Meat Free Week

It’s the start of Meat Free Week today. While I’m not a vegetarian, there is no denying that eating less meat is a good idea for many reasons (if you want to learn more check out the Meat Free Week website, which sets out the issues a lot better than I can.)

I love cooking vegetarian food as it forces me to be a bit more creative with the ingredients. When meat is involved, it’s pretty easy to resort to the old meat, vegetables and potatoes fall back (nul points for imagination.) Getting the most out of your veggies requires a little more thought.

I have a few cook books that I call upon for inspiration when I’m cooking vegetarian. A lot has been written about Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Eat and rightly so as it’s full of delicious and different veggie recipes. (See here for a proper review). I also like Vegetarian by Alice Hart and Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi.

So I’m doing the Meat Free Week challenge. As Fred, who is seven, has started eating his dinner with us now, I’ve got to find recipes for dishes that the whole family will enjoy. I’m lucky that he’s not a picky eater and doesn’t mind a little bit of spice and chilli in his food. Here are a few ideas for the coming week:

Fritters are a great way of getting kids to eat their vegetables. These carrot fritters with halloumi are from Vegetarian by Alice Hart. I’ve made them before and they were loved by adults and kids alike. You can find the recipe here.

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Fred has recently discovered the delights of a lightly spiced curry. Indian food is fantastic for vegetarian recipes. Of course a simple aloo gobi is divine, but if you want something a little bit different, why not make a spinach and paneer curry?  I even made my own paneer when I tried this recipe. Get me. Cheese maker extraordinaire, Alex James had better watch out. The recipe can be found here and is from Meera Sodha’s excellent book Made in India.

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I’ve also been on the look out for a good, quick pasta recipe. Anna Jones has listed a few on her blog which are worth taking a look at. I quite like the look of this one from 101 Cookbooks, a brilliant blog for tasty, innovative vegetarian food. You can’t go wrong with pasta, pesto (this one is made out of kale) and cheese.

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Shakshuka has become one of my staple dishes – eggs baked in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce, what’s not to love? Ottolenghi does a mean shakshuka. Although it’s meant to be a breakfast or brunch dish, I don’t mind eggs at dinner (brinner?) time.  I may tone down the chilli if Fred is eating with us. I like it hot.

shakshuka

And finally, these quesadillas from A Modern Way to Eat look pretty tasty. One for Friday night perhaps?

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I’ll be documenting my #meatfreeweek on Instagram. What are you cooking this week?

Cafe Culture: Iris and June

Another day, another cafe. This one was also discovered through the power of Instagram. I follow Elly Curshen on Instagram, she owns a cafe in Bristol but often finds herself in London. On one of these visits, she posted the most amazing picture of a salad. As you know, I’m partial to a salad and am always on the look out for cafes that serve a good selection. So armed with my trusty phone, I vowed to track down the purveyors of said salad. And that, dear readers, is how I found myself at Iris and June, a cafe in Victoria eating a delicious array of fresh salads.

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Appearance: Iris and June is modern and spacious. Concrete, subway tiles and built in seating all feature in the design. It’s grey with flashes of bright blue and there are fresh flowers on the counter. (Where the fresh salads, sandwiches and cake are also displayed.)

Location: Just behind Victoria station, this area is a bit of a wasteland when it comes to decent lunch time options that are not chains. I should know, I used to work near Victoria and have eaten my fair share of limp cheese sandwiches. Yuck. If only Iris and June had been there for me. I’d have been a regular.

Menu: There are three salads to chose from every day. I follow them on Instagram for inspiration; and the salads always look seriously good. For example, one of today’s offerings was Vietnamese glass noodle salad. Doesn’t that look amazing?

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For those who prefer something non salady, there are a revolving selection of homemade quiches, sandwiches and frittatas made with seasonal ingredients. The food is freshly prepared on the premises. I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for the salads, it was definitely under a tenner. I don’t think Iris and June is the cheapest option, however, but worth it for the quality of the food available.

Clientele: I’ve visited on a few occasions. And word has obviously got out as the cafe has got busier each time I’ve been. I should also mention that if you do have time to linger, the reading material is pretty good too.

Iris

Coffee: The owners of Iris and June are from New Zealand. Say no more. They take their coffee seriously. (Why is it that the Antipodeans do their coffee so right?) They offer a range of brewing methods and the coffee comes from Ozone Coffee Roasters.

