Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Tech: Quinoa Sushi Rolls x The Samsung Galaxy S7

Fun fact - almost all of my blog pictures are taken on my phone, it's quick and easy and I already get enough eye rolls from my dining companions without whipping out a fancy camera at dinner. Oh, and my bank account cries at even the whisper of Olympus Pen. When I was offered the chance to try out the Samsung Galaxy S7 I couldn't wait to see how the camera compared to that of my iPhone 6.

My iPhone is approaching it's first year of my ownership and is sadly looking a little worse for wear - the screen is cracked and the front-facing camera turns everything into a soft-focused giant blur. Unpacking the brand new S7 felt like Christmas - the phone is super shiny, lightweight and not too much of a mental stretch for an iPhone user to get to grips with. It's also dust and waterproof which makes it great for holidays and, well, our lovely London weather! After messing around with the front-facing camera and getting a selfie fix (the rose mode is super flattering) I put both the camera and my fledgling cooking skills to the test.

vegan quinoa sushi rolls

Quinoa Sushi Rolls (Vegan)

Nori sheets (I used the Clearspring brand from Waitrose)
Multi-coloured quinoa
Cucumber (cut into thin strips)
Carrot (I bought a bag of pre-cut batons and cut them into finer strips)
Tofu (I used a block of pre-marinated smoked tofu but fresh tofu would work too if you have time to prepare it)
Soy sauce

vegan quinoa sushi rolls

1. Cook half a cup of quinoa with a dash of soy sauce. To make mine stickier used less water and then let it sit in the pan once cooked so that it was a bit drier than usual.

2. Layer the quinoa on a sheet of nori, getting it to the edges as much as possible (as above but try to be neater!).

3. Add your vegetables and tofu.

4. Get rolling - I didn't have a sushi mat so used a sheet of baking paper to tightly roll the sushi. Use a dab of warm water to close the roll if it won't stick and leave rolled in for 10 minutes or so.

5. Cut the rolls carefully using a hot knife.

6. Serve with wasabi and soy sauce for dipping.

vegan quinoa sushi rolls

I was so pleased with how these turned out - they are not the neatest but for a first attempt (ok, I went on a Yo Sushi course about five years ago), but they're not too bad! They tasted amazing - using quinoa means they're much lighter than regular sushi as there's no stodgy white rice. Any vegetables could be used - next time I'll try avocado and red pepper.

vegan quinoa sushi rolls

The photos are all unedited to show the quality of the S7's camera - there's even a food mode which lets you put the centre of the plate in focus. The camera found its focus much faster then my iPhone's and quickly adjusted to the light conditions. There are more fun features like a timer, a range of visual effects (including "slim face" and "large eyes" for selfies!) and and ability to take "selective focus" shots with blurred out backgrounds as you would with a DSLR. The pictures viewed on the phone itself are so sharp and high quality - I actually messaged one to my iPhone 6 to compare and there is such a difference, the same image on the iPhone looks duller and flatter, it might just be the convincer to make the switch.

Which phone tribe are you in? And have you tried making your own sushi?


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Travel: Amsterdam Is For (Cat) Lovers

Cats aren't the first thing that spring to mind when thinking of Amsterdam. They're maybe not even in the top 10 but the city is actually pretty purrfect for cat lovers. Saturday became a rather cat-themed day, starting with a wander along the canals to the KattenKabinet. This rather niche museum is situated in a canal house and is dedicated to all things cat-related as well as having its own resident kitties. A retrospective look at cats in art and culture from ancient to modern times and the gift shop is a must if you are looking for presents for any cat ladies in your life (hint hint).

