Bits & pieces 8: Surviving January

Vintage blue & white china at Spitalfield's Antiques Market
It’s bloody freezing isn’t it? I’m trying to not let the January blues kick in and stay cheerful on these cold and dreary days. Now I’ve gotten over the flu, I’m back into a routine yoga at home several times a week using the Yoga Studio app (brilliant). I’d do it every day but I really do struggle to get up early enough every day.

I’ve been drinking this Ayurvedic Tumeric Immunity Tea from the lovely Monday’s Wholefoods journal (that my sister kindly posted me from New Zealand for Christmas).  It’s delicious, and I’m hoping it’s helping rebuild my immunity after our Christmas/New Year bout of flu. I can’t wait to visit Monday’s Wholefoods next time I’m home in Auckland.

I’m lucky enough to be working near Spitalfield’s market at the moment. So every Thursday I make sure I take a proper lunch break and head over the weekly antique’s market. There’s plenty of treasures to found (although many are a bit on the pricey side). I try to limit myself to something every few weeks, unless I absolutely have to have it.

Spring bulbs on my kitchen window are making me smile every day. Although I didn’t really make any New Year’s resolutions as such, this year I’m trying to read more, have quiet Sundays at home and generally stop rushing around so much.

Hannah’s post on Seed & Stitches about January really resonated with me. And Nat’s post on drinking less and having a dry-ish life rather than than a dry January is exactly what I’ve been trying to do. (See my post on feeling lighter).

How are you making January more bearable?

(Photo of plates at Spitalfield’s Antiques market taken on my iPhone)

The modern collector: a series

I’ve been toying with the idea of this series now for many, many months. I come from a long line of collectors on both sides of my family. I’m not talking thimbles, stuffed toys, coins or matchbox cars but more along the lines of fine bone china, vintage linens, brooches and oriental antiques. The kind of things that should be family heirlooms. My latest treasure: A 1950s hand-embroidered silk blouse from eBay. The detail is incredible – and I can’t wait to wear it when Spring gets here. A vintage hand-embroidered blouse from the 1950s As I’ve been living in London for a while now, it’s not surprising that as a lover of beautiful old objects, my own collections have grown. It’s lucky that my boyfriend too is a collector and doesn’t mind me buying things just because they’re beautiful, old and interesting. In this little series, I’ll share some of my own treasures and treasure-hunting tips. I’d like to profile some interesting collections belonging to others too. We’re not talking hoarding here but more along the lines of William Morris’ famous quote:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

A treasure that’s packed away in one of my collections: a vintage green and white lace nightdress Vintage green and cream embroidered nightdress First collection coming soon.

You can see loads of inspiring collections on my Pinterest board:

Boozy spelt Christmas cake and Chickpea magazine

Vegan Spelt Christmas cake See ya 2014! You’ve been a good-un. I’m in bed with a rotten cold and am trying cheer myself up with this stack of brilliant inspiration from friends and family, near and far. My bedside reading today includes the gorgeous and brilliant vegan quarterly magazine, Chickpea. And it features a recipe for boozy spelt Christmas cake – written by me! (Hooray). Soon I’m going to drag my sorry self from my sickbed and whip up some coconut oil frosting for said cake which is now nicely boozy with brandy. It’s become a bit of a tradition to cut my Christmas cake on New Year’s Eve over the last couple of years, and while I’m not a fan of traditional Christmas cakes, I do like making my own version. We’re planning on staying in this evening and cracking open the bubbles – should mix well with the cold and flu tablets. It’s the first time in a very long time that I haven’t gone out partying on New Year’s Eve and I’m looking forward to it. Fingers crossed I can keep my eyes open ’til midnight. Wishing you all a wonderful 2015. x Photo for Chickpea magazine by Arthur Ravenscrag

Feeling lighter

IMG_2948

After four weddings, a funeral, a 40th in Wales, a hen do, a trip to Paris and Amsterdam, a visit from my sister, multiple trips to Edinburgh for work, too many nights out and general too-much-to-do-ness, I’ve been feeling somewhat knackered and weighed down. Now things have calmed down and before the silly season kicks in, I’ve decided to get back to basics, get organised and get my routine sorted.

After chatting about it with my sister, I’ve started reading Dr Libby’s book Accidentally Overweight. And my god, it just makes so much sense. Since starting it, I haven’t eaten one ounce of dairy or had a single drop of alcohol. And  it’s been easy. Dairy hasn’t been any great sacrifice as it’s always bought me out in a rash so I tend to not have much anyway. But booze, well, there really is nothing nicer than a glass of red on a chilly evening or an Aperol spritz on a hot day. Even so, I’ve found this no great loss either.

