A caper to Cardiff

Cardiff

I spent a very lovely 24 hours in Cardiff with my mum this weekend! Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect from Wales’ capital city but I was pleasantly surprised, and not just by the weather – check that perfect blue sky…

Cardiff

One thing I didn’t know is that Cardiff is filled with these charming Victorian shopping arcades. They run like little mazes through the city, connecting the usual chain-filled high street and shopping centres with little independent delis, boutiques and cafes.

Cardiff

The Foursquare app did me proud with some great recommendations for food and coffee. We had a gorgeous wholesome lunch at the Plan Cafe in Morgan Arcade. Anywhere that gives me a spicy veggie chilli with piles of cheese and avocado is A-OK by me.

Cardiff
Cardiff

Superb tapas and cheese at Bar Fortyfour. The kindly waiter firstly coerced us into having dessert which turned out to be the best sour cherry cheesecake ever, and also pointed us in the direction of Waterloo Tea where we headed soon after…

Cardiff

.. and I had this gem of an iced coffee. The lunch sandwiches looked pretty epic, too.

Cardiff
Cardiff

We didn’t pay to go into the castle grounds, but took a very nice pre-dinner walk through the adjoining Bute Park.

Cardiff
Cardiff

The richly-planted herbaceous border running alongside the river was a particular highlight.

Cardiff

We stayed at the Park Plaza hotel, who kindly offered me a chance to review their Sunday spa break. Yes, that meant that along with a delicious dinner and superb breakfast (gosh, but I love a hotel breakfast), we got a beautifully relaxing massage and use of the pool and gym during our stay. Excellently located right by the park and castle and just north of the main shopping street, Queen Street, it was a perfect base for exploring the city.

Cardiff
Cardiff

On Monday morning we hit the streets again, visiting the central indoor market. I was especially taken with Clancy’s stall crammed with exciting jars of spices and chillies – brought back a few treats for Josh.

Cardiff

Even found a brilliant fabric shop, Butterfly Fabrics – huge and a super range of prints, patterns and snuggly knits.

Cardiff

A final stop for a coffee and homemade Welshcakes at Uncommon Ground in Royal Arcade before catching the train home. It’s always a treat to get out of London and explore a new bit of the UK, and now I’m pleased to have ticked our nearest capital off the list.

Thank you to the Park Plaza for putting me and my mum up for the night!

About the house

home

It’s been a long time – nearly a year! – since I shared a house update. We were dithering over whether to move for a while, but ended up doing a bit of building work earlier this year (taking down a wall in the hallway to the back door, opening up my spare/study/sewing/guest room into a bigger room) which has made the whole flat work a lot better. (Well, I have more space, so no longer have itchy feet.)

home
home

I’ll share some more pics of my new room when it’s properly finished – I’m having a ball getting all my sewing stuff nicely organised in there.

home

What else is new? Since we’re staying put we decided to finally upgrade the hall a bit. We joke that our flat is roughly 75% corridor – it twists and turns and takes up a lot of the square-footage, and being so high-traffic it’s looking a mess after 5 years of living here. The walls are going Farrow & Ball’s Blackened, the woodwork’s been given a bright white coat, and the carpet will be switched soon. How we get the cats to a) stay out of the way while we paint and b) not scratch the new carpet to shreds, remain up for grabs.

home

A minor change in the living room – we swapped the grim magnolia plastic venetian blinds that our flat came equipped with to these lovely wooden ones to match all the furniture. (Oh, and I repainted all the radiators bright white too – small upgrade but so satisfying.) The new blinds came care of Hillarys, who offered me a budget to spend in exchange for a review of the product and at-home fitting service.

home

The service took a little while end to end due to being able to find appointments where I was at home at the same time as my local fitter had a free spot. But it was great to have all the swatches brought into my home to try in situ, and to have a professional doing the measuring and fitting, saving all the breath-holding and hand-wringing when you go the DIY route. (I did that for the back door and managed to hang the simplest roller blind with one of the brackets inside out. Still haven’t fixed it.)

home

I love how they look! This wood is called Tamarind which perfectly matches all our teak-y furniture – often woods can look too yellow or ashen but this is perfect. They still let lots of light in and also give a nice warm glow to the space. Thank you, Hillarys!

home

Finally, current mantelpiece setup – nearly at capacity, I fear.

Brooklyn Diary

Brooklyn June '15

We were back in New York City for a little holiday last week. We had such a good time on our last trip that we basically booked almost the exact same trip to do it all again. We got an Airbnb a few streets down, re-hit some favourite spots, did the same old walk-eat-shop daily schedule. I didn’t take many photos (lots of Instagrams though) but here are a few snippets.

