Meals of a Twenty-Something

Eating is the best time of the day.
Fact.

Luckily, I also really love cooking: I love the lone-ranger foraging, the neat vegetable chopping, and of course, the creative recipes that I’m forced to think up due to the lack of content in my cupboards. Now that I’m firmly in my twenties (cry), I feel like the transformation to a kitchen goddess is surely somewhere around the corner? Though I’ve got some way to go, my unashamed love of a good, home-cooked meal (or what you could also call a love of stuffing my face) means pottering about the kitchen is one of my favourite things to do.

So, here’s some super quick, no-fuss student creations that might help you out in a pinch:

Stir Fry Noodles / Deconstructed Sushi /Blitzed Veggie Soup

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STIR-FRY NOODLES

Not the most imaginative of dishes, but a vegetable stir-fry is a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables from the cupboard – and of course, feel free to add meat. The kick to these noodles is my mum’s special ingredient: Taiwanese ShaCha Sauce. It’s the mind-blowing, Asian equivalent to good ol’ BBQ sauce (which incidentally, I’m addicted to) and is usually sold in most Asian supermarkets. You don’t need much of the thick, grainy paste to give a slightly spicy, rich taste to the noodles, so start small, but it’s my top tip for stir-frying anything.

noodles ingredients

Ingredients:
Amoy Straight-to-Wok Noodles (150g)

Fine green beans
Sweetheart Cabbage
Red Pepper
Small Onion
Shiitake Mushrooms
Broccoli

Garlic
Soy Sauce
Chinese BBQ Sauce

stir fry - cooking

Method:

1. Put the noodles and shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and a quarter cup of boiling water.

2. Wash and chop all vegetables.

3. Add groundnut oil to the wok and fry vegetables until soft.

4. Add noodles, mushrooms and water, 4 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp BBQ sauce – stir for 3-5mins until noodles are soft and evenly coated with sauce.

5. Serve!

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noodles finished

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DECONSTRUCTED SUSHI
ie. the perfect sushi rice

So this is a cheat meal, and it certainly helps if you are addicted to sushi rice – as I am. There’s nothing like a bowl of incredibly sticky, white sushi rice to make my mouth water, and this super-healthy meal involves lots of it. The key to making this lunch or dinner pop is the faintest sweet taste to the traditional sushi rice: just add sushi vinegar, sugar and salt in the quantities below. You can get Sushi Vinegar pretty cheap at most Asian supermarkets, and sometimes major chains also. I could eat sushi rice by the mountain so I try to control myself…

I tend to make this rice to go with any combo of stir-fried veg, fish, roasted sweet potato – but for once, it’s the rice that’s the star of the show.

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Ingredients:
Sushi Rice
(I tend to go for the Korean rice brand ARIRANG)
Sushi Vinegar
Salt & Sugar

Seaweed Sheets
Selection of fresh vegetables
eg. Peppers, Sweetheart Cabbage, Broccoli

Optional Extras:
Sweet Potato Chips, Braised Eel, Honey and Soy Sauce Salmon etc.

Sushi Rice Method:

1. Boil rice and water in a 1:2 ratio and leave to cook until ready. × [see tips below]

2. Once rice is ready, take off heat and leave to cool for one minute, then add 3 tbs of vinegar per 50g dry weight of rice.

3. Season rice to taste, 3 tbs of vinegar usually sits well with a 1/2 tsp of sugar and a light sprinkling of salt.

3. Plate up with your chosen sides!

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decon sushi - finished

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×TIPS FOR SAUCEPAN COOKED SUSHI RICE:
(ie. students like me who can’t afford rice cookers)

 + Turn heat down once water is bubbling, stirring rice only when a quick scrape with a wooden spoon shows rice sticking to the bottom of the pan. As the water boils off, be prepared to stir frequently to prevent sticking.
+ Rice is ready when it tastes entirely smooth when chewed, so give it a taste and don’t be afraid to stir and add more water if it isn’t cooked. Keep a keen eye out if you’re adding more water as rice is more prone to burn at the bottom.
+ Other indicators of perfect rice are: the water has boiled off and rice rising slightly at the edges of the pot, or a white film of rice paper is gathering on the pan sides.

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Blitzed Veggie Soup

veggie soup ingredients

Ingredients: 
Broccoli
Onion
Garlic
Rosemary
Vegetable Stock
Butter
Salt, Pepper, Sugar
Optional Pre-Blending Additions:
 Cream, Philly/Soft Cheese (non-salted) 

Method:

1. Wash broccoli, chop with onions and garlic, and fry  in butter with rosemary leaves.

2. Tip into blender and blend till smooth, slowly adding 1 stock cube dissolved in 250ml of water.

3. Season to taste and serve!
(I added some ground pepper, and a tiny smidge of sugar)

I’ve used broccoli because it’s in my cupboard and thus all my student meals this week, but really lots of veg can be substituted – I’m looking forward to trying sweet potato, peppers, spinach and more! Whenever I get round to buying them, that is…

veggie soup finished

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With winter in my cold cold room, I’ll be looking to make some yummy stews and tomato sauces next week to keep my poor tummy warm. Hit me up if you try any of these tips for a quick lunch next week, and I’ll be back with more meals ASAP!