I’ve also started meal planning for the week ahead, which I always thought sounded like a total chore and something only bored American housewives would do, but actually it’s been brilliant. I downloaded a free online planner and just planning what eat for the week ahead. No scrambling for ideas, trips to Pret or last minute trolley dashes to the supermarket. A visit to the farmer’s market on Sunday, a scoot around the vegetable patch and a few bits from the local shop on the walk home from work. It’s been somewhat of a revelation and I’m loving it. It’s certainly saved us money too. I just print it out, stick it on the fridge and meal an ingredients list in Trello. That way I don’t get distracted by anything else and buy/make what’s on the plan.

I’m not going teetotal but I have decided I’ll save the booze for special occasions – birthdays, catching up with friends, parties and weddings, Christmas etc. Just no more I’m-bored/ had-a-bad-day/ it’s-6pm-drinks anymore. I’m off to another wedding (5th this year!) soon so I’ll definitely be indulging but hopefully not too much!

As for the dairy, well, I’m not going to say never-again but for now it’s off the menu. I’ll still eat eggs but the cheese, cream and anything else moo-related can stay away from me. After only two weeks, I’m less bloated, my skin is clearer, the dark circles under my eyes are going. I generally feel lighter and brighter, and my clothes fit better.

I don’t feel like I’m on a diet, like I’m depriving myself or that I’m missing out. I’m eating yummy food that makes me feel good. Getting out of bed in the morning isn’t a breeze (it never will be) but it’s certainly easier. Let’s see how long I can stick with it.  I’m also still walking to and from the office where I’m working at the moment, and back at yoga once a week.

Dinner tonight? Leek, greens and cannelini bean soup with rye bread, and nasturtium, apple and almond pesto.

Reading: Anything by Dr Libby

Eating: Green smoothies, oats and nut milk, rye bread, loads of vegetables and soups.

Photo: Nasturtiums growing in Monet’s Garden last month.

Isle of Wight wanderings

In a recent whirlwind of 4 weddings and a funeral (yes, really) we found ourselves on the Isle of Wight.
IMG_2786

From the mystical Shanklin chine to thatched-roof pubs on the beach, it was a magical way to spend a few days and the perfect location for a wedding.

Just married

Married in a Norman church, reception at the Roman Villa. A simply beautiful day.

Shanklin beach, Isle of Wight, UK

We stayed in Shanklin old town, which is up the hill from the beach and filled with cute thatched cottages. The historic and tranquil Shanklin Chine is close by, and many a lovely old pubs and tea rooms.  The Fisherman’s Cottage, dates back to 1817 and is found at the bottom of the chine on the beach. With the fog swirling in and a cool sea breeze, we sat outside and enjoyed a meal and beverage (or two) on the beach. It’s not difficult to imagine some salty sea dog fisherman passing by and even a smuggler or two.

I even saw a red squirrel running past as it’s one of the few places in the UK where they still live with no pesky introduced grey squirrels to scare them off. It’s a fairly steep old hill down to the beach from the village but there is a (scary-looking) lift back up if you need it. Give me a hill any day.

Fisherman's Cottage

If you don’t have a car you can travel by train from London’s Waterloo to Portsmouth, catch the ferry, then jump on the island’s train right from on the wharf on the other side. Serviced by old clunky tube trains, the line ends at Shanklin.

The coastal path is a beautiful hour-long walk from Shanklin to the Victorian seaside town of Ventor on a hot day. Best avoided when you’re a bit tired after a wedding, although it will cure your hangover.

We stayed at the gorgeous Old Shanklin Guesthouse, after being advised to avoid Sandown as it’s seen better days. I wish we could have explored more of the island but without a car, it’s a bit tricky though we did give the buses a go and managed to see a fair bit on our short stay. Next time I will visit the Needles and Carisbrooke Castle.

Stay: Old Shanklin Guesthouse

Visit: The Shanklin ChineThe Brading Roman Villa

Eat & Drink: The Fisherman’s Cottage

Do: Walk The Coastal Path

Get there: South West Trains, London Waterloo to Shanklin (ferry included in train fare)