Overall: If I still worked near Victoria, I’d be at this cafe every day for a coffee or a bite to eat. The salads are amazing. The atmosphere is buzzing but also welcoming. It’s a well designed space. You could say I’m a fan.

Iris & June, No.1 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG

Source: Iris & JuneInstagram and me.

*As a note, I tend to feature the cafes that I enjoy hence the largely favourable reviews. If I don’t really like the cafe, I won’t write about it.

The Year in Books: March

I had an unplanned ‘outage’ last week, so apologies for that if anyone actually noticed. There were technical tinkerings behind the scene that took longer than I thought they would. Back now though *breathes a sigh of relief*.

I had two books on my ‘to read’ list last month. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, the best selling novel of 2014 and Late Fragments by Kate Gross. Let me first discuss The Miniaturist, a novel set in 17th century Amsterdam. The atmospheric setting was one of the things I enjoyed most about the book; there are many secrets in the story and the description of cold and dark houses lit only by candlelight complemented this completely.  I had a few reservations about the plot though; at times I simply couldn’t believe that the characters would behave in the way they did. Without giving too much away, the main character, Nella had an attitude towards some things that would be far more at home in the 21st century than the time she was meant to be living in. The ending was also slightly disappointing but I can’t deny the book is a page-turner and kept me reading until the very end. I became absorbed in the story despite some misgivings.

Late Fragments is a memoir by Kate Gross, a woman dying of bowel cancer at the age of 36, leaving her five year old twins and husband behind. Doesn’t sound very cheery does it? Kate Gross was an extraordinary woman, she was writing speeches for Tony Blair at the age of 26 and she clearly excelled at everything she set her mind to. And this includes writing her memoir. The book is brilliantly written, she is witty and incisive and strangely, it is a rather uplifting read (although I did shed tears too, of course). The message being life is for living, do what you love, make the most of the time you have and love your family. It’s death that brings the importance of these things into sharp focus.

“I would do anything not to be writing this book,” writes Gross, clear-eyed. “The time I have had since I became ill has been beyond precious; this strange, razor-like clarity is something I wouldn’t have found had the worst not happened. Nor would I have found my voice, the time to tell this story, or what really matters in this magnificent life.”

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In March, I’ve got another book lined up which could be seen as being rather sad. Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey is written from the point of view of Maud, a lady with dementia. Not exactly laugh a minute. I’ve also got a classic page-turner thriller, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. (And next month, I’m reading something light hearted and funny!)

On the Radar: March

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I seem to find winter harder every year. I can’t ever remember feeling the dread in Autumn before, but this year I did. And it wasn’t an especially hard winter. However in a way, we need to have winter so we can experience the sheer joy of Spring. New life, longer days and hopefully some warm sun on our skin. So March. Bring it.

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  • When it comes to decor, I’m definitely a maximalist (polite way of saying I am a borderline hoarder). I have stuff and lots of it, everywhere. (Sometimes I wish I didn’t). The exhibition Magnificent Obsessions at the Barbican features the collections of artists, some are more curated than others.
  • It’s the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre this month. I’ve never been before and wouldn’t mind checking it out.
  • I could wander around Spitalfields for hours; at the risk of sounding like an American tourist, it’s soooo old and the streets are full of stories. You can even hire a beautiful Huguenot house for events. I may need to get married again…(if you’re reading this Michael, that was a joke.) However if I can’t hire that, I want to look around Denis Severs’ House instead.
  • I really want to have brunch (or lunch) at Raw Duck in Hackney. The space looks gorgeous (neon lights and concrete galore) and it specialises in ferments and pickles. I love a good pickle and am intrigued by the idea of drinking ferments.
  • raw duckAnd finally…have you heard I Love You Honeybear by Father John Misty? It’s brilliant. It’s a collection of love songs but not your typical love songs; listen to those lyrics!

What are you doing to celebrate Spring?

Nostalgia

Nostalgia – ‘a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.’

Peru and Ecuador 047Do you ever have that feeling that you have been transported back to the past? To another time, another place with all the emotions (good and bad) that come with that memory. It could be a smell that takes you back, or the sight of an old haunt, somewhere you spent your misguided youth. But for me, mainly it’s all about the tunes. Music is so evocative. (It’s interesting that this has been recognised for Alzheimer’s sufferers who can be calmed by music from their past.) There are many, many songs that I could feature in my ‘This is Your Life’ discography. But recently, mainly as a result of Beck’s recent Grammy win, I’ve been thinking about this one: it comes from the prequel (surely not the right word) to Morning Phase. If I shut my eyes, and listen to ‘Sea Change‘, it takes me back to another place.

