Cook Book Challenge

I have a bit of a problem. No it’s not that. I have a problem when it comes to buying cook books. I cannot resist the latest offerings from my favourite food writers. My shelves are heaving and I’m running out of space. Oh well. There are worse addictions to have.

There’s something going on in food right now. There seems to be a move away from rich, heavy meat-based recipes and the humble vegetable is being embraced in all sorts of sexy ways. This is good news for those of us who want to eat less meat and good news for the environment. These are a few of my favourite books at the moment. They are not all strictly vegetarian, but all of them focus on vegetable-heavy dishes and healthier cooking.

So over the next month or so, I’m going to stop flicking through these books and actually try some of the recipes. I’ve picked a few out below. I’ll let you know how I get on.



A lot has been written about this book, two of my favourite bloggers have raved about it. Of course, I had to have it. This is a vegetarian book and Ms Jones has some fresh, innovative ways of cooking with veg.

Three recipes to try:

  • Charred pepper and halloumi stew
  • Pan-dressed noodles with crunchy cabbage and crispy tofu
  • Kale and black sesame sushi bowl



Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley are glamorous sisters with a love of healthy food. They’ve worked as caterers to the fashion industry and have been food writers for Vogue. The book is full of healthy recipes, but is not vegetarian.

Three recipes to try:

  • Hot buckwheat noodle salad
  • Feta and black bean burgers
  • Carrot, radish and seaweed salad with sweet miso dressing


My love of Ottolenghi knows no bounds. I love what he does with vegetables and all the weird and wonderful ingredients he uses. Plenty More is already living up to the hype (perhaps it’s just me though?!) The dishes are divided up by the cooking methods: fried, roasted, mashed, etc. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Three recipes to try:

  • Red onions with walnut salsa
  • Squash with chilli yoghurt and coriander sauce
  • Fried cauliflower with mint and tamarind dipping sauce



I have a thing for salads so this is my kinda cook book. The author, Sally Butcher also owns a specialist food shop called Persepolis in Peckham, which sells all manner of goodies from the Middle East and beyond. The book is full of inspiration.

Three recipes to try:

  • Patatas bravas salad
  • Harissa spiced fig, merguez and almond salad
  • Smoked mackerel salad with dukkah-spiced oaty sprinkles


Diana Henry has got to be one of my favourite food writers. Her style is friendly but she knows her shizzle and the recipes always add something a little different to the party. This book concentrates on a lighter style of cooking, and it really is ‘where healthy meets delicious.’

Three recipes to try:

  • Winter greens with crispy onions, tahini and sumac
  • Gooseberry, almond and spelt cake
  • Burmese chilli fish with hot and sour salad

diana henry


Gwynnie is like marmite. She invokes strong reactions. Love her or hate her, this cook book co-authored by Gwyneth and Julia Turshen (Designsponge’s partner) is full of some really good looking recipes. They are pretty simple so pretty easy to whip up when you don’t have much time.

Three recipes to try:

  • Roasted cauliflower and chickpeas with mustard and parsley
  • Mexican chopped salad with Mexican green goddess dressing
  • Salmon burgers with pickled ginger and coriander

No excuses, time to get cooking.


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London Open House

This weekend it was London Open House. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the doors of 10 Downing Street (you do have to enter a ballot for some popular sites) or what the view is like from the Gherkin, this is the festival for you. This year, we decided avoid the big ticket buildings and opted to visit some architect designed residences instead. I was hoping to pick up some inspiration for our kitchen project. I was not disappointed. We saw some beautiful properties, ranging from extensions on Victorian properties to new builds.

I’ve started to realise that even though our project is the reshaping of an existing space, rather than the building of a new one, I would really like to get an architect involved at the planning stages. I’ve seen the way architects are able to maximise space and light, and I want that for my little project.

The first place we viewed was a Victorian House in Hackney. The owner is an architect. There was a beautiful extension out back with a stunning kitchen. But the whole house was stylishly designed including pink bathroom tiles, the use of mirrors to reflect light and the cool slide bed in a child’s bedroom (my boy loved this detail).

