Thursday, 24 September 2015

Throwback Thursday - Japan Travel Diary

I am, I think, currently in Japan. I'm scheduling this post so hopefully by the time you are reading this, I am there. 

I first travelled to Japan in August/September 2007 on my gap year. Before then, I'd barely travelled aside from summer holidays with my parents (France, Spain, the usual) and had been out of Europe once to visit family friends in Canada the summer after my GCSEs. Before going to Japan I didn't really understand why people felt the need to travel. If you know me or have read my blog then it's no lie to say that this trip changed my life. I've since clocked up air miles to the US, Dubai, Australia, Morocco, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and a fair few mini breaks thrown in for good measure. 

Back on this trip, I didn't have an iPhone or a fancy camera (these photos were taken with a black and white disposable and a £20 digital camera). There was no Instagram and no worrying about wifi. I was nineteen and didn't realise until halfway through my trip that the legal drinking age in Japan is twenty. I'd yet to meet some of my closest friends, yet to delve into the world of blogging and social media, yet to start university and work and yet to really be an adult despite being almost 20. I mean, I still thought that Bombay Sapphire gin came out the bottle bright blue. Innocent times, my friends. 

It's strange to think that this was eight years ago. I hope nineteen year old me wouldn't be too disappointed in how it's all turned out. And I know that twenty-eight year old me cannot wait to re-explore this amazing country, eat its amazing food and try to remember my rather rusty Japanese.

What is your favourite travel memory?

Friday, 18 September 2015

London Dining - Autumn Round-Up

My Instagram grid may not convey this but I've actually been eating out a lot less recently. A combination of trying to save money, trying to eat better and all my friends being on holiday has been to blame. I'm also starting to (slightly) enjoy cooking...but more on that another time. The restaurants I've been to lately have been all the more enjoyed for being occasional treats.

1. Bad Egg, City Point, Ropemaker Street, Moorgate

As the name suggests, the menu here is predominantly egg-based. For that reason it's quite veggie friendly and there are non-egg options if there are any egg-haters in your dining group. On a weekday evening it wasn't too busy but we had booked anyway via the website. I imagine lunchtimes are busy given the City location - the restaurant is a bit tucked away in the rather bland City Point development but once inside it doesn't feel City-esque at all. Service was fast and friendly and the deep fried Malaysian style eggs were a unique dish. I'll be back for the weekend all-you-can-drink brunch as it's only a five minute swaying walk home for me!

Bad Egg Restaurant Review
Cheeseburger hash with a fried egg
Bad Egg Restaurant Review
Fries on the side 
Bad Egg Restaurant Review
Deed-fried eggs in a spicy sauce.
Bad Egg Restaurant Review
Avert your eyes - egg porn at its finest 
 2. Jamie's Italian, Upper St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden

Chain restaurants have started to fall off my dining repertoire but Jamie's Italian is one that I've only visited a handful of times in the past. After working up an appetite on a Santander Cycle ride with Fei we popped into the Covent Garden branch for a well-deserved refuel. The menu is more varied than the traditional Italian chain offering and the food was all delicious. The fried squid was hot and perfectly crispy and my salmon salad looked like a work of art. A great option if you're eating with a big group as there's definitely going to be something on the menu for everyone.

Jamie's Italian restaurant review
Lemon vanilla martini 
Jamie's Italian restaurant review
Crispy fried squid 
Jamie's Italian restaurant review
Salmon salad 
3. Cafe Pistou, Exmouth Market

Exmouth Market is one of my favourite places to eat in London - Clerkenwell and the surround areas are becoming foodie hangouts and that's fine by me! There is so much choice in terms of where to go - Caravan was full the night we wanted to eat there but it meant that we stumbled upon Cafe Pistou instead which was a lovely dinner spot. The menu is split between small plates and large plates - the small plates are great for sharing if you're that way inclined or for ordering 2-3 to yourself. The cocktail list was the highlight for me - I definitely need to re-visit to sample a few more of them. 

Cafe Pistou restaurant review
The cutest negroni 
Cafe Pistou restaurant review
The girls shared a range of small plates - burrata, croquettes, ratatouille and prawns 
Cafe Pistou restaurant review
I had the ratatouille with feta - a light and tasty dish
Cafe Pistou restaurant review
A side of fries 
Cafe Pistou restaurant review
Chocolate mousse to finish 

Any new restaurant finds I should check out?


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Twenty Eight

It's my birthday today. I'm continuing the tradition of being away for the big day (in Seoul, all things willing) but have already had so much fun celebrating in London. Every year I say that I won't do anything but then I give in and want to celebrate - 28 isn't a "big" birthday but it's nice to mark the passing of another year and having a September birthday still gives me that "back to school" feeling minus the Clarks shoes and new pencil case.

I had a little indoor picnic for my blogger pals and had some birthday gin at Ask For Janice in Farringdon with friends old and new. I think this bar is going to become my new hangout - it has an entire gin menu and (by the looks for what my friends ordered) great bar food. I opted for gin and birthday cake.

