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London Living: The beaten track

Living within the commuter belt all my life has had some benefits. I have been lucky enough that throughout the span of my school-days I have experienced (thanks very much Tesco Clubcard and Southern’s 2 for 1 discounts) the highlights of London’s cultural and historic monuments. Yes, this does include clinging to the railings – totally terrified – at the top of the Monument whilst my younger siblings laughed at me. Living out of London provided a greater incentive for my mother to drag us to all-things-educational in London, in comparison to my cooler, independent, urban-dwelling contemporaries.

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Grasping siblings on the Monument

As a result of school trips/birthday treats/summer visits, I consider myself experienced when surveying a list London’s principle tourist attractions. I have voyaged aboard HMS Belfast; been bedazzled by the crown jewels at The Tower of London; been inspired by the inner-workings of government at The Houses of Parliament and Supreme Court; been freaked out by the heights of the London Eye; watched someone faint from heat while standing at The Globe; fallen into a puddle ice-skating at Somerset House; and been exposed to ALL the history/literature/art at – I would wager – London’s most famous museums. I even boast wildly and widely that I have completed the ultimate London tourist activity – the London Duck Tours. Twice. (An experience I totally recommend, by the way).

At the time, perhaps, I relished the accompanying Pizza Express/Wagamamas (the two ultimate metropolis treats) more than the culture, I believe these experiences have served me well for later life. I went on to study history at university. All those trips to museums were therefore not a complete waste of time. On reflection, being a tourist in the city I was born in, has encouraged me to explore new places, learn new stories, and – most importantly – my love of Pizza Express has endured too.

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However, these experiences were tailored to my mother’s interests (shopping was verboten) and mainly occurred in South London. This has given me the slightly misguided impression that anything above the central line was ‘The North’: nice enough to visit occasionally (Hampstead Heath wasn’t so bad), but – like Yorkshire Tea or Pies – not something that my family were that familiar with.

So, having recently moved to London, I have been attempting to get out and about and navigate my way around the maze of London; this has only been some-what successful.

Any recommendations?

Featured

Tate Modern: a Fishy business

The Tate Modern on the edge of the Thames is an essential visit for anyone passing through London. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • A chance to see THE BEST VIEW OF LONDON from the café on the top floor. No jokes.
  • It will satisfy the concrete architecture aficionado in your life (yes, they exist and will clogg your Instagram feed).
  • It’s FREE.
  • The Tate has some weird and wonderful artwork.
  • Did I mention there’s a café?
  • Your inner art historian/bull s*** skills can be exercised. What is abstracitsm? What does the blue orb with the yellow background represent? What is the meaning of art? I literally have no idea. Please explain.
  • Free Wifi. Always useful – especially when very important decisions such as what’s for lunch and where’s Wagamama’s comes up in conversation.

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I went to the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition with some friends – sadly it’s now over and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. However, some of what I learnt is this. 1. Georgia O’Keefe painted more than flowers. 2. She was good at bright colours. 3. She was good at adding ‘depth’ to landscapes. 4. O’Keefe worked a lot with her husband photographer Alfred Stiegliz. 5. She like to paint the same thing from different angles/at different days. 6. O’Keefe likes things that don’t move.

Portrait of O’Keefe by her photographer husband Alfred Stiegliz

However, the coolest thing was probably the floating fish in the Turbine Hall. We joined the rest of the children enjoying half term to wonder at this floating aquarium and fail to figure out how it works. Visitors can enjoy an immersive experience that includes lying on the floor and enjoying the sounds and sights and the rapid decent of the ceiling. Designed by Philippe Parreno, the work is entitled Anywhen and is open until April 2017. Click here for more information.

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We then went off to search for some lunch…

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… and enjoy the rest of the day pottering around central London.

New Year’s Resolution: Veganury

I am full of contradictions. I am both for and against hunting: I respect the traditions of the countryside, but also am against unnecessary cruelty to animals. For similar reasons, I am both for and against shooting. I am a country girl whose tardiness to school was dependent on whether the family made it across the road before the cows blocked it on their way to milking. I enjoy weekends plodding though fields of sheep with a mischievous Labrador in toe. I am also a vegetarian who doesn’t eat meat for environmental and moral reasons.

