Cafe Culture: Esters

I mentioned in my last post that I would love to set up a cafe. At the moment, I’m very much in the research stages. This involves visiting cafes and having a coffee or maybe lunch (radical research plan, huh?) This blog is as good a place as any to write down my observations.

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First up Esters in Stoke Newington. ‘Why this cafe?’ I hear you cry. Well I‘ve been to this place in a previous guise and I knew the couple who set up Fred and Fran (now known as Esters). I liked it then, so I wanted to see what the new owner had done.  The previous owners have moved to Australia (where they are living in Bondi and making us jealous on Facebook). It was also an excuse to visit Stoke Newington…they are some lovely independent shops in Stokey.

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Location: On a residential street in Stoke Newington. It’s on a parade of shops and there’s also a pub but midweek, when I visited, it was not exactly a main thoroughfare.

Appearance: Pared back – wood and concrete. Pleasing on the eye.

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Food: A simple menu focusing on simple and seasonal salady and brunch type dishes. Unusual enough for you to want to pay for the food. I would have eaten everything on the menu. (They weren’t serving food when I was there).

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Esters

Coffee: They obviously take it seriously here. There were boards up telling customers where the beans were from. They have a big coffee machine. Size is everything when it comes to coffee machines (I have no idea if this is true or not, but I do note that the cafes that are serious about coffee all have whoppers).

Other drinks: A range of teas, fresh lemonade, chilled soft drinks.

Clientele: It was fairly empty when I visited (about 4.30 on a Thursday). The cafe was just about to shut. I can imagine it’s attractive to mums who need a caffeine fix, homeworkers, those who want a nice lunch. Local Stokey types would love it, I’m sure.

Conclusion: This is a fantastic neighbourhood cafe, with good coffee and an interesting menu. Definitely one to look at for inspiration.

(All pics taken by me except the one of the food (I didn’t eat there). This is from their website.)

Esters, 55 Kynaston Road, London, N16 0EB

A Blog Hop

I was rather chuffed to be asked to take part in this blog hop, firstly by lovely Lia from Tangerine Canteen and then by my fellow Londoner, Alexis from Something I Made, both are constant sources of blogspiration for me. The requests came at a good time. I was feeling rather disenchanted last week, wondering where I was heading with this whole blogging malarkey. It’s nice to feel connected.

1. What have been the doings/makings/scribblings at your desk/making table in the last week?  

I don’t have a desk or making table. (Can you hear the tiny violins, yet?) So I do all my writing sat on the sofa with a laptop on my knees. Probably not the best for the health of my lower back… I generally sit down to blog in the evening once my son is in bed and dinner has been cooked.

This is the view from the sofa…(you can see I have a mid-century obsession going on).

Living Room

I’m also in the kitchen a lot. Food is a big passion. I like eating it and I like cooking it. I love posting my monthly salad recipe so I’m trying to think of something suitably summery to post up for July. But my blog isn’t really a food blog (and my photography and food styling skills aren’t really up to the standard set on the internet), so I post a lot about places I’ve been and things I’ve done. (Which means I try to go and do things in London and beyond). I’ve done a few things recently that I need to post about (camping and an exhibition at the Barbican).

2. Where are you currently finding your inspiration? (influences, heroes/who, sources of inspiration, paths exploring)? 

I find inspiration everywhere. I love books, magazines, weekend supplements, cook books. Instagram is also awash with amazingness. And of course let us not forget blogs; food blogs, lifestyle blogs, interiors blogs. You name it, I’ll read it.

Like Alexis, I get tons of inspiration from wandering around London. It doesn’t have to be an exhibition. One of my favourite things to do is head to an area I don’t go to much and have a wander. There are always fantastically creative shops and cafes to inspire. I based the bathroom in my last flat on one I’d been to in a restaurant (Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea in case you’re wondering). Restaurants often have the best interior design. The menus can be pretty inspiring too.

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I also love to travel. We’re trying to save for major work on our house, but seem to find ourselves booking holidays instead. Last year it was Copenhagen, France, Italy and Paris. This year we’re being slightly more restrained and ‘only’ going to France and New York for my significant birthday in October. I just love visiting these places and am often dreaming about the next trip.