Brooklyn June '15

We went to not one but two wholly egg-themed restaurants: Egg in Brooklyn and Egg Shop in NYC. Both were good, but late night dinner at Egg Shop involved a pretty comprehensive list of my favourite foods (truffle, toast, tomatoes, chickpeas and an egg yolk stuffed inside a whole burrata cheese – YUP) so it was the definite winner.

Brooklyn June '15

A walk in Little Italy

Brooklyn June '15

Lunch back at an old favourite, Butcher’s Daughter. THIS is how you get people round to veganism: by somehow creating meat-free twists on reubens and merquez sausage sandwiches without making people feel like they’re eating a poor substitute. Come to London please?

Brooklyn June '15

Flea-hunting at The Williamsburg flea (over the road from our Airbnb) and in Cobble Hill

Brooklyn June '15

Fun night of cocktails at Extra Fancy

Brooklyn June '15

Strolling the tree-lined streets of brownstones in Cobble Hill – lovely neighbourhood

Brooklyn June '15

Cat art exhibition at the Japan Society! Um, bit special

Brooklyn June '15

Street food with a view (and even a sort-of beach) at the Williamsburg Smorsasburg.

Brooklyn June '15

Top two meals of the trip: Frankies Spuntino, where I had a perfect lunch of olives, caponata crostini and beautiful pangrattato pasta.

Brooklyn June '15

And we booked Estela on a whim after seeing it listed in the new World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (though it’s on the longer list at no.90) and noticing they still had reservations to spare. It was pure eating joy – each dish surprising, inventive and packing a real flavour whallop. The endive, walnut and ubriaco rosso (‘drunken’ red wine marinated cheese) is still dancing around my brain.

Brooklyn June '15

A pleasure as always NYC, see you again soon.

Making cheese at Wilde’s

On just your typical Tuesday, trudging up to Tottenham on a gale-force rainy evening to make some cheese on an industrial estate! In fact we were there to take a mozzarella-making class with the lovely chaps of Wilde’s Cheese – in their own words, ‘a small award winning independent artisan cheese making company based on an industrial estate in Tottenham, North London.’

Wilde's cheese

We started with a brief run-down of the cheese-making process and the all important raw ingredient, the milk, which in this case all comes from a single farm in Rye, East Sussex. Into the milk goes a starter culture, much like a sourdough bread. It takes ten litres of milk to make a kilo of cheese, so Wilde’s get through quite a lot of milk. Wilde’s only use unhomegenised milk – this means that the milk fats and liquids have not been separated then mixed back together as occurs in nearly all supermarket milks. That little factoid also explain why you never get a lovely layer of cream on top of top full-fat milk any more: homegenised milk never separates itself out again.

Wilde's cheese

Temperature and humidity while the cheese ripens is key, and often varies depending on the type of cheese – soft cheeses work better in a higher temperature with more humidity.

Wilde's cheese

Wilde’s partner Keith showed us the dark, humid room where some of the funkier cheeses are left to mature. They do a lot of experimenting and micro-tweaking of conditions to get the results they’re after. Shape affects the texture and flavour a surprising amount too – you get less all-important goo in the middle of a smaller wheel.

Wilde's cheese

Back to the mozzarella at hand, which is luckily a relatively simple affair and definitely all do-at-home-able. The ripening process happens in a bain marie to keep the milk at 30 degrees for an hour or so. Then rennet is added to split out the curds (solids) from the whey (liquids) – Wilde’s get mega points from me because they only use vegetarian rennet, hurrah.

Wilde's cheese

Then after a cheesy pit stop to sample some of Wilde’s range..

Wilde's cheese

…It was onto the main work of the evening, doing the process that gives mozzarella its bounce and stretch factor. The curds are chopped into small chunks and slowly melted and amalgamated in near-boiling water. You then need to grab it and twist it into the characteristic balloon shape – or a twist or plait if you’re feeling fancy.

Wilde's cheese

Finally, we popped our handiwork in little pots ready to take home.

Wilde's cheese

I’m a little ashamed to admit that on the way home we had the amazing idea to stop at the chippy and make makeshift poutine with our extremely fresh curds. Just what you need after a night downing cheese, right? I’m not even ashamed really, it was amazing. And we’ve been slowly working through our huge mozzarella stash, using it in everything from a fresh triciolore salad to another slow-fermented pizza.

Wilde's cheese

Thank you so much to the charming Wilde’s team – Rodolfo, Philip and Keith – for such a fun and informative evening. Check out Wilde’s site for more cheese-making evening and day classes coming up, and you can get hold of their amazing cheeses at Borough Market or online (Napier is my personal favourite).