Victoria Park ZCD Architects

Victoria Park5

Victoria Park ZCD Architects3

This was the first window seat we saw. They are obviously having a moment.


The second place was also in the Victoria Park area. It was a smaller Victorian cottage which had an extension at the back. The architect, Tom Kaneko was there to give a quick talk about the design. He explained that it had been done on a small budget. I thought the window seat was absolutely stunning. (I’ve now added window seat to the list of must-haves).

2014-09-20 14.16.57

He had also used internal sliding doors to good effect to divide the area and create an office space for the owner of the house.

tom kaneko3

If this place was full of achievable design, the new build in Camberwell was a dream property. Again the owners were also the architects. I was bowled over by this house. The space and light had been maximised and the overall effect was a beautifully designed house, where every detail had been considered thoughtfully.

The stand-out details for me were the pantry (for me – this is the stuff of dreams, I’m trying to work out how I would incorporate this into my kitchen design), the windows and the amazing joinery throughout the house. When can I move in?




Images for first house taken from here.

Images for third house taken from here.

Know Thyself

When you are trying to change career, you do a certain amount of naval-gazing. After all how can you make a decision about what you want to do in life if you don’t really know yourself; your likes, dislikes, motivators and fears. Aldous Huxley had a few words to say about this; ‘If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.’ Deep.


There are many ways of getting a better insight into you and what makes you tick. One of these is Myers Briggs. I hadn’t done one of these for ages and it was interesting to see that nothing has changed in the last 15 years or so. I’m a ESFP – Extrovert Sensing Feeling Perceiving (although I’m borderline ENFP). Interestingly, my husband is almost the complete opposite to me; he’s an INTP. Explanations of the various personality types can be found here or here.

On reading the explanations, I recognise a lot about myself; I am motivated by other people around me and love social occasions (even though I can be quite shy with a new group of people, I’m desperate to be part of things). This part particularly resonated with me;

‘(ESFP)’s disregard for standard procedures will take the form of passive resistance and ESFPs usually develop many skills to annoy the people they blame for their loss of liberty. ESFPs are prone to neglecting time-limits and situations requiring organized goals; under such circumstances, ESFPs will become bored and restless, and will quickly develop a feeling of emptiness.’

That basically describes me in my last job as an accountant!

I know there has been a lot of discussion about extroverts and introverts over the past few years; there’s even been a book written on the power of introverts (currently sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read). Like a lot of people I’m probably somewhere in the middle, with tendencies towards extroversion. I get energised by being around other people but I don’t necessarily like to be centre of attention.  I find working from home on my own difficult (although working in an office can also be a lonely experience, as I’ve discovered in past jobs).

I also had a proper explore of this blog.  Dilly-Tante has an interest in psychology (and has gone back to study it at postgraduate level at University). She has written a few posts on being a Scanner. It’s a term that’s been coined by Barbara Sher to describe a type of person that flits from one activity to another, never going deep enough to fully master it. I put my hand up to this one; I have the sewing machine and allotment books to prove it. I get very excited about new projects or ideas, but no-one would ever describe me as a ‘completer-finisher’.

There are also several websites and books which assist the career changer in finding their strengths. I did the online strengths survey on this website. And my top three strengths were: A Love of Learning (yep – see above), Curiosity and Humour. Now point me in the direction of a career that combines these strengths. Lowest in the list were Spirituality, Prudence and Perseverance.

None of this is going to change my life (or me). But I am enjoying a little delve into the world of self-knowledge and psychobabble. But maybe that’s because I’m a scanner?! And next week I’ll be exploring something different. Carp-fishing or jewellery-making perhaps…

Have you done a Myers Brigg test? Does it ring true?

The Year in Books: September

I didn’t get round to doing an August books post; as well as being in France for three weeks over the summer, my laptop went kaput the week before we went away. I’m not one for composing posts on my phone, so alas no #theyearinbooks for August.