To set the scene –  it’s 2002, I had been living in Sydney with a ex-boyfriend for eighteen months, working in a job I hated and generally feeling a bit homesick and not very happy. (I know it seems madness to those of you who think Australia is heaven, but I worked long hours and missed my friends and family). I’d happily returned to the UK, with the plan of going travelling with this boyfriend and escaping my job for a while; this meant living with my parents for three months, saving money, seeing old friends and maintaining my relationship on the phone (despite us moving to Sydney together, he had stayed there). Then one Tuesday morning, completely out of the blue (to me, anyway), I got dumped. On the phone – always a good way to end a three year relationship. As you can imagine, it left me feeling emotionally bruised and just a tiny bit heartbroken. Not only was this relationship over, so were my plans for travel. It seems ridiculous to me now, as I write this, married with a child, but I thought at the time that having a family was no longer an option for me. I was twenty-seven!

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To cut a long story short, I picked myself up, wiped away my tears and decided to go travelling anyway. A friend of mine was working in Ecuador, so I booked a flight, stayed a few nights in Guayaquil and then set off on my own to Peru, Machu Picchu and fully embraced the delights of solo travelling. I was only there for six weeks but it was exactly what I needed. The proof that I could do it on my own, be alone and that everything would be OK.

This was a time before Ipods and Spotify and I only had a mini-disc player for my musical needs. One of the albums I’d chosen to take with me was Sea Change; Beck’s first heartbreak album. Maybe not the right choice for a newly single twenty-something negotiating Peru on her own. But this music is beautiful, soulful and sleep inducing (useful for long bus journeys). It relaxed me when I was feeling stressed (and still does) and it made my heart soar. When I listen to the lush strings, I see mountain peaks and blue skies and it takes me back to that time; I was free and strong. I could do it on my own.*

I was also not afraid to wear silly hats.

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*I personally think that being able to be happy on your own (whatever that entails) is pretty key to having a successful relationship. You can’t rely on someone else for your happiness. I would extend that to children too, I don’t think you should put off having a life of your own for the sake of your children. In the end, they have to live their lives and you have to live yours. I don’t know if I knew that then, but I know it now. (Deep).

Incidentally, I met Michael the following year and we did end up going travelling together. I returned to South America with him a few years later. This time visiting Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. I also set up my first blog (mainly for my family so they could see what we were up to).. you can find it here. Have a read if you fancy a glimpse into our travels, some of it’s quite funny (if I don’t say so myself). Although by today’s standards, it’s not a pretty blog, I love that I have this record of what we did. Ten years ago now. *Sigh*.

The Year in Books: February

Eyrie

I may not have been blogging in the last few months, but that hasn’t stopped me reading. So my first Year in Books post for 2015 is a round up of some of the best books I’ve read recently. I also took part in the twitter chat run by Laura on Circle of Pine Trees. It was a lovely way of connecting with fellow readers and getting some recommendations for future books.

My book for October was Booker nominated We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I knew that there was a twist, so as I read the first third or so of the book, I spent a lot of time trying to guess what it was. I didn’t get it right. It’s almost impossible to talk about this book without giving away what this twist is. I know I’d be incredibly annoyed if someone revealed it to me, so I will refrain from doing so here. So what is there to say? I did enjoy the book. And so did my book group. It’s an intelligent book, where some pretty big subjects, such as sibling relationships and human psychology, are discussed. I learnt something, it made me think; I like it when a book does this.

I also read Eyrie by Tim Winton, an Australian writer who has also been nominated for the Booker in the past. I’ve read a couple of his novels before, Dirt Music and Breath. Both of which I enjoyed immensely. Set in Western Australia, Tim Winton’s books seem to have a deep sense of place, of big skies and red earth. Eyrie centres around Tom Keely, a man whose life is unraveling, he’s lost his job, has moved into a tower block and is drinking heavily. It features a particularly vivid opening chapter, where Keely awakes with a stonking hangover with no idea how the massive stain on his carpet got there. A young boy and his grandmother, Gemma (who Keely knows from the past) move in next door. They, themselves, are running away from something. Keely takes it upon himself to help them and finds himself in a dangerous world which threatens everyone around him. Winton is a fantastic writer and in Eyrie has created some wonderfully messy, complex characters.

