LONDON BRIDGED…FOOD BLOGGER CONNECT ’09

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”
Herman Melville ‘Connect’ … To join or fasten together.

We connected. At every level … friend, food, blogger, emotions … we finally met! Am back from Food Blogger Connect in London, and reliving warm memories, connections, amazing friendships & a feeling of happiness … some sadness too. Did time have to fly by so soon? It’s difficult to express in words what we all experienced, maybe pictures will help explain. Was impossible to imagine virtual hugs turning into reality, but it happened? We built bridges and connected the ‘dots’! Phew, crossing the almost non-existent line between virtual connect & real connect was the most powerful emotion I’ve experienced in ages. Who would have thought that there could be so many more ‘bridge the gaps’ in life. Cementing relationships we built on twitter… yes, it was certainly love at first sight as Jamie said!! I had met Pam just a short while before off her flight from France at London’s Heathrow airport, and we were hysterical with excitement from word go. Time whizzed by & before we knew it we were checking into our hotel in Central London. How did we get here so soon?We talked non stop from the time we met, and trooped down to Oxford Street, past stunning Marble Arch, & hit the shops. ‘I have no shopping to do’, declared Pam … you think that was true? Once we hit the shops, she was a goner and ‘wild’! I spent the day chasing her from shop to shop … we enjoyed ourselves!Finally it was time to meet the ‘gang’…
Amazing feeling, we just stood there at the Eros statue at Picadilly and jumped with joy. Our first meeting, a few of us still missing, yet surreal in every way. Nervous uncertainty, childlike excitement … unbelievably we were together in beautiful London, a city which is charming in every which way. Goosebumpy feeling to know that this was happening in real time…

Squeals of endless joy, shrieks of ‘is that what you look like’, screams of ‘ Oooh so you aren’t that tall after all’ found us – Mowie, Alessio, Beth, Jamie and Pam framing memories in London. Our first meeting & we hit it off. Gosh, it was like we’d known each other forever. There was Beth looking sexy as ever in her pink beret & applique coat, charming Mowie without the camera lens on the eye, my twin sistah Jamie, sweet as expected but not as strapping tall as I thought …woohoo! There was sweet Alessio, dear man with his wonderful Italian accent. Yay! Finally group hugs, and then a scream went out. Hilda was here. More hugs!! She smothered us! Dinner was at Busaba Eathai at Soho, a Thai restaurant Mowie recommended for which we waited in the cold for over 30 minutes, keeping each other warm with the incessant talk & laughter. ‘Twas worth the wait! Once inside, you could tell that we were attracting attention. Not a word from other eaters around us, everyone was looking at us weirdly, yet amused. There we were … touching the leaves under the spring rolls, sniffing the pad thai to figure out flavours, styling food to get crappy night shots of food, discussing the FBC, and taking pictures of every crumb that crossed the table oblivious to the eyes following us. The food was great, finger licking good, just excellent stuff.FUN!! Great first meeting & SO MUCH FUN! Wound up quite late & we trooped out to a ‘follow me’ call from dashing Mowie … hysterical, giggly & happy to be together in London! Finally time for the FBC the next afternoon, and we met at Levante restaurant. A beautiful place, dimly lit by exotic lamps, warm interiors, just right for the meeting. Through the first 30 minutes the place resonated with shrieks of excitement, and then it was food first … delicious Lebanese cuisine. A memorable meal indeed!Time for business! The afternoon began with a wonderful talk on food photography & styling by talented Meeta from What’s For Lunch Honey who let us in on her secrets to beautiful food photographs and styling. She passed the baton on to Kang from London Eater who kept us mesmerized by his talk on food photography, techniques, taking pictures in low light etc. His post here is beautifully written with gorgeous pictures.Next we had a talk by 2 fun ladies – Jeanne from Cook Sistah & my twin sistah Jamie from Lifes A Feast about blogging in general, focus, content, writers block, comment envy (LOL) etc. That was a much head nodding session, absolute connect. What followed was an all important talk by Jeanne about copyright issues & legal aspects of blogging, and the day was finally wrapped up by Kang with a talk on social networking issues and blogging. The twitteratzi was abuzz by then. We were happy fish in a big pond & his perspective was very interesting.
Out to dinner again, and this time we met at Vivat Bacchus, one of London’s most successful and popular restaurants at London Bridge. It has become known for the range and quality of its wines, and the innovation and flair of its modern European menu. A beautiful restaurant chosen by Jeanne & we took the place by storm. Were finally told that we could no longer take any more pictures with the flash on!!
Mowie, Davina, Meeta, Nicole
We all sat there enjoying our meals with speciality world platters, French, Greek , Italian, Spanish, South African, it was all there. The chitter chatter continues deliciously into the wee hours of the night in good company. This time Meeta, Nic, Davina, Sunita were also there & Jeanne of course! No one in a hurry, no one in the mood to move. So much to say…all of us taking in the feeling of being together, & loving it.

