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August Favourites

It's the last day of August, which means that as far as I'm concerned, we've officially reached the end of summer. August has been good to me, soothing the stress of searching for jobs and internships with a trip abroad, some good weather in Britain, delicious food and drink, and a spell in an exciting publishing house. Here's what made me happy this month. 

Harvesting the crop of damsons from the garden this year. The birds 'planted' the plum trees a few years back, and this is the first year we've harvested them. We filled a clutch of kilner jars with damson jam, and have used it to accompany vanilla ice cream as well as to fill a Victoria sponge a week or so again. It's so unexpectedly rich and delicious, and I'm excited to use it in more baking this autumn, perhaps in a galette or an apple crumble.

Watching the video for Taylor Swift's new song. I haven't really been paying attention to Miss Swift since she provided the soundtrack to the heady days of my late adolescence with tunes like 'Our Song', 'Teardrops On My Guitar' and 'Love Story'. This is such a different sound - Tay's left country firmly behind (yes, I know, I've been hiding under a rock with regards to popular music in the past year or so) and I love how the video hinges around the wonderfully gauche admission that she just can't dance. A girl after my own heart.

Playing around with the calligraphy set I bought from Cass over the Easter holidays. I definitely need to get myself to a class and learn the basic letter forms. Unskilled as I am, it's really fun and a therapeutic way to pass the time.

Listening to Alex playing from songbooks and improvising jazz on the piano. It's part of the reason I fell in love with him two years ago, and every time I hear him play it reminds me all over again why I like him. If you just gagged a little, I wholeheartedly apologise.

Grazing on my mother's homemade gluten-free orange cake, made with almond flour. One of her best bakes ever, I'd say - and perfect with a little drizzle of cream. If this were a permanent fixture in the kitchen I would be very pleased indeed (hint hint).

Unwinding in front of the TV. The BBC always cushion the end-of-summer blow with a fantastic programme of new shows, bribing us back inside from flip-flops and barbecue weather with shows like The Great British Bake Off and Doctor Who. Bake Off has seen a huge Baked Alaska-related scandal inside the bunting-festooned tent this week (such good television. I love Britain.) and Peter Capaldi has already stolen my heart by bringing fiercely knitted eyebrows and Scottish quirks to the part of the Doctor. Catching up on episode two today, and I can't wait for the return of the Daleks...

Reading the giant pile of goodies I was allowed to bring back from a fortnight of work experience at Random House. I sent myself twenty books on Friday, took two out of the charity box with me the week before, and was given six from a week at Hodder in July, meaning I've racked up 28 free books over the course of this summer. So happy. From the Random House pile I've started with Martin Amis' Booker shortlisted Time's Arrow, which is thrillingly executed, with a fantastic concept. I'm particularly excited to read the new Haruki Murakami, having witnessed the man himself signing piles of copies while at work - definitely the highlight of this week! This pile probably has me sorted for…oh, at least the next few weeks. Until the new Shopaholic comes out, which my inner chicklit-lover dictates I must buy. 

Starting a scrapbook with A. We finally went to Cass and bought a scrapbook and some washi tape, and we've been pasting in our little souvenirs from our trip to Norway in January, May Week, and our July trip to Paris. It's so fun to do, and a really nice way of keeping all the little bits and pieces in a neat place.

Goodbye, August! Some say you're a wicked month, but you've been fun. See you again next year.

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Hits And Misses In The Kitchen

In our household, we tend to while away the hours in our little kitchen. The kitchen table is my favourite blogging and job-hunting space, especially when accompanied by a cup of tea. We've also been spending more time in there of late, with my mother, fuelled by the Great British Bake Off, bringing home a shiny new KitchenAid last week to help her with her sourdough quest. August has been a wonderful month for gastronomic experimentation: here's a couple of the dishes we've been rustling up these past two weeks!

Here's a take on classic mussels, given an Asian twist with lemongrass, lime, chilli and coconut milk. Probably a little bit healthier than my beloved moules marinières, and wonderfully flavourful. This one was mainly my mother's work, with me hanging over her shoulder expectantly. 

A salmon fillet stuffed with salsa verde (and baked after these photos were taken!). I hugely enjoyed cooking this one. My knife skills leave a fair bit to be desired, so butterflying the fillet was a tense job, but garnishing it was so fun. The already delicious salmon was made even tastier by the addition of all these wonderful herbs, capers and olives, and a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Roast lamb chops with diced potatoes and beetroots. This looked pretty before it went into the oven, but in hindsight the beetroots made everything a bit too wet, and the lamb chops ended up a bit grey, and I had to give them a bit of colour in a frying pan, resulting in them being just a wee bit overdone. They'd have been better off seared in the pan, which is how I usually cook them. 

So some high points and low points this month, but I've really enjoyed playing around with what works and what doesn't! I'm so looking forward to the flavours of the steadily encroaching autumn: pumpkin, cobnuts, wild mushrooms, celeriac, fennel, apple, swede, swiss chard and so much more. I'm also particularly anticipating the roasts that start becoming much more frequent once summer's wound down! I say bring on the cooler weather, and the wonderful produce that goes with the cold snap in the air.

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Honest Burgers and Tragic Opera

Alex's current show, the great tragic opera La Traviata by Verdi, premiered at Soho Theatre a fortnight ago. Alex wore his dinner jacket, his performance uniform, and I dolled up in the full-length dress I wore to St. John's May Ball, for a night at the opera.

But first, burgers.