Another standout book from the last few months, is The Undertaking by Audrey Magee. It tells the story of Peter Faber, a German soldier on the Eastern Front in the Second World War and Katherina, the daughter of a Nazi, who get married without meeting first. Peter to escape the horrors of fighting and Katharina for the benefits of a widow’s pension. It’s interesting to read a war story from the German point of view, and also the differing experiences of the soldier and the civilians left at home. I probably don’t need to point out that it doesn’t turn out well for either of them. Magee has a deadpan tone, which does not judge the main characters, even when their actions are deplorable.

Late Fragments

At the moment, I’m reading the best selling book of 2014, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I also have Late Fragments by Kate Gross on my bedside table. Although the premise of this book does sound rather depressing (it’s written by a mother who is dying of cancer), I’ve been told that it’s an uplifting and emotional read.

Life After London

Anyone who lives in London would be lying if they say they’ve never contemplated selling up and moving somewhere less full-on and less expensive. Fresh air, a big garden with room for chickens and a vegetable patch, a village pub; these all feature in my ‘living in the country’ wishlist. However I know I’m a city person at heart and would miss desperately some of the things that I take for granted in London.

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With London house prices what they are the moment (f*cking mental, in case you were wondering), many families are taking the leap. One of my best friends, E has done just that and we visited her this weekend in her new country abode. Before moving to Suffolk, E lived in London for nearly twenty years. Along with her partner, she was my first flatmate when I moved to London after University. We rented a lovely flat in Bethnal Green; 2 bedrooms, shared between 3 of us, we paid £250 each. How things have changed. Recently E lived in Camberwell along with her husband and two children, just down the road from me, and anyone who knows Camberwell will know the Suffolk countryside is quite a contrast. She was able to swap a two bedroom house (an estate agent would call it ‘compact and bijou’) for a far more spacious four bedroom house with a massive garden and still have some cash left over. It’s madness. You can see why people are tempted.

The house in Suffolk is a sixties property with many original features. I was rather taken with the mint bathroom. (Could I possibly have a coloured bathroom suite? *ponders*) There’s also some lovely floral wallpaper and patterned carpet everywhere. It’s definitely ‘granny chic’.

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Apart from admiring the patterned carpet (and the deliciously chubby legs of E’s youngest), we followed some traditional country pursuits; a walk, feeding the ducks and a pint in the local pub. There’s a lot to be said for the simple life.

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The next day, more walks, more food and then home. And home is still London for me. Despite the countryside’s obvious charms, I’m not ready to move out just yet. Although I feel very lucky that one of my oldest and loveliest friends now lives in such a beautiful place, as it’s always a pleasure to visit.

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Cafe Culture: Kin

If you find yourself inexplicably on Oxford Street, one wet Tuesday lunchtime, fighting hordes of desperate shoppers for the bargains of the Next sale (come on we’ve all been there), you could do no better than heading to Kin Cafe for a little respite from the consumerist lunacy. I discovered this calm oasis on Twitter. I’m not quite certain who or why, but I’m glad I clicked whichever link I clicked as Kin is a gem of a cafe.

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Appearance: Sleek, minimalist and using lots of grey, Kin is small and perfectly formed. Despite not being very big, the design maximises the light and the amount of space it has. There are some rather lovely grey wool bench seats at the back which perfectly blend comfort and design (in fact I’m going back to get their measurements – I want something similar for my kitchen). I loved some of the other details such as the black and copper lights (which can be bought at Bodie and Fou) and the reupholstered vintage chairs. There’s also a plant wall which adds some welcome greenery.

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Location: North of Oxford Street in the rather happening Fitzrovia; it is definitely a good spot to escape the retail madness. I used to frequent the pub on the corner, the Crown and Sceptre in my younger days. Now it’s less about the booze and more about the coffee, so Kin it is.

kale salad

Menu: Healthy and delicious. The three salads they offer every day are mainly vegan – you can buy a large selection of all three for £6.50. I’m telling you the sweet potato salad with almond butter was inspired; I’ve been searching for a recipe ever since. Other offerings such as quiches and frittatas are vegetarian.

