Friday, 30 September 2016

Life: Nineteen And Ten

I turn 30 in 351 days. There's nothing like an impending "big birthday" to make you realise that your life is happening now, even if you chose to spend it darting across the road while attempting to catch a Pok√©mon, Instagraming your lunch or willing Friday to roll around again. The exact moment when I realised that my life was actually happening hit mid yoga class (how basic I know) when my teacher made a casual comment that "this isn't a practice run for something else - this is it" while trying to coax us into a particularly challenging asana rather than flopping into the floor.  I flopped onto the floor, physically and mentally having no other option.

This is it and there's no instruction manual, no spoiler alerts, no this-is-how-you-do-this-but-this-is-how-you-do-that. There's no right way to tell someone you like them and no wrong way to tell someone that you don't feel the same. There are no checklists or tick boxes. No age by which you have to get things done by, no age when you should feel like you're finally doing it right.

All we have is now but that's ok because we also haven gin and cake.
29 year old me may not have it all figured out but 29 year old me has experiences and memories and that mix of insanely good times mixed with slightly less good times which makes me feel like an adult, finally, years after my driving licence told the supermarket cashier that I was one. I didn't feel like a grown-up when I graduated, when I started my job or even when I got the keys to my flat - those supposed markers of "adulthood: you have reached your destination".  

It's impossible to pin-point when you grow-up but one day you realise you're there without quite being able to explain how you got there. Maybe it's the realisation hat I no longer drift off to sleep worrying whether I've said something wrong or done something wrong and whether this person likes me or that person doesn't. Or maybe it's wondering how how I've gone from from picking up my skincare in the teenage aisle in Boots to buying $80 anti-aging serums? Where was that sweet spot between being a fresh-faced youngster and being a near 30 year old woman? When do people stop pointing out your youth and inexperience and start asking you if you're married rather than if you merely have a boyfriend?

The next 351 days aren't going to involve a "30 before 30" because my goals are less quantifiable and I don't want to swim with dolphins anyway. Worrying about not being where I "should" be isn't going to serve me, it's going to help me live in the here and now. I cut myself some slack this summer and let some of my silly self-imposed rules slip was fun. Lots of fun. Letting go and not over-thinking seem to be the key to y'know, actually enjoying this being alive lark - why didn't someone tell me that sooner? The next 351 days are going to be about living each little moment, making memories and spending time with the people who I can't imagine having been without for some or all of the last 29 years.

As Elena Waldorf said to Blair in the first episode of Gossip Girl "you will never be more beautiful or happy when than you are right now. I just want you to make the most of it". Elena, I will, minus Chuck Bass and a Hermes Birken on my arm and I'll ditch the headache-inducing hair band while I'm at it. Life's too short.


Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Food: London Dining - Decent Recent Eats

This may come as a shock to internet and non-internet friends (yes I do have some) alike but I've fallen out of the habit of taking pictures of my food. Maybe it's because everyone does it now when it used to be a "me" thing. Or maybe it's because when I do sit down to eat I'm just really sodding hungry and want to eat my food rather than photograph it twelve times.

Some of the most memorable and delicious meals of this summer went un-photographed but that's ok because they definitely still happened. Maybe in 2056 we'll all be eating freeze dried locusts and food will be in pill form and I'll be grateful for the ten-odd years of photos of food I've taken or maybe I'll be too busy being nearly 70 years old and doing whatever old people do to look back on what I ate in my twenties.

A couple of recent finds, though. Poorly photographed because right now I'm about not being that girl standing on her chair in a restaurant and stage-whispering "don't touch the food" at her murderously ravenous friends. Don't be that girl.

Frank's, Peckham Rye

A car park in Peckham with a three-item brunch menu may not sound like a top meal of summer '16 but the setting, the skyline and the Bloody Mary's make Frank's a summer must-visit. The brunch dishes are around £6 which is half as expensive as certain other brunching establishments and are simple and delicious. Being a completely inept cook means that a perfectly fried egg gives me great joy. Frank's is open until 1st October for a goodbye-to-summer cocktail.

