What I ate on my Birthday

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While this week has been mainly about all things healthy, a couple of days ago it was my birthday, and so there was some pretty major deviation from that plan. However, as I will explain, it could have been worse!!

My birthday surprise was essentially a whole day of foodie treats… and I mean the whole day from dawn to dusk. So for those of you sensitive about gluttony, it may be time to click to a different post, or even a different blogger, because I amazed myself with my ability to keep eating. WP_20160319_12_59_05_Pro

The first stop on this culinary expedition was in my home town of Tralee in Co. Kerry, in a bustling town centre cafe and restaurant called The Roast House. Now this is not my first brunch here by any stretch, it is a place where I regularly catch up with some of my closest girlfriends, but I do think it was my favourite breakfast to date. Given that this place does a really great pancake dish, with fruit and cream, that is quite a statement. I ordered a Vegetarian Breakfast Bake (see healthyish) and I expected that it would be like a baked full Irish just without the meat. Turns out I had pictured it completely wrong and what a happy surprise that ended up being. What appeared was actually a type of potato hash; with summer vine tomatoes, fresh thyme, mushrooms & spinach all mixed through the delicious little potato cubes. The dish was topped with a free range egg with a runny yolk, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a little french toast. It was so so tasty, the perfect savory (meat free and gluten free  – if like me you don’t eat the toast) breakfast dish. The Roast House take their coffee seriously, so as is the norm, the accompanying Americano was also an excellent blend – black, strong and just bitter enough – a great caffeine kick to start a long day.

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Allowing breakfast to digest there was time for a short walk and a longer drive, as we snaked west over the mountain to the coastal town of Dingle. Now if you are not familiar with Dingle, look it up and if you have never been to Dingle, go! I have been many times, although to be honest more often for booze and nightlife than lunch and shopping but I am starting to think that it is the latter that the town does best. Unfortunately, the day was miserable, otherwise this post would be full of some of the most beautiful scenery this planet has to offer, but I promise that will follow some day soon. This was a day that was all about the food. First we shopped for it and then we ate it. The shopping centered on two local gems – The Little Cheese Shop and Crinkle Stores. Both are stunning little artisan stores, showcasing local and other carefully sourced products. I could have bought so, so much more and I am sure over time I will.

I started with The Little Cheese Shop and it is exactly as it looks in your head – cozy, smelly, chockablock with Irish and European cheeses and all the culinary delights you would want to go with them. They are quick to offer a taste, the cheese is cut to your specification and expert advice is on hand. Good luck nipping in for cheddar and coming out with one wax paper parcel when you see the array of fresh bread, pesto, hummus, hand made chocolate and chutneys that sit side by side with more cheese than you can dream of finding time to taste. If it is not clear, this place is a gem on the West Kerry food scene. I left with some fresh buffalo mozzarella,  some soft goat’s cheese, some seaweed speckled cheddar (I think), delicious basil pesto and a generous portion of chunky hummus. I have been working them into my meals since.

Then to Crinkle Stores, when I got over my complete obsession with the fabulous tiles in this shop, it was time to browse the products. There is an exceptional salad bar and some quality coffee on offer, not to mention an exquisite cake display. The shelves are lined with artisan skincare products, Irish vinegar made with foraged ingredients like thyme, gorse and blackberry. Jams, chutneys, fancy cordials, herbal teas and numerous other delights. I added some Mountain Thyme Vinegar, a bar of Dark Chocolate with Apricot and Almond and a rhubarb and apple pop to my foodie haul and regretted that the day wasn’t better for a salad box by the sea. Again that will come another day.

And then, it was time for lunch. And yes we did at least keep it light(ish). We sheltered from the rain in a welcoming little cafe called Chowder, and ate predictably and sensibly, bowls of chowder. Well I did, my shellfish averse husband had an equally comforting steaming bowl of carrot and ginger soup. What appeared was a really satisfying bowl of steaming chowder, thickened with local potato and containing the widest array of fish I have ever encountered in this very common Irish dish. There was the usual white and smoked fish, but how often do you get squid rings in your seafood chowder and the garnishing mussels were a great touch. I didn’t eat the bread (healthy!) but it was wholemeal and  homemade, served with real Irish butter.