My chosen book for the summer was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. And wow what a read. I loved it. It follows the life of Theo Decker, who is thirteen when tragedy strikes and his beloved mother is killed in a terrorist attack on an art museum. Theo’s life is torn apart by the explosion and he clings to the one thing that makes him feel connected to her; a small, captivating painting. The Goldfinch is heartbreaking (in the first section of the book, it’s all I could do to keep in the tears), funny (Boris is a brilliantly original character), and has some serious things to say about life’s big questions. But most of all, it’s fabulously entertaining, I could not put it down.

I also read Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell, as it seemed appropriate for the summer we were having. Again there were brilliantly drawn characters and I loved the details of family life in 1976. I also managed to fit in This Book Will Save Your Life by AM Homes. Having loved May We Be Forgiven, I wanted to give this one a go too. In many ways, the two books are quite similar; the main character is a flawed middle-aged man who is lost and looking for something more. It is also dark and very funny.

The Lowland2

For September, I’ve picked The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve read some brilliant books by Indian authors; stand-outs include A Fine Balance and The God of Small Things – I like a sobfest. I’ve never actually been to India (it’s pretty near the top of the list though), so it’s good to be visiting this part of the world in the pages of a book.

On the Radar: September

London design


Apart from a shiny new pencil case, what else does September have in store?

  • The London Design Festival kicks off on Saturday. There’s so much going on it’s almost overwhelming. So much to see, so little time. I love Confessions of a Design Geek’s guide to what’s happening all over London: makes it seem so much more achievable.
  • I for one, want to make the most of this glorious weather we are having at the moment. My parents get back from their summer in France, so we’ll be visiting them. They live close to Burnham Beeches. I’m yearning for a stomp in the woods. And perhaps a bit of blackberrying…
  • September is the month all the big cook books get released. Ottolenghi releases his second vegetarian offering, Plenty More on Thursday. I can’t wait to get stuck in.
  • It’s also Open House weekend coming up: a chance to visit some of the most iconic buildings in London. It’s too late to get on the ballot for 10 Downing Street now, but there loads of interesting places to visit.
  • And finally, a giant floating hippo has been floating up the Thames. I may try and catch a glimpse of him in his new home.

La Rentrée

In the words of Soul to Soul ‘Back to Life, Back to Reality’. *Fanfare*. I’m back. (I’m sure there’s another eighties pop song I could reference at this point, but I think I’ll leave it there).


So the holidays? We spent three weeks in France, eating as much cheese as is humanly possible. (Cut me and I bleed Camembert.) Drinking rosé in the sun. Sleeping under canvas (or in our case, a breathable, fire-resistant man-made fabric – I am forbidden to get one of those pretty bell-tents by my outdoorsy, practical husband). We stayed with friends and family – my parents have a place near the Pyrenees and one of my aunts and uncles spend half the year living near Montpellier. Fred swam to his hearts content – making massive improvements to his strokes. I became completely absorbed by the Goldfinch (what a fantastic summer read – #yearinbooks post to follow). Days drifted by, and turned into weeks. It felt like forever. And now it all seems so distant. Ah holidays….

Thud. We’re home. As much as I love being on holiday, I also love coming home: my mind full of plans and resolutions. For me, September is a bit like January without the cold weather, darkness and recrimination. It’s New Year lite. Time to sort my shizzle out, Obligatory healthy eating and 5:2 diet back in place. (One cannot eat all la fromage in France without the aftermath.) Time to get a job (eeek). It’s my fortieth next month (double eeeeek.)

Fred’s back at school today, so I’m hoping to get back into the blogging groove and perhaps be a bit more consistent with my posts. I’m aiming to keep the London posts, salads (and perhaps some more food – healthy eating and cook book obsession springs to mind), cafés and perhaps a bit more about the (ongoing) process of changing careers. It’s good to be back.

Cafe Culture: M1LK

M1LK in Balham is a popular place for weekend brunch. Whenever we’ve been in Balham on a Sunday, there’s always a long queue, obviously testament to M1LK’s ways with eggs. I took the opportunity to go mid-week for a spot of lunch. And I wasn’t disappointed. M1LK is a fantastic cafe.