Happy cooking,

Charlotte xx

It’ll be in my backpack.

TOP PICK

 Swiftly beating my (dismally unreliable) second-hand mountain bike, and narrowly trumping pretty pink flask that facilitates excessive tea consumption, my #1 student item is my backpack.

My current backpack has carried all my junk across continents and around islands. It’s carried unnecessarily heavy books at three different universities, and completely necessary make-up/snacks emergency changes of shoes etc. on day trips, weekend trips, and ‘so what if I take my backpack on a date’ trips. Let’s face it, nothing else will hold enough snacks to get me through the day without permanently damaging my skeletal system; and I’m talking about you here, handbag.

 Backpacks subtly-hint-for-Christmas, backpacks to replace your old one, or simply backpacks to reinvigorate your backpack… cupboard.

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backpacks

hype

Hype
Av. Price £24.99

Their prints are wacky and totally fabulous and I absolutely love the crazy range available for the neat £25 price tag. All hail the king of backpack bargains. But you certainly won’t be finding these little numbers anywhere on the highstreet – and certainly not in the kitsch haven that is Exeter University. Check their online store.

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herschel co

Herschel Co.
Stockists: Urban Outfitters / Route One / Surfdome

Herschel Co’s bags are the prettiest candy and print palette. I love their super tall, slim cut that makes them perfect for even those cursed with a 15″ laptop, and their outer fabric is nice and stiff which makes them less… squished than the squatter Hype bags. They’ve got the essential padded straps – which boy do you appreciate after a long day at the library – and did I mention how pretty they are?

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 Mi-Pac 
£22-40
Stockists: ASOS / Urban Outfitters / Route One

Mi-Pac has a very, very wide range of prints: from the classics with contrast-pop outer pockets (LOVE) to the neat prints that have the perfect amount of pattern, without being… offensive (Hype). The thick, tan bottom helps survive the wear-and-tear of everyday student life, the straps are padded. A present the grandparents would understand.

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Easkpak

EastPak
Padded Pak'R £40 / Out of Office £50 / Pinnacle £70

EastPak is everywhere on campus, but it certainly isn’t cheap if you’re looking for something to fit a mammoth 15″ screen laptop. The upside is, their patent padded straps and back are super comfy once worn in; I’ve tried my housemates and was thiiiiis close to updating my own to an EastPak special. And hey there 30 YEAR guarantee.

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Final tip of the day, if you can’t find what you’re looking for with these mainstream brands, why not give Etsy a go? An international selling platform for independent artists, craftsmen, and small businesses, it has loads of original and one-off pieces that are worth a look if you’re particular about your backpack.

That’s about all the geeking out about backpacks I think I can handle in one evening. My own backpack and I will be up bright and early tomorrow morning for another trip to campus!

Till next time,

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Floral Prints and Sewing Chat

Shop!

 NO.1 True DecadenceXJohn Lewis/Tropical Shift Dress £37 £12
NO.2 MinkPinkXUrban Outfitters/Moonflower MaxiSkirt £60 £27.99
NO.3 Dorothy Perkins/Collared Floral Dress £32 £11.80 

SO… I’ve been bad.

Between all the final year assignments, essays and job applications, I confess I’ve been doing a liiiittle too much online shopping.

The good news is, however, I have sated my autumn obsession with floral prints, and a got myself a couple of sewing projects for (my guilty pleasure…) Monday Made in Chelsea nights.

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florals

There’s a bit of a floral theme going on with my October online-shopping spree. I think I’m finally getting in touch with my inner girly side. I’ve had a morbid fear of a) PRINTS and b) COLOUR all my life (idk), but it looks like my monochrome wardrobe is getting a flowery kick in the ass.

As per, my shopping bag this month is filled with classy bargain bin buys. In this month’s spree I’ve made two exceptions to my only-perfect-fit, and I’m hoping a cheeky needle and thread job will fix. Or 50/50 chance ruin.

I get a bit ambitious with a needle and thread.

sewing

NO. 1

This shop, I’ve been slowly altering the fab Tropical Print Shift Dress from John Lewis. The statement collar: big, bold, sharp – is just totally not for me, so I’m altering into a slight less obtrusive high-necked white band.

I’ve snipped off the collar, folded back the thick material of the remaining white neckline, and am taking a doubled thread round the inside edge with a blanket stitch. Easy-peasey!

Ta-dah.
Pre boozy Cosy Club debut.