Then to dessert – it was my birthday remember – and Dingle is home to Murphy’s Ice Cream – handmade here in the town. It comes in cones and cups, served with a smile by staff sporting farmers’ caps and happy to let you taste before you choose. I had a special called Dreamy Creamy Caramel that was full of the flavours of caramel, butterscotch, chocolate and whipped cream. Better than cake, definitely better than cake!! This product is not cheap but it is quality. Worth every penny, I promise.

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After lunch we again took a break from eating, visited my parents and my adorable godchild. Then we shopped a little more, completing my birthday present buying with a divine scented candle for the kitchen and a book called “Happy People Read and Drink Coffee”. Seriously, how could I not!!!!!

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And then I am embarrassed to admit (almost) that we went out to dinner. But it was not a dinner I would want to have missed. We went to Allo’s Bistro in the little market town of Listowel, where John B. Keane once observed local life with the eye of a poet and the wit of a rural publican. His smiling statue now welcomes you to a town that has retained its soul better than almost any small town I know. It houses a range of excellent independent boutiques, some interior shops that are perfect for the lazy browser and Woulfes, one of the best independent bookshops in the country. There are also more pubs than people and a delightful old-style hotel in the middle of town. Come for Writer’s Week to see Irish culture at its very best but there is also a food festival and a race week in this town’s packed social calendar.

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Now that I have done my bit for the Listowel Tourist Board, on to the food. Allo’s Bistro is as bistros should be, homely and welcoming, with cosy small tables and larger communal ones, wine served by the glass and specials on daily changing chalkboards. For obvious reasons we skipped straight to main courses and I opted for a smaller size portion (see healthy choice! – although it was still extremely generous) of prawn and coconut curry served with jasmine rice. The other dish for the table was a salmon fillet with Bearnaise (unusual I thought) that was well cooked and tasty, accompanied with al dente veg and buttery mashed potato. The curry was delicately spiced with a very generous amount of prawns and a mixture of spring onion, courgette and peppers adding a welcome crunch. Despite the day that had gone before, plates were left completely clear, the message to the chef not in any way encrypted.

I presume you are now imaging that we called for the bill, opened the top button on our jeans and shuffled for the car. Alas, I have something of an affliction to admit to. I cannot resist creme brulee and although I don’t see the need to pepper it with various fruit purees, I still cannot leave it unordered – EVER.  And so I devoured every morsel of a perfect passion-fruit creme brulee with a hazelnut biscuit. Had the jeans button popped before I got it open, it would have been worth every added inch to the waistline. It was yum!!!!!

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So home we went….to my in laws, who were putting us up for the night, and you won’t believe it but my very sweet mother-in-law had bought a cake!!!!! Now  of course I was full but what’s a girl to do, if some one buys you a fluffy sponge cake, filled with fresh cream and strawberry jam and sprinkled with icing sugar, and there’s a candle in it…there really are no options. You eat the cake. Don’t you?? Well of course I did.

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Now before there is an intervention, I promise I have eaten like a gourmet loving rabbit since. But more of that in the next post, where we will celebrate the humble salad. There is a good reason birthdays only come once a year….the world could not sacrifice any more jeans’ buttons. Have a great weekend. Til next time xoxo

 

Eating Out and Staying Healthy(ish)

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Two fine days in a row – that almost constitutes a great summer in Ireland. With so few such days, it is important not to let them go to waste. As today was my parents 44th wedding anniversary we were taking a scenic road trip for a lunch on the water, but I still didn’t want to blow several days of good work on the healthy living front.

In order to minimise damage and still allow for a little indulgence, I got up pretty early and breakfasted on fresh fruit and black coffee. Then I took the dog on a pretty long walk and drank lots of chilled water before we took to the road.

The destination was The Boathouse, a Nantucket inspired seafood bistro, set right on the water, on the grounds of Dromquinna Manor, Kenmare. The estate which also has a glamping site and a hotel in the old manor house is incredibly picturesque. The decor in the bistro itself is bright, fun and nautical. Think lots of blue and white, with sail boats for decoration and little lighthouses on the table. The menu, as you would expect for the location, is predominantly seafood, but there is a chicken dish, steak and a burger, enough to keep the most committed carnivore happy. Although, when you can smell the sea and the menu guarantees local produce, seafood really is your best option.

