Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Christmas at Kew

On Friday, I finally made it to Christmas at Kew. I really wanted to visit last year, but tickets (at sensible times) sold out very quickly. This year, it was the same story. However, luckily for me, a friend of mine had a couple of spares and so my friend Shreya and I turned up at the Kew gates, ready to experience the magic.

At Christmas, Kew Gardens is dressed up in thousands of twinkling lights in every colour. You follow a winding path through the plants and trees, stopping for mulled wine or treats on the way. The trees sing out carols as you pass and, in one particular section, amazing smells waft over you whilst in another, bubbles floated through the air.

We came across a little wooden hut selling marshmallows in elaborate flavours. I bought a blueberry and gin one which I then toasted over a flaming pit.

Then, we found the funfair! After some cheesy chips and a large hot chocolate, we spun around on an old-fashioned carousel before swinging on some boatswings and sliding down the helter-skelter.

Once we'd spun, swung and slid all of our funfair tokens away, it was time to press on with the trail. As it had got later, the path was fairly empty and so we had a chance to fully absorb what was around us. At one point, we came across a 'wishing tree' where people had written down their wishes and hung them in the branches.

The big finale however was a spectacle like nothing I've ever seen before. The huge Kew green house was lit up with ever-changing lights, whilst the water fountain shot up a screen of water which images danced over whilst music played in time. The overall effect was completely magical! (I'm afraid the pictures just don't do it justice!)

Eventually, as our toes were starting to turn blue, we tore ourselves away from all the dazzling displays and turned to leave. It was safe to say that the magic of Christmas had firmly descended!

Friday, 8 December 2017

DIY Christmas Gifts: How to Make Affordable Pearl Necklaces

This year I wanted to give my girlfriends a Christmas gift which was a little bit more personal. I was keen to make something, but was worried it'd just end up in the back of a draw somewhere (or in the bin...!). In the end (and after a little research), I settled on making freshwater pearl necklaces.

I sourced freshwater pearls from eBay, along with some silk thread, jewelry clasps and threading needles. The pearls were aprox. 5mm in diameter, came on threads 50cm long and, surprisingly, cost less than £4. I bought two of these strands which made a total of 4 necklaces, with pearls to spare.

To create a necklace, I cut a strand of thread about 80cm long. I threaded the clasp onto the thread, before folding the strand in half and knotting the clasp in place. I then proceeded to string the pearls onto the doubled up thread. (Doubling up the thread is a good idea as it'll make the necklace stronger!) By the time I was finished, the total length of the necklace was about 40cm long.

I tied off the pearl strand with a small jump ring so that the clasp would have something secure to grab on to. Finally, I dabbed any knots I had tied with a little superglue to make them extra strong.

So there we have it - a super simple, good quality gift idea for under £15 for four!

 Do you have any good DIY Christmas gift ideas? If so, leave them in the comments below! Also. don't forget to let me know how yours turn out if you decide to give this a go

Monday, 4 December 2017

Selfridges: Sink the Pink Presents the Queens Head

Pantomimes and Christmas go hand in hand like mulled wine and minced pies. However, as we grow older, the cheesy fairy tales  become a little old hat. Well, don't worry, I have the answer! 

On Friday, my friends and I paid a visit to an East London pub. The slightly odd thing? It was in the basement of Selfridges. We had arrived for Sink the Pink's panto which promised to provide an (adult only!) immersive theater experience, with all the glitter and glam that can only be bought by a cast full of drag queens. 

Being the keen beans we are, we were one of the first to arrive. We waited outside the 'pub doors' before rushing to a front table. Settled down, we popped to the bar to pick one of our first complimentary drinks, before gazing around at the be-tinseled  pub surrounding us. 

Before long, the show kicked off. The general premise was that the pub landlady was being interviewed by the local news station  who were covering the annual switch-on of the famous pub Christmas lights. Of course disaster and unexpected events befall the protagonists, broken up by lip-synced songs, live music, impressive dance numbers in sky-scraper heels and general hilarity. 

By the end of the evening, we had sung, danced and laughed our hearts out. Not only that, we'd had what felt like an incredibly good value night! The tickets were £25 which included three complimentary (and quite generous!) drinks and as many bar snacks as we could stuff our faces with.

So if you're looking for something to do to get you in the festive mood, I'd highly recommend giving the Queen's Head a visit - it's running the whole way through December! 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Cèilidh at The Caledonian Club

The sound of bagpipes washed over me as I waited on the corner of a street in Belgravia last Friday. Then, there was the clattering of feet and the rustling of bags as my little sister Lulu and our friend Shreya came rushing towards me. We were on our way to a Cèilidh at the Caledonian Club and, as usual, my sister had arrived half dressed.