The afternoon took us to Kattencafe Kopjes, a little further out of the city centre but not too far from De Foodhallen. I would definitely recommend booking a slot here - the cafe is tiny and we were very lucky to sneak in after a couple left just as we'd been turned away. There's a small entrance fee and drinks are reasonably priced (only cards are accepted, no cash - this seemed to be a bit of a theme in Amsterdam so make sure you have a card that doesn't charge for use in Europe). The cats are super cute and have a lot of toys and obstacles to keen them engaged and entertained. One came and had a little snuggle on my lap and definitely didn't want to move from his new round nap spot!

cat cafe amsterdam
cat cafe amsterdam
Looking out at a garden filled with cat propaganda. 
cat cafe amsterdam
This is a Disney film I need to track down.
cat cafe amsterdam
Kattencafe Kopjes. The front section of the cafe serves food, drinks and cat gift items. The cats are safely behind a screen door away from the cakes!
cat cafe amsterdam
Fresh mint tea and cats - bliss!
cat cafe amsterdam
The menu (for humans not for cats). Amsterdam is so English-speaking friendly, everyone has perfect English and Dutch is pretty similar so you can work a lot of things out! 
cat cafe amsterdam
Cats and bikes.
cat cafe amsterdam
The residents. 
cat cafe amsterdam
Making a new friend.
cat cafe amsterdam
An escape artist! 
cat cafe amsterdam
It's little face when it realised that the fur hood of my coat isn't another cat!
Have you visited a cat cafe? Check out my reviews for London, Paris, Seoul and Osaka - are there any others I need to check out? 


Saturday, 19 March 2016

Read This: What's On My Kindle? v. 2

I have been such a bookworm lately, its finally not an effort to switch off from the online world - too many evenings wasted on Netflix and falling down Tumblr/Reddit black holes now make me actively look forward to when I can lie in bed with my book. Here are a notable selection from 2016 so far. I'm currently working my way through the third Game of Thrones book as I want to read them all before I watch the series - good job I'm loving reading at the minute...

1. After Me Comes The Flood - Sarah Perry

A bookclub read that I couldn't wait to start after falling for its title (which made me think of this Regina Spector song) and the stylish cover. However, this wasn't just a case of judging a book by its cover as the critical reception for this has been amazing and the first chapter was so gripping and held a lot of promise and suspense. Half way through I found myself struggling, though, failing to get through more than 3 pages without getting distracted, the characters blurring together and having to force myself to plough on due to the upcoming bookclub meet. Most of my bookclub agreed that the book somewhat missed the mark so I wasn't left feeling like I'd not "got" it. I couldn't invest enough in the characters to really care about their fates and while beautifully written the story seemed to get a little lost in the telling after a very strong start.

2. After Dark - Haruki Murakami

A short but sweet Murakami book, I really enjoyed this view into one night in Tokyo. Containing many of Murakami's hallmarks (which will be familiar to regular readers - a certain body part, a certain animal...), the book has no clean cut ending but it totally made me want to stay up all night as there's something about skipping the divider between one day and the next to really open up another element of both your city and yourself. Oh, and it made me want to re-visit Tokyo, too. More on my Murakami reading list here.

3. Unforgettable - Charlie Maclean

Another bookclub read, I'm a member of the WI Shoreditch Sisters bookclub and this book was gifted to us due to the main female character being a Shoreditch Sister too! A departure from our usual focus on female authors, this book was a quick speedy read - I'm not usually in to romance novels, they are really not my thing but the male perspective made this one different and it is set in the familiar climes of North London. It had been a while since I'd read a physical book before this one and the small size and bright cover definitely got my fellow passengers attention on the tube. This would make a great holiday read for when you don't want something too brain taxing or heavy for your beach bag.

4. In Order To Live - Yeonmi Park

A book that I had to order after hearing Yeonmi speak at Stylist Live last year and one which I've only just got around to reading. I gulped down this book in two sittings, the chapters are short and it makes for compulsive reading as the story of Yeonmi's life and escape from North Korea unfolds. I have visited South Korea (and very briefly North Korea) and the difference between the two countries is as huge as it could be possible to be, life in North Korea seems like a real life interpretation of Animal Farm and 1984 but without the comfort that its fiction and the product of imagination. Yeonmi's story is eye-opening and I no longer laugh at the jokes about the regime in North Korea - what a poor use of our freedom to just sit back and laugh at people who cannot even comprehend what we take for granted.

