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Dinner made easy: a European Affair

Good morning! Christmas is almost here! 
How exciting! 
Friends popping over for an impromptu Christmas drink after work? Panic not!
It's the perfect excuse to indulge in all of the no-nos of the year....take the most famous products of each European country and voila!
French baguette, two yards long...try walking with this under your arm! 
Baked Camembert, stuffed with a couple of garlic cloves for an extra kick! 
Greek olive bread, so sturdy and flavoursome! 
Italian prosciutto with red grapes for a light touch, alongside creamy dolcelatté cheese for a high intense note! 
Spanish rich chorizo, you know for protein! 
And a splash-splosh of port from Portugal, oops that was my third one...
And if friends don't pop in after all, it's the perfect romantic night in, no cooking, no fussing, just relaxing! x


21 Bateman Street - Greek Suvlaki in Soho


Walking around Soho is an experience in itself.
First we had to navigate through the Hare Krishnas chanting and dancing down Soho Street - yes we smiled and boogied along a bit too, there is no harm in spreading happy vibes;
and then we were prompted to light a candle in the newly renovated St Patrick's church in Soho Square, where we were actually led by lanterns right to the front of the sparkling clean and peaceful interior. Religious PR on a Saturday night?
True story, Soho approved!
 
 
Finally, we were able to step into the brand new, tiny, corner, olivy-front 21 Bateman and my heart was pounding to see what all of my friends' hard work had achieved. 

I was excited to see everybody tucking into yummy food, tables covered in all kinds of delicacies and familiar wines flowing amongst smiley faces.
And a retro touch from the past: Fix Beer from an Athenian brewery, in the 50's traditional hourglass bottle. Summer dreaming...
 
 
You are thinking...focus and get on with it, what about the food?

Well...think about chunky pieces of feta cheese, mixed in a bright red tomato salad and sparkling olive oil. So tempting to dip in there and finish it off with bread, stuffing yourself before you even start your meal! Always a problem with Greek salads, if you ask me!

Burgers (or Biftekia in Greek) were barbecued to perfection,  chunky yet so soft and succulent, a perfect three meat feast all in one bite! Alex's - the grill master - training in a popular Santorini taverna paid off! 

 
Here's something you probably didn't know, the ever so popular Halloumi is actually Cypriot but there is also a version straight from Chios island, called Mastelo. It's quite strongly flavoured, although not as salty as Halloumi, but is also grilled to enhance the flavours and mellow down the texture; it was served with a drizzle of honey and toasted sesame seeds...heaven!

On to Moussaka, with its' creamy béchamel  sauce and soft aubergines. Mama's cooking!
Finally, the star of the show...souvlakia, skewered pieces of pork in other words that allow for no mistake. Good quality is imperative because all flavour depends on the quality of the meat and the grilling. Drizzle of lemon and sprinkle of oregano, done!
I can picture late dinners after a couple of drinks here...
 
 
So, Soho is about to smell of souvlaki again!

Friends always ask if I can recommend any good Greek restaurants in London, but I'm afraid to say that I am often hesitant. This time a whole bunch of friends decided to put their successful heads together and bring some quality Greek flavours and smells in London. Let me say, yes they are my friends too, but if the food wasn't any good, I'd keep quite and share nothing with you.
So, watch this space! x

ps: the restaurant has had a facelift and is now called "Suvlaki".
  

Canal-side living in Amsterdam

Saturday afternoon in the Nine Streets
Goodmorning! At last I can tell you all about our weekend in Amsterdam, it's been such a busy couple of weeks! 

My recommendations about Amsterdam usually start like this: "I count myself lucky that my first visit ever was with my dad; he took me along to one of the conferences he was attending, so I got to appreciate Amsterdam's culture and not the sub-culture" (wink, wink & elbow nudge). 

Why do I say that? Over the years I got to see all sides of the city, but when I think about Dam, I always think of a balanced all-around place:
the art lovers indulge in the newly refurbished Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh collection, the bohemians chill out in all kinds of cafés, the foodies are spoiled for choice, the shopaholics can raid vintage boutiques in Waterlooplein and Nine Streets all the way to designer shops in Hoofstraat and the jewellery lovers can adorn their ears and fingers with magnificent diamond pieces. 
Let me tell you what we got up to this time around...


I love canal tours - they are so cheesy giving details like "so many bikes/cars are fished out of
the canals every year" and... "this is the tiniest house in the world", not to mention
the unique angles to view the city from!
 
A touch of rural Netherlands, Horse & Carriage
in Dam Square, right in front of the palace
If you haven't booked anywhere head to the lower part of Spuistraat for dinner. 

Humphrey's hides behind a black exterior but opens up to a split level space, decorated with chandeliers, wooden floor and intricate railings that make you feel you are in an upmarket restaurant in colonial Vietnam.
The food is modern Dutch, but the best bit is the bread. It arrives stabbed with a knife, escorted by glorious butter and a tiny olive oil bottle. It's delicate and crispy on the outside but soooo soft on the inside.
One thing about Dutch cuisine that you have to prepare your tummy for, is butter. My starter, prawns with garlic, was lovely but the prawns seemed to be swimming in butter and guess what? it was my excuse to eat more bread; dipping galore!
The "subtle" entrance at Humphreys! 

probably one of the best loafs of bread I've ever had! 
For more traditional Dutch food, we went to Greetje, a corner restaurant lodged in a quite residential district. 
You know you are in good hands when you walk in and see whole groups of locals enjoying their Saturday night meal, but remember to book in advance. Its' deceptive appearance doesn't give away much, yet we were treated to our own little area, with a rustic oval grey table and a massive flower arrangement! My friends were well-impressed. Score! 

We had beetroot biscuits to start with and duck as a main. The biscuits were soft and not as strongly flavoured as I had thought; the duck was succulent and well prepared, perfect chunks next to a puffy mushroom pie! Being one of the traditional dishes of this part of the world, you must give it a try! 

Before dinner we popped into an art deco bar for a cocktail, right across the street from Greetje (in Peperstraat) but unfortunately I didn't look