I’m in a bit of a crux career-wise at the moment. I decided to leave my very dull career two years ago. I’m a trained chartered accountant. Anyone who knows me would know that this was a bad career choice. (I’m far too haphazard for accountancy). I’ve had a few jobs in different fields since then..However the ‘what next?’ question is looming large. I’m nearly forty and I still don’t know what I want to do. Argh! I’m a tiny bit obsessed with the idea of setting up a cafe at the moment (I can almost see my husband shaking his head at this point) so I’ve been visiting some cool cafes to see what works and what doesn’t. I may make a series out of it on the blog. My cafe would be heavily salad oriented, of course.

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(This is my new favourite cafe, M1lk in Balham).

3. How important is being creative to you & how do you blend this with your work/life/family balance?

I’ve never really thought of myself as a particularly creative person. At school I took the academic route (although I did enjoy creative writing and was good at it). I was always good at exams and went to a school which prized academic achievement. Then I went into a career that wasn’t creative. Who wants a creative accountant??! But I’m starting to realise that I do have a spark of creativity. My mind is constantly buzzing with ideas for cooking, interiors and small businesses (my last boss thought this was a bad thing as my mind wasn’t on the job. ) It’s the realisation I struggle with. I need to slow down a little.. I expect things to happen immediately. Some things take time.

This blog was started because I wanted to explore other interests I had. I was stuck in a boring job and needed something else. Now I no longer have that job but the blog is still important to me. Most of my ideas don’t make it onto here though. I need to change that.

I’ve worked full-time and managed to blog, so I suppose I can find the time when I want to. But family life is my priority (and if I can get a blog-post out of it, so be it).

And now it’s my turn to pass on this blog hop. 

I’d like to nominate Angela from Little Apple Tree. I had the pleasure of meeting her at Blogtacular –  it’s always nice to meet an actual person in real life. Her blog is a  unique mix of craft, cake and Dr Who. And she lives in Bristol (I love Bristol). That city has a habit of producing some really interesting blogs.

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The Year in Books: July

Well it had to happen. I’ve had a run of books that I’ve enjoyed immensely. I could not fault Americanah or Burial Rites and looked forward to getting lost in them. My books for June, not so much. Apple Tree Yard was not an easy read. The words were fine, it was the subject matter I struggled with. It did not start well; the style of writing jarred with me and I did not especially like the main character. (It is written in the first person and she came across as rather knowing and dare I say it, smug). I don’t want to give away the plot, but something dramatic and rather harrowing happens in the middle of the book and then the rest of the story hangs off this. As a thriller, I expected there to be twists and turns but I could almost see them coming in Apple Tree Yard, I’m not averse to a good page-turner and was gripped by Gone Girl. Unfortunately I didn’t like this one half as much.

Secondly I read The Circle. Again it didn’t start well but it did get going in the second half of the book. The main character, Mae just seemed rather wet, but I now realise that this was key to what happens later on. The workings of the Circle, a large American internet company (an amalgamation of all the companies that dominate our online lives today..Google, Paypal, Twitter, Facebook…) did not seem that sinister at the beginning, in fact some of it was very funny. But slowly the Circle’s machinations became weirder and more intrusive. Transparency is key. There is no part of everyday life that can remain private. Small cameras are hooked up everywhere for people to watch. Anyone who disagrees with this way of doing things is hounded (with tragic consequences). The scary thing about ‘The Circle’ is that all of these developments seemed plausible. It could happen in the future. It certainly made me think about the way I use social media.

The Goldfinch

My summer read is going to be The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It’s a thick one, so I’m not promising it will be finished by the end of July. I’m sure I will have time for another book before the summer is out though, so I’ll be checking out the other ‘The Year in Books’ entries for some ideas.

 

Dennis Hopper

On the Radar: July

Well hello July. We’re still reeling from a June that delivered some gorgeous weather. <whisper it> It’s really quite summery here. So how do we do summer in the city? There are events galore: outdoor festivals all over the city celebrating food, music and art. We are able to watch cinema on rooftops and drink pink drinks on top of car parks. And after we’ve had our fill of urban excitement, we can escape. One camping trip down (blog post to follow), one to come. Ah yes. It’s been a good summer so far.