Effectively, I am a very flawed and confused individual.

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I have been vegetarian for around 10 years, and that was a natural process of gradually eating less and less meat over this period; the moment I gave up gravy, I felt I could claim that I was vegetarian. Vegetarianism was my act of teenage rebellion. (I’m so cool). And yet I constantly feel the need to apologise for it – although my favourite critics will attest that I can be a tad self-deprecating occasionally (read: all the time; I told you, I’m flawed).

This January, however, I want to take the next step. I want to try out veganism in conjunction with Veganurary, ‘a global charity that encourages people to try vegan for January.’ The website boasts that ‘veganism is one of the most effective choices a person can make to reduce the suffering of animals, help the planet and improve personal health.’ Sounds pretty good to me.

However, I confess: I love dairy products. I drink glasses and glasses of milk (which some people misguidedly think revolting). I don’t understand the purpose of mini cartons of milk, or people who consistently worry that the milk will go off. Who are you? I’m also planning to eat the ultimate dairy overload for my families traditional New Year’s Eve menu: my grandfather’s secret Swiss fondue recipe (the trick is to add lots of alcohol) followed by that most indulgent of puddings, a chocolate fountain. Not very vegan friendly, I admit.

I have tried to go vegan once before whilst studying at university; this lasted for about a weak before I my need for proper cow’s milk in my tea became overwhelming. I am British, for goodness sake. This brief but passionate stint was prompted by friends studying Theology; they were studying the fate and morality of male calves and chickens. I was aghast. I naively didn’t realise any of this suffering even existed. Google it for yourself.

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So, when the clock strikes midnight – having indulged too heavily in my weaknesses of chocolate and cheese – I will try to go Vegan. I am of the firm belief, however, that going Vegan isn’t about denying myself the food I love, nor about going on a diet, but making small changes in my diet for a healthier planet.

For a while now I have followed the recipes of the foodie entrepreneur Deliciously Ella – who writes far more eloquently about this kind of thing –so there shouldn’t be too much of a chasm in my cooking and eating.  Deliciously Ella Every Day is worth getting your hands on; I recommend her Chickpea, Quinoa and Tumeric Curry.

I am excited to use this opportunity to discover new chefs, restaurants, and recipes; this is my chance to finally attempt vegan baking. However, I understand it’s important to check I am getting the correct nutrients and vitamins and minerals and a balanced diet.

Here are some links that you might find helpful:

Any hints or tips you can recommend? I have literally never been to a vegetarian restaurant before.

And, it’s only for a month anyway.

Happy New Year & good luck with any resolutions!

Blackberry & Apple Jam

Blackberries are delicious. So are apples. These two flavours with the juxtaposing textures work well in combination. Also it’s lovely to use seasonal fruits – mainly because it keeps cost down! (especially if you can resource your fruit for free). Unfortunately, the blackberry season is basically over, but there might be a few on a hedgerow near you if you are lucky.

TOP TIP: Blackberries keep well in the freezer. Place on a baking tray until frozen and then toss into a freezer bag until you need them.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1kg Blackberries
  • 1kg Cooking apples
  • 2kg jam sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons

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WHAT YOU NEED

  • Jam jars
  • Kit for sealing jam
  • Baking tray
  • Large saucepan

METHOD

Spend an afternoon frolicking around collecting blackberries and apples.

Sterilise your Jam Jars. The easiest way to do this is to this is to simply put them through the dishwasher. Alternatively, place on a sheet of newspaper on a roasting tray and heat in the oven for 45 minutes on degree heat.

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Place a couple of saucers into the freezer.

Place the blackberries, cut up apples, lemon juice and 200 ml of water into your biggest saucepan on a medium heat. You can use two saucepans if necessary. Let the fruit soften and expand for about 15 minutes.

