Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September Favourites

Well hey there, October! When did you creep up on me?

I reckon we're officially into autumn now, having enjoyed walks through parks carpeted with red and gold leaves, ordering chai lattes instead of coolers, and starting to break out the scarves instead of the denim shorts. To be honest, September was really an Indian summer, with some very hot and sunny days here in London, but I've been relishing the slightly cooler days where I get to wear my much-loved knits and thick socks. Yes, yes, I'm an old lady at heart.

Here's what else I've loved this month!

Reading until I get square eyes. I've genuinely been reading about four or five books a week this month. I had the huge pile from publishing work experience to tackle, and then I also decided to re-register at my local library. It's been refurnished and is now generally amazing! So, so happy I've rediscovered it. Favourites this month were Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Laline Paull's The Bees and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I'm sure I'll write some reviews on these soon.

Catching up with old school friends, over coffees and tea at Le Pain Quotidien in Covent Garden. It was wonderful to be regaled with tales of falling in love in Jordan, starting a research PhD at UCL, working at London Zoo and a hectic induction week on a journalism course! I love meeting up with friends who I might not have seen in the past few months, and having that instant connect cemented over years of friendship. Oh - and LPQ had these amazing giant hot chocolates that came with little jugs of molten chocolate. So yummy.

Picking the last of the summer vegetables! There's still lots of tomatoes, and we've also had almonds and some very interestingly shaped courgettes. And these seriously teeny carrots - which we didn't even know we'd planted. Pictured below with Alex's hand for comparison...

Watching Pinaan incredibly beautiful film about the work of late ballet choreographer Pina Bausch. Performance art at its most gripping. If you're a fan of dance or theatre, you must see this. I also went to the cinema to watch Lucy, a very violent sci-fi action movie starring Scarlett Johansson, which I weirdly enjoyed - especially the time-defying sequence at the end. And I'm so, so looking forward to Gone Girl, which comes out at the end of this week. 

Celebrating my mum's birthday yesterday! I'm going to blog about it soon because we discovered a great little restaurant in our neighbourhood. But for now I want to talk about Lanka, a very elegant Japanese patisserie just off Finchley Rd, where I bought the birthday cake! I fell in love with some of their other cakes while I was waiting for my order - slices of pumpkin pie with just the right amount of wobble, green tea tart with white chocolate shavings, gorgeous hazelnut tarts. Let's just say I'll be back soon - that place smells amazing.

Enjoying the little things that herald a new season. At the top of this post is a gorgeous leaf I found on the path in local park a few days ago - I love the incredible deep red colours, and the way the edges of the leaf look almost burnt. And above is my first conker of the autumn! I found it yesterday on my way back from the doctor's, accidentally kicking it open as I was walked up the street. I thought it was so beautiful and shiny, especially in the autumn light. On that note, I've been revelling in the long shadows and breathtakingly beautiful cloudscapes we've been having in the evenings this month - see below for one that made me look twice yesterday. I heard a little kid behind me marvelling at it with his friends, too. How I wish that the clocks didn't have to go back... *shakes fist and curses Scottish farmers* 

What have you been enjoying this September? Are you as sad to see it come to an end as I am? I accidentally wandered into the Liberty Christmas shop last weekend and was confronted by mountains of tinsel and fairy lights...I think I'll enjoy the autumn a little bit more before the Christmas songs inevitably start up at the end of this month!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Late-Night Chocolate Pecan Cookies

The witching hour is upon us, and tonight I've got a short and sweet post on some chocolatey, nutty biscuits that proved a giant hit among my family (and Alex!) last week.

Anything that remotely resembles chocolate is likely to disappear very quickly in my home. The kitchen worktops are a particular danger zone. Make the mistake of putting a piece of much-anticipated chocolate down for a minute, be that a cube of Green and Black's or a salted caramel from Melt, and it'll be swallowed up forever. Usually by my father. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Chocolate biscuits are a particular favourite in the family. With these in mind, the mother and I fired up the oven a few nights ago. Following this BBC GoodFood recipe, we stuffed pecans and chunks of chocolate into mounds of sweet dough to make these truly delicious cookies. 