Honest Burgers is on Meard Street, a mere stone's throw from Soho Theatre, so Alex and I decamped there for some delicious meat and carbs to tide us over during the performance. 

We both ordered the Cheese with Stilton, and extra backyard mayo - a ramped-up condiment to accompany the famously delectable chips, generously seasoned with rosemary salt. 

Can't help feeling hungry every time I see that photo. A really top-notch burger, one of the best I've had in London for sure.

We walked back to the theatre along Meard Street, home to one of the best door plaques in London.

Also some of the prettiest looking inner-city houses that A and I were lusting after.

And then it was showtime. This was my first time seeing La Traviata performed and, as always when I've listened to a show soundtrack before seeing it live, it was wonderful to see the plot weaving together. 

There was some truly amazing talent in the cast and band, just one of four casts and three bands which rotate most nights. As is standard with Opera Up Close, the company Alex works with, the giant orchestra usually typical to a Royal Opera House or ENO performance of a work like Traviata has been stripped down to a grand piano, clarinet and cello, meaning that the vocalists are given more room to shine in the small venue. Louisa Tee, playing the doomed courtesan Violetta, especially sparkled on stage, with her sassy attitude and stunning, technically strong vocals. I also loved the decadent Roaring Twenties flavour of the wardrobe and set. 

After La Traviata came celebratory opening night drinks in the bar downstairs, mixing with Alex's theatre buddies and a big cuddle to say well done!

La Traviata has deservedly had some fantastic reviews - The Stage said it 'hit all the right notes' - and I urge anyone with an interest in drama and music to go and see it before it closes on 14th September! You can read more about the show on the Soho Theatre website here

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Pizza Pilgrims

Alex has been working in Soho this summer. Lucky for me! Soho is always buzzing with new openings and is home to some of my favourite eateries in the city, so it's been a huge treat to spend lots of time there with Al. 

After returning from Turkey, Al and I convened for a quick lunch at Pizza Pilgrims on Dean Street, handily the same road that A currently works on. At the time, the weather was much better than it's been these past few days, so we opted to sit on a table in the sun and watch the world go by, in true flâneur style. 

We ordered two starters and a main to share. The antipasti were A+: we were happy to burn the tips of our fingers when snatching up freshly baked flatbreads rich with garlic, salty parmesan and rosemary, while a marinated artichoke heart swathed in prosciutto and sprinkled with parmesan was a joy to eat.  

Next we dug into a calzone ripieno, stuffed with salami, ricotta and mushrooms, topped with fior di latte. 

For me this was a little too much to finish off, and a tad too doughy for my liking. I'm gonna stay loyal to my local favourite, Sacro Cuore! Probably my fault for not choosing a standard non-calzone pizza though, as I was jealously gazing at my neighbours' lunches, which looked deliziosi

After lunch we grabbed a quick coffee at A's favourite Soho haunt Foxcroft & Ginger. Caffeine is what A subsists on, after all. That and cake. The perfect way to get him buzzed for that night's show!

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Turkey Photo Diary #3: A Boat Trip and Milas Market

My strongest memories of this summer's trip to Turkey involve good, hearty meals, salty sea water and the vibrant bougainvillea that covers most of the stone walls in the area. This was especially true on the last leg of the holiday, on which we ate every meal in the open air and spent long summer days lying down with good books and deepening our tans (well, in my case, huddling in the shade after I accidentally burned my right hip at sea).

We booked a sailboat on the marina towards the end of the trip and got up early to make the most of the day. For breakfast I chose lots of delicious fruit and veg, and my standard little bowl of yoghurt topped with honey, tahini and crushed pistachios. Yoghurt was invented in Turkey - a good excuse to have it every morning!

We spent the day on a gulet boat sailing around the neighbouring bays, basking in the sun and flipping idly through books. We shared the boat with two other families with kids, with whom I spent most of my time chatting about school, interspersed with a game of UNO. Oh, to be nine again...

Sister trying out some novel sunbathing techniques. I call this The Superman...

The skipper cooked us up a beautiful lunch of fish, salad and tomato pasta. Exactly what I wanted to eat after a morning of swimming and diving!

The itinerary for the penultimate day was chosen by my mother, who had a hankering to visit the famed Milas Market - a produce market that I doubt has changed much in the past few centuries. It's a huge covered area with vendors sitting on stools, their produce laid out on blankets on the ground, and extremely hot. I saw barely any other tourists, which was wonderful. Borough Market this was not.

Milas is absolutely worth a visit if you're in the Bodrum area - a hustling, bustling old bazaar with countless things to look at, taste and smell. There's only locals there really, and as a result, the cafés and grills in the neighbouring area are great - we walked into a random one opposite the market and ate some of the best köfte we'd had on the holiday. It's pretty hard to get to - it took us a couple of hours by bus - but the colours and sights are unforgettable.

Dinner on the final night - an unctuous, rich seafood risotto drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and a deliciously indulgent Cup Jacques.

And then, all too quickly, the last day of the trip was upon us. We spent it relaxing as fully as possible before returning to the cooler climes of London, and had one last delicious meal in the hotel restaurant before heading for the airport.

The best dip for bread - olive oil, sundried tomatoes, garlic, dill and a splash of balsamic. Delicious.

Aubergines with a pesto, tomato and balsamic sauce, topped with basil.

A delicious mushroomy pasta for my last meal!

Thank you for having us, Bodrum - I'll be back again one day to see that glorious view over the bay!

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