  • Not only was Dennis Hopper an iconic actor, his photography was damn fine too. I love the Sixties, its style and its culture so I can’t wait to check this exhibition out.
  • It seems there are food festivals popping up all over the place. This one’s in Peckham. I went last year and had a great time.
  • July can only mean one thing – Lambeth Country Show, held in Brockwell Park just down the road from me. Think all the traditional country show attractions; farm animals, horticulture, copious amounts of strong cider. And add an urban twist. It’s always fun.
  • I loved this round up of London bruncheries (is that a word? Slightly wanky but I think we’ll let it pass).
  • Have you watched True Detective? Oh my days, as my son would say. (Where the hell did he get this phrase, it’s not one of mine). It’s really very good.

 

East-End Wandering

What springs to mind when you think of the East-End of London? Cockneys, Dirty Den, pearly kings and queens, the Kray twins? Or bearded hipsters, tattoos and single estate coffee shops? We saw many hipsters on our weekend wanderings. London Fields was chock a block with tattooed young people having BBQs (there’s even a special area for them – I don’t know if they check your facial hair status before you are allowed to light up). There were not many Pat Butcher-esque matriarchs or old school gangsters in evidence. Perhaps they come out at night?

I do love a wander in East London. There’s something to keep everyone happy. On Saturday we started at Sager & Wilde on Hackney Road. It’s one of the ‘new breed’ of wine bars. My husband is slowly learning about wine and liked the short but interesting wine list. I thought the bar’s decor was rather lovely (and the glass of white I had hit the spot).

Sagerandwilde

 

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We meandered on, stopping briefly at Hackney City Farm. There were pigs, chickens and a donkey; enough to keep Fred amused for at least five minutes.

Then we headed to Broadway Market, which was heaving. There is street food galore at this market. We enjoyed a chicken burger (buttermilk chicken of course, what else?) and a tortilla thing with chorizo and a fried egg on top. My opinion is that you cannot go wrong by adding a fried egg on top. It improves EVERYTHING.

Broadway

There are some interesting shops lining Broadway Market. There’s a really good book shop and one that sells lots of cool magazines (I could spend hours in there). And of course all the expected retailers in a gentrified area of London: posh butchers, cafe selling proper coffee, new wave haberdashers and a wine shop that isn’t one of your bog standard chains. Whilst I had a look round the market, Fred enjoyed the hipster playground that is London Fields. (There is also a real playground for the youngsters.)

More booze was needed at this point. (Well it was the weekend and the sun was shining). So we had a quick stop at the London Fields brewery. I had a very nice half pint of their white beer. They do tours of the brewery at weekends. The food looked good too.

london fields

Adequately sated, we set off along the Regent’s Canal. Our destination, Islington. On a sunny day, it’s a very pleasant way to spend a few hours. There are places to rest and recuperate along the way. And if you are so inclined (and we were), enjoy a drink. I loved the Towpath Cafe. Obviously its setting by the side of the canal means it’s a popular spot on a sunny day. But we managed to nab a table. The menu looked good too and I must say, they offered some lovely summery drinks. Campari and soda, I’m looking at you.

Towpath

It’s a couple of miles along the canal from Broadway Market to Islington. Perfect for a family walk. Islington itself deserves a post to itself as there are many brilliant shops and restaurants. I particularly love the stalls and shops of Chapel Market, but there is also great stuff to be found on Upper Street and Essex Road.

After a burger at Five Guys, it was time for us to head home with full bellies and sun-kissed noses.

 

Roasted Za’atar Carrots with Pearl Barley and Olives

I’ve been quite vocal about my love of Middle Eastern flavours. For me, Ottolenghi was a game-changer. I love his style of cooking – the herbs and spices, the sharing nature of the dishes, the use of vegetables, EVERYTHING he does, basically. Can you tell I’m a fan?

Carrots

In this salad, I’ve used the humble carrot (currently a constant in my Riverford veg box) and roasted it in earthy za’atar; a mix of various spices including oregano, thyme, sesame seeds and sumac. When it comes to vegetables, I’m a recent convert to the power of roasting them. Carrots become sweeter and caramelised. Here, the za’atar gives them a Middle-Eastern flavour and the olives add a salty tang. I also made an orange and harissa dressing and some harrisa yoghurt on the side, if you like it hot.