Flats were quickly swapped for glittering heels (and hair was swiftly brushed) as we headed towards the source of the mournful pipes. We were ushered through the front door as my sister touched up her eye shadow and put on the sparkling earrings she'd asked me to bring her. (Little sisters, no matter how old, are under the impression they own not one but two wardrobes). We had arrived.

We swept upstairs in a bubble of excited chatter, before collecting our glasses of fizz and heading to the tartan-filled ballroom for a quick catch-up. However before long, the bagpipes started playing again, calling us all in to dinner.

Dinner started with the Selkrik grace, often attributed to Robert Burns:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be Thanket!

before the haggis and neeps arrived (not pretty to look at but definitely tasty). This was followed by  lamb and then a trio of deserts. It wasn't the best meal I've ever had, but was pretty tasty and definitely good fuel for the dancing to come!

Eventually, we all left the table as the cèilidh band started up in the ballroom and an elderly Scotsman started energetically bustling us into lines of three. The first dance began!

The great thing about cèilidhs is that you really don't have to have to know the dances. The moves are explained at the start of each dance and you're thrown from line to circle to new partner at lightning speed. By the end, most people are gasping for breath and laughing.

The evening's entertainment ended with everyone standing in a circle around the hall singing Auld Lang Syne followed by God Save the Queen. The average Brit I feel, by nature, is not too overtly patriotic, but I thought this was a lovely and rousing way to end the night! However, it did remind me that I needed to brush up on some lyrics in time for New Year's Eve....

As the cèilidh came to a close, we decided it was time to engage in some rather more 'modern' dancing. Therefore, we all headed off to Annabel's where we danced until the early hours under some spectacular Christmas decorations.

I had a great time at The Caledonian Club cèilidh and cannot wait for the next chance to dance the night away!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Delicious Spiced Lamb in Brioche Buns

For Bonfire Night, I went home to my Mum's for a bit of a Bonfire Night Party with family friends. Mum had gone typically all out, setting up a table in the loggia outside, stringing fairy lights everywhere and cooking A LOT of food. She'd gone for wintry comfort food theme - shepherds pie, crumble, spiced apple and the most amazing spiced lamb which had everyone scraping the bottom of the dish.

Unfortunately I don't have a picture as it was quite dark outside and it wasn't the prettiest looking of dishes, but I do have a recipe!

Mum had adapted this from a Tom Kerridge recipe for pulled beef and, if you choose to replicate it, it will be the best thing you eat this winter. Yes, it even beats Christmas Dinner.

For this tasty adaption, you will need:
  • - 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • - 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • - 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • - 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • - 1/2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • - 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • - 1kg lamb, rolled breast and shoulder (you can ask your butcher to help you with this)
  • - 250ml vegetable stock
  • - 50ml brown sauce
  • - 30g brown sugar
  • - Worcestershire sauce 
Start by lightly toasting the coriander, cumin, mustard and peppercorns in a dry pan, before crushing the spices in a pestle and mortar. Mix in the sugar, paprika and cayenne pepper. 

Next, take your lamb and rub the spices into the meat. Then, add the spiced lamb to a roasting tray and pour in your vegetable stock. 

Heat your oven to a low heat (180C) and cook for four hours. 

Once the four hours is up, take out the oven, pour off the juices (save these!) and shred the meat with a pair of forks. Lastly, whip up some sauce by mixing together the brown sauce, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, the sugar and the juices from the roasting tin. Pour this over the meat and you're ready to go! 

Mum served the lamb in brioche buns with 'dry' coleslaw, which is basically just shredded cabbage, onion and carrot. The lamb had enough excess sauce and juice that there was no need for the added mayo. 

After we'd stuffed our faces (and I'd waved around four sparklers. Yes, four. I was very happy.) we headed off to our local fireworks display. As glittering sparks flew through the air, I was suddenly very glad Guy Fawkes had tried and failed to blow up Parliament all those years ago. 

So give the recipe a go and let me know your thoughts! I promise you won't be disappointed! 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Little Black Book: Part 2

First thing's first, happy Halloween! I hope you're having a spook-tacular day...!

So, today's post is I'm afraid not in the least bit spooky. Instead, I'm going to tell you about two places which I really feel you should visit once you have recovered from your candy-coma.

The first is a brunch spot up in Crouch End called The Haberdashery. It's a tiny rustic restaurant, eclectically filled with bunting, tea cups and local artists' work. And, most importantly, it serves the best brunch!