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Arriving early and looking for just a light lunch, two of our group of four opted for the pier landed fish and chips main course. It came served on a kind of wooden tray and contained a generous potion of beer battered white fish. This was accompanied by chunky chips, a lightly dressed salad (with some delicious beetroot) and a little ramekin of mushy peas. The other two of us stuck to a combination of sides and starters (combined to make mains). There was a scallop and black pudding dish, which was unusual in presentation and possibly a little small for the price point. Although I didn’t taste it, it did seem to go down very well though, adding to the range of well executed dishes. Finally, I had tiger prawn pil pil. This consisted of prawns in a garlic, chilli and chorizo oil, served in a little pot accompanied by very tempting (although I did resist it) crusty white bread. It was delicious, although without the heat that you sometimes get in this dish, and I loved it. The prawns were fresh, pretty generous in quantity and perfectly cooked. The oil they were cooked in was extremely flavoursome despite the mildness of the chilli. I had this with a very generous portion of crispy sweet potato fries – a healthy(ish) indulgence (or so I like to tell myself) and a side salad. Prawns, salad and sweet potatoes – a decent attempt at staying on track on a special occasion.

After lunch and a stunning drive over Moll’s Gap and through Killarney National Park, I took another walk, this time on the local beach. It was great fun although paddling turned to splashing and rolled up jeans got soaked. And not long after it was time for a supermarket haul and thoughts of supper. After toying with the idea of creamy goat’s cheese, I reluctantly left it aside, favouring instead the warm saltiness of pan-fried halloumi laid on top of a crunchy bowl of baby spinach, rocket, watercress, red pepper and spring onion. All of this was drizzled with a homemade honey and wholegrain mustard dressing and accompanied by an organic rice cake with a little hummus.  Crunchy, salty, tangy, sweet and above all nutritious. So that’s me for today….pretty healthy and pretty happy xoxo

 

Shopping and Spruced up Scrambled Eggs

Having not been through this airport for a couple of years, this week was my first time in the new look Stansted Airport duty free area. The shopping was great, the walk back from the cafe to find MAC and Urban Decay not so good. But I managed to retrace a path and purchased a few bits and bobs that I am excited about.

Firstly a new mascara. I have been wearing Benefit’s “They’re Real” for a year or so now but I get annoyed by how difficult it is to remove so it was definitely time for a change. After a little deliberation I chose this Mac bestseller ….. in extreme black.

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One of my favourite things to do, which has to make me very unpopular with hotel housekeeping staff, is to soak a clean white facecloth in very hot water and almost steam the make-up from my face. Of course this is less practical at home – where I am the housekeeping staff – and already a very reluctant employee. The solution? My second purchase, the Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. The cleanser comes with a muslin cloth that can be used in the shower for a deep cleanse. I bought the starter pack which contains a 100ml bottle of cleanser and two cloths. I am very excited about this product.

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For quite a while now I have been looking for a bag that would carry my rather large laptop, but I didn’t want something that looked too like a traditional laptop bag. Perfect in terms of size and very affordable, a navy shopper from Accessorize caught my eye. I am hoping it will prove to be both stylish and practical for a normal work day.

And then for some reading material, I picked up Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. Not a book I knew anything about but it caught my eye and I am hoping for an easy and inspirational summer read. I will post an update when I finish reading.

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So now that we are settled in back home, it is time to get back to some healthier ways and so I started by making a light lunch of Huevos Rancheros Scrambled Eggs from Donal Skehan’s, “Fresh”.

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The recipe involved making a simple cherry tomato and red onion salsa and some homemade Guacamole but was really simple to accomplish and made for a pretty delicious healthy lunch.

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That’s all for now…I have a dinner date with the girls to get ready for. Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you do, xoxo.

The Final London Travel Post

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So we are home by now from our week in London and although it was one of our shortest summer trips in years, it was a great week in one of our favourite cities. Since last I posted we spent a couple of hours on the Kings Road in Chelsea; wandering around, eating lunch and drinking coffee. The jewel in the crown of the whole street is the stunning Anthropologie store, which is just so beautifully designed and packed with wonderful fashion and home wares.