5. The Big Short - Michael Lewis

I loved the film of the story of the 2008 financial crisis and when I found out that it was based on a book, I knew I had to read it. I work in the City myself so have a small amount of background but the book is written from the perspective that the reader has no idea what a sub-prime mortgage or synthetic CDO is and explains everything in a relatable and no-nonsense manner. For a non-fiction book parts are laugh our loud funny (the characters clearly needed no exaggeration in the film from their real-life counterparts) but parts are almost unbelievable that certain events could have been allowed to happen. If you've ever used a word that rhymes with banker to describe city-workers this book may help to unpick the origins of that and it really does help to explain the mess that we're still in.

6. Happily - Sophie Tanner

I had read Sophie's Stylist article last year and was intrigued by the idea of self marriage. I'm 28 and sometimes feel a weird guilt about my complete lack of plans to walk down an aisle in a white dress any time soon, not to mention my (as yet) failure to find an "other half". Our society is still sadly fixated on these ideals and yet celebrating and loving ourselves seems like a strange concept (pick up any women's magazine for a great example of the struggle here - love yourself but also lose some weight and put on some make-up etc etc). Sophie's book follows the story of a fictional character embarking on a journey of self marriage while obviously serving as a platform for her own views and experience on the subject. A short, fun read but one that really did resonate with me - it sounds like a Pinterest cliche but we really can't expect or accept the love of others if we don't love and value ourselves and self marriage sounds like a good excuse for one hell of a party... (A pdf copy of Happily was provided to me by Sophie for my review)

Check out my last What's On My Kindle? here.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

Travel: 36 Hours In...Amsterdam

My first trip of 2016 - Amsterdam. Despite it being only a 50 minute flight from London, both the city itself and The Netherlands as a country were new to me - another one ticked off on my Been app and a fun start to 2016's travel plans.

The weather mostly behaved itself for the 36 hours - the proximity to the UK means that the climate isn't much different from London's. Wandering along the canals is essential but there are plenty of indoor activities too - the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank's House filled Sunday's itinerary nicely (book both online in advance to avoid massive weekend queues). The former being an amazing insight into the (short and rather troubled) life of one of the world's most important painters and the latter being somewhere I have wanted to visit since I first saw it on Blue Peter aged 8. As we progressed through the office building and hiding place of the Frank family and their companions the tourist chatter died away until we formed a slow, silent procession through the rooms. No matter how much you have read about the Nazis and even after reading Anne's diary myself as a teenager actually being in the house is a chilling, sombre experience in an otherwise free and liberal city. A reminder that all of our freedoms are hard-won and that seventy years later persecution is an all too real present day experience for so many.

Amsterdam obviously has a reputation for certain things. Make of those what you will but the spirit of the city is liberal, non-judgemental and an anything-goes kinda vibe. It's really somewhere where you could have a totally different visit depending on your travelling companions and your own predilections. Similar to how I felt in Vegas last year. Food-wise certain areas are packed with cafes serving the kind of fare you may want after certain of the city's offerings (chocolate covered waffles, cheese fries, a burger vending machine etc etc), Indonesian cuisine is The Netherland's equivalent to the UK's love of Indian food and being a liberal sort of place there's a decent #vegan offering too.

weekend in amsterdam
Bikes and canals everywhere. Be very careful crossing roads and be aware that cyclists don't really distinguish between road and pavement.
weekend in amsterdam
The canal houses. Do they remind you of anywhere else? I was surprised to learn that New York was originally called New Amsterdam but the Big Apple definitely bears more of an resemblance to the Dutch capital than it does to York.
weekend in amsterdam
A search of Instagram led me to discover the Dutch Weed Burger and De Foodhallen - a cavernous building serving every type of food imaginable and perfect for trying a range of things or if you and your dining companions have different taste. This vegan burger is actually made from seaweed, duh. Snag a table and take it in turns to check out the food stalls.
weekend in amsterdam
Feeling at home already.
weekend in amsterdam
An Instagrammable delight. 
weekend in amsterdam
Our hotel (Hilton Doubletree ideally located next to Centraal Station had an insane breakfast budget. Pancakes, sprinkles, chocolate sauce and cherry compote which totally defeated all of my sweet teeth. 
weekend in amsterdam
The I Amsterdam sign. 
weekend in amsterdam
Co-oridinating my coat, skirt, tights and bag to the sign, 
weekend in amsterdam
A freak hail storm and a well-located cafe. Sanders (can't find a website) provided warmth and a mix of Dutch and European fare. We walked 16-17km each day so the chips were allowed.
weekend in amsterdam
The view from the rooftop bar of the Hilton before hopping on the 20 minute train back to the airport. Leave a little time for the duty free because its one of the best. 
We flew to Amsterdam with BA from Heathrow, EasyJet flies from Gatwick and Luton and Eurostar now offers a London - Amsterdam route too!