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Ingredients:

  • A bunch of carrots (about 10 depending on their size)
  • Two teaspoons of za’atar
  • Four tablespoons of olive oil
  • Pearly barley
  • A handful of pitted kalamata olives, chopped into pieces
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • 200ml greek yoghurt
  • Three teaspoons of harissa
  • A teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
  • Juice of half an orange
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 200C.
  2. Chop carrots lengthways. For biggish carrots, I chopped them into 4 pieces lengthways.
  3. Put the carrots in a roasting dish and coat them in olive oil (about a tablespoon’s worth) and add the za’atar, make sure this is coating the carrots.
  4. Put carrots in the oven and roast for half an hour.
  5. Meanwhile cook the pearly barley as per packet instructions. I boiled it in water (with a bit of chicken stock added) for 20 minutes.
  6. Mix the yoghurt with 2 teaspoons of harissa and a little olive oil and taste. If you like it hot, add more harissa.
  7. To make the dressing, add the orange juice, a dash of apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of harissa and 3 tablespoons of olive oil and mix. Season to taste.
  8. When the pearl barley is ready, drain and cool a little. Then layer over a serving dish.
  9. Place the carrots on the pearl barley.
  10. Sprinkle over the dressing. You won’t need all of it.
  11. Scatter over the olives and parsley.
  12. Serve with the bowl of harissa yoghurt on the side.

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More London

More London is an area of offices close to London Bridge, in case you were wondering. It’s not especially exciting but some of the (modern) architecture is striking and there are fountains. Fountains, as every parent knows, are an excellent way to while a way some time on a hot day when you have kids in tow. It wasn’t particularly hot on Saturday, but Fred still loved the fountains. Luckily he didn’t get too wet and soggy so post-fountains whingeing was minimal.

More London

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I don’t think I’ve mentioned my good luck on le blog. I recently won a camera. It came at a good time as my desire to lug the DLSR around has been waning. However I couldn’t justify the expense and was resigned to taking photos with my phone. I didn’t even know I had entered a competition, so when I got an email from Thomson Holidays telling me I’d won, it was a rather lovely surprise. I’d done a silly selfie at Blogtacular to procure myself a goodie bag (I’ll do anything for a freebie and this was no exception. The selfie involved a sombrero and a plastic shark. Evidence can be found on twitter if you’re interested.) Little did I know it was also a competition to win a camera. Another reason to love Blogtacular. So these photos were taken with my new camera. I’ve still got to learn all the tricks it has up its sleeves. It’s a clever little thing, this camera.

Tower Bridge

There was a Rioja and Tapas festival on near More London, which was our main reason for being there. I can honestly say that the pork belly with cumin and salt from Morito was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year (and I’ve eaten at some pretty fancy restaurants, don’t you know). I suspect it’s pretty easy to recreate so I’ve ordered their cook book (any excuse). I want to make it as soon as possible. Utterly delicious. Some of the wines were good too.

Morito

We also found some time for a mooch and a nibble at Borough Market. The South Bank is probably our default day out in London, it helps that Blackfriars is 15 minutes on the train from where we live. There’s invariably something going on and cheap street-food options are always available. I can’t wait for the new development at the Tate Modern to open.

 

On the Radar: June

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I’m running slightly late with my June post. How exactly are we nearly half way through this summery and (so far) sunny month? London has positively come alive with activity. My mind is boggling at the fabulousness of it all. And the brilliant thing is, I’m going to have a bit of time to do some of this stuff. My contract is up at the place I was working. It was not the job I wanted: I left a fairly well paid but boring job and I don’t want to end up in a badly paid but boring job. Maybe I’m being unrealistic but there has to be something in it for me. This was not the job I am working towards. So I’m free on Friday. Hurrah! School’s out for summer.

So what am I planning?