The Good Egg, Stoke Newington 

I finally made it to this much-hyped Stoke Newington spot just as my friends moved out from around the corner. The dinner menu is sharing plates with a lot of veggie options but with no eggs featuring. The simple pitta and dips were delicious (even more so when bread is a "special treat") and the pictured aubergine was something I could have eaten all to myself (it wasn't huge tbh). I still want to go back for brunch and for the eggs but the advantage to dinner time is that bookings are taken and their Negroni gets a spot in my "top ten Negronis list" which I will one day share.

Mama Lan, Clapham Common 

I asked restaurant queen Hannah for some Clapham tips and Mama Lan's menu of Beijing street food with veggie and vegan options was my pick for a quick solo supper (I was only in Clapham to photograph the cats in the tube station - living my best life here). Between 6pm and 7pm a noodle dish and a drink is £10 and if you're with a group then the sharing dumplings and snacks looked pretty good. The restaurant is tiny so be prepared to queue in busy times. Also the toilet door is a sliding door not a pulling door. Just so you know.

Recommendations please - where have you recently discovered?


Thursday, 22 September 2016

Working It: ClassPass Review

I think I first heard of ClassPass from a NYC friend but London now has it too - yay! ClassPass is the Deliveroo of the gym world - rather than having a standard gym membership (so early 00s) you pay a monthly membership to ClassPass and have the pick of all of London's work out options at your fingertips. Unlike Deliveroo where the food is biked to your door, you do actually have to go to the workout class yourself but all of the faff of searching for a class and booking it is dealt with.

I have to say that I spent a few very enjoyable hours on the ClassPass website scrolling through every possible class all over London - I guess our city is more into fitness then it outwardly lets on? There are so many classes. So many. Eventually I worked out that you could narrow it down by area (East) and preferred class type (Yoga). Once you've booked a class in a couple of clicks you can add it to your Google calendar and a handy email explains how to get there, what time to arrive and what you need to bring.

I attended 5 classes during my month - a hot yoga class at Fierce Grace, a restorative yoga class at the swish South Place Hotel with Rooted London, a reformer Pilates class at Bootcamp Pilates (looks terrifying, isn't), a morning yoga flow at The Klinik and another hot yoga class at Ethos. I was aware of Fierce Grace already due to their pretty strong brand image but the other studios were all new discoveries - definitely great for smaller studios, both for their business and for participants, there may be somewhere on your doorstep that you previously had no clue about. Most of the studios have introductory offers which you can still take advantage off despite doing a ClassPass class with them. I've been meaning to do a 30 days of hot yoga trial month for about a year now and may actually get around to signing up now.

ClassPass isn't cheap - the standard package is £55 per month for five classes but as some individual classes would cost £20 for a single class credit it isn't too extortionate (reminder: this is London). I managed to get a £1 trial and there are often codes floating around for a trials at reduced prices. Write a massive diary note to cancel before the end of the trial if you don't want to be hit with the full fee the next month.

There are enough options that you'll definitely find a class to suit you and some pretty exclusive gyms like 1Rebel are on there as well as smaller classes with 3-4 participants which is definitely a cut above the usual gym class experience. If you've always wanted to try something like TRX or Barre but haven't wanted to commit in case you don't love it then ClassPass is a pretty commitment free way of trying new workouts. Also if you need the financial motivation to exercise, the thought of throwing £55 down the toilet / into the vacuum of the internet should make you get online and book some classes. For the fickle, you can cancel most classes up to 12 hours before and not lose your class credits because y'know, life gets in the way and plans can change but once you're five vodka sodas down at 11pm before a morning class it'll be too late and it'll be an expensive lie-in.

The area I live and work has a lot of classes going on so there was always an option for whatever day and time I wanted to work out but if you live a bit further out then it may not be as convenient. Although the flexibility means that you can schedule a class in an area if you know you'll be there anyway - brunch always taste better after pre-brunch spinning and if you work centrally there's bound to be pre and post-work options.