Pre drinks debiut

NO.2 

I absolutely LOVE a sweet Peter-Pan collar, case and point the Dorothy Perkins purchase above with the cutest little rounded collar. There’s a lot to be said for a just about the knees skirt that’s long enough to be demure but wonderfully flattering.

NO.3

Is my next project: the beautiful, dreamy MinkPink x Urban Outfitters maxi skirt. The hefty £3 shipping price made me loath to click ‘confirm’, but I absolutely adore the huge moon-like flowers against the black. What you can’t see in the very sneaky UO shot is that there are two front slits. Weird and Angelina Jolie meme-esque…

Thank God a straight line of stitching even I can handle.

Love

Charlotte xx

New Home

Home

Well, I’m back in the UK, and back to my final year of University.
Back to the old family home, and a shiny new student house.

For any long-time readers (hi Mum and Dad), you’ll know it’s been a long old year.

But, September rolled around again, and I took the nostalgic flight from Belfast City Airport to the tiny Exeter International. I’m already back studying English and Film here at Exeter, and with plenty of re-homing practice, I’ve set up my little university room in record time.  I’m getting to be a pro at living away from home. Still keeping an eye out for some new bits and bobs to brighten up my wee room, it’s looking a tad sparce.

Final Year 

Flowery bedcover

Second Year  Throwbacks

My (admittedly mid-essay) desk and bed in second year. Lots of little bits have survived from my second year home… I think a couple of essays down the line and my new room will look just as note-strewn and hectic!

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It’s great to be back

I live in a cosy five-girl house, tootle up to campus for the occasional English or Film lecture, and bask in the Forum space when I’m supposed to be reading. It’s nothing as crazy as China was: there are no passive-aggressive dorm wardens, the campus isn’t a death-trap of rickety bikes commandeered by always-late students, it’s distinctly lacking the dull roar of a city of 23million people – nor the snot clogging smog that accompanies it.

Exeter’s clean, crisp, and particularly English.

I wonder if I’ll ever miss living in Shanghai.

Till next time.

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Year Abroad: Hangzhou

杭州
Hangzhou

Shanghai Honqiao – Hangzhou East: 159¥

Sights:
West Lake,
Bai & Su Causeways,
JingCi Temple,
National Silk Museum
Dragon Well Tea Village.

After term ended in January I headed to Hangzhou for a long-weekend. It’s a short two and a half hour high-speed train journey from Shanghai, and if you choose your weekends wisely, a great break from the bustle of the big city.

Lakes, greenery and pedestrian and cycle paths that should be the envy of China, Hangzhou made a crisp New Year’s trip that’s definitely one of my China favourites.

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West Lake Hangzhou

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 MOUTH-WATERING TREATS.

I’m a simple creature, proximity to food is high on my list of priorities.

And Hangzhou’s slightly sweet and flavoursome style of dishes are a solid favourite out of my trips so far. If you’re down south, definitely try out these three dishes mains at the very least, Hangzhou did them perfectly: 红烧肉 Slow Stewed Pork, 家常白菜 Home Style Cabbage, 红烧茄子 Stewed Aubergine.

For speciality snacks, head down to QingHeFang St. on the west side of the lake where stalls selling traditional savoury snacks and sweet cakes line the narrow streets.

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West Side of the Lake

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Red Bean Tea Cakes in Hangzhou

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TRANQUIL SCENERY

If you stay away from the traumatising horror of major national holidays in China, even at the weekends, Hangzhou’s lakes and causeways are some of the loveliest.

Besides the gentle (read: wonderfully flat) walk around the lake, it’s also surrounded by a scattering of temples, pagodas and museums well within a walking radius. We managed to cover them pretty extensively over three days, and I wish I had had more time at the Silk Museum. I was taken rather grudgingly, given my sceptical opinion of how interesting a museum of a single fabric could be, but I (equally grudgingly) had to confess I was wrong.
Good choice, Peter.

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Leifeng Pagoda

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View from Leifeng Pagoda

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Peter at JingCi Temple

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GREAT PUBLIC TRANSPORT

At risk of being called a criminally uncool, I have to say, having travelled a fair bit along the main tourist routes of China by now, it is with no small amount of gravity that I praise the tourist buses in Hangzhou. All hail efficiency.

With managable timetables and English announcements at every stop, it’s an easy town to move about in. (And the fact that I still managed to lead us half an hour in the wrong direction by the bus is testament only to my poor understanding of North vs. South.)

We headed down to the lakeside to rent a cheap tandem and cycle the lake. Things were certainly a lot safer when I wasn’t steering, but that aside, it was a perfect way to enjoy the sunshine.
Su Causeway North to Hubin Rd. takes around 25mins.

Another plus of good transport is that we weren’t afraid to take some late evening strolls around the lake and watch the lights glow from street lamps and tiny wooden stalls.

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Su Causeway Stall Hangzhou

All in all, a great weekend.

再见杭州!

Charlotte xx

See you again, Hangzhou.