Have you visited Amsterdam?


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

London Dining: March Round-Up

Another month of eating my way around London. It's no wonder my cooking skills aren't really developing... 

1. Shotgun, Kingly Street

Shotgun bbq soho

This new opening from the founders of the Lockhart started doing brunch in February - Hannah, Eliza and I popped along to find that everything was 50% off so we sort of ordered the entire menu (well, everything aside from the buns and the sold-out steak and eggs). Shotgun specialises in slow-cooked BBQ meat so it wouldn't usually be my first pick but I was blown away by the dishes that I had here (there were definitely enough options as a non-meat eater to keep me happy). We started with ceviche and steak tartare, followed by kedgeree, truffled grits, a 3-egg omelette and chile con carne with sides of BBQ baked beans and home fries. For me, the absolute stand-out dish was the truffled grits - something I only wanted to order out of intrigue as I've never eaten them before and not a dish I thought I would particularly love. How wrong I was - the humble looking bowl packed in intense flavours of parmesan cheese and mushrooms and delving down into the creamy grits revealed a runny onsen egg. The perfect comfort food on yet another weekend of awful weather. For dessert we shared the two options - a pineapple fritter donut and a chocolate-iced layered cake, the latter being the one I found my fork returning to for "just one more" bite.

2. Bahn Mi Bay, St Paul's 

bahn mi bay vegan vietnamese london

I'm always looking for new lunch spots in the City and Bahn Mi Bay had been on my list for a while. I'm off to Vietnam in April and I already love Vietnamese food but it doesn't hurt to make sure! Rather than order a main I opted for the two vegan appetisers on the menu in the interests of curiosity - I'm not vegan but I love vegan food and its great how more and more restaurants are now offering vegan options. The summer rolls were delicious - the thick sauce they were served with was perfect in terms of spice levels and they tasted so fresh, I can't wait to eat these on a beach rather than on a grey London day. The spring rolls were less #healthy but it was nice to have something hot and they were so crispy and not at all greasy. I popped along at 2pm and grabbed a table for one (ultimate workday treat to have a solo restaurant lunch with my Kindle for company) but they do takeout too and I've heard good things about their bahn mi baguettes. Branches in Holborn and Fitzrovia, too.

3. FoxlowClerkenwell

foxlow brunch clerkenwell

From the team behind Hawksmoor, Foxlow was the brunch pick of choice for fuel for a day of exploring London with the squad. We visited the Clerkenwell branch which wasn't too busy on a Saturday morning although I imagine that in the week its a different story due to the number of businesses in the area. I had the Moroccan Eggs which were delicious - soft poached eggs in a spicy tomato and chickpea sauce with creamy yogurt, the perfect winter warmer washed down with a fresh mint tea before braving the elements. Sophie had the pictured avocado and poached eggs on toast and Hannah and Sarah spoke highly of the fried chicken, egg and croissant waffle. Service was fast and friendly and I loved the paired down decor and neighbourhood vibe of the restaurant, I live nearby and must have walked past countless times without peering inside but now I've definitely added Foxlow to my dinner venue list too.


Friday, 11 March 2016

A Day In The City: South Of The River

I sometimes forget what the best things about London are. Or I don't even try to stop myself rolling my eyes when those newer to the city talk about Covent Garden, Nottinghill, Borough Market et al... Been there, done that. But last Saturday was a revelation - taking in stomping grounds current and past as well as discovering a new (for me) foodie destination (Malty Street Market) with the gang. The weather was truly freezing but we didn't stop laughing (and smiling, singing in the street etc) all day. My cheeks still ached long after my fingers had thawed out proving that my smile muscles are maybe in need of more frequent workouts. Brunch, plenty of walking, hidden gems and food markets make for a Saturday well-spent...