Kin cafe

Clientele: I’ve been to Kin twice. Once it was absolutely packed with local workers on their lunch break. The second time was earlier and it was a lot less busy. There was time enough for some people watching.

Coffee: They have a rather splendid La Marzocco machine and they use Notes beans. (I should also mention their delicious looking freshly squeezed juices at this point, just in case coffee is not your thing.)

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Overall: If you have a craving for kale at lunchtime and find yourself near Oxford Street, I would highly recommend Kin. I have a minor quibble that the second time I visited, the portion size for a large salad seemed to have shrunk. I like my salad BIG; it’s healthy so I like to eat lots of it. But I would definitely go back. The food is fresh, healthy and most importantly tastes really good.

Kin Cafe, 22 Foley Street, London, W1W 6DT

Source: Photos by French and Tye, Kin and me.

On the Radar: February

January, huh? Another one bites the dust and I can’t say I’m sorry. Despite my best intentions, the blogging went out of the window. I just couldn’t motivate myself to do it. So let’s draw a line under it and move on. It’s February, hurrah! Pancakes, Valentine’s Day and the light lasting a little bit longer every single day. There is much to celebrate. Come on Spring, you can do it.

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So what have I got my eye on this February?

  • The Saatchi Gallery has an interesting exhibition on at the moment. Post Pop: East Meets West explores the legacy of Pop Art on artists from all over the world with sometimes opposing ideologies.
  • February 17th is pancake day. While I love the traditional flat pancake with lemon and sugar (yum), I’m up for trying something a bit different too. These spelt, coconut and blueberry pancakes fit the bill.
  • Each February half term, there’s a massive children’s festival on at the Southbank Centre. Among the many, many things to do, animal noise bingo caught my eye. (And isn’t the tiger beautiful?)
  • I am still planning on doing our kitchen renovation this year. These tiles from Bert and May are gorgeous. I hope I can fit a few in somewhere.

A Little Honesty

2015

It’s been a while… If I’m absolutely honest, I thought my post in November might actually be my last. I haven’t been feeling it recently. By ‘it’ I mean the urge to blog, to share, to communicate. Despite all its festivities, December was a difficult month. It brought with it, along with all the holly and tinsel, a faraway family tragedy (extended family but enough to make me stop in my tracks) and a very good friend going through tough times (thankfully looking a lot better now). Coupled with that, I had the guilty feeling that my Christmas just wasn’t cutting the mustard. There are only so many home-made advent calendars a girl can endure.

I’ve been questioning my tiny, tiny place in the blogging community for a while. Sometimes the internet seems like a popularity contest. And I am left perplexed at the rise of some blogs which I used to enjoy but are now leaving me cold. There are some that I continue to love, of course (Something I Made, Little Birdie, Tangerine Canteen among many) but some seem to have turned into marketing machines. I know it must be a hard thing to balance if you’re trying to make money out of your blog, but I’m really turned off by the endless press trips, sponsored posts (if I really wanted to buy a car seat or a hoover, I wouldn’t trust the recommendation of a blogger, I’d log into the Which site. I don’t care what it looks like.) I suppose I’ve become annoyed at constant attempts to make me buy things. It’s everywhere. So for the sake of my blood pressure, I’ve unfollowed some of the worst culprits and taken a few deep breaths. (Another 2015 resolution is to DECLUTTER and buy less shit. I have bought a lot of shit in my time, and have the overflowing cupboards, drawers, and let’s face it, rooms of the stuff to prove it. I don’t need any more.)

Which brings me onto my place online. I suppose I’ve shied away from actually expressing opinions on this blog because I’m scared of what people will think of me. I’m one of those people who annoyingly wants to be liked. But I do have opinions. And I think I’ve just decided I’m going to express them more. Some of them even involve heavy stuff like current affairs, and the upcoming general election (although I’m sure we’re going to get sick of that very, very soon.)

I’ve also been thinking about who this blog is actually read by. I don’t care about having massive amounts of readers (lucky that) but I do care about connecting with the ones I do have. So I’m going to make more effort on that front. There are some lovely people out there (well the ones I’ve met anyway) and hopefully I’m going to meet some more.

So Happy New Year everyone. Sorry for the semi-rant. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into 2015 with a little more honesty.

(Image is this print from Etsy. Also relevant for 2015 I hope.)