Friday, 30 December 2016

Life: Looking Back At 2016

In the moment (Whitecross Street, London).
How to start this? How can I bundle up everything that has happened this year in my life, in the UK and in the entire world and package it into a neat little blog post? I can't so I won't try but its safe to say that 2016 will be a year that for the rest of my life I'll look back on and think...really?

My 2016 was a year for travel, 23 flights across the globe, 5 new countries visited. Too many new memories to count that can't be captured in an Instagram photo. I will never stop feeling privileged to be able to see this world whether with my parents (and their newly-discovered sense of adventure), my friends or just my suitcase and my smartphone.

Back home in my tiny London flat, the still-dawning realisation that "tax payer" and "homeowner" have personal relevance was ingrained with two nights of no sleep watching the world changing forever. Small talk with first dates, strangers and work colleagues (all inside The London Bubble) became infinitely less painful than it was in 2015.

Life is about love and pasta (Lower East Side, NYC)
Wedding invites, buying "new baby" cards and turning 29 confirmed that while I still get ID-ed buying a shopping basket of gin, vegetable crisps and hummus I'm definitely a grown-up now. Realising that my story is mine and doesn't have to read the same as anyone else's made me feel more secure about being in Team Adult; my place here is valid without an engagement ring on my finger or the ability to host a dinner party.

(Shoreditch, London)
So much has happened this year that pin-pointing individual memories is difficult, little moments blurred against the background of seismic change but, earth-shattering moments aside, another year which at points felt difficult to distinguish from the ones preceding it. To non-exhaustively highlight - meeting the Leicester City football team, flying to Stockholm to do Body Pump, sliding down London's Orbit Tower, New York New York New York, seeing Brian Wilson play live, walking down The King's Road (in Westeros not West London) and still pressing "publish" on this page after 7 years.

2016, we probably won't miss you but we'll definitely not forget you in a hurry.

We Were Together I Forget The Rest (Soho) (all art by Anna Laurini)


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Travel: 2016 Travel Round-Up

"No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself" - Haruki Muramaki (After The Quake)

If 2016 had one thing going for it it was that I managed to fit in a lot of trips away from the UK.

23 flights (due to TAP Portugal messing up our booking and necessitating a 45 minute Porto-Lisbon flight on the way home from Porto), 5 new countries visited (Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Vietnam and Singapore) and too many hours spent in airports to count made this year a pretty strong one for seeing a little more of the world. An up-coming trip in the diary, whether for two weeks or two days is definitely my favourite way to spend money and it helps those weeks speed by a little faster.

First up was Amsterdam - somewhere I luckily did not visit as a teenager but a city which caters to all whims and tastes. I loved the feline activities and vegetarian food as much as the flat streets and Dutch humour.

So. Many. Bikes. (Amsterdam)

A Vietnamese and Singaporean adventure with my parents was a trip we'll never stop reminiscing about, I only wish we could have had longer to explore Vietnam - an amazing country with so much to offer.

Hoi An, Vietnam.

My first foray into all things Scandinavian, I can't not credit Hannah for making me want to visit Denmark and Sweden. Visiting the home of Lego and experiencing Stockholm's effortless cool have only made me want to see more of these countries and add Finland to my list too.

Gamla Stan, Stockholm.

Northern Ireland blessed us with magnificent weather (no exaggeration - I got sunburnt) and turned into a Game of Thrones filming locations pilgrimage, fuelled by delicious food in Belfast and a visit to Titanic Belfast.

Ballintoy Harbour / The Iron Islands, Northern Ireland.

Sunnier climes still with my trips to Porto for Primavera (a way to spoil yourself for all future British camping festivals is to say in an Airbnb and have guaranteed sunshine) and Barcelona where I dressed as a penguin for a hen-do bar crawl and clocked up a third visit to the Spanish city.

Barcelona skyline from Parc Guell.

New York wasn't a new destination for me but there is always something new to discover and in July the heat made the city feel as intensely magical as ever. I balanced my trip between Soul Cycle, yoga classes and drinking a not small number of cocktails in my friend's favourite bars in spite of the terrible pound-dollar exchange rate.

The city (NYC where else?) viewed from the Queensboro' Bridge...
My final trip to Milan provided much needed indulgence in terms of Italian food and an almost digital detox away from news and doom and gloom. I still looked at Instagram though.

As for travel in 2017, I'll be finally ticking India off my list in November - everything else is still in the planning phrases and we all know that that's the best bit.