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Next add the sugar and stir until it dissolves.

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Bring the mixture to the boil and let bubble for at least 5 minutes – but it usually takes longer. To know when the jam is ready, retrieve your frozen saucers, and teaspoon a little onto the plate. If the jam wrinkles against the back of the spoon, then the jam is ready! If it doesn’t – continue to boil for a little longer.

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Once you are happy, take the saucepan of the heat and ladle mixture into sterilised jam jars. It’s then important to seal the jam; one method is to use wax discs and then cellophane lids to top the jam.

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Don’t forget to label with the month, year, and type of jam!

Spread on toast and serve with a cup of tea for a delicious afternoon snack.

#nomnomnom

10 things: Autumn

Let’s admit it: Autumn is a depressing season.

The wildness of summer is over: shoes, haircuts, and stationary are the order of the day. Orderliness. Structure. Timetables. I find the fading of the year a jaded reminder of failed resolutions, aspirations and dreams. We have to become accustomed to a vampire existence devoid of sunlight.

Yeah, I can be a little hysterical.

Plus it gets super cold. My hands start cracking, my lips chap, I get sores around my nose caused by colds, and I just generally transform into a haggard old witch. And not a cool one like Professor McGonagall.

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It’s important, therefore, to recall the highlights of the season and counter the impending gloom.

  1. Jam & chutney season

It’s harvest time. Enjoying chutney can, I think, be considered a hallmark of entering adulthood. Trees and hedgerows are bountiful with seasonal fruits – blackberries, apples, tomatoes, and plums. Blackberry and apple jam is, technically speaking, nom nom nom on toast.

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  1. Cosy Jumpers

Snuggling up in jumpers/slankets/duvets/sheep onesies has to be one of the plus points of autumn. Find a beautiful selection of knitwear here to see you through autumn and beyond.

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  1. Remember about Bonfire Night – 5th November

A seriously underrated celebration in British culture. Originally a festival for the survival of the monarchy (James I) against the attempted conspiracy by ‘evil’ Catholics such as Guido Fawkes, in the modern era it is all about FIRE. Sparklers. Bonfires. Fireworks. And a healthy dosage of mulled wine.

Bonfire night fire

  1. Not feeling guilty about watching TV

You never shouldn’t feel guilty about indulging in a couch potato lifestyle. However, with the quality of TV improving – finally the return of Have I Got News For You – and the cloaking of darkness, television binging is acceptable again. Anything by Aaron Sorkin is genius.

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  1. Fattening up for Winter

An essential part of the autumnal period. It’s important to build up a layer of fat to aid your body’s defences against the cold. Soups, stews, and – of course – chocolate. I think this theory is supported by some pretty scientific data.

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  1. Halloween – 31st October

An autumnal event designed, in many ways, to contribute to the fattening-up process previously described. Further – Halloween is the one opportunity you can literally party your pyjamas. Or perhaps that’s just me.

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  1. Thanksgiving & Canadian Thanksgiving

My university experience, for better or worse, introduced me to Americans. One perk is participating the celebration of Thanksgiving; it is very much food orientated. Thanksgiving is essentially the opportunity to eat as much as you like – à la Joey from Friends. Highlights include pumpkin pie, sour scones, turkey, and sweet potato dish adorned with marshmallows (not sure what it’s called). Hurry and make friends with homesick yanks before the 24th November.

  1. Winter Wardrobe

Aside from jumpers and blankets, bringing out your winter wardrobe is exciting. Who knows what you might find in your closet – the odd fiver, beautiful heeled boots, a dead animal?

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  1. Pumpkin-based stuff

This might be a hangover from exposure to Americans, but I now get excited about pumpkin based products. Pumpkin pies, pumpkin soup, and the oh-so-basic pumpkin spied latte. Also pumpkin-carving is an activity not just to be enjoyed by children.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

  1. Winter is Coming

And what that really means is: C H R I S T M A S. Be thankful we live in a world that isn’t always winter and never Christmas. And where James McAvoy exists.

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