In the reviews for the recipe some people have complained that the dough spreads quite a bit during baking. If you want them to spread less during the cooking process, chill your dough for half an hour or so, but personally I like mine like this! They're crispy yet chewy, just the way I like them, and ridiculously easy. They take about half an hour tops to put together and bake - that's homemade cookies in your mouth in 30 minutes! And best of all, all you need to really buy is dark chocolate and a bag of pecans, as chances are you'll have the rest of the ingredients in your kitchen already.

Delicious with a cup of tea, or, even better, a glass of ice-cold almond milk.

Optimistically we put the cookies that weren't eaten straight out of the oven into a kilner jar. They lasted less than a day...Oh Dad.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

69 Colebrooke Row

I had a day of interviews last week that left me feeling like my nerves had been frayed to the point that I actually needed a drink. This doesn't happen very often (the interviews, the wracking of the nerves or the wanting a drink!) so when Alex suggested unwinding with a cocktail, I immediately knew I wanted to go to 69 Colebrooke Row. It's been on my list for a while, and better yet, it's just a stone's throw away from A's workplace in Islington.

It wasn't yet six, so the sun was still stubbornly high in the sky as I made my way down Upper Street for our rendezvous. Ah well, it's always cocktail hour somewhere. I spotted this foxy little knocker on my stroll...I do love a vulpine detail. (Apologies in advance that all my photos in this post are taken on my phone - gotta sacrifice clear Canon photos for spontaneity sometimes.)

The bar itself, also known as The Bar With No Name, has a wonderful speakeasy vibe about it. The ceiling is festooned with industrial looking lamps (swoon), there's shiny Prohibition-style red booths and tiles on the floor, and the place is staffed by charming men in crisp white jackets who look like they belong in the late '20s. There's also a great projection of a silhouetted couple on the wall that made me feel that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers might come tap-dancing down the stairs at any minute. A very classy way to announce the location of the loos to everyone. There's even a piano in the corner reserved for jazz performances, which Alex obviously clocked the minute he stepped in. It wasn't in use when we arrived - well, not in the traditional sense anyway. It was being used as a table for cocktails. Now that's a genius way to economise on space.

If you're planning to visit 69 with a group, make sure you reserve in advance. I didn't know about this and was assured that we could have a table anyway, but we still sidled up to the bar: my favourite place to sit so I can watch the bartenders work. I had a spell attending mixology classes while at university, but never made anything quite as complex as the drinks on this menu, all of which looked amazing. It's got me eyeing up the Colebrooke Row masterclasses, especially this Halloween-themed one...

As we dithered, the bartender kindly brought us two Prairie Oysters on the house - an incredible mix of horseradish vodka, oloroso sherry, shallots, pepper sauce, celery salt, a tomato yolk and 'micro herbs'. Whatever those might be. A truly original take on the Bloody Mary, and just the pick-up I needed. Served in a little oyster shell-shaped dish, we raised it to our lips and downed it in one, like eating a real oyster - and to my delight, the tomato yolk burst straight away. So much fun to drink!

Alex then ordered a Fig Leaf Collins - a heady mix of gin, fig leaf syrup, soda water and lemon juice. Here's the look on his face when he took his first sip. I've never tried fig leaf syrup but thought it made a lovely addition to a classic - it was very green and earthy tasting, with the hint of fig in the aftertaste you'd expect.

I was a bit less adventurous and chose a crowd-pleaser: a Rhubarb Gimlet. Good old mother's ruin mixed with rhubarb cordial. Simple and delicious. Don't ever regret playing it safe.

I'm pretty lightweight where it comes to drinking, but I was in such a rotten mood (poor A, having to put up with me!) that I decided I needed just a little bit more in the way of Dutch courage. We ordered another cocktail to share. 