Slow food: dal and pizza

I’ve got a bit into slow food lately – by which I mean that plan-ahead variety of cooking that requires soaking, simmering, fermenting and proving for days on end. Yeah, you need to think about what you might want to eat several days from now instead of right now, but there’s such a satisfaction when you get to eat something that’s been so long coming!

The first thing I tried was a dal makhani, after visiting Dishoom again and being reminded how insanely good their version is. After a brief Twitter discussion trying to persuade them to give up their recipe and/or let me stockpile ten tupperwares’ worth for my freezer, I turned to Google for some recipes. I picked this one because it especially mentioned Dishoom in the write-up and I figure that if any recipe takes 4 days it has to be bloody amazing by the end of it…

dal

While a 4-day cookathon sounds intense, there isn’t really much to do each day. The first is just soaking the lentils, and admiring their beautiful beetle-y green-black colour. Then spice pastes get made, onions get caramelised and blitzed into puree, and the lentils take a lot of slow, gentle cooking. The final step is adding a crapload of butter and cream. I couldn’t even bring myself to add as much as the recipe suggests (near enough a whole block) so went for a half quantity.

paneer

To serve the dal, I figured if I’d gone to so much effort with it why not whip up some homemade paneer too? Luckily this is way easier and quicker – I used this method, though I needed to add more lemon juice than suggested to get the milk to curdle.

Dal makhani

So, the taste? Honestly, if I wasn’t comparing the result to Dishoom I would have been very happy with it, but it didn’t quite reach their lofty dal-nirvana heights. The consistency and creaminess was about right, but something was lacking: Josh and I agreed it was both salt and tomato flavour. Undeterred, I mixed up the leftovers with an extra carton of passata and a good lug more seasoning and gave it a couple more hours in a low oven. The colour changed to more a Dishoom-esque brick-red and the flavour was significantly better after another day of sitting around. It won’t keep me away from Dishoom, but it might stave off the cravings between visits.

Pizza

Up next on my slow-cooking agenda was 5-day cold fermented pizza. According to some stuff I’ve been reading, pizza crust that’s been fermented slowly in a cool atmosphere takes on that fabulous crispy, chewy, bubbly texture of a good Napoli pizza, and is also apparently easier on digestion than non-fermented wheat. Again doing the prep was incredibly simple (no kneading required!), then the dough just needs to skulk in the fridge for a few days, after which it takes on a slightly sour whiff and the appearance of a lunar landscape.

pizza

After stretching out the slow-fermented dough, I started the cooking in a large frying pan on the stovetop then transferred it to under the grill to finish the top. The tomato sauce is simply drained tinned tomatoes with a pinch of sugar, salt and oregano, and I added buffalo mozzarella after the cooking and just let it melt in the hot oven. It was definitely the best home-cooked pizza I’ve made; while I didn’t quite get that totally burned bubbly goodness it was chewy, crispy and super tasty.

pizza

I wouldn’t hesitate to make both of these recipes again; the method and ingredients are simple so you just need to plan ahead a few days before you want to eat delicious dal or pizza. The dal is also freezer-friendly (I’m not sure if you could freezer the fermented pizza dough?) so make a double quantity and you’ll have enough for a slow-cooked meal on tap another time.

The Life and Death of Paul Marrane

A door in a wall

On the rather soggy bank holiday Monday I was invited to take a trip into the world of A Door in a Wall, who put on immersive, interactive games set in real-world locations. Their latest production, The Life and Death of Paul Marrane, has just opened so I assembled a crack adventure team (um, my boyfriend and sister) and headed down to Poplar to check it out.

A door in a wall

Now I’ve got to be honest: I’m a bit of an ~experiential theatre~ skeptic. I think I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t enjoy Punchdrunk productions and others I’ve been to have run the entire gamut from boring to embarrassing. But I’m happy to report that this was completely different and way, WAY more fun than I was expecting. The action all took place around East London’s Chrisp Street Market, where first we headed to lawyer’s firm Alder & Alder to collect our assignment and be organised into a faction.

A door in a wall

Then the game was afoot! You’re led around the streets via a map, clues, character interactions, and these handy stickers which let us know when a location was part of the game.

A door in a wall

I won’t say too much about the adventure itself, but there were so many fun tasks to complete and the attention to detail was wondrous – the meticulous planning that must have gone into making it is seriously impressive. We scampered up and down clock towers, did star jumps for a sergeant major, peered into shop windows, mixed chemical potions and loads more in the pursuit of the mystery of Mr Marrane.

A door in a wall

The thrill of catching onto a clue and running (often literally, as the clock counted down) with it until it was completed was heart-poundingly exciting. Not even the rather damp evening could ruin the fun!