Burgers seem HUGE in London at the moment and even though I am not a huge fan of the meat patty, we were starving when we stumbled upon the welcoming BRGR.CO in Chelsea. I opted for one of their signature burgers, “The Hanger Steak Brgr”, cooked medium with added bacon and cheddar. My husband had a chicken fillet burger and we split an order of fries. It totally hit the spot for us and we left refuelled for a little more wandering around the area. Decent meat, good prices and friendly service – not a bad combination.

Having wandered around the Saatchi gallery, currently completely taken over by the Rolling Stones exhibition and chased down my Mac foundation from the other day, it was time for a little caffeine.

We just stumbled upon Gail’s Bakery – the most darling little café of the trip. It was like a coffee house straight out of Soho NYC, full of artisan breads and mouthwatering baked goods. They also sell really cute shoppers and cookbooks on site. It’s the perfect spot for coffee and a muffin.

The foodie was now happy so it was time to indulge the football fan a little and so there was a walk around Stamford Bridge before leaving the area for Westminster.

Real tourist London was something we had mostly avoided up to now but could we really go home without seeing Big Ben? We strolled around Westminster for a bit, took a few snaps, and visited another of London’s oldest pubs, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I was particularly amused by the make-over some pedestrian lights had received for Pride 2016 – no longer is the little green man the only symbol on offer, a lovely simple celebration of diversity.

Then it was back to Camden to meet my husband’s fabulous cousin and her equally charming boyfriend. It was such an enjoyable few hours, sitting by the canal chatting about literally everything and anything. It was one of those evenings where conversation flows easily and you feel inspired by the passion of others, in this case two young students who have the kind of passion and idealism that most of us lose sight of over time. This was one of those chats that makes you want to be a better person, as we listened to them discuss their trips to Calais (entirely self-funded) to help out at the refugee camp there and her mentoring work in London with young children forced to seek asylum in the UK. These are people with the heart and intelligence to really make the world a better place, one small step at a time, and who put MAC cosmetics and fancy meals into a perspective that really they should always remain in.

And then, as though the evening hadn’t given us enough, they put the icing on the cake when  they shared with us their favourite kebab spot in North London – Woody Grill on the Camden Road. Slightly tipsy, we devoured delicious kebabs in this really friendly fast food spot before taking the train home to pack our bags for our flight home.

And that was pretty much the end of an epic week in London  – time remaining only for some airport shopping which I will fill you in on later xoxo

Carnaby Street and the Footsteps of the Ripper.

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Morning – woke up a little later than normal so going to keep the update on yesterday’s London explorations short and sweet. We started the day separately, history nerd husband at the Museum of London and caffeine addict wife at the corner of Carnaby Street with a camera, a credit card and a warm paper cup, ready for some aimless browsing.

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Now for those who don’t know London, Carnaby Street is a lovely pedestrian area just off Oxford Street, home to some very cool shops and restaurants. While busy, it is still a welcome break from the craziness of Oxford Street, my least favourite part of London. Now don’t let that put you off, it is definitely a minority view. And if shopping is your thing, then Oxford Street will make all your retail dreams come true. For me, it is just not what travel is about – I can shop Zara and H&M from my laptop or in the town I live in back home. I travel generally to see new things and to see them at a pretty calm pace. Oxford Street doesn’t do calm. I make two exceptions to this Oxford Street bashing – the flagship Topshop just opposite the tube and Selfridges. Carlsberg don’t make department stores but if they did…..

But anyway, it was off to Carnaby Street for me, starting with a stroll through the iconic Liberty building. It is a stunning, high-end department store, where I can afford to buy very little but can definitely see myself purchasing White Company candles, Nars cosmetics, handmade chocolate or beautiful stationary if I was living anywhere in the vicinity.

I then proceeded to MAC as I have been considering changing my foundation from the Benefit Oxygen Wow for a while, and, as I am almost at the end of the bottle, it seemed as good a time as any to take the plunge. After a really friendly consultation and some experimentation, I settled on Studio Fix Fluid and a little nude eye-shadow in Brulé Satin to replace Benefit’s Call My Buff. However, at the till it emerged that they were out of the foundation shade and so the girl instead gave me a sample to keep me going – I will pick up the real thing later today.