Sunday bake off: Making magnificent meringues

As a born-and-bred New Zealander, I naturally feel a sense of ownership and fondness towards the Pavlova. Equally, as someone who has adopted the UK as their home for the last 7 years, I love a good Eton mess. My experiences with baking meringue, both in it’s huge pavlova form and mini-mounds of crunchy goodness, have always been somewhat hit-and-miss.  My mother is the queen of Pav baking. My sister creates decadent mounds piled high on a cake stand with whipped cream and fruit that looks like it’s leapt straight off one of the pages of an Ottolenghi cookbook. My attempts? Either magnificent or pathetic.  Either, ‘Oh look it’s perfect!’ or (more likely), ‘Oh crap, it’s a disaster’. This week for a last supper with a friend, who is all visa-approved off to New York after 20 years in London, I decided to give meringue making another crack and try and work out if there is a tried-and-true method. My friend’s also originally from NZ, so in a nod to both his childhood and his adult years in London, something somewhere between Eton Mess and Pavlova seemed appropriate. Making magnificent meringues Inspired by Leigh’s post on Rosewater and Pistachio meringues, I considered giving my old-favourite Ottolenghi’s recipe a go. But I found myself turning towards the very gorgeous Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose (yet another expat New Zealander). A gift from my sister, it’s become my go-to baking cookbook these days. I’ve tried out several recipes and they’ve all been a success. I’m a huge fan of using maple syrup, raw sugar, spelt flour and unusual ingredients, and this book is full of nourishing recipes using interesting and natural ingredients. (Her lovely instagram is worth a follow too for daily prettiness and inspiration.) Love Bake Nourish Maple syrup meringues (adapted from Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose) Serves 6 to 8, depending on size. Or three people who REALLY love meringue. 2 teaspoons cornflour 2 teaspoons cider vinegar 6 large free-range eggs whites (I used medium sized eggs as that was all I could get nearby) Pinch of salt 200g unrefined golden caster sugar (I used raw granulated sugar) 2 tablespoons of maple syrup 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I’d run out but didn’t worry about it) IMG_2800 1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Or thereabouts if you’re temperatures have worn off the oven like mine. Line baking sheets with baking paper. I only needed one baking sheet but you might need two depending on how big you’d like your meringues. Eggs yolks 2. Save your yolks for breakfast/dinner tomorrow. Mix the cornflour and vinegar well in a little bowl until well combined and lump free. 3. I used my kitchen aid mixer for this step which is a blessing when it comes to making meringues. I have made them successfully with a hand mixer too.  Whisk the eggs whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. 4. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, alternating with really small amounts of the vinegar mix. Whipping up a storm 5. Keep going until it’s all combined. The meringue should be really thick and glossy. At this stage it looked just how I remembered my mum’s best pavlova mixtures. 6. Add the fold syrup, folding through with a metal spoon. Pile high in mounds on the baking tray. You should get about 6-8. 7. Put in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 100 degrees C. Bake for about 1.5 to 2 hours, then turn the oven off and let the meringues cool in the oven. Meringues TA-DA! Amber Rose’ recipe then goes on to make caramelised pears to serve atop the meringues. I’m not a fan of pears (does anyone else think they are gritty?) so topped mine with fresh strawberries, raspberries, chopped roasted hazelnuts and whipped cream. DELISH. Chewy, a little crunchy and a bit fluffy. Sadly, we’d a had a few too many wines by the time I dished them up so there are no photos. The secret to making the perfect meringue? I think it’s down to a little patience, a lot of whipping and very fresh free-range eggs. The right temperature oven (mine is always a guesstimate as the temps have been cleaned off!) plays a big part, and the time to leave them to cool in the oven. It’s a good idea to make them the night before and turn off the oven before you go to bed. If you take them out before they’ve cooled, you run the risk of collapsing and cracking meringues. And I think the maple syrup really gives extra chewiness and flavour. Have you ever tried making meringues or pavlova? What’s your secret? x C

Bits & pieces 7: Foxgloves

Hello Foxglove

I adore Foxgloves. The colour, the tall and majestic way they hold themselves, their ability to pop up where you least expect it and their name. Can’t you just imagine the sneaky foxes putting their paws in the flowers at dusk? Apparently the name comes from the flowers looking the fingers of gloves. I have three growing in the garden this year, including a huge one with about a dozen stems of flower. I resisted picking any for as long as possible but then I just had to bring one stem indoors. It’s now living prettily in a milk bottle on the mantlepiece. (Did you know Foxgloves are completely toxic?) I’ve been playing along with Little Green Shed’s Nature in the Home series on instagram and I have to admit it’s been bringing me an endless amount of pleasure.

A few bits and pieces that will brighten up your Friday:

  • I’ve been coveting this ring for about a year now. Sigh.
  • I was so inspired by Hannah’s post on ways to mark the Summer Solstice, I texted my friend on the spot to see how we can celebrate.
  • We might have to drink Blackberry Thyme Sparklers from my vintage champagne saucers
  • Doesn’t this Elderflower and Gooseberry cake look delicious? Think I’m going to have to give it a whirl on Sunday.
  • I’m putting away the laptop and breaking out the sewing machine for the rest of the day to make something from Tilly’s book. It’s SO good and has inspired to me actually sew (instead of shop) for the first time in I don’t know how long.

Happy weekend. Enjoy the sunshine if you’re in the UK! If you’re back home in NZ, snuggle down with a glass of red (or two) and a good book.

xx C