Brunch in my current 'hood - Foxlow in Clerkenwell didn't disappoint and was followed by a swift walk through the City and over the Millennium Bridge. I slipped into tour guide mode and we swung by St Bart's to peer at the Sherlock-grafitti adorned phone box. 
Borough Market is always hideously busy but the weekend breakfast spot of my student years is still fun. Sharpen those elbows, try to avoid tripping over someone's labrador and get stuck in.
Food (and food photography) heaven at the Bread Ahead stand.
I used to pass Cross Bones on my walk to Sainsbury's before M&S built a store two minutes away... The unconsecrated graveyard is the resting place of medieval prostitutes and paupers. Two minutes from Borough Market tucked down a quiet side street, it's still as thought-provoking as when I first came across it while on a Diet Coke and loo roll run sometime in 2007. 
We spotted a Guiness Trust estate in Bermondsey which functioned as a spot for impromptu outfit photos (who are those lads lurking in the background?). 
I'm incapable of dressing for the cold. Vintage silk scarves are not known for their warmth.
Working a combination of a super old Longchamp bag, my trusty red coat, H&M boots, vintage scarf and a flash of my dress which would be better suited to a sunny day in May. Photo credit: Sarah Farrell. 
Our final stop was Maltby Street Market (fingers too cold for photos) before it was time to return to the 'hood. 


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Day Tripping: Bath

After a few too many Sundays where I didn't even leave my own London postcode, a day in Bath was much-needed in a continuing effort to shake off my hibernation mode. Despite it raining pretty much the whole day, the city still looked beautiful (I visited last winter too) and the 07:59 from Paddington was well worth waking up for to meet friends who'd taken a two-day trip out of town. We managed to visit the Roman Baths, The Cross Bath thermae spa, dine on Spanish tapas and make a quick detour into Banana Republic where I picked up a top, skirt and dress for a grand total of £13 before packing in to a gold hire car to return to the Big Smoke.

We drove back to London as the skies darkened with questionable pop music blaring and the conversation topics flitting effortlessly between world affairs, feminism and guilty crushes (oh, hai, Seth Rogen). As the lights of West London came into view I had that "honey, I'm home" feeling combined with the sort of exhaustion that only a super chilled out day with lots of laughs leaves you with. Even leaving your city for twelve hours is enough to make it (and you) feel as good as new again.

Society Cafe Bath
I waited for my friends in Society Cafe after a twitter tip from Lucy. I grabbed an almond milk cappuccino for there and then and some paleo cookies for the road.
Society Cafe Bath
My friend R papped me "looking like a blogger" - I'm actually reading Divergent on my Kindle because teen fiction makes me feel young.
Exploring the city.
Roman Baths
The Roman Baths - these are so well-preserved and are truly amazing. I love anything Roman-related and couldn't resist defying the signs and popping my hand into the green, steaming warm waters. I think I'd have fitted right in in the Roman Empire. 
La Perla Bath
La Perla restaurant for lunch - I had the fried goats cheese and home-cured smoked salmon. The restaurant is like being in a cave, the perfect hide-out from the dismal weather.
The Cross Bath
The afternoon was spent at The Cross Bath. I'm not planning on hosting a hen do anytime soon but this would be the perfect location for one, it's totally private but open to the skies above. The naturally warm spa water is so relaxing and it's amazing being outside in a bikini in February. Well, it is until its time to get out.
 Have you visited Bath?


Thursday, 3 March 2016

Workwear: Three Ways To Wear Co-Ords

After a long time feeling very uninspired about my Monday - Friday wardrobe (no dress down days where I'm currently working), I finally pried open my wallet to purchase some new workwear. While filling up a gap between yoga and a late lunch (ouch so middle class) I popped into M&S and picked up a co-ord set of a whim (top and skirt). For less than £60 I now have three new work outfit combinations and look like I'm vying to be an extra in Orange Is The New Black (who am I kidding, that would be the dream!).