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After MAC I did a little browsing at the pretty dresses in Dahlia and debated a pair of New Balance in Office before deciding that my Ryanair luggage allowance may not allow them through (I am still debating though). Then I popped into Pixi and picked up a little bottle of their exfoliating Glow Tonic. I have read so much about this product, I am excited to try it. Perfect skin awaits!!!!!

Of course, after all this shopping I was starving, so I weighed up my options and settled on tapas at Pix-Bar. It’s a tiny candlelit place specialising in Pintxos. A selection of individual sized dishes is displayed on the bar. You simply take a plate, eat what you like, pop your skewer in a carafe and present it at the till to pay. I tried a Chorizo & Manchego Bocadillo, Serrano Ham & Quail Egg on Ciabatta, Diablo Meatballs and Honey-glazed Cod Fritters. The food was excellent and I loved that you don’t have to commit to one large dish but can try a whole selection. Bring a friend and try double the dishes.

After a browse through Brandy Melville, where I picked up a little comfy tee, and a half an hour in the aforementioned giant Topshop (I needed a replacement pair of white jeans and found a Leigh pair reduced to £20) I was pretty much shopped out and decided to head off to meet my husband for a late afternoon drink as we had an early dinner reservation. Although I did first try Ben’s Cookies – sold by weight and one of the most delicious things I have tasted.

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History was inescapable however as we walked in search of two of London’s oldest pubs, and I have to say both were worth the trek. The first was Cittie of York, an imposing old building that would have been the perfect site for some form of exclusive gentleman’s club. The second (which I completely forgot to picture) was one of the best finds of the entire trip. It was called Ye Olde Mitre and is hidden in a little alley off Ely Place. Hard to find places almost demand to be found and this place clearly is not the best kept secret. It was just after 4pm and the place was wedged with city bankers in suits, loosening their ties for a quick pint. Loved this place!

We had dinner at Pizza East, in the now very trendy Shoreditch area, and the pizza lived up to its hype. A light crisp crust, flavoursome tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and whole leaves of flavoursome basil. Pizza like the Italians make. Washed down with large, cold glasses of Moretti, it was a decent impression of a neighbourhood pizzeria in Rome, but with an industrial vibe that is more Brooklyn than Trastevere. Make sure to book in advance if you plan to eat at Pizza East.

After dinner, we headed for Aldgate and spent an hour or so wandering in the eerie footsteps of Jack the Ripper and reading the gruesome details of this famed murder spree in the alleyways of London’s East End. The guided tours come highly recommended but we opted to self-guide using a little book called “The Jack the Ripper Walk”. It cost just £2.99 and was comprehensive and very easy to follow.

Pretty cool end to a pretty cool day xo

 

 

Roman London and Retail Therapy

Separated for a few hours from my travel companion, who was off to meet some fellow historians at the British Library, a chilled out shopping morning seemed a perfect way to start the new day and the new week. Upper Street is high street heaven but I am more interested in what lies in the little alleys behind it – the independent bookshops, boutiques and concept stores that don’t populate every high street and shopping mall in the world. Therefore my destination was Islington’s Camden Passage. Famous for its antiques market, this area is an extremely cute collection of cafes, restaurants and independent shops – browser heaven.

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I started the day with a caffeine fix in The Coffee Works Project, reputed to have the best coffee in the area. It was packed mostly with what I assume to be students, self-employed workers and freelancers  – as many of the customers were typing feverishly away on their laptops. All very Carrie Bradshaw. There was also a healthy sprinkling of yummy mummies taking a break with a soy latte and the odd tourist checking if the coffee is really as good as they say. The verdict – it was a damn good cup of coffee.

Then for an hour of intensive window shopping in this little retail Utopia. Take a look for yourself….