The food walk the next morning, & we met in a slight drizzle at Marylebone Farmers’ Market. Happy to be together again, clutching bags & umbrellas, we trooped off to the whole food market with our star attraction, Hilda’s gorgeous little papoose, who blinked her beautiful eyes at all the giggly girls (& boys). We caught Mowie & Beth slurping some fresh Oysters with lemon & sea salt & descended on them. The market was lovely. Fresh breads, home baked cakes, quiches, Christmas breads, ginger parking, vine ripened tomatoes, gourmet cheese … foodie nirvana!Chattering 19 to a dozen, happiness was the mood, never ending good company, we set off to visit a cheese tasting cafe & then eventually settled down to a meal. Thereafter it was adieu from me as I had a flight to catch, and adieu from Sunita as she had to leave to. Heartbreaking farewells as we all wished we could stretch time endlessly, but all good things come to an end, and this did too! It’s been a fun session at the FBC, a huge learning ground, things to do in the pipeline, and groundwork already begun for FBC10!
Oh and did I tell you we got the most envious goodie bags organised by Beth at th FBC. Sea salt, milled flour, olives, matured cheddar … a whole bag of yum stuff. I got back & baked of course, using something from the bag. Here’s a sneak peek… Apple Crisp
…the recipe to come soon! I also came back loaded with gifts from these beautiful people I met. Pam & Sunita are still chuckling at the way I was trying to stuff my suitcase & trying to drag it to Paddington!! I am so overwhelmed and will share my goodies with you in a later post!
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CASHEW CHICKEN KUNG PAO… & FOOD BLOGGER CONNECT!

“Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link, with some memory of the table.”
Charles Pierre Monselet

Life is full of memories, surprises, connections. Who would have thought that 20 years ago the Berlin Wall would be broken down calling an end to the cold war? Then I was too young to even understand what it meant. The politics meant nothing in my secure little world, but I did get 2 pieces of the Berlin Wall from a cousin who stopped by Germany around that time. In those days, they used to let out hammers & chisels at 5 $ an hour. You could chip pieces of the wall & take them away as souvenirs. Novel way to bring a wall down…

Talk about cementing relationships, building walls, breaking them down, building relationships … word play I find intriguing. I remember my cousin telling me that my 2 precious bits of the wall were a lot of hard work to chip because the wall was strong & made of concrete!! I looked at the 2 bits the other day, read editorials, saw news reports & pictures from the 60′s and got goosebumps. Somehow thankfully, the world has moved forward from such tumultuous grey times … leaving us with memories of days gone by, some sad, but mostly happy! It’s always a good time to reflect back, look at the days gone by … …and then again, look forward to what life has to offer. My free spirited nature finds boundaries very restrictive, which brings me to blogging. Ah, the freedom of blogging without boundaries, and with it comes sweet joy. October came with a nice surprise … a call for a food bloggers meet in the UK – FOOD BLOGGER CONNECT. The first of its kind being held in London on the 28th of November 2009, the prospects exciting beyond words. Food Blogger Connect is a fabulous conference/party being held in London on Saturday, November 28 at the Lebanese restaurant Levant. This is your chance to meet your fellow food bloggers face to face over a great meal, get to know them better, share ideas, network, plan. We will have an incredible line-up of speakers – some of whom you can help choose depending on what food-blog-related topics you want to hear about – with time for questions and discussion. And as a plus, we are all meeting up on Sunday for breakfast and a morning foodie tour.It’s being organised by 4 very creative and passionate food bloggers, each very talented & fun all the way. Beth of Dirty Kitchen Secrets , Jamie of Life’s a Feast, Hilda of Saffron & Blueberry and Mowie of Mowielicious. My UK visa’s finally arrived & there’s excitement in the air as I will finally get to meet some of my favourite food bloggers. We tweet to each other everyday, virtually live each others lives on twitter, walk into each others kitchens, share our food, find ‘FEET’, swap ideas, squeal over highs & weep over lows … am sure you get the drift. It’s a tight knit community, addictive to the hilt, very supportive, filled with silly banter, & is growing bigger by the day.

This Cashew Kung Pao Chicken reminds me in many ways of my foodie friends, especially the four wonderful Food Blogger Connect folk. Like them, this dish is full of flavour, colourful, addictive, adaptable, forgiving, accommodating & popular! I saw it a few days ago at Cathy @ Noble Pig & knew there was no time to waste. I had to make it soon. I did, & it was finger licking good. I added some veggies to it, and garlic of course, because I can’t think of a meal without garlic. I might add the veggies in towards the end next time, or saute them right after the cashews, reserve and toss back in the end as a variation. This was the first time I tossed lunch together, from scratch in 30 minutes flat; so QUICK and easy to put together. It also accepted the garlic, extra chili flakes & veggies with open arms. We loved this delicious & simple all time favourite chicken; oh-so-good over steaming hot rice. YUM!! Try it & you won’t ever order out for it again!

Cashew Kung Pao Chicken
Adapted from Cathy @ Noble Pig
Adapted from Food & Wine by Cathy
Ingredients:
500gms boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2″ pieces
5 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sherry (I used apple wine)
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
2 Tablespoons white-wine vinegar or rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1/3 cup water
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
3/4 cup cashews (or peanuts)
4 spring onions, white bulbs and green tops cut separately into 1/2″ pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small head of broccoli, broken into florets
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced

Method:
In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the apple wine and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch.
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, water and the remaining 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of apple wine and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch.
In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderately high heat. Add the cashews and stirring until light brown, about 30 seconds. Remove from the pan.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add the garlic & chili flakes. Stir for 2 minutes till fragrant & light pink. Add the white part of the spring onions, bell pepper & broccoli and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
Add the chicken with its marinade and cook, stirring, until almost done, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixture and the scallion tops and simmer until the chicken is just done, about 1 minute longer. Stir in the cashews. Serve over steamed rice.

♥ Thank you for stopping by ♥

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