It is this place that my boyfriend and I would often go and order enough food for a medium sized family. I'd order the avocado toast with two poached eggs (served with a shot of carrot juice) and my boyfriend would order the hedonist breakfast which was a combination of both the full English AND the vegetarian version. Then, we'd likely share a side of French toast or pancakes. Sometimes, I'd even order the poached pears in porridge as well! I can definitely say we indulged, but the food was so good it was hard not to!

However, my favourite bit of any brunch here was the small bowl of white hot chocolate which I couldn't not order, festooned with mini marshmallows. Pure heaven and not to be missed!

The second place I wish to share with you is perhaps the best pizza restaurant in London. Now, I'm not a massive pizza fiend - I didn't even eat much of it as a student, despite this seemingly being the staple university diet, but this pizza is honestly delicious. It's from a place in Notting Hill called Pizza Metro where the pizza comes in meter long strips and is cooked in a wood fired oven.

I was first introduced to Pizza Metro as a takeaway whenever we had a lazy dinner over at Frankie's and Demi's, but eventually we got around to visiting the restaurant too. In the restaurant, you can have multiple flavours all down the length of the same bit of dough!

My absolute favourite flavour is the Percorina, a white pizza covered in goats cheese, red onions and mozzarella. Honestly, I could eat this and only this for the rest of my life it is just that good!

The nice thing about the restaurant is that it's inexpensive and they're good at accommodating last minute large groups - the photo below was taken late at night when the need for food had struck our party after an evening in a cocktail bar! We caused minor havoc with our ordering, but the staff took it all with a smile. What more could you possibly ask for?!

So that's it for round two of my Little Black Book. Let me know what's in yours!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Little Black Book: Part 1

The absolute joy of living in a place like London is there is an absolute plethora of things to do. Every day, you can stumble across a new café, bar or cool place to visit. Not only that, but there are some old favourites that you'll forever find yourself going back to. Therefore, I've decided to do a series of posts sharing with you some of my new finds and personal faves. Welcome to my little black book. 

First up, the rooftop of Selfridges. Now, if you're looking for views over London, this perhaps isn't the best place to go, but what I really like about this space is the fact it's always evolving. New concepts and pop-ups seem to be brought in seasonally, along with a new look and a new menu. The first time I visited, it was decked up as a fairy-tale winter forest and since then, the roof has had a number of different looks. Currently, it's 'Il Tetto' a rustic, Italian inspired restaurant. 

Now, at this point, I have to say I have never eaten up on the roof. But I have most definitely drunk up there and I have to say I have been very happy with the cocktails each time. Fairly 'normally' priced for London cocktails (around the nine quid mark, which I appreciate whilst not cheap, is also not extortionate when compared to other 'up-market' venues) and definitely well presented and tasty. Personally, I really enjoy huddling out on the terrace, under a thoughtfully provided blanket, warming my hands on one of their wintry concoctions! 

Next, a lunch or dinner spot which I love - Pinto Thai. Located on the Upper Richmond Road in Putney, this small restaurant is the answer to all of your Thai foody needs. The restaurant itself has a quite cool modern vibe, whilst still managing to let you know what kind of food is served. It's also not a stranger to solo diners, with a bar-style table lining one wall. 

The colourful menu easily helps you decide what to order and the food is served in round tin dishes which verge on hipstery-cool. Most importantly, the food is delicious! As in, scraping-around-the-tin-to-get-every-last-grain-of-rice delicious. I would especially recommend the lemongrass chicken and a glass of milky Thai iced tea.  

My final spot for this first 'Little Black Book' post is a place I love to visit when I fancy a little breath of fresh air - Fulham Palace gardens and Bishops Park. This is a beautiful area which runs along the river and is perfect for a stroll or even a summer picnic. You can wander through the beautifully manicured palace grounds, admiring the formal flowerbeds within the walled gardens or walk further down through the park until you hit the beautiful pond area where ducklings paddle in the spring. 

The park is also a bit of a staple venue in the Fulham calendar - the Oxford Cambridge boat race starts nearby and so big screens are set up to watch the race on whilst funfair rides whirl on the grass. On bonfire night, fireworks in the park fly up and light up the river, and throughout the summer, an open air cinema pays a visit, projecting classic films among the trees. 

So that's it for part 1 - I'll be back soon with more places which are worth becoming a staple part of your stomping ground! 