Appetite well worked up, there was time for a quick lunch before heading to the British Library to catch up with my husband. I probably would have tried The Breakfast Club as I have read great things about it but even at 12.30pm there was already a queue and I didn’t have much time to spare. I did however spot the last remaining outdoor table at the neighbouring The Elk in the Woods. It turned out to be a good choice. I dined on a small plate of calamari with chorizo mayonnaise accompanied by a side of salt baked new potatoes and garlic aioli. It was light but tasty – the calamari perfectly cooked, the aioli particularly delicious. Accompanied by some ice water and a glass of house wine, sitting in the sun watching the world go by, it made for a very enjoyable lunch. Then off to the tube, although not before getting distracted by two cute little tees in Joy that I felt would work well with skinny jeans (one with heels and one with converse).

My hubby and I regrouped at the British Library, his lunchtime talk and general networking probably making his morning more productive than mine. But surely it couldn’t have been more enjoyable. And he doesn’t now own a little jersey tee with a cute bumblebee print!!!!

We headed for St. Paul’s and the old city  – the focus of the rest of our day. After a quick hello to the head of John Donne, we walked the square mile, visiting spots where evidence of the Roman city had been uncovered and marvelling at the way cities develop over time and yet some remnants of each century remain – the past almost effortlessly juxtaposing with the present. We took a break at the Dickens Inn on St. Katherine’s Dock, a beautiful old pub with exposed beams and wooden floors, quotes from Dickens’ classic works adorning the walls.  Our little tour ended at the stunningly preserved Leadenhall Market Place, the site of the original Roman forum and basilica of Londinium.

After quite a lot of walking we ate fairly forgettable french food in a little neighbourhood bistro, followed by overpriced drinks in a soulless chain bar, before heading to the Guildhall for the highlight of the day – an outdoor movie in the Guildhall Yard, over the site of London’s ancient Roman amphitheatre. There were a few technical hitches but it was a lovely evening. There was seats, burgers and hotdogs, beer and wine, popcorn and even an onsite archaeologist to explain the history of the site. Somebody forgot the movie but he admitted he was “a massive tool”, the movie was found and the show did go on. Gladiator on the site where actual gladiators would have been forced to perform! A great evening and if in London this summer do check out Pop Up Screens listings – just remember it gets cold, no matter how fine a day, so bring jumpers and jackets to wrap up in, then sit back and enjoy xo

 

Morning Markets and The Globe

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Sunday in London, still busy but without the chaotic feel of a weekday as those out and about have generally replaced professional pursuits with more leisurely ones. People sip coffee as they walk, read the paper over brunch and if they are on Columbia Road they buy flowers and maybe an odd antique teacup to hold their champagne!

And that is where we started our day – the short stroll down Columbia Road was a lot of fun, traders enthusiastically pedalling their wares to the tourists and locals bartering for and buying their blooms. Hydrangas seem to be winning on the popularity stakes but sunflowers and french lavender were performing well also. Behind the stalls were the cutest of independent stores selling everything from antiques to coffee and perfume to gardening tools. A cheap and cheerful start to a Sunday morning in London.

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From Columbia road, it is just a short stroll across to Brick Lane, another of London’s iconic street markets. It is probably really obvious by now that I love the London market scene, the diversity of the food, the multi-ethnic make-up, the forum for artisans and old school traders to vie for business. Walking up Brick Lane, we stopped to peer in the window of the Cereal Killer Cafe, something that is a bit too gimicky for me but I get why people love it. We then visited the really great Brick Lane bookshop, where my husband stocked up on some Jack the Ripper inspired reading material, before enjoying some Chinese food on the steps of the Sunday Up Market – a weekend event in an old warehouse.

For the afternoon, this literature nerd was super excited to be able to see the work of The Bard himself in its true spiritual home  – The Globe Theatre. We had groundling tickets for for Macbeth and it was both a great experience and an excellent performance.

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The interpretation was excellent and I felt the characterisation of the three weird sisters and the inclusion of a wordless Macbeth child really enhanced this version of the Scottish tragedy. All the acting was superb, not surprising from such an experienced cast, and the extremely hot Macduff made the sore feet of the second act a little more bearable.

You really can’t argue with £5 tickets to a production of such quality but it is a lot of standing so if you go wear your most comfortable shoes. And if it’s sunny, don’t forget the sunscreen!!