On the downside, five classes per month may not be enough for the dedicated exerciser (I go through phases when I do five classes in a week) and you can only visit each studio once per month on the basic plan. As dull and early 00s as my gym membership is I do like going to the same weekly classes with the same instructor (my Tuesday yoga teacher may actually tell someone if I ever go missing and skip more than one class) and ClassPass does add to that London feeling of transience, anonymity and lack of commitment (Tinder doesn't have exclusive jurisdiction here who would've thought!).

Overall I loved ClassPass and if I get bored with my workouts in the future I'll definitely re-activate my plan because it just felt so easy and convenient and variety is the spice of life and all that. If you want to try it yourself, use my sign-up code -


Monday, 19 September 2016

Travel: Postcard From Stockholm

Another 5am alarm, another early morning airport train. Only my weekend in Stockholm wasn't my usual mini-break. My friend M and I planned our trip around Les Mills Live - a sort of convention for gym instructors and gym bunnies alike which tours the world, feeling like a mix between a gym, a nightclub and a cult. We picked Stockholm because budgets couldn't quite stretch to Shanghai but cheap flights and Airbnb meant that it didn't cost an awful lot more than if we'd gone to Manchester. While the weekend predominantly involved working out in a concert arena and being surrounded by more Lycra-clad fitness obsessives than I ever knew existed, we still had time to get a feel for Stockholm and I sort of fell for the Swedish capital with its clean streets, friendly residents and effortless Swedish chic.

Getting There

Norwegian do relatively cheap flights, have in-flight wifi and make for a less stressful experience than Budget Air. Stockholm has four airports - Arlanda is the largest and is easily reachable from the city centre via the Arlanda Express. Cheaper carriers sometimes fly into Bromma airport which is 100km from the city centre so if time is short it might be worth paying a little more to land closer to the centre. A three day metro pass is around £20 and can be used on the metro and on the trams and the centre of town is easily walkable - I managed 20,000 steps daily!

Where To Stay

Les Mills Live was at Globen - Stockholm's answer to the 02 arena so we picked our apartment based on being a short tram journey away, in Hammerby Sjostad which turned out to be a great area, quiet and residential but easily accessible by Stockholm's excellent tram and metro system. If I return to the city I'd love to stay in the Sodermalm neighbourhood which is a little livelier and has some very Swedish looking Airbnbs.

What To Do

The old town, Gamla Stan, has to be your first port of call. It's pedestrianized cobbled streets are perfect for having a wander, stopping for coffee and doing a spot of people watching. The area around T-Centralen station is shopping central - the exchange rate and Swedish prices mean that shopping isn't the cheapest but Sweden is home to H&M so picking up some bargains is a must. Also check out Face Stockholm, Tiger (actually Danish) and the plethora of Moomin (actually Finnish) souvenirs.

Where To Eat

Stockholm is excellent for food options - there's something for all tastes and budgets but as my friend and I are both veggies we visited two of the city's vegetarian restaurants (minus any guilt for depriving omnivorous friends of their meat). Chutney in Sodermalm (the supposed "hipster area") is a great dinner spot - it has a chilled out hippie vibe and the menu features vegan and vegetarian dishes inspired by Asian flavours. There's a great selection of raw vegan desserts and portions are very generous (just what was required after a day of exercising - my falafel burger disappeared at record speed). In Gamla Stan, Hermitage is the only veggie / vegan restaurant in the area and it's pretty popular as a result both with veggie tourists and man-bun sporting locals. For around £11 you can help yourself to their buffet which was delicious and was continually replenished during our visit with a range of salads, hot dishes and the best hummus I've had in a long time.

BRB, just re-reading Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and planning my return...


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Working It: Les Mills Live, Stockholm

My friend M is a Les Mills instructor and my gym membership usage is the one element of my woeful budgeting that I don't feel bad about so when she suggested going to the annual Nordic meet-up I was in.