Appearance: M1LK is on a corner which means it’s blessed with windows on two of its three sides. This makes for a light and airy spaceThe mismatched vintage furniture and kitsch decoration is right up my street. I love me a neon sign. Outdoor tables on a pedestrianised street make it an attractive place for a pitstop on a sunny day.

Location: It’s in Balham. Back in the day, one of my closest friends lived in Balham. Let’s just say the last few years have been kind to this part of London. It’s definitely been gentrified. M1LK is just off the main road in Balham which means it has a slightly quieter outlook but benefits from the footfall.


Menu: The menu is pure Antipodean cafe fodder. Interesting brunchy food using some more unusual ingredients. It’s on the pricey side of cafe food but the salad I had was delicious. (It was one of the specials – a beetroot, blackberry, goats curd and hazelnut salad…very ruby in its colour.)


Clientele: The cafe was fairly busy on a weekday lunchtime. The clientele seemed to be fairly well heeled locals. There weren’t loads of mums with kids, which is surprising as this is a ‘nappy valley’ type area.

Coffee: As is befitting of an Antipodean cafe in London, coffee is taken seriously. My flat white was good.

Milk coffee

Overall: I’ve said this before but M1LK is my new favourite cafe in London. I loved the kitsch-chic interior and the menu was just the sort of thing I like to eat.

M1LK, 20 Bedford Hill, Balham



Have you heard of Hema? It’s a Dutch shop that apparently supplies underpants to one in three boys back in Holland. However there’s more to Hema than smalls. They do a really good and reasonably priced range of home wares and stationery. And they’re opening shops in the UK. Hooray!


According to their website, there are currently three shops in the UK, located in Victoria Station, Bromley and Kingston. Two of these happen to be convenient for me. And on my visits, I couldn’t resist buying a few things.

The goods on offer in Hema are bright and have a Scandi vibe. It reminded me a little of Tiger and Ikea. I was tempted by tea towels and stamps on my first visit. Here’s a picture of my spoils. I’ve got quite into making cards for all the birthday parties Fred gets invited to and I’m always on the look out for a new stamp to add to my collection. They do a good range of washi tape too.


Second time round, I was in Bromley (not a shopping place I usually visit but it’s fairly close by and it has some good charity shops) and I came across Hema. This time I was tempted by the home wares and came away with a couple of green plates (£2 each!). I think they brought out the green of my broad bean fattoush perfectly!

broad bean fattoush 2

Inspired by Alexis’ holiday journal on Instagram, I also treated myself to a notebook. I think it’s rather dashing don’t you?


Hema’s also great for craft supplies, party props and cook ware. There’s also food on offer (I love Dutch biscuits) and cheap make-up if that’s your thing. Although there are only three shops at the moment, according to the interweb there are plans afoot for more. They are also going to set themselves up online. Are you ready to get Hema’d?

Broad Bean Fattoush

I have been drowning in broad beans. Each week I get a Riverford vegbox and recently they have been rather heavy on the ‘ole broad beans. I’ve been podding and shelling manically – they’re pretty labour intensive, but worth it in the end.

And yes, it’s another riff on Middle-Eastern flavours. I can’t get enough of them. I would love to go there at some point in the future, but given the heartbreaking events in that part of the world I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Broad bean fattoush



  • 250g podded broad beans, cooked and shelled
  • 1 little gem lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
  • A handful of rocket
  • 2 pitta breads
  • 1/2 tsp sumac
  • 5 radishes, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 75g feta cheese
  • Handful flat leaf parsley, chopped


  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 leaves mint, chopped
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • salt and pepper
  1. Sprinkle the pitta breads with the sumac and crisp up in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes
  2. Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a jar and giving it a good shake.
  3. Combine the salad ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Take crisp pitta and tear into bite size pieces, and put on the salad.
  5. Sprinkle the feta on the salad, using your fingers.
  6. Add the dressing to the salad and mix.
  7. Serve and enjoy.

Serves 4

broad bean fattoush 2



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.


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.


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.


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).



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