reading it as an introduction to yogic living. Ross’ mantra is that you can’t get happy, you can only be happy – as in there are no goals you can achieve or desires you can satisfy that will bring you lasting happiness. Instead you should focus on conscious living and self-awareness to make you happy and peaceful.

To Live is the rarest thing in the world, most people just exist. Oscar Wilde Quote

The chapter on diet in particular is really insightful in the way it explores the way we mindlessly consume “bad” food from supermarkets without thinking about where it has come from and what we’re putting in our bodies. As an example, most supermarket meat is so cheap because the animals are raised in appalling conditions. They are also fed the cheapest possible food, in many cases ground up remains from other animals, including their own kind. This diet and lifestyle makes them sick and weak, so farmers put growth hormones and antibiotics into their feed. And where do you think these hormones and medicines end up? That’s right, on your plate and in your body. This is incredibly bad for us as our bodies are not able to cope with all the toxins we put in. Not to mention the problems that could stem from humans and animals building up immunity to antibiotics and the superbugs this can lead to.

I’ve only just gotten started on my healthy new lifestyle and certainly don’t want to sound all holier than thou but if anyone else is interested in living a cleaner, healthier lifestyle, they should definitely check this book out. Give yoga a chance guys!!