Body Combat in full swing.
A quick explainer - Les Mills is the brand behind Body Pump, Body Combat, Body Balance, RPM and more... probably half of the classes at your gym is devised by Les Mills or are heavily "inspired" by their workouts. Les Mills instructors are trained in the same way and people all over the world are working out to the same tracks and doing the same moves in the quarterly "releases" that keep the work outs fresh and interesting. It's a pretty amazing business model originating in New Zealand where they're a household name. Les Mills Live tours the globe and its a chance for instructors and fitness fanatics to immerse themselves in their classes, either by trying something completely different or experiencing their regular 7am Thursday gym class in the arena where Lady Gaga has performed with 500 other participants. I loved the opportunity to try out new classes - here's what I thought:

The celebrity-esque Body Attack instructors.
 Body Attack - the first class of the day and a slight test to my left and right awareness but this was a super fun, fast-paced aerobics class. I loved the soundtrack and the instructors' enthusiasm was infectious. The hour sped by and I managed to not trip over anyone while getting my left and right mixed up. Cardio can be dull but this class made it fun and while challenging, the moves can be adapted to your current fitness level, there are no weights or equipment and after a few classes to get used to the moves you'll feel like a pro.

Body Pump - weights are a bit of a fear for me as I'm convinced that I have no upper body strength but as one of my new year goals is to do a handstand its time for me to face my fears; getting stronger will help my other fitness goals and y'know, I might find it easier lugging my suitcase around the world. Body pump is great for weights newbies and seasoned lifters alike. The class focuses on high reps with low weights, with one body part being worked per track. It turns out that my legs are quite strong after years of running but, yes, my arms are woefully feeble and my biceps practically non-existent. While I'm not yet ready for the weights room at the gym, pump definitely makes weights seem accessible and less scary than I imagined. Sign me up!

Body Balance - a class which I love already, balance incorporates elements of tai chi, yoga and Pilates with an upbeat soundtrack. Options are given for all levels and this class is a favourite of my mother's too as the music and the mixing of styles make it more accessible than a traditional yoga class which may be a bit too serious or spiritual for non devotees (although what the original yoga gurus would make of this modern mix-up I'm not so sure!). This was a much-needed stretch after the first two classes and doing a sun salutation in an arena with 500-ish people was pretty amazing. The instructor who led the last section of the class had such a relaxing voice and presence that I almost fell asleep on the floor of the arena.

Sprint - a spin-inspired class which I took because it was "only 30 minutes" but oh goodness, what a 30 minutes they were! As the name suggests, Sprint is a speedy, hardcore spin class which is perfect if you're time challenged or want to incorporate it as part of a longer gym session. Expect to push yourself hard and get serious sweaty but for it to be over quickly!

If you didn't get an Instagam picture by this sign, were you even there?
Aside from when I ran the marathon I don't think I've ever done so much exercise in one day. The atmosphere was incredible, like a combination of a festival (minus the booze and mud) and a religious cult as the star instructors were treated like celebrities and almost all of the attendees arrived in Les Mills emblazoned kit (or at least bright Lycra). After years of running solo, the buzz of working out with others is still quite new to me but nothing beats the feeling at the end of a class when you've worked out hard and can give a sweaty high-five to a stranger!

Tickets were around £90 and that included a Friday evening workout, five Saturday classes and lunch - when single classes can be £25 in London that's pretty good value. Details for next year are here.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Fashion: I Know What Your Wore This Summer

Summer dressing is my favourite. A close second to ball gowns but I don't live the life where wearing one is a regular occurrence so simple summer dressing wins. Having actually had a summer in London this year means that I've worn my summer clothes and haven't acquainted myself with opaque tights since April. This summer will go down as a favourite, here's what I wore for sweet summer '16.

Covent Garden

This Laura Ashley dress has been revived from my mother's 1980s wardrobe. Try as I might to get away from girlie girl dressing I just can't resist something pink and flowery. Taken in Covent Garden during an afternoon with the girls. Worn with Primark knock-off Birkenstocks and my vintage denim jacket.

Frank's Rooftop, Peckham

Another vintage favourite - £2 from a Camden charity shop, purchased in the days where I had the time and inclination to rummage for hours in Camden armed with a gallon of hand-sanitizer. Frank's rooftop makes for a great posing place and Hannah is a great outfit photographer, even when her subject matter has had three Bloody Mary's pre 1pm.

Ascot Races

I didn't have any weddings this summer but did get to liberate the more formal section of my wardrobe at Ascot. I always go vintage or vintage-inspired for smarter occasions after spending literal years in the changing rooms of those guest-at-wedding sort of store questioning my life. Keeping it real with a mirror snap from Instagram Stories.