Where was your favourite travel destination in 2016?


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Food: Christmas Left-Overs - Festive Falafel Salad

Christmas and salads may not be the most obvious of combinations but after accidentally picking the coffee truffle out of a proffered box of chocolate last week I think we could all do with a break from traditional festive fare before the big day.

Florette sent me a box of recipe inspiration for this time of year - apple and cinnamon tea, satsumas, dried cranberries and cinnamon and sugar topped flatbreads (I love cinnamon and happily put it on everything).

I created a festive falafel salad for this month's challenge, it's warming and hearty for December and a great way to use up Christmas party leftovers. Roasted butternut squash would be a great addition, too - anything that adds some festive colour and much-needed goodness at this time of year.

For my festive bowl I used:

- Florette crispy salad leaves
- baba ghanoush (recipe here - its the best dip)
- hummus
- falafel (Leon's version is the best or you can cheat and buy some pre-made if its too much effort at this time of year)
- beetroot
- dried cranberries as a hummus topper
- a sprinkle of smoked paprika for festive colour

Tinsel optional when serving.


Friday, 16 December 2016

Food: Christmas Day Breakfast - Coconut Carmel Porridge

Coconut Caramel Porridge - vegan & dairy-free

There's so much focus on Christmas lunch but not enough on Christmas breakfast. As it comes up to my second year as a vegetarian at Christmas the main event is somewhat less exciting but we can all start Christmas day with this breakfast recipe - it's vegan, super easy to make and pretty inexpensive. I was sent some Nature's Charm coconut caramel sauce to experiment with and a warming winter breakfast was the perfect way to put it to use (also suitable for eating straight from the jar).

You will need:

- porridge oats
- non-dairy milk (I used Alpro cashew but almond or coconut would work too)
- coconut caramel sauce
- raspberries
- dark chocolate chips (it's Christmas!)

1. The night before Christmas, mix 1/3 cup of porridge oats per person with double this amount of milk in a microwaveable bowl. Pop in the fridge overnight. This makes a huge difference to how smooth and creamy the end result is.

2. Microwave the porridge in 1 minute blasts, stirring well in between and adding more milk if necessary until the porridge is at your desired consistency. Times will vary depending on your microwave and the amount of servings you are making. Use a huge bowl and monitor carefully to avoid exploding porridge disasters.

3. Warm up the coconut caramel sauce in the microwave while the porridge cools - 30 seconds should be enough.

4. Serve up the porridge, add a swirl of the sauce and top with fresh raspberries and chocolate chips.

What do you eat for breakfast on Christmas Day?


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Life: Money Diary - Winter Edition!

I sort of enjoyed showing you how I spend my money back in August - those summer days of lunches eaten outside and rooftop yoga classes now seem rather distant in my memory as winter brings with it a whole new spending challenge. Darker mornings and colder hands necessitate more coffee buying, WhatsApp group threads with the titles "Hen Do" and "30th Birthday" hint at spending yet to come and there's that thing happening on the 25th December which might require some use of the credit card...

I tracked my week in December so I can look back at it in January while willing people to buy vintage patterns on my Etsy store to fund my coffee habit. I guess this was not a typical week for me (usually more gym and less gin) but if there's one month where you can hope that your social life briefly resurrects itself it's December and I'm trying not to feel too guilty about money spent on good times with good friends.


11am - Yoga Class at Fierce Grace (using my trial membership which I bought on Black Friday - 30 days for £39) but I pay for a mat and towel at the studio because someone else doing laundry is worth £2.20

12.45pm - Waitrose on the way home. The newly opened sushi bar is slowly bankrupting me but I find myself buying a pack of sushi, two pre-made Starbucks iced coffees and a giant cookie for a friend's Christmas gathering on Sunday all for £16.48

5pm - walk to the Tower of London for Christmas ice-skating, wearing every warm item of clothing I own. Queue, queue, skate, queue. Walk across Tower Bridge and along the riverside. Friend buys me a "schokokuss" because I've never had one. Christmas lights and a less freezing than anticipated riverside walk. Pop into London Grind to warm up over a Negroni and a bowl of sweet potato wedges, total evening damage £29


9am - Yoga Class at Fierce Grace (again). Take my own towel this time and just pay £1 for mat hire.

11.30am - Waitrose (again) to buy a late breakfast of Rebel Kitchen coffee "mylk" and a yellow-stickered smoked salmon bagel for £4.79

2pm - meet a friend to take a bus and tube trip across London to avoid the dreaded rail-replacement bus. Spend afternoon at friend's house eating cake and drinking tea. Catch a lift back to the tube station and get home quicker than expected spending £6.30 on transport.