The Spitfire. A devilish concoction of cognac, white wine and peach liqueur, made tangy with lemon juice and given a hint of sweetness with some sugar. This one slipped down a little too easily...

Another reason I loved the interior decoration at this place: the very wise advice on the walls.

The pain of the day dulled somewhat, replaced by the excitement of finding a new bar to frequent, we paid the bill and stepped out into the sunlight (so wrong). To new discoveries and adventures! 

Disclaimer: I don't advocate cocktails as a panacea for every bad day. But when they taste as good as these ones...

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Broadway Market

One humid Saturday in the not too distant past, I ventured east to explore Broadway Market, a charming street of stalls sandwiched between London Fields and Regent's Canal. 

My first port of call was a fishmonger's, where I perused the stacks of freshly caught fish for that week's meals. The fishmonger wrapped up wonderfully salty sea samphire, a glistening skate and some bronzed smoked mackerel in paper packages for us to take home.

I wish all fishmongers looked like this. With industrial pendant lamps reminiscent of fishermans' traps and white subway tiles, I was taking notes on interior design in this place!

Jess joined me for brunch so we could catch up before she embarks on her trip around the world (honestly so jealous...!) Typically rubbish at making decisions, we deliberated over everything from mushroom risotto to scotch eggs with beautifully soft yolks.

Finally I decided on one of the signature offerings from Bánh Mí 11. If you've not tried it yet, banh mí is a delicious Franco-Vietnamese staple in which beautifully marinaded barbecued pork is stuffed into a fantastically chewy baguette, alongside other flavours like coriander, lemongrass and chilli. I could scarf down another one right now.

Jess chose a spicy salad with yoghurt. I think. Feel free to correct me, J...That's what I get for stuffing my face with Vietnamese food and not paying attention to what you were eating! 

We picked up juices from Chegworth Valley and traipsed around the rest of the market.

I discovered Artwords, a wonderful arts bookshop. It's filled to the rafters with quirky arts publications including graphic novels, heavy luxury exhibition catalogues, and even a couple of guides on how to start your own blog, which Jess picked up! Lots of books on the birthday and Christmas wishlist now...

There's a taste of the past at Broadway too, with J. Cooke, one of the last remaining jellied eel shops in London. Eels were once a traditional dish in the East End but have died out in popularity somewhat.

I'm a fan of eel when it's thinly sliced and placed on top of sushi, but jellied and cut thickly? I might have to try it again before passing judgement...

Next we spent some time lusting after dinky little macarons and wisps of lingerie. 

We popped into William Cheshire, a jewellery shop on Broadway Market, and had the chance to chat to William himself about how he came to design jewellery. It transpired that he used to work in furniture and stage design and then moved over to jewellery design from there - isn't that a fascinating career trajectory? He now exclusively works with jewellery and commissions, but I did notice a nod to his career in theatre in his shop with a pair of antique theatre seats, complete with seat numbers and plush velvet, tucked away in the corner. A very cool touch. I only wish I'd remembered to take some pictures in his shop!

We marvelled at the street art on one of the roads off the market.

And generally took in the weird and the wonderful in the area. Pretty little tarts dusted with icing sugar that I longed to recreate. Vintage clothes for sale in a launderette. An ethnographic museum tucked away next to a newsagent. Trainers dangling in the breeze from an electricity cable. Industrial reflections in the canal. Most mysteriously, a dead bird lying peacefully on an abandoned blanket on the pavement. 

It's sights like this that make London such a wonderful city to live in. Every day is filled with such interesting sights and new discoveries. And off I go again on one of my odes to my hometown...

If you're wondering what to do with your Saturday morning, look no further. Broadway Market is an absolute gem, and only a fifteen minute walk from Haggerston Overground along the canal. I'll be spending more of my Saturdays in this area for sure, lusting after the houses overlooking the canal and the park! And picking up a banh mí...or two.

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