Birthdays always bring some self-refection with them. I don't feel like a decade has passed since I turned eighteen and celebrated with a bouncy castle in my parents' garden. In that time I've finished school, graduated from university, climbed (I hope) the career ladder, bought a flat, made friends, lost friends, travelled (some of) the world... I still sometimes wake up in a panic, thinking that the yellow school bus has already whizzed past my parents' house. I still call my dad when a lightbulb breaks. I'm a grown up on paper but really I'm still that girl who thought that Lambrini and a bouncy castle was a great plan (although these days I'd like a Hendricks with a slice of cucumber, please).

Life is whizzing by so fast. I'm torn between wanting to savour and feel every little moment because sometimes there is almost too much to want to take in but sometimes I find myself wishing away each passing week, month and year towards I don't quite know what. If I could tell my eighteen year old self anything, I wouldn't (aside from stop dying your hair). The last year has made me realise that whining "are we nearly there yet" is less enjoyable than being in the present moment. Here's to another year of getting to wherever I'm destined to go (in all senses) but living for each little moment as I get there.

How did you celebrate your last birthday?


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Autumn Wishlist

The one good thing about the weather turning cooler? New clothes! I mean, I'd wear summer dresses and sandals all year round but that's not really going to work too well in November...

For autumn 2015, I'll be keeping with the seasonal colour change in burnt oranges and textured fabrics - all served with an obligatory side of kale. Here are my picks to make saying goodbye to light evenings a little easier:

September always feels like its time to go back to school, even when the last time you went "back to school" was in 2005 so this pinafore dress is perfect. It's not quite winter yet so this cropped tee is the ideal easing into autumn piece - teamed with a burnt orange midi skirt or a suede a-line for 1970s chic without resorting to flares. My work wardrobe gets a re-fresh with this fluted sleeve dress and after wearing my trusty brogues to a festival a new pair are in order. I've vowed to actually buy myself a new coat this year - it may not be time to wear one quite yet but this belted one needs to be hunted down as soon as possible. Finally, the ubiquitous kale sweatshirt - well, it is going to be cold outside and, as the saying goes, you are what you eat.

What's on your autumn wishlist? 

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Birthday Pancakes - Healthy / Gluten Free / Grain Free / High Protein

I celebrated my "London birthday" at the weekend as I'll be travelling around South Korea for my actual birthday. I started off both days with some rather tasty pancakes and had a few requests on Instagram for the recipe so here it is - birthday pancakes two ways. Because I wanted them again on Sunday, too.

These are so easy to make and so, so good. I love making pancakes at the weekend and while these look like an indulgent treat they're actually healthy. I like to challenge myself to make healthier things at home to balance out the less healthy (but just as good for the soul) dessert and cocktails that inevitably go with birthdays.

Salted Caramel Pancakes

protein pancake recipe

protein pancake recipe

For the pancakes:

1 large ripe banana (the bananas I had were so big that I saved a few slices for the topping)
1 scoop protein powder (I used Sun Warrior vanilla)
1/2 cup liquid egg whites (I use Two Chicks liquid egg whites to avoid wasting yolks)
pinch of baking powder

Mix the pancake ingredients (mash the banana with a fork first and then stir in the other ingredients). Fry the pancakes in coconut oil - the trick to these is to use a low-isn heat and wait until bubbles have formed before carefully flipping.

The ingredients above make 3 medium-sized pancakes so plenty for a decent breakfast for one (to be enjoyed in front of your Netflix show of choice!). Depending on the protein powder you use the pancakes come in at around 250 calories, contain a decent amount of protein and are super filling but without the carb-induced slump from regular pancakes. You can leave out the protein powder and just use banana and egg white but I prefer the texture using protein powder as they taste more like a "real" pancake and are easier to flip!

For the sauce:

1 tbsp lucuma powder (from health food shops - mine is from Holland and Barrett)
1 tsp agave / date syrup / maple syrup
boiling water
pinch of sea salt

Mix the powder with the agave and water until its the right consistency. Pour over the pancakes and top with banana slices and cacao nibs.

Lucuma powder is my favourite "weird healthy" ingredient at the moment - it really does taste like caramel and is amazing in porridge, smoothies and as a dip for strawberries and apple slices. Lucuma powder contains iron, zinc and calcium and its low GI so won't cause a horrible sugar crash.

Peanut Butter Choc Chip Pancakes

protein pancake recipe

protein pancake recipe

For Sunday's breakfast I wanted pancakes again!

I used the same pancake mixture as above but added cacao nibs to the batter for chocolatey crunch. The sauce is just crunchy peanut butter mixed with a teaspoon of lucuma powder and boiling water. Again - topped with banana slices and cacao nibs, Instagrammed and eaten!

What's your favourite way to eat pancakes?


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Feeling Floral - Interiors Inspiration with Darlington Crystal

It may not feel very summery outside but the summer can still be brought inside while we hang on to the last hopes of an Indian summer. Having fresh flowers in my flat makes me feel like I'm succeeding at being a grown-up a little bit more than usual and there's something really lovely about fresh blooms. I don't have much space in my little flat but flowers are a quick and easy update - add a scented candle and an ornamental pineapple (of course!).