Hannah's Birthday BBQ

Another old summer favourite - this dress was the first item of clothing I got sent as a blogger way back when (also here). Times and blogging have changed a little since (hey, 2010 me, pick that stuff up off the floor!) but I still love this dress after snipping off the diamant√© buttons. I remember snapping the original photos in the mirror of my bedroom at my parents' house with my dad's digital camera, not quite sure where those six years have gone.

Now to get my Kon-Mari on and do the seasonal wardrobe switchover... What have you been wearing this summer?


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Life: August Round-Up

I'm starting to get that back-to-school feeling, it's dark at 8.30pm again and I had a small burst of domesticity and folded up half of my summer clothes for putting into storage. Yep, August is over and as someone who not only lives for the summer months but who has had, by my own reckoning, a pretty damn good one this is sad news indeed. So today I'm trying to defeat the summer scaries by looking back at August '16 and crossing my fingers for summer to continue into September because if I have to turn 29(!) the sun had better be shining...

1. The Olympics have been an absolute joy to watch, a huge distraction from the constant doom and gloom around us and I thought I wouldn't care as much with them not being in London but I was happily proven wrong.

2. The Shergar Cup at Ascot where the weather brought it's A-game. Great people watching and when horses are around you can drink from 11am onwards, that's the rule.

3. Jeff Koons "Now" at Newport Street Gallery. The balloon sculptures make my soul happy.

4. Another Anna Laurini street artwork. Stay Human on Whitecross Street.

5. The view from Dalston Roof Park at 7am on a Friday morning - such an amazing way to start the weekend with Supply Yoga's summer class.

6. Yoga at Camden Beach - no mats, some acrobatic elements. Spent the rest of the day brushing sand off of myself and feeling like I was on holiday.

7. Eggs and avocado at Frank's Cafe in Peckham. The heat totally kills off my appetite and this is basically all I've craved all summer.

8. The view from Frank's Cafe is unreal - you can literally see all of London and they do a good Bloody Mary. Can't even remember that life where I used to stay in.

9. An espresso martini at Pedler, Peckham Rye.  Correcting that 4pm Sunday afternoon / incoming Sunday fear type slump. Also has a pineapple theme so will be back.

1. Olympics on big screen at Paternoster Square. I love the feeling when everyone claps a Team GB athlete in London and they're on the other side of the world.

2. The Royal Academy summer exhibition (until 4th September) and David Hockey's 82 Portraits and One Still Life (until 1st October)are well worth a visit.

3. Amba Chef's spanish supper club with the Tabl - lovely food and I had a great evening chatting away to Farrah.

4. Dinner at The Good Egg, Stoke Newington. The dinner menu contains precisely zero egg dishes but it was still great, loads of veggie options and a very good Negroni.

5. Madison rooftop, on point views during the heatwave but can't say that I made it to the bar. Like that scene in American Psycho where everyone is wearing the same suit and the same glasses and is basically the same person.

6. Another day, another rooftop - Netil360 in Hackney is a nice chilled out spot.

7. Palm Vaults has been all over Instagram this summer, I took one for the team and ordered a velvet latte. I didn't not like it but not sure if I'd order it again tbh. The brunch was pretty good, avocado toast, ofc.

8. Hunting Pokemon along Regent's Canal with the girls - the best thing about internet friends is that no amount of geeky is too geeky whereas last week I bumped into a former colleague while catching Psyduck and it was pretty embarrassing for the both of us.

9. Another skyline? Oh, ok. You'll miss them when its dark at 3pm. Alexandra Palace for the foodies festival where I tried a sushi burrito.

Honorable mentions to Hannah's 30th birthday party last week, excellent chats with excellent people all month long (past me made great friendship choices), gin, unplugged moments, un-photographed meals, yoga every damn day, Kon-Mari-ing my wardrobe and planning my penultimate trip of 2016 - Stockholm on Friday.

© Lillian Zahra | All rights reserved.
Blog Design Handcrafted by pipdig