  • There’s a Scandinavian midsummer pop-up at Habitat on the Kings Road. In conjunction with designjunction, it combines nordic design and a cafe.  Food and pretty things: I’m in.
  • My husband has got his eye on this Rioja Tapas Fantasticas festival on the Southbank this weekend.
  • There’s also a fayre on Marylebone High Street this weekend. There will be lots of lovely stalls selling street food and cocktails and the shops along the high street have got some pretty good offers on.
  • Need to get my salad on. This one has got my name all over it.
  • I’ve got a booking at Honey & Co. They also have a cook book out later in the month. It’s my kinda food. Resist, resist. (I won’t be able to).
  • We’re also going camping. I love camping.

What’s on your radar over the summer?

 

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Half Term in the Lake District

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that my photos were looking greener than they usually do. London is a pretty green city, in that there are parks and trees to break up the grey of the concrete; but it’s not as green as the Lake District. Must be all the rain they get.

After a short ten hour drive, broken half way by a trip to Alton Towers and a stay at the Alton Towers Hotel. This was a freebie from work, to honour the opening of Cbeebies Land at Alton Towers. Fred loved the hotel; they provide a games consul in the room so what’s not to love for a screen mad six year old? I’m a little harder to please. But it was free, so who am I to complain? We even got to schmooze with some Z-list celebrities at the launch party for Cbeebies Land. The fact that Denis Van Outen and a few stars from Eastenders and Coronation Street were enjoying the delights of the buffet was completely lost on Fred (and my husband too). We did enjoy the free tickets to Alton Towers, but didn’t really make the most of it, as Fred has yet to reach the golden height of 1.4m. The height that unlocks the really scary rollercoasters. Next time perhaps?

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Onto the main event –  a week in the Lake District. We went with some friends; we tend to get away with them once a year. There are fourteen of us in total; eight adults and six kids aged between four and eight who happen to be all boys. It works rather well. Each couple cooks on one evening. The kids entertain each other. We do a few group activities and walks. But have time to do our own thing too. I’m all for group holidays.

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Pre-kids, my husband and this particular group of friends used to visit the Lakes a lot. They are familiar with the terrain; the walks, the climbs and the pubs. Things have changed a little after the arrival of the children; there is less time to devote to walking, outdoor pursuits and sampling the local ales.This is the first year the boys have been introduced to rock climbing. And I was surprised how good they were. I’m scared of heights so it’s not something I would ever attempt. Being fearless is definitely an advantage when it comes to climbing. Fred particularly enjoyed it; (and was particularly fearless- I had my heart in my mouth just watching him clamber up those rocks).

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climbing

As much as an urban lover as I am, it was restorative to escape the city for a while. The scenery of the Lake District is breathtaking. Spring was a fantastic time to visit, as the hedgerows were bursting with new life and colour. We returned to London feeling refreshed; ready for the summer. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

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The Year in Books: May/June

Ooops I seem to have missed May’s Year in Books. It’s not that I didn’t read a book, more like I forgot to blog it. (Or rather failed to take the right cable on holiday with me that enabled me to download a picture from my camera. When in doubt blame it on technology. I’m not looking forward to the day when technology fights back.)

I chose Burial Rites by Hannah Kent for April. Set in the barren and unforgiving landscape of 19th Century Iceland, we follow the (true) story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir who has been sent to an isolated farm to await her execution. The reader has no idea if she is guilty of the crime or not and the tale is gradually unfurled over the pages of the book. The language is beautifully descriptive, and the author manages to create the feelings of claustrophobia and darkness perfectly. It’s hard to believe that Hannah Kent is actually Australian because the world she describes is so brilliantly imagined. Yes, I loved this book; it’s a haunting tale written with great skill. Recommended.

The Year in Books

Sooooo….here are my books for May and June. I have two as May was so rudely overlooked. The first is a thriller called Apple Tree Yard. I’ve almost finished it, but I won’t write too much about it now. All I will say is that at times the subject matter has not been easy to read. 

Secondly, I’ve picked The Circle by Dave Eggers. I’ve enjoyed a couple of his books in the past; A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius and What is the What. Both very different books and subject matter but there is no denying that Dave Eggers is a very talented writer. He is also the founder of McSweeney’s and is the co-founder of the literacy project 826 Valencia.

The Circle is set in the intriguing world of an internet service provider, which I’m sure is up to no good. It’s been described as ‘A gripping and highly unsettling read’. I’m excited about getting stuck in.