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.

barbican

  • 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!

Peru and Ecuador 136

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.

Picture 028

*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.

countryside

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’.

sixties

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.

countryside2 countryside3 countryside4

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.

countryside5 countryside6

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.

KIN_CAFE-331-941x519

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.

KIN_CAFE-27 French&Tye

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.)

Kin-SHOOT_2-45

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.

Feb2

 

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.)

 

Kitchen Wishlist: Pantry

Can storage be sexy? For most people it’s an essential but not something to get excited about. Enter the pantry (or the walk in wardrobe, come to that). Oh yeah. If I could type the sound I make when I vibrate my tongue against the roof of my mouth, I’d do it now. You know the one…Eartha Kitt was particularly good at it. I would love to have a pantry and I’m trying to work out how. I have so many bits of kit that I only use occasionally and obscure ingredients tucked away at the back of my shelves. It would be amazing to be able to store everything more prettily and be able to access stuff with ease.

So I’ve been searching Pinterest for my pantry and larder ideas. It didn’t let me down.

Look at this one from Jordan on Oh Happy Day. It’s so pretty (and dare I say it, a little bit sexy too). Tiled walls and ordered shelves make for a good looking space. If we do manage to fit a pantry into our space, we would not have a window on it therefore no natural light.

Pantry2

This pantry found on Remodelista is separated from the main kitchen with glass panels. I think I would want to be able to shut the door and not see the inside of my larder, but I have to admit, this one does look good. I also love the dark kitchen units and shelf brackets.

Pantry5

This sliding door is a good solution to keep the pantry separate from the kitchen. Although I’m not sure I would want a glass door embossed with the word pantry. Found here.

Pantry 1

Look how beautifully light and bright this one is. Swoon. Look at all that STORAGE. Found here.

Pantry 4

Here’s another space embracing dark colours. I rather like the black wall and tiles.

Pantry 3

 

I have a designer coming round later to discuss my plans. I’m itching to get started on this project, so watch this space. What do you think about pantries? Do you think they are a good use of space, or would you prefer to have a slightly bigger kitchen?

Serial: Are you listening?

serial

I have to tell you about this podcast, Serial.  I am hooked. I first heard about it on Twitter (where else?). It’s from the makers of This American Life (I’m told this was a popular podcast too). I’m new to the world of podcasts and up now have resisted in favour of a bit of (live) Radio 4 or 6 Music. But I’ve been missing out if Serial is anything to go by. It’s compelling.

So what is Serial? It’s a weekly podcast, in which an investigative journalist, Sarah Koenig looks into the real life murder of an American High school student, Hae Lin Lee in 1999. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed was convicted of the crime but he has always protested his innocence. Did he do it? We don’t know (well not yet anyway, I don’t know if we will ever know.). He’s currently serving 30 years in prison.

The case is not straight forward. Nothing is clear cut. And there are all sorts of issues raised about justice, culture and even memory. (Could you account for your movements on a Wednesday six weeks ago?)

I started listening yesterday morning, and since then I’ve binge-listened to nearly all of it. Eight installments have been released so far (they are released weekly.) I’m already planning cleaning the bathroom so I can listen to the next one. That’s got to be a good thing.

Do you listen to podcasts? Can you recommend any to a new convert?

 

New York skyline

New York, New York

New York 1

So as you are probably aware, my husband, my six year old son and I spent half term in New York. I say New York, but we actually managed a couple of nights in Washington DC too. New York might seem a strange destination for a family, but as a city lover through and through, I think it’s the ultimate family city break. Much like London, there are LOADS of things to do for kids. I thought I’d write a couple of tips and observations. Hopefully anyone planning a city break with a child might find these useful.

  • Be realistic. I think this really is the key when travelling with kids. You may have a list as long as your arm of museums and galleries to visit, restaurants to try, interesting little cafes but realistically you are not going to be able to do it all. This time I accepted that and went with the flow a little bit more. I actually picked one or two things I really, really wanted to do and concentrated on them. The rest of it was freeflow.
  • Airbnb is your friend. When you’re spending your evenings at home rather than painting the town red, it’s nice to have a separate space to relax in. Hotels in New York (and most cities to be honest) are expensive. Airbnb can offer you a cheaper alternative and more space and freedom. We’ve stayed in Airbnbs in New York, California, Paris and Copenhagen. We’ve had our own apartments and shared with the owner of the house. If you value your privacy, you’ll want your own place. But it’s often cheaper to have a room in someone’s house. And it can mean you meet some interesting people. I reason that they wouldn’t be prepared to rent out a room if they are not welcoming hosts. This time, we stayed for a couple of nights in a beautiful brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The owner, Marion, was a lovely lady in the later years of her life. She’d been born and brought up in New York and I had some interesting tales to tell. Her house was also beautiful.

Brooklyn

  • Airbnb also means it easy to stay in the neighbourhoods where people actually live rather than the central tourist traps. We stayed in two locations in Brooklyn: Park Slope (a well to do area full of families – fantastic for trick or treating, or as Fred says trickle treating) and Greenpoint (an area which is rapidly gentrifying and is full of cool shops and cafes). Given a choice, I’d always stay in these residential areas and I would recommend people do the same in London too.

We had brunch at Five Leaves in Greenpoint (as recommended by Design*Sponge on her blog, she lives in Greenpoint). The pancakes were the best I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately they were Fred’s and he rather liked them too.

Five Leaves

  • If you’re travelling with your partner and have enough time, do things separately. This time, Michael took Fred off for a few hours to an amazing science museum (I say a few hours, it was actually nearly six), whilst I satisfied my urge to wander aimlessly and check out a few cafes. (I did my personal best on my pedometer that day – 24,000 steps). Another day, I took Fred to a museum while Michael went to the Met.
  • Instead of spending $$$s on the tourist attractions, have a drink in a bar instead. The views are obviously a big thing in New York and it’s pretty expensive to go up the Empire State Building or the Rockerfeller Centre. We figured we could get views elsewhere and enjoy a beer at the same time. Win win.

These photos were taken from the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. The sunset lighting up the Manhattan skyline was spectacular. The drinks were rather nice too.

New York skyline

 

New York skyline 2

 

Fred

  • Jetlag is a drag and it takes (a long) time for children to adjust to new time zones. The first few days were 4.30am wake up calls for us. You can actually use this to your advantage and be the first in the queue for attractions that open early. We went on the Staten Island Ferry (which is free), pretty early in the morning and also had brunch in a popular spot. We were first in the restaurant. Later it was packed. Generally we changed our bedtime so we were in bed pretty early and able to manage the early rises. (Anyone with small children will know this is the only way to deal with it without feeling knackered). It also meant that coming back to the UK has been pretty easy for me and Michael. And from previous experience, it’s returning to the UK which is worst. Fred took about a week to get back to normal but it was no way as bad as when we went to California *shudders*.

New York 3

New York 7

  • We chose a daytime flight to come back. Most of the return flights seem to go overnight. It’s a seven hour flight which means five hours sleep max. Add an excited child into the mix and that’s not a lot of sleep for anyone. I could just about cope with it (and have done it in the past). However we felt it would be even worse trying to get him back on track if he missed an entire night’s sleep.

It all seems a distant memory now. Onto planning the next trip…it’s the only way to get through the winter.