Darlington Poppy Flower Bottle

Darlington Poppy Flower Bottle

Darlington Poppy Flower Bottle
Popper Flower Bottle c/o Darlington Crystal
Pineapple via eBay
Candle - Tesco
My friend S bought me a lovely bunch of roses for my birthday and I arranged a few of them in this Darlington Poppy Flower Bottle. The bottle is a contemporary update on a vase and, for me at least, a huge improvement on putting flowers in a water glass! I trimmed the stems of the roses and removed the leaves up to the lip of the bottle for a neater look. You could also try displaying a single larger flower in the bottle. Remember to top the water up (rather than changing it if you've used a liquid flower food) to keep the flowers looking pretty for as long as possible.

Darlington have a huge range of vases and glassware and have been leading the way since 1967 - there's even a collection with my name on it!

What's your favourite flower?


Thursday, 3 September 2015

August Round-Up

August, and the summer, are officially over. This month went by so fast - the nights are getting darker and there's definitely a hint of autumnal crispness in the air. As much as I love the "back to school" feel of September (and that it's my birthday month) I can't help but mourn the end of the summer. It felt too short and too grey - not enough time was spent outside, I didn't stay up to see enough sunrises and most of my summer clothes went sadly untouched. The huge list of things to do that I set myself at the start of the summer? Yeah, most of it didn't get done. But, not to dwell on the negatives - August packed in a lot of happy times and that list can be filed away for summer 2016, in the hope that it comes with a greater slice of sunshine.

1. I started working through Murakami's works earlier this year and the release of Wind/Pinball in an English translation couldn't have come at a better time. If you're not familiar with Murakami's work then I wouldn't necessarily start with these novellas but if you're already a fan then they're an amazing insight into the development of Japan's biggest literary export.

2. Outdoor cinemas are now a quintessential aspect of summer in London. Nottinghill in Kensington Palace Gardens was pretty magical.

3. Collecting the Cancer Research DNA Spirals on runs and walks around the city. They'll be gone on 6th September so I won't have a chance to collect them all but I gave it a go.

4 - 5. A delicious vegan lunch at Inspiral Lounge in Camden - raw sushi and a raw vegan chocolate tart. The food here is so good that even a carnivore would be impressed and a wander around Camden on a sunny afternoon makes me feel 16 again (in a good way).

6. Beach East in the Olympic Park - this day was actually really hot. All of the Summer 2012 memories right here, so much nostalgia for those two weeks when everyone forgot to be rude and anti-social.

7. A good lash day selfie. Currently using L'Oreal Miss Manga Punky mascara which is far better than the ridiculous name implies.

8. A good negroni in Cafe Pistou in Exmouth Market. I love negronis but it's always wise to stop after the second one.

9. Browsing the library at the Barbican centre. It seems so strange in the digital age to think that you can still get physical books for free. I was meant to be looking things up but just ended up reading this Moomin cookbook.

10. Tropical vegan overnight oats - just oats, chia, almond milk, desiccated coconut, goji berries and dried pineapple.

11. The best thing about the summer is eating giant bowls of fresh fruit for dinner on warm evenings.

12. Beas of Bloomsbury for tea on a rainy evening with Cat and Pip. I had the gluten free orange and almond cake and a pot of peppermint tea - that and a good chat was perfect for beating the rainy day blues.

13. Nandos with Sarah after getting blissful pedicures at Cheeky Parlour.

14. Sir Ian McKellan at Manchester Pride. He hugged and high-fived my group at the parade and it was all a bit of a blur and was over so quickly but Gandalf was actually standing right in front me me for all of two seconds.

15. Manchester Pride weekend. So much fun, silliness, 90s pop and gin. I didn't see as much live music this summer as I'd have liked but Alesha Dixon, Atomic Kitten and Dannii Minogue totally made up for that.

16. A retro 1960s plane at Manchester Airport viewing park. What else are you going to do on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday with a two-day hangover?

17. Being a #SantanderCyclist with Fei in Hyde Park. The cycle paths around the park are a great way of seeing London and the bikes are free if you dock them every 30 minutes. I do a lot of spin classes but actual cycling is so much harder!

18. Jamie's Italien for post-cycle cocktails and dinner. I had a lemon and vanilla martini which was a lovely treat after all the cycling and we caught up on all things life and blogging.

Other highlights:

- two of my friends got married in August in Lisbon and London, two beautiful weekends spent celebrating.
- finding the right book for the right moment in life is one of life's greatest pleasures.
- seeing the most talked about play of the summer and not even knowing quite how I felt about it.
- reclaiming my lunch breaks and trying out some of London's best lunchtime offerings.

September will see me turn 28 (I have to repeat that to myself each time I say it - it doesn't seem real that I'm in my late twenties) and jet off on an adventure to South Korea and Japan. I'll actually celebrate my birthday while in Seoul so it's not all bad (it may be foretelling of the future that I've chosen to celebrate at a cat cafe) and I'm super excited to re-visit my Gap Yah home, Osaka, some eight years later. The blog will be taking a break while I'm away but I'll be back in time to celebrate an amazing six years of LilyLipstick in October.

How was August for you?

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