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Sunday, 24 April 2011

How to bargain hunt at a Bootsale!

Last week at the legendary Battersea Boot Fair
(APOLOGIES: I was meant to post this on Saturday for anyone going to an Easter 
Sunday bootfair but was so busy outside in the sun I forgot, however there are also Bank Holiday Monday bootsales to explore tomorrow...)

This blog post is not a descriptive version of the TV show 'Bootsale Challenge', (quite the opposite considering I know pretty much nothing about antiques). It is a guide to going to car boots sales for people like me, who like to find treasure by rifling through other people's unwanted clutter. 

This passion dates back to as long as I can remember. My father was a keen bootsale shopper and among other things brought home an incredible vintage umbrella and exercise bike. As I was growing up I always enjoyed visiting jumble sales but it wasn't until I got to university in 1999 that I discovered the true beauty of car boot sales.

The carpark behind Brighton train station* used to house the most remarkable bootfair imaginable and it was here that I purchased many a cuddly toy (who I still love dearly), a blue guitar and endless books and CDs. During my final year of living in Brighton I lived one minute's walk from the station and this meant I was able to go every week AND get the best bargains. I once picked up a pair of 70s platforms covered in animal print velvet - before 7am! 

*(Sadly after I left, the bootsale shut down)

Having been back in London now for almost nine years trying to find a decent bootsale has been a mission, I always try and go when I'm on holiday in another part of the UKs however one of the best known in the capital is Battersea held at Battersea Technology College, Battersea Park Road, London, SW11 5AP every Sunday from 1.30-5pm, where I went last week and took these photos. (50p admission)

I can't imagine there are people who dislike bootfairs (though in reality I know this is the case - their loss!) In this respect I'm not looking to convert anyone but I hope people reading this who like a good bootsale rummage like me, will appreciate my advice: 

Gifts are good!

1. Do buy gifts
This apron will never fit me, but alas, if you're in the same situation but know someone that can give it  a home, then by all means purchase it!
Guaranteed wear!
2. Do buy something you already own that you want more of
Matt has an obsession with straw hats; his belief is you can never have too many...obviously this does have it's implications, storage especially, but it's so hard to find one's that fit properly. So, whenever he sees one he gets it, and now he has one for home, his other home, work and some spares!

Things you LOVE
3. Do buy things you love (or people you're in love with)
The tasty specimen in this photoframe is Bollywood hunk John Abraham, who low and behold, was inside a wooden frame (which the stall holder bought in India but had no idea who was inside). To find such a rare thing that only you could ever love (l'm sure 99% of all other visitors blanked this) is a personal treasure so indulge and buy!

4. Do ask
Unlike in shops car boot sales are rarely priced so if you're interested in something, decide what you think it's worth, how much you'd pay and then enquire about the price. Haggling is perfectly normal so never be afraid to negotiate. One story I'll never forget is when I bought a giant cuddly Barney the Dinosar. I walked past him so many times in awe but was convinced that because of his size, he would be out of my price range. It turned out he was 50p and has been bringing me joy for nearly a decade!

5. Do take a shopping list
Bootfairs can be so overwhelming that you often don't know where to start and as your eyes dart across the wares, you find yourself wanting things you probably can do without. Taking a shopping list of things you genuinely need will help you focus your mind.

Save it for later...
1. Don't buy things you won't wear
I was really drawn to this dress, it was a stunning colour but on reflection I knew I wouldn't wear it now; perhaps in another 10 years time and for this reason I left it behind. 

Looks aren't everything...
2. Don't be sucked in by displays
This was clearly the prettiest stall by far but looks aren't everything, it was ludicrously pricey whereas when you get huge boxes marked 'everything 20p' and you have to hunt around to find things, it's much more satisfying; this stall just felt like a shop. 
Seriously, are you ever going to make it?
3. Don't buy things that's don't yet exist
Ask yourself, will you actually make it, mend it, fix it???? If the answer is no, don't go near it. (The item in this photo on the other hand I will be making!!!)

4. Don't leave things too long
If you eye up a potential find buy it immediately - the good stuff does not last long and by the time you go back it will most likely have been snapped up.

5. Don't get carried away...
The worst possible scenario is that you buy so much stuff you can't carry it home...the second is that you do, but once at home your new 'thing' gets shoved in the corner and forgotten about. Don't just 'buy' because things are cheap, enjoy what you buy, love it as you would something you've paid full price for and take comfort in knowing if you do leave something behind, another customer will come along and give it a better home than you.