9.30am - bircher muesli from work canteen, lots of water because this hot yoga membership is a ticket for permanent dehydration £1.45

1.30pm - pop to Boots for Nurofen because ice-skating is dangerous when men speed skate into you. Also pick up a Boots meal deal for lunch (Festive Falafel sandwich, Starbucks iced coffee and a vegan snack bar) and my vitamins which are on 3 for 2 all for £12.12

7pm - feeling lazy after an entire day sitting down at my desk, pop into Abokado on the way home for reduced sushi for £5.79
Very un-glamourous unfiltered lunch-at-desk shot.

8am - eat Alpro pot bought in a rare moment of grocery shopping last week.

1.30pm - salad from work canteen for £2.60. No gym yesterday or today due to aforementioned ice-skating issue.

3.30pm - coffee run for £3.05.

7pm - meet a friend for dinner at Pizza Express in Hampstead. £11 for my vegan pizza and Diet Coke because I downloaded a voucher - tube there and back for £5.30.


8am - wake up mid crazy dream where my 5.55am alarm didn't go off and I didn't go to my hot yoga class. Oh.

9.30am - Starbucks soy cappuccino because I'm already feeling guilty about not doing yoga for £2.45.

1.30pm - desk lunch of salad and soup for £3.50 because the cold weather has seen to my daily Itsu addiction and spending £8 on lunch.

4pm - afternoon doldrums. Buy a new blog template for £49 because "update blog" has been on my weekly to-do list since the summer.

5.30pm - take the tube to Queen's Park for a client event. Sparkling water, sushi and mini bagels at client event.

8pm - hop on the overground to Chiswick (unchartered London territory), meet Elodie and Hannah at Chiswick Fire Station. Much West London vibes. Much awareness that I bought my coat in 2012. Tanquery 10 Gimlet and a side of peppered squid for me since I ate at the client event. Split bill based on what we had and the service charge - £20.68 for my share (West London!).

Midnight - on the tube home and a man starts urinating in the carriage. Bless the circle line and it's walk through trains making running the length of one in horror a possibility and £6.80 in total transport.


9.45am - Soya mocha from Pret on the way to work for £2.10. Realise that my phone alarm no longer works and feel half guilty and half refreshed for two days of accidental week day lie-ins.

1.30pm - lunch at desk of a falafel wrap, carrot sticks and hummus for £3.50.

6pm - finally make my way to Lush at Liverpool Street station to buy a Secret Santa gift  for £15.10, also pop to Boots for some VAT-rated "essentials" for £3.50.

8pm - Work Christmas dinner at a venue which used to have the pleasure of being the City's stickiest, sleaziest bar. Colleague buys me a vodka soda while we wait for our table. The food is slightly better than my (low) expectations, I have smoked salmon to start, sea bream for my main and a chocolate cheesecake dessert. I'd already paid a £10 deposit so on the night it comes to £30 for the food, service and drinks.
Chocolate cheesecake - much calories, much festive.

9.30am - despite eating dinner at 10pm I am starving this morning. It's Friday so "treat myself" to an English muffin with peanut butter for only 75p.

1pm - Friend who works in the city is hungover, we swap our desk WhatsApp chat for meeting for lunch. Head to K10 for their sushi conveyor belt. It's the season for spending so minimal guilt by this point, I have two plates of sushi and a fruit salad for £12.85.

6pm - waxing appointment while watching last night's episode of The Apprentice. It's covered by courses purchased earlier in the year so nothing to pay.

7pm - buy Diet Coke, Popchips, hummus and carrot sticks for an evening in with a girl friend for £10.39. Copious amounts of gin already in my kitchen.

Sushi sushi sushi.
Total: £239.45  -  mostly on things eaten or drunk.  At least my blog looks good.


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Food: Hip Chips Soho - The "Crisp Restaurant"

With everything that has happened in 2016, wasting energy bemoaning pop-ups, concept restaurants and hipsters seems pretty pointless. A crisp restaurant may seem like the ultimate in #millennial #hipster ridiculousness but it's actually the perfect antidote to the terrible weather, the Christmas shoppers packing London's streets and the feeling that with everything that has happened this year £4.50 for crisps to be dipped into sweet chocolate sauce actually seems ok. Reasonable. Possibly delicious even.