Let me know if you have any great places you'd like to share! 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Their Mortal Remains and the Importance of Being a Londoner

Last weekend, I had a rather eventful day. I was planning on catching one of the final viewings of the Pink Floyd exhibition, Their Mortal Remains, at the V&A, but on my journey there, I got caught up in the terrorist-attack-which-wasn't-an-attack.

As I stepped off the tube at South Kensington, I heard an announcement over the tannoid. We were being asked by an automated voice to make our way, calmly and quickly, to the nearest exit. The press of people filtering out of the station were visibly anxious - recent events in London have left most of us on edge, but it was impressive to see that no one was in a full blown panic. As we exited the station, we were confronted by walls of blue and white tape and armed police blockading the roads. A helicopter chattered overhead and people were milling around, not quite sure where to go now that their destination had been cut off. Something had apparently gone down on Exhibition road, but nobody quite knew what.

Of course, it eventually transpired that an Uber driver had bowled over a bunch of pedestrians outside the front of the Natural History museum. He wasn't a terrorist, just a dangerous driver and luckily no one had been seriously hurt. But it was amazing to see the response to a potentially awful situation in action. Our London police force had responded at lightning speed and everyone you bumped into in the crowded street was helpful, looking out for the people around them. Whether it was offering a moment of reassurance, or letting you know which street hadn't been blocked off yet. Personally, I feel this is incredibly important - it shows that in the face of potential disaster, Londoners pull together to support those around them.

After winding through a convoluted route of backstreets, I finally made it to the V&A. Moments later, I was being handed a headset and was entering down the psychedelic rabbit hole and into Their Mortal Remains.

The exhibition was fabulous! I am by no means a huge Pink Floyd fan - they're a band of my Dad's era, so I grew up with their music in the background, but it was never something I paid a huge amount of attention. However, following the exhibition, I'm going to make an effort to listen to more!

The exhibition followed the band's journey from student-y band to world-famous (yet mysteriously anonymous) rock royalty, showing how their performance had changed over the years and demonstrating just how ground breaking they were for their time.

A Pink Floyd gig was a riot of colour, lights and puppets. Huge inflatables would hang over the venue, a terrifying 'teacher' puppet loomed from the stage, eyes blazing while their signature circular screen would flash movies and animations behind the band. For their 'Wall' tour, they even built a giant structure out of individual white bricks. A performance was a full on production!

The exhibition was huge and incredibly well put together. Your headsets would automatically play different audio as you got closer to certain exhibits or videos. Props, posters and instruments were on the display whilst lights flashed around you. You could even play with a mixing deck and create your own version of a Pink Floyd track.

The exhibition ended in a concert - everyone sat around on the floor as a wrap around screen played Comfortably Numb from their 2005 reunion at Live 8, as lasers danced overhead. It was strangely emotional, a reminder of musical genius which is rarely seen in music today.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Edinburgh (Not Quite) Adventures

So, the nature of my ('proper', full-time, non-blogging) job means that I am required to be wherever my clients are. For the majority of my career, I've been lucky enough to be based in London, beavering away happily in the city and not in some god-forsaken wasteland in the middle of nowhere (or on an oil rig in the north sea, as one unfortunate colleague ended up at). However, recently I was asked to leave the cozy south and travel up to Edinburgh for part of my working week.

Now, initially I was pretty grumpy about this. In terms of traveling, Edinburgh was just about as far as you can be reasonably be expected to travel on a weekly basis. AND, it's COLD. To add insult to injury, in order to get there at a reasonable time to do any form of work on a Monday, I am rudely forced out of bed at 5am. I'm telling you now, 5am is a time of night I will never be happy to see.

However, as you may have notice from my Instagram, Edinburgh is undeniably a beautiful city. Full of wide, sweeping streets, beautiful old building and more spires than you can shake a stick at, it cuts quite the impression. The city is watched over by the imposing castle, located on a hill in the city center. Walking through the streets in the evening, I love looking at the lit up monuments (which seem to be everywhere) and listening to the haunting notes of a busker's bagpipes playing the Skye Boat Song* (a tune which has taken on a whole new life in my head ever since having become obsessed with Outlander...). Yes, I'm a cliché in a bucket, but I don't care. 

The problem with working up in Edinburgh is that I don't have the luxury of daytime hours to explore the city, so now I'm going to turn to you dear readers. Please, let me know your recommendations of things to do in Edinburgh outside of 'usual' hours. Where should I visit and what should I see to get a real feel of the city? What things shouldn't be missed? And, perhaps most importantly, where should I eat? 

So, help a travelling Londoner in need  and send your recommendations this way! 

*Controversially, I also love the tram....

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