One more Do: check out my favourite Car Boot Sale song, 'Jumblesailing'. It was written by Brighton band Clearlake (who must have been inspired by the Brighton Bootsale)....the song has some superb lyrics like.....

'we'll be just like two millionaires going out on a spree' (exactly how I feel when I'm bootsailing)

'it won't break the bank 'cos it's only 10p'  (at Brighton bootfair lots of things were 10p but they weren't at Battersea ....ah how times have changed..)

It's a fine song and it brings back fond memories, I hope it inspires you to get to your nearest bootsale ASAP!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Hopper Mad!

Hoppers in London - finally located!

I encountered hoppers when I was in Sri Lanka last year and from the first bite I was hooked. I could eat them every day and I could most definately eat one right now! Hoppers are like pancakes but rather than flat, they are bowl shaped because they're cooked in bowl shaped pans. They are much lighter than pancakes,  more wafer thin and are made from fermented rice flour batter giving them a slight sourness. Because they are bowl shaped, you can opt to have a filling inside, a popular breakfast dish is 'egg hopper' where by the egg is cooked inside the hopper as it cooks. You can peel the sides off and dip them into the yolk just as you would toast soldiers. Just like this:


Plain hoppers can also be eaten with curries instead of rice or bread, they taste sublime and are very healthy. Ever since I got back to the UK I've been craving them but they are a mission to find! There's a lot of Sri Lankan restaurants in London but not many that serve hoppers. 

Raveen, a Sri Lankan friend of mine recently drove past Hopper Box in Gants Hills (in Essex but also on the Central Line of the London Underground so very easy to get to) and it didn't take much persuading to get to down there.

So on Friday night myself and three friends ventured East and sampled Hopper Box

Trouble was the menu had soooo many yummy sounding dishes, I came there for hoppers but was drawn in to all the other specialities. 

So aswell as two hoppers (priced very reasonably at £2.95 for the pair) I also had a pumpkin curry and pittu - a kind of steamed rice/coconut cake, again a substitute to rice and judging by the link, very complicated to make! My cohorts also had hoppers as well as chicken and devilled anchovies. 


It was a fine establishment, very clean, spacious and welcoming with a theatre style kitchen so you can watch over your hoppers being cooked. It's quite new still and they're not sure how to manage the numbers - it was packed so with just two members of staff there was alot of waiting involved. This just meant I had to order a second mango lassi which was no problem as the first was delicious.

Mango lassi is a combo of mango and yogurt

Food was good, hoppers wereworth the wait but not as 'tall and bowl formed' as they should have been.

In Sri Lanka, I loved eating hoppers for breakfast, here they are at the Galle Face Hotel where I spent my first night:

And here at a really sweet art cafe in the colonial coastal town of Galle where they had endless fillings, I even tried a sweet version with bananas and honey.....ahh the memories.

Next up Raveen plans to show us another eaterie that serves 'better' hoppers in Hendon, hope to go there next month and will report back.

Until then, here's a parting shot of the boys drinking Lion Brand beer, the official beer of Sri Lanka.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Death by chocolate...I've just experienced it

No this is not a giant flake cake from Pimp That Snack!, it is Nigella's Quadrauple Chocolate cake, baked last night by my friend Janine and 15 hours on from eating a 1/4  of it, I am still experiencing the after effects. I can honestly say I have never in my life had such a chocolate overload and I have had a lot of chocolate!

One time at university I  took part in a paid experiment where over the course of two weeks I had to eat chocolate until I had my fill every day at an allotted time AND I worked a Mars for a a few months where I ate free chocolate every day (the joy of a freshly cooked Bounty bar...hmmm those where the days.)

Yet this monster was the most indulgent thing I've ever eaten, especially as I went in for two slices...

It's quadrauple because it's made of cocoa and chocolate chips, and is then drizzled in chocolate sauce and topped with flaked chocolate. Inside it was so moist is was almost like drinking melted chocolate. 

As for experiencing death by chocolate it actually felt my body was made of chocolate, like I was a living breathing chocolate statue (I could barely move!). I haven't been able to eat anything since then and normally I can't function without breakfast. While I was asleep I could even feel my body expanding....but it was soooooo worth it, words can't describe how delicious it was and I call myself a writer....the irony is we halved the ingredients in her recipe to make it smaller and yet it was still so ridiculously rich and tasty.

Presently I cannot imagine ever eating chocolate again, I'm sure I've had at least a year's supply in one go and I'm still feeling like my blood has turned into chocolate milkshake.

If you consider yourself to be a chocoholic, you must try this recipe, there's no two ways about it!!