A friend and I headed to Hip Chips mid-afternoon on a Saturday, it's a tiny café but there are a few tables at the back as well as some standing room opposite the counter. The chips are available in three sizes which dictates how many portions of dips come with them. Extra dips are £1. We both ordered a small for £4.50 which comes with two dips and is just the right amount of crisps to eat as a snack, if you have an 18 year olds metabolism then we cannot be friends the large comes with six dips. The menu also features a range of drinks - soft and alcoholic but we were definitely here for the crisps.

I chose the savoury crisps with a sweet dip - PB&J - and a savoury dip - baba ghanoush - to dip them into. The crisps are quite thick cut but the different colours of potato used gives them a much better flavour than your regular, pale packaged option. The crisps were fresh and they definitely taste "home made" - in a good way. Different varieties of potato give the crisps different tastes and textures so they are definitely not your average supermarket crisp.

The savoury dip was a really good baby ghanoush with a great flavour and perfect dipping consistency, maybe a little too small for the amount of crisps if you are a generous dipper. The PB&J dip was really what made this a ~thing~ for me - dipping salty crisps into a smooth peanut butter sauce was actually a revelation, a juvenile version of salted caramel or a reminder of a long-forgotten childhood memory of dipping ready-salted crisps into chocolate mousse. While it's not something I plan to add to my regular diet it tasted wrong and oh-so-right in equal measures.

A final mention goes to the packaging, which has definitely been designed to be Instagrammed. It has quite a Wes Anderson / Grand Budapest Hotel vibe and definitely beats dipping one's hand into a foil packet.

Hip Chips is at 49 Old Compton Street, Soho. They are open late and look to be a permanent offering.


Friday, 9 December 2016

Shopping: Christmas Wishlist

I do summer much better than I do Christmas. Mother Lipstick has been asking for weeks what I want and I can only manage an "umm, not sure, don't know" type response. Asking for things is difficult when you don't really need anything and Christmas as an adult is never going to be as magical as the Christmas day, aged 8, when I followed a piece of red wool from my bedroom and down the stairs to find my most life-changing of Christmas presents. A computer.

The 1990s computer comprised of grey parts too bulky to be carried up to my bedroom and was in need of it's own "computer desk" to be situated near to the phone line so that I could call up the internet in precious thirty minute chunks at a time, waiting patiently while the modem disconnected and being constantly warned to avoid "chat rooms" despite not knowing what one even was. The very idea of having a computer was a little weird in the mid-90s but I loved it enough not to care that my friends were not particularly jealous of my Christmas gift because "we have one of those at school". The computer was my gateway into the world that we now think nothing of being a part of. I feel more nostalgic thinking about my first computer than I do my first kiss or the first time I was allowed to wear make-up.

The world is rather different now. The phone which is never far from my hand having far more power than that old computer, our internet access being constant and almost impossible to switch off from. Our private moments with friends and family now shared, our material wants blogged about and every part of this year becomes increasingly commoditised and distilled into an accumulation of more things. So my wish list comes with a little story of a Christmas past and a little warning that we are much more the sum of our memories than the sum of our material possessions and that we are beyond lucky to be in a position to be making lists of things that we cannot honestly say we need...

rose gold christmas wishlist

This dreamy velvet dress would be perfect for NYE - it's like a grown-up version of what I wore to children's parties when no one talked about weddings or house prices. Imagine.

I'm always struggling with what to put on the walls of my flat (tbt to the days when a poster of Pete Doherty seemed like the right answer to that question) but this New York print is a cute reminder of travel memories past.

An ear-cuff is a quick way to add party sparkle (because a new piercing now will require six weeks of "training earrings" and will miss out on party jewels!). Also great for when you can't remember whether or not your friends have pierced ears.

I generally run a mile from a "celebrity fragrance" and I blame this Instagram account for making me sniff out SJP's new scent but it's actually amazing, the perfect winter scent and admit it, you always did want to get Carrie on those "Which SATC Character Are You?" quizzes.

As someone who looks forward (eww) to turning thirty next year I have to stop serving my friends gin in Starbucks mugs. They've earned the right to some decent glassware for proving that they can drink red wine without spilling it on my pale floors.

Lipstick is always a welcome stocking filler and I still don't own any Charlotte Tilbury make up (hint hint hint). Don't blame me if this shade doesn't get you a midnight NYE kiss - think of it as protection against winter germs.

I love the idea making coffee at home but so far it's just an idea. This rose gold French press is cute enough to make indoor coffee mornings feel like a treat until someone invents coffee delivery via drone.