1. Co-Ord O'Clock

Matchy-matchy isn't my usual style but I loved this set the instant I tried it - I went up one size for a looser fit and because body-con and office isn't a good combination. This outfit is smart enough for the conservative office environment I work in but the optical-illusion-esque stripes make it fun enough to wear out after work, too. Worn with trusty black Louboutins in the office and far more practical Nike Frees out of the office.

m&s striped pencil skirt

m&s striped pencil skirt

2. Print Clash 

Yes, I'm wearing trousers. I still can't really get used to wearing trousers but this pair (purchased from an Old Navy store in Shanghai during a brief torrential downpour) deserved a third outing. Sticking to a monochrome palette but with different prints hopefully didn't give everyone who looked at me a headache...

m&s striped pencil skirt

m&s striped pencil skirt

3. Spots and Stripes

Letting the skirt take centre stage with an old favourite black H&M top and a vintage belt. I'm only 5'1 and always thought that pencil skirts were on the long list of things-that-look-terrible-on-me but I've found that when they are high-waisted and not so long that I can only take baby steps they're actually a great choice for those of us who are not blessed with long legs.

m&s striped pencil skirt

m&s striped pencil skirt


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Life: February Round-Up

Another month over, this year's February gave us one more day and with Easter falling early Shrove Tuesday and Valentine's Day fell in the same week (both being excuses for sweet treats because I'm neither religious nor romantic). I had a good balance of time in and time out, taking advantage of slightly lighter days and evening and now that we're in March it's acceptable to start counting down to my travels - I'm off to Vietnam and Singapore next month and it'll be the first time visiting both countries but before that I'll be sneaking in a quick trip to Amsterdam, again a first for me. All of your travel tips in the comments below, please!

1. Tattoo at the Museum of London - a small but fascinating exhibition that I popped into on my lunch break. I'm currently working a few minutes from the museum and still enjoying the novelty of not having to eat lunch at my desk.

2. Trying the pistachio rose mocha in Starbucks. I pride myself on being someone who never finds anything "too sweet" but do you know what? This was too sweet.

3. Cute graffiti in Shoreditch on my way to a solo cinema date at Rich Mix to see The Big Short. I'm reading the book now and its fascinating.

4. The last time I met Eliza she had the cutest glasses chain - I had to get one too and BCN Beads didn't let me down. My initials and evil eye beads for a little nod to my middle-eastern heritage (and because I think they're super cute anyway).

5. Post-brunch sugar rush shopping in Skinny Dip - Eliza, Hannah and I visited Shotgun in Soho, review coming soon.

6. Pancakes are one of the only things I can now confidently cook - a little single lady serving of chocolate blueberry pancakes (1 egg, half a banana and a teaspoon of cocoa powder) and my matcha raspberry recipe here.

7. I spotted that McDonalds had Hello Kitty Happy Meal toys and I knew I had to have one. Most fast food is a complete turn-off for me but I secretly do love McDonalds and let myself have one visit per year - childhood nostalgia, the best Diet Coke and a watch for £2.69 made this a happy meal even if all of the McDonalds in the City are filled with sad drunk banker men.

8. Why has it taken me so long to discover delivery sushi? I've ordered from You Me Sushi a couple of times and it's consistently good (and arrives in around 30 minutes).

9. Valentine's fun - using my Korean stationary and some heart-shaped cookies (recipe here) to cheer up what can be a miserable day for us single ladies.

1 -3. A Valentine's date with these three beauties (Bella, Malee and Lola) at Battersea Dogs' and Cats' Home's "Feline Lonely" event.

4. Baking ingredients - almost too pretty to break into but someone's got to check that the chocolate ins't poisoned before it goes into a bake, right?

5. Throwback - used to be younger and cuter but I'd still wear that blouse.

6. White Cross Street on a quiet Saturday while taking my Louboutins to be re-healed. Oh the glamour.

7. Visiting my old 'hood and the new Tate 2 construction - this area has changed so much since I moved there in 2007, it's scary how fast London moves and changes.

9. Gapolli Bistro in Angel for Sophie's birthday dinner. At least one person per table seemed to be celebrating a birthday!

9. Veggie tempura raman at Ramen Sasuke - a cute authentic little place in Soho with no queue on a Monday night. I popped in before my second solo cinema date of the month to see an advance screening of Truth.

How was your February? Did you celebrate Valentine's Day? Reminder that Mothers' Day is on Sunday!

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