Leaving Southbank about 4pm, we strolled across the bridge towards the imposing grandeur of St. Pauls, before hopping on a red bus towards Covent Garden. We took a break in the Lamb and Flag, one of London’s most authentic old bars before weaving our way to Neal’s Yard. Several bloggers, who know London much better than I do, had mentioned the pizza from Homeslice and so we decided to give it a try. The place was packed and we had a 15 minute wait for a table but the 20″ pizza that followed – half Margarita, half salami and Parmesan – was  worth waiting for. Sitting outside with beer and pizza watching the world pass by was a really satisfying end to a pretty great day!

Hope your Sunday was as much fun as mine xo

 

 

Crazy and Crowded in Camden

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So London Day 3 got off to a lovely lazy start yesterday. Following a recommendation, we strolled in the sunshine for about five minutes to reach Sunday, a bustling neighbourhood cafe with a queue at the door for tables. Having waited about 15 minutes to be seated, we hungrily perused the modern and in parts healthy brunch menu. We then discarded the healthy and opted for french toast (although I did have a half portion) and a full English. Although I was very happy with my coffee there were a significant number of takers for the watermelon juice spiked with vodka. The vibe was laid back urban, the service was great and the food fresh and delicious. My travelling companion thought it was all very Made in Chelsea so all in all a cool, casual start to the day. So if you are in North London and in the market for brunch, I would definitely recommend Sunday on Hemingford Road.

After a leisurely start, it was time for the craziness of Camden Market.  Having visited multiple times it just never gets old for me. It is both vintage and modern, alternative and mainstream, and unique and cliched. I love the crowds and hate the crowds, love the quirkiness and find it to be dating quickly, love the uniqueness but feel it all exists elsewhere. Overall I love it…but mostly because it reminds me of when I was younger, it was cooler, I was new to London and it did what it still does..celebrates life with all its colours and emotions (no white cardboard here).

And of course there was food…the options are multiple but we chose Italian with fresh pasta. Not the more photogenic but it really was delicious. After Camden, we returned to Islington and did what all crazy child-free couples do on a Saturday night in one of the world’s major cities…we shopped, cooked, listened to music and had a couple of drinks on the balcony. In our defence…there is only so much excitement we can take in a day, we are not yet acclimatised.

Food, Art and Local Life in London

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“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  – Samuel Johnson

One of the great things about renting apartments from locals as opposed to staying in large multinational hotels is the opportunity to live where locals live and observe life through their eyes. This, of course, is not important to every traveller but it is an essential part of what travel is about for me.

So yesterday morning I woke up early in Islington and went, not to see Buckingham Palace (I have seen it many times), but to get my hair done. I made the appointment through Treatwell and opted for a local as opposed to a big chain salon. It was really good value with a full head of highlights and a high quality blowdry costing about €70 (no more than I pay in rural Ireland) and a lot less than I have paid in more “big name” establishments. Shauna, the stylist at Stasi Salon, was so accommodating, the salon was spotless and it was lovely to sit back with a coffee and some magazines and listen to the local banter on a busy Friday morning. A perfect way to experience local life.

After that it was time for the foodie portion of the day to begin and, from here on, Friday became mostly about the food. I started with a short hop on the tube to London Bridge, the home of the now extremely well-known Borough Market. How great this place is for anyone with a healthy appreciation of food is best encapsulated by the amount of locals who tolerate the tourist invasion on a daily basis, simply because the produce is that good. There are fresh, local products and given the impracticality of lugging fruit and veg around all day, I start with a freshly squeezed pear and apple juice.

 

Then to the big decision – what to eat for lunch – and I can assure you this was not rushed. I like to see everything before I commit to a purchase. And so, after much deliberation, I opted to try something totally new in the form of a kid goat kofta. Inspired by Cypriot cuisine, undervalued goat meat is slow cooked, packed into a greek pitta and topped with some chilli sauce and tzatziki. It was satisfying and delicious; little wonder it won the BBC 4 award for best street food.

To aid digestion we had a short beverage stop in The George Inn, a survivor of medieval London and by far the capital’s oldest hostelry. It also has links to both Shakespeare and Dickens so both the historian and the literature nerd are happy. And of course it has beer and wine which helps too.