A cat purse because 2016 has had its moments (don't make me grow up please).

Back with the at-home entertaining - a pineapple ice bucket is surely an essential. And y'know, it co-ordinates with everything else in this wish list. It would be rude not to.

What's on your Christmas wish-list?


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Christmas: Two Festive Cocktails With Tabl + Competition to win £100 worth of Tabl treats! [NOW CLOSED]

Christmas sometimes feels like waiting for an avocado to ripen...too soon...too soon...oh, it's overripe! After calling "too soon" on all things Christmassy, December is now speeding by and whether our to-do lists involve Christmas shopping, present wrapping or dreaded early December deadlines we could probably all do with a drink.

Tabl set me a challenge to re-invest the Christmas cocktail and send me a lovely selection of goodies with which to do so. Everyone knows that gin is my favourite so a bottle of 58 Gin, Apricot and Cardamon Cordial, Raspberry, Cherry & Dark Chocolate Jam and Volcano Coffee provided plenty of inspiration!

tabl christmas cocktails

First up, a cardamon gin-let because mulled wine isn't the only way to get wintery spices into a drink.

To make you'll need a cocktail shaker filled with lots of ice, add the below ingredients, give it a good shake and strain into a glass or a gin mug (from Yvonne Ellen here):

- 50ml gin
- 25ml lemon juice
- 25ml apricot and cardamon cordial

This would be so easy to make a batch of for a party - it's easy to drink but not too sweet.

My second creation is a great dessert cocktail and a boozy alternative to serving post-dinner coffee - a gin jam espresso shot.  It's also very easy!

Brew some espresso coffee and leave to cool. One cool carefully mix one part cold espresso, one part gin and one part coconut cream. Spoon the jam into the bottom of shot glass and pour the gin / espresso mix on top:

Competition Time!

Tabl want to see what your take on reinventing:

- a Christmas cocktail
- mince pies
- leftovers
- a winter warmer drink
- stuffing

looks like. Feel free to be a creative and non-traditional as you want to! Let me know if you try out a new recipe before the end of 15th December and you could win a Tabl box of delicious goodies worth £100 - perfect for making Christmas a little more delicious!

Tag me in your Instagram posts and Tweets with the hashtag #ChristmasTabl and be sure to follow Tabl and me. The winning recipe will be posted on Tabl's social media too and they'll be a bonus "people's choice" winner based on social media likes. 

PS. A Christmas elf tells me that if you sign up for Tabl's newsletter you'll get £10 to spend on Tabl's website - their supper club experiences would be a great gift for a the foodie in your life and there are some great gift boxes for all tastes too.

EDIT - The winner is Ellie for this delicious entry:


Monday, 5 December 2016

Travel: Milan Weekender

I first visited Milan soon after starting this blog, back before I had a smartphone with an offline Google map and a list of pre-researched restaurants. In July the temperature was over 40 degrees but being in the very north of Italy, Milan misses out on winter sunshine although it was distinctly milder than London.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Life: November Round-Up

November, November. Another month pretty overwhelmed by being unable to tear myself away from the constant bombardment of news, another up-all-night to the tune of the world changing forever and then a week in Italy with terrible wifi and a full Kindle to briefly forget about it all!

This was November:

1. Visiting Tate Britain for only the second time ever. Free culture in an amazing setting. Must go back soon.

2. A large visual depiction of 2016 at the Turner Prize exhibition (go for the bum, stay for the very British visitor comments). The winner will be announced on 5th December.

3. Anna Laurini street art in Shoreditch on a rare sunny morning. I love spotting these expressive faces all over town.

4. My annual "wear black tie" night out. Wore a swish floor length dress after getting it shortened by 10 inches.

5. Succulents in the arid house at the Barbican Conservatory.

6. Dressed as a Pokémon trainer for a late Halloween / Guy Fawkes party. Knew that this Japanese purchase would come in handy.

7. More conservatory time as I count down the remaining months of winter (find me here or at Fierce Grace hot yoga).

8. A horse in Pavia, Italy - three days in the countryside where I slept better than I have since Brexit and had that weird city girl experience of breathing in slightly less polluted air.

9. Coffee and cake at Cooper and Wolf on Chatsworth Road, a cosy little Scandic-inspired cafe. A redeeming quality of being an adult in 2016 is that, yes, this constitutes lunch.

One-twelfth of 2016 remains. Now, have any of you bought me that gin advent calendar because I think we need to see this year out well...

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