A door in a wall

Then it was back to Alder & Alder to hand in our investigative report and find out who got closest to the truth. The game is four hours long and it’s a push to see everything and hence solve the mystery in the time given, but you’ll definitely have fun trying. I want to play again to see the bits I missed, even though I now know ‘whodunit’!

The Life and Death of Paul Marrane is running for all of May – you can find out more here and buy tickets here.

I got a free press ticket to review the experience.

Easter giveaway! Scout Edition pigeon print

win scout

I was very happy to get a sweet email from Pui, designer behind Scout Editions, after I featured their pigeon print a few months ago, to offer up a little giveaway.

scouted1

Just check out their site for a dose of pastel-hued loveliness! These nautical-themed prints and pins make me feel the yearning for a little adventure…

scouted2

… and the birds series would look so great framed up on a wall together.

win

Want to win a charming Pigeon edition 2 print of your own? Just leave a comment on this post and a winner will be drawn at random from all the entries a week today on Friday April 10th, and it’s open worldwide. Good luck! The competition has ended, congrats to the winner, Joelle.

What’s doing?

Gosh, I’ve been really out of the blogging game lately. I had a bit of drama right after my last post, when I was trying to do some routine tidying up of my webspace and ended up corrupting the database and temporarily losing all of my posts from the last two years (your timely reminder to BACK UP REGULARLY).

It coincided with doing a bit of a mega apartment-cleanse during which I threw out half my clothes, dozens of old photos, payslips from my first job, cards, souvenirs, unused art supplies… so I started thinking maybe it was time to declutter digitally and let my blog go too. Would it even be missed? Who even reads blogs any more? I know I wouldn’t miss a lot of the side-effects of modern blogging – the endless irritating stream of irrelevant PR emails, the constant niggling obligation to blog even when I didn’t feel like it, and of course the stress of technical FUBARs.

Well, I managed to get the posts back which kind of made up my mind for me to at least get it all back online for now – the design‘s still a work in progress but I quite like the minimal aesthetic for now. More than anything I would have been sad to lose my travel posts, which basically function like my personal journal of the trips I take and are hopefully useful to anyone else who stumbles across them too. I’m still not really sure what path the blog will take next, but it’s almost reassuring to know it’s back and waiting for me if I do feel like writing.

Besides the tech fail, one of the main reasons for the hiatus is that I haven’t been doing much except working. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I hasten to add, because I’m loving my current job. I’m at Mastered, who create online fashion courses with some of the world’s best industry experts. (If you’re in, or looking to get into, make-up, nails or fashion design do go check them out!) I think for the first time ever I’m working with more women than men, and brilliant women at that whose enthusiasm, work spirit and general awesomeness is contagious. Plus I really believe in what they’re doing, so it’s been a pleasure to be involved.

Work aside I’ve been in general hibernation mode; I get terrible SAD and generally feel pretty dejected all winter. But now, it’s breaking: days are longer, it’s almost light when I leave work, there have even been a few spells of cardigan weather. I can feel my spirits lifting already, so hopefully that’ll encourage me to get out more and do some things worth writing about again.

Back in Barbados

Barbados

Avert your eyes now if a bit of tropical sun is too painful to comprehend at this point of winter! Last week we scooted back out to Barbados for a little escape from January blues. (In case you’re wondering, the villa is in my mum’s side of the family so we’re lucky enough to get free use of it every so often.) I posted a lot about Barbados two years ago when we last went, so I’ll keep it short this time! Mainly because we actually did do less as well – having visited before it was good to not feel pressured into dashing around seeing all there was to offer on the island. We hit a couple of favourite places from last time and a few new things, but also had a lot of down-time just relaxing at the beach or pool.

Barbados
Barbados

We spent a bit of time at a few beaches on the south coast, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. It’s noticeably rougher than the west coat (where our villa was) due to stronger winds and tides, so not so good for swimming but you can still go catamaran sailing, try surfing, or go turtle-spotting. Or you know, just sit around eating chips and drinking rum punch.

Continue reading “Back in Barbados”

Just Good Friday

justgood

1. These surreal, 80s-inspired ‘motivational’ posters are brilliant, and you can buy them for your office walls here.
2. This Nessie ladle, having a whale of a time cruising round in your soup, is amazing. By Ototo.
3. Love The Smiths, love Peanuts, so this mashup gives me happy feels.
4. I don’t really follow fashion except to look for sewing ideas, but Valentino are killing it lately both in mens and womenswear. Gimme all the constellation-print stuff please.
5. This collection of Alexander Girard-designed fabrics is a riot of cheery colour.
6. I’ve been researching art as we want to upgrade some of our walls from a mishmash of street art and odd ephemera to something a bit more grown-up. This Whistler is just a bit out of budget but ever so beautiful. I’m using Artsy and saving ideas over here.