Sustenance and hydration needs addressed, we took a leisurely stroll down the bustling Southbank to indulge in a little modern art ribbing at the Tate Modern. True modern art lovers might want to divert their eyes now but I love such exhibitions, not for the work in itself, but for the search for pieces that do, without question, cross the line from sublime to completely ridiculous. It is the imagination and poetry that goes into the little card explaining such work that gets me every time and there are few places in the world that make me belly laugh like The Tate Modern. Yesterday’s jewel in the crown was a piece of cardboard painted white – the artist after many years (he was in his mid 40s) had decided that colour was simply too emotional for him!!!! Instead the card is white and we are instructed to think of it not with our mind but solely with our eyes.  The emperor has no clothes people!!!! Although the artist is a marketing genius to get this into The Tate!!!!

art

After a brief siesta we took to the streets again last night in search of yet more food. This time the destination was North London’s Dalston Yard, a decent walk or a short bus ride from Islington. It is basically a street food festival, with lots of different stalls selling food and booze, eaten communally at long tables. It was fun and a great way to taste quality international food but it was by no means a cheap evening out. The small plates provided great variety but the cost mounts up pretty quickly. I still considered it worth it to be able to have pizza, chicken tenders, tacos, Asian soft rolls and Indian sliders all in one meal.

Then the bus “home”, with one quick pit-stop. The previous evening I had noticed a real buzz around a little ice-cream parlour on Upper Street and I really wanted to check it out. And my waistline, already under all sorts of pressure, may well rue the day I did. The place is called Udderlicious, they make all the icecream on site and it is a little slice of heaven. I chose, with difficulty, a white chocolate scoop and a scoop of espresso biscotti. It may become the all new nightcap!

So I am off to explore a little more of this amazing city…have a great weekend however you choose to spend it xo

 

 

 

 

 

London’s Calling.

plane2

“Not all those who wander are lost” – J. R.R. Tolkien

I love airports. I love planes. I love the buzz of a new city where you really are anonymous, just one in the ten million or so souls that wander the streets. I love what I observe, who I meet and what I learn both about the world and about myself. On the flip side, I hate packing but it is so worth the effort to get to explore new parts of familiar places or to seek the familiar in the completely new.

For the next week I am in London – to my mind the New York of Europe and one of the world’s most iconic cities. This week I hope to create a series of posts that together create a little travel guide to the UK’s capital. Having arrived at Stansted in the early part of yesterday evening we purchased train tickets and visitor Oyster cards, making London transport fairly straight forward. From there the transfer to our AirBnB in N1 was a breeze. The place, by no means my first AirBnB booking, is also exactly as we had hoped and has the advantage of being in very close proximity to Upper Street, Islington’s buzzing high street, which has an abundance of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. This listing took some seeking to find but it is everything we need for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room.

hen

Arriving late, there was really neither time nor energy for anything more than dinner and a night cap so that was exactly what we settled for. We had a chicken dinner (comfort food at the end of a long day) at Hen on Upper Street. Basically the clue is in the name – so if you don’t like chicken, this is not the restaurant for you. A quarter chicken with honey and mustard glaze and a chicken fillet in brioche were both accompanied by skinny fries sprinkled lightly with herbs. A little alcoholic lemonade was a fun beverage to wash it down. The vibe was urban and buzzy, the  clientele mainly professionals in their 20s and the decor fresh and funky. A fun weeknight venue that won’t break the bank.

And then for the nightcap – my husband who objects to most things even vaguely “hipster” – is a huge supporter of the craft beer revolution. Now he will argue that he has been a lover of craft ales long before they became associated with guys with beards who appear to have shunned socks for fashion (and therefore long before it became mainstream). Nonetheless, this is one trend that he is a loyal follower of, all other beers now dismissed as being of varying degrees of blandness, and so we regularly actively seek out bars that specialise in the offerings of micro-breweries from around the globe. All this in mind we made a beeline for a local bar called The Taproom to peruse their extensive selection. It was a cute spot with some business men, a few tourists and what appeared to be a very awkward Tinder date, affably occupying the dimly lit space. If you are peckish, they also serve what sounded like an interesting selection of flat bread pizzas baked in a wood fired pizza oven in the corner.

taproom

And that was it. Given that we had an early start the next day, and travel is always a little exhausting, we wandered home on a balmy summer’s evening, excited to have so much more of London to explore.