Picklin’ at Rita’s

Pickling

I had fun last week at a night-time pickling workshop, put on by Sarson’s vinegar and held at Rita’s Bar & Dining in London Fields. Our hosts were food historian Peter Ginn and Rita’s chef Gabriel Pryce.

Pickling

Peter gave us a lowdown on the history of pickling as a method of preserving fresh ingredients, and talked us through all of the ingredients that can be pickled: eggs and shallots are perhaps the most well known, but any fairly firm fruit or veg is a contender.

Pickling

The brine (the vinegar liquid that does the pickling) can be flavoured with any herb or spice you like – chilli, peppercorns and mustard seeds are common, but we could also pick from lemongrass, ginger, tarragon, fennel seeds and loads more. The process is really simple: you just heat up the pickling vinegar in a pan with your chosen flavourings (Sarson’s produce big jars of vinegar especially for pickling, which are pre-seasoned and at the correct acidity of 6%), pop the ingredients in a sealable jar and pour the vinegar over the top to cover the ingredients.

Pickling
Pickling

Pickling

After we’d stuffed and labelled our jars we sat down to a delicious meal put on by Rita’s – platters of fried chicken, amazing mac and cheese, sweet potato gnocchi, slaw and their own pickled hot sauce. Must come back here soon for a full meal because it was tasting gooood.

Pickling

Here’s my rather odd concoction – quail’s eggs, plums and mooli (Japanese radish) in a brine heavily spiked with chilli and mustard seeds. The proof is in the tasting, but it needs three weeks to do its thing first… I’ll report back.

Thanks to Rita’s and Sarson’s for a fab and informative night.

Just Good Friday

justgoodfriday

1. We’ve just booked to go to Mexico (DF and Oaxaca) for Josh’s 30th next month and I am SO. EXCITED. Reading my chef-crush Rene Redzepi‘s impressions of the food in the NYT only fuels it further.
2. My very favourite Soho fabric shop, Cloth House, is now selling online. Gulp goes my bank balance.
3. Love this marble-print bedding from H&M – and it’s on sale! But would I keep it for the bed or harvest the fabric to sew with, hmm.
4. I’ve fallen for this sweet collaged pigeon print by Pui.
5. I love Artemis of Junkaholique’s hand-woven textiles. I really don’t need yet *another* hobby, but now a tiny weaving loom is calling my name…

Three non-boring (non-)salads

salads

I’ve been trying to get back into some healthy wheat-light cooking lately, and have recently made several twists on that summery staple, the salad. My definition of salad is pretty loose as I don’t really like leaves: for me a salad means any combination of cooked and raw vegetables together with a carb and a protein element, all soused in a zingy, spicy dressing. Oh, and usually with cheese on top – OK, they are basically the least healthy salads ever, but they are really filling which is my usual concern with having a non-heavily-carb-based dinner.

pinnedsalads

I like to start with a recipe (I have lots pinned) and adapt it to my taste and what I have available in the fridge, freezer and cupboard: having a few basics in stock means you can make a substantial meal even when the veg drawer looks a bit sad and empty. Here are a couple I’ve put together in the last few weeks…

fattoush salad

A sort-of-not-really take on fattoush, the middle-eastern bread and tomato salad.
Veg: Raw tomatoes and courgette, roasted sweet red pepper
Protein: Canellini beans, toasted off in a frying pan
Carb: Toasted pitta bread
Dressing: Garlic, red wine vinegar, sumac, olive oil
Cheese: Feta

mexican salad

My infinitely tastier version of the sad non-carb Mexican salad bowls you get from burrito places when you’re trying to be saintly. Liquid smoke* is a salad’s best friend for a bit of umami punch – a little goes a long way.
Veg: Toasted corn (from the freezer), pink pickled onions (in the fridge from a previous day), raw tomatoes
Protein: Black beans, Quorn fillet
Carb: Mix of brown and white rice
Dressing: Wahaca habanero sauce, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, fresh coriander (from the freezer).
Cheese: Feta

lentil salad

This is a standby dinner for us: smoky lentils, charred veggies and soft cool mozzarella, marinated in the same dressing as the lentils. It’s also brilliant with pan- or oven-roasted wedges of squash.
Veg: Grilled tenderstem broccoli and spring onions, plus babaghanoush (charred aubergine puree)
Protein: Puy lentils
Carb: None
Dressing: Olive oil, red wine vinegar, liquid smoke, oak-smoked tomatoes, oregano, chilli flakes
Cheese: Mozzarella

* Liquid smoke is my favourite condiment EVER. I have no idea how they make it, but a drop or two imparts an amazing smoky flavour to anything you drop it into. Really good for giving veggie food that ‘meaty’ umami punch. Not many supermarkets have it, but you can buy online at Sous Chef.

A trip to Oxford

Oxford

I had the opportunity to take a little trip to Oxford last weekend. It’s always nice to have an excuse to see a new corner of the UK, and Oxford did not disappoint. It reminded me quite a lot of Bath, with the grand golden stone Georgian buildings, unspoilt high street and leafy avenues.

Oxford
Oxford

Oxford

I was pleased to find it quite compact and easy to get around by foot – my preferred method of exploring any new city. On arriving we (I went with my sister) walked from the train station to our hotel via the high street, taking in the covered market on the way. It was a Sunday so not everything was open, but as it was the bank holiday weekend it was quite busy with people anyway.

Oxford
Oxford
Oxford
Oxford
Oxford

We took a detour around some of the many university buildings dotted around the city, and the grand Bodleian Library. Can you imagine being a student here… in my head it’d be like a cross between Harry Potter (parts of which were filmed here) and the Secret History.

Oxford

Found a sewing shop, but it was closed – darn it, indeed :(

Oxford

We went to the Foodies Festival for lunch, which was quite small and non-eclectic by London market standards but I found a tasty samosa chat to eat, followed by tasty Purbecks ice cream as it was a nice warm day.

Oxford

Oxford is filled with meadows and streams (mostly owned by the colleges but open to the public), which makes for some lovely serene walking routes. We meandered up to the north of the city…

Oxford

…to the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museums. Both in the same building, the Pitt Rivers is an anthropology museum, which rather reminded me of some of the museums I went to in Ecuador as it carries much of the same ceramics, totems and textiles.

Oxford
Oxford

Oxford

Quite taken with this inuit outfit, reindeer skin codpiece and all.

Oxford
Oxford

Sewing stuff!

Oxford
Oxford
Oxford

In the Natural History museum part, I mostly enjoyed the animal skeletons and these beautiful mineral samples.

Oxford

Oxford
Oxford

We took another pre-dinner stroll down the canal, meeting a sweet kitty on the way.

Oxford
Oxford

We had a really nice dinner at Jamie’s Italian – I hadn’t been to one before but was impressed, would go back to try more as there were plenty of veggie options.

Oxford
Oxford

The next day was the bank holiday Monday and as is traditional, was pissing with rain. We popped back to the Bodleian to have a look inside – only the reading room was open but it was pretty stunning.

Oxford
Oxford
Oxford

We dodged the rain the rest of the morning at the Ashmolean Museum which was luckily open. There’s loads to see – again, owls and textiles mostly caught my eye – so it definitely provided a good diversion until the train home. At only an hour from London, what a nice city to have a little staycation in.

My trip was sponsored by the Mercure Eastgate Hotel, Oxford. Thank you!

Just Good Friday

justgood

To get me out of a bit of blogging-block, I thought I’d share some random things from around the Internet that have made me smile lately.

1. Stacking ceramic beakers with logos inspired by Communist Poland. Surprisingly lovely.
2. I just want everything cat print from Paul & Joe Sister.
3. Bunting washi tape, ideal for making a quick handmade card or perking up an envelope.
4. A little playground near my home has been planted with poetry, thanks to Ministry of Stories.
5. Historically-accurate brass paperclip shapes: just pick your year and get a beautiful box of ten.

Alexandra Palace History tour

Alexandra Palace history tour

A couple of weeks ago now, we went up to Alexandra Palace to take a history tour, which we quickly booked up after joining the email notification list. Perched atop a big hill overlooking North London, it’s not far from us though quite a shlep on a couple of twisty bus routes to get there. You’re rewarded with quite a lovely view from the surrounding park though.

Alexandra Palace history tour

The tour promised never-heard stories from Ally Pally’s very interesting history as well as offering behind the scenes glimpses into the parts of the palace that are rarely seen by the public. In its time it’s been a Victorian theatre and entertainment venue, BBC TV and radio studio, railway station, exhibition hall, concert venue and ice rink amongst quite a lot else.

Alexandra Palace history tour

Our guide explained that the palace is in the process of securing funds from the council and Lottery to restore and make public even more of the palace to bring it back to its original function as a wide-reaching entertainment venue.

Alexandra Palace history tour
Alexandra Palace history tour
Alexandra Palace history tour
Alexandra Palace history tour
Alexandra Palace history tour

The tour started in the old Victorian theatre, which was definitely also the highlight of the tour. The theatre was amongst the first to use mechanics to move scenery and allow for special effects like actors ‘disappearing’ into the floor. A project to restore the machinery is currently underway; there are also long-term plans to level out the sloped floor to allow the space to be used for a wider range of events.

Alexandra Palace history tour
Alexandra Palace history tour

We wandered down some fairly spooky back corridors, passing the artists’ entrance where bands show up to play concerts.

Alexandra Palace history tour
Alexandra Palace history tour

The old railway station is at the back of the building. Sadly just a few weeks after the palace and railway station opened in 1873, a fire destroyed nearly the whole building and the railway services stopped. Restoration work began in the 30s, but the war stopped it again and the line was eventually made defunct. (Part of the same disused line makes up the lovely Parkland Walk now.)

Alexandra Palace history tour
Alexandra Palace history tour

The final stop was the Great Hall, where concerts and exhibitions take place – from All Tomorrow’s Parties to the Knitting and Stitching Show. This part of the building also burned down in another fire in 1980, so the grand organ and its surrounds are all new but reproduced as they would have been.

Alexandra Palace history tour

The tour was okay: I felt like we didn’t see all that much that wasn’t open to the public anyway. I would have liked to have seen some of the old BBC studios as well, but they are apparently unsafe to actually be in and are awaiting restoration funds. But it was worth it to see the old theatre and to have an ice cream in the park on a nice sunny day. You can sign up here to be notified of future tours.

Review: DF Mexico

DF Mexico

DF Mexico is the latest creation from the stable of London-based Mexican stalwart Wahaca. It takes the same Mexican-street-food-with-an-Anglo-American-twist concept and goes a bit hipster on it to match its location bang in the middle of Shoreditch in the Old Truman Brewery. Every aspect is ramped up in the cool factor: the branding and interior decor are boldly industrial, food is counter service, drinks are self-serve and bottomless… even the social media team is sharp and well-pitched. If you were being cheesy you could call it Wahaca’s younger, cooler brother or something. Naturally it wasn’t going to be long before I found myself there, and that day came on Monday evening.

DF Mexico

It seems to have got off to a flying start, with a short queue at the door even on a Monday and a lively buzz around the dining room. There’s a huge communal table next to the obligatory open-plan kitchen and plenty of smaller tables and booths, so the wait to be seated wasn’t long.

DF Mexico
DF Mexico

The concept is explained via a cool brochure and the menu reads very well indeed. Unlike Wahaca, the food isn’t tapas-sized but built for large appetites and/or sharing. The main offerings are burritos, large tacos, tortas, build-your-own boards, grills and salads, with a (un)healthy sprinkling of sides and sharing dishes too. The hardest part is deciding what to go for.

DF Mexico

Obviously, we massively over-ordered just to get a little taster of a few things. The Bad Boy burrito comes with white and blue corn chips and an optional side for a couple of quid extra. It packed quite the whack of flavour, with tomato and habanero running through the rice and a core of tasty feta cheese, all wrapped in a chargrilled tortilla.

DF Mexico

A side of veggie nachos was huge for just £4.95 and was similarly punchy. The topping of refried beans, cheese, pink onions and salsa wiggled into the all the gaps in the chips so you didn’t get that disappointing moment when you run out of topping before chips. Not that we got near to that point; it was too big to finish!

DF Mexico

Chilli fries were ordered just because, but they were probably my favourite thing: properly salty and hot with a chipotle dip on the side. The cup of corn, sweetly served in a teacup, sat in a creamy puddle of moreish broth and was topped with tangy Lancashire cheese.

DF Mexico

Self-serve bottomless horchata cooled it all down nicely. There’s also soft-serve ice cream for dessert, but we rolled out defeated before considering it.

The bill for this feast? Like Wahaca it’s a real bargain: just £22.50 for a large main, smaller sharing dish, two sides and two bottomless soft drinks. My only critique is I actually wish the portions were a bit smaller more like Wahaca, so you can mix/match and share easier. It’s pretty great to have this place pretty close to home for when I get peckish for big, bad Mexican flavours, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I’m back again to try more of the menu and soak up more of the DF vibes (also I’m working nearby and they do take-out…). Nice job, chaps.

Getting some Headspace

Brighton

I’ve been using the Headspace app for the last week or so, and thought it deserved a bit of a write up as I’m really loving it. Have you seen it? – it’s a charming and simple app to get you into the practice of daily mindfulness meditation. As a freelancer and working for myself, I’m usually juggling a few clients and projects at once so often find my thoughts getting jumbled and overwhelming. I especially find myself prone to over-analysing about what might or might not happen in the future, which is a sure-fire recipe for needless anxiety.

headspace

The ‘Take Ten’ program, which the Headspace app offers for free, is a simple introduction to mindful meditation which takes just ten minutes out of your day. From the beginning I found the app warm and encouraging, with sweet interface design and animations to introduce the techniques you’ll be using in the program.

London: Trip-35

I’ve been doing my ten minutes right after waking up – a much healthier start to the day than immediately checking in on emails or twitter. From the first day I could feel it working wonders on my brain and body. Taking a few minutes just to sit still, breathe, and do a quick once-over of your body and mind feels incredibly valuable and I always look forward to the next session.

Berlin 35mm

My favourite part of the exercise is where you go from concentrating on counting your breaths to just letting your mind loose to wander free and settle on whatever it wants to. On a good day I completely zone out at this point and think about absolutely nothing, which feels pretty blissful. The app encourages you to not worry if you do feel thoughts and anxieties creeping in: the point is to notice when that happens and try to draw your attention back to your breathing. You’re encouraged to notice noises, sensations and even smells around you to heighten awareness of your physical presence in the here and now.

The only minor issue I’ve encountered so far is that I’ve started feeling so relaxed and focused on single thoughts that I’ve been letting semi-important stuff get neglected as it’s no longer a source of anxiety for me! I think when you work for yourself you do need to maintain a slight level of tension so that you actually get stuff done and don’t let people down. It’s no good being so laid-back that you can’t be bothered to work or deal with people. I’m interested to see if this is addressed later on in the Headspace program. As my ten day trial draws to a close I think I will pay to subscribe to the ongoing program, which costs the equivalent of £3.75 a month.

Barbados: Trip-35

Just one week of Headspace-ing has already had quite a profound effect on me. I haven’t had nearly so much work-related anxious baggage rattling round my head, and I’ve even become more focused on doing some personal projects that are working towards how I might want my career to go some day. I really recommend giving the app a go if you suffer similarly with low-level anxious thoughts and lack of focus.

(Do you like my suitably calming photo selection? Not sponsored by the way, I just really liked the app.)

Afternoon tea with Truly

Tea at The Capital

Picking special presents year after year can be a bit of a pain, especially when you’re like us and have no room left in your flat for any more physical objects! That’s why I love giving and receiving ‘experiences’ instead: dinner, cooking classes, something that you can enjoy and/or learn from rather than accumulating more stuff. So when Truly contacted me I was pretty excited. Their premise is great: you pick from a fantastic range of do-able gifts – especially strong on restaurants and food experiences but there are spa days, city breaks and outdoor activities too. Put in your recipient’s address and they get a lovely smart box in the post with a simple number/email to contact Truly’s concierge and make the reservation. No messing around booking something and hoping they are free on the date (or ruining the surprise by asking), but you can still pick out something personal.

Tea at The Capital

Truly kindly gave me the chance to try one of their experiences out, and I opted for Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Capital Hotel. I invited my wonderful mum along because she’s a little envious of all the nice things Josh and I do in London, so it was great to be able to share something with her. She was delighted to get the box in the post and phoned me immediately to say thank you! She was down in London last weekend so we got the chance to book it up.

Tea at The Capital

The Capital hotel is literally around the corner from Harrods. I’d never ever been in Harrods before, so a nose round the food hall was mandatory (wow, it’s busy in there). Tea is served in a pretty and cosy sitting room – with wallpaper and books lining the walls and a window open to the pleasant day outside it was a lovely place to spend the afternoon. We started with a glass of champagne while browsing the extensive tea menu.

Tea at The Capital

Before long a tiered stand laden with goodies arrived. Delicate finger sandwiches on the bottom and a whole plate of sweet things for each of us – treacle tart, passion fruit tart, lemon sponge, baby trifle and a hibiscus maracon. They were all delicious – the moist sponge and creamy tart especially. If you run out or particularly enjoyed anything, the waiters will gladly restock it for you.

Tea at The Capital

There was only one vegetarian sandwich but I didn’t even think to ask for a replacement; I’m sure they would have switched one of the others for a veggie option if requested. Never mind, more room for cake!

Tea at The Capital

Just when we were reaching peak cake, freshly baked scones arrived with cream and jam. They were so buttery and flaky – my Devon-raised mum approved. You can even pack up anything you don’t eat into takeout boxes.

Tea at The Capital

One happy mum and some serious daughter points for me! This was a great experience and my mum really appreciated it. Truly have this and loads of other luxurious gift experiences on their site including lots of Michelin-starred restaurants like The Square, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which I reviewed here), Hakkasan and La Manoir. Any would do for my birthday present, in case you’re wondering. Thanks, Truly! Anyone else love to give or receive foody gifts?

Truly supplied my afternoon tea experience for review; views are my own

The Bathory custom bath soak: review & giveaway

bathorylemon

What do craft beer, Instagram-printed marshmallows and luxury bath soak have in common? They’re all startups from the clever folks at Mint Digital. Check out DeskBeers and Boomf at your leisure, but today we’re talking bathtime with The Bathory and their custom-made, hand-blended bath soaks.

bathorybottles

The Bathory invited me to have a go at making my own soak a little while ago. It’s a pleasure to browse the lovely site and choose the perfect ingredients for your very own bath-time invention. First you pick a base of salts, either designed to soothe, detox or just bask.

bathorysoothe

Then you can layer on three essential oils: information is given about the properties and effects of each fragrance so you can pick ones that revive, relax or inspire you. Pop your choices in the basket and a few days later a beautifully-designed little bag lands on your doorstep.

Bathory

You can clearly smell the fragrant oils even from outside the packaging! I couldn’t wait to give it a go. The jar is pretty enough to display on the shelf all the time and is enough for several happy bathtimes.

Bathory

I went for a detox base with grapefruit, bergamot and rosemary oils, and it smelled absolutely amazing. You need to add quite a lot to get a truly scented bath, but my favourite way to use it is in the shower: mixed with a little olive oil it’s a dreamy shower scrub. It made my skin really soft and the scent lasted after I dried off. I’ll definitely be replacing my jar when it runs out – the question is do I stick with my current blend or  try a new one…?

bathorywin

The competition is now closed. Congrats to the winner, Louise and thanks for all your entries.

Thanks to The Bathory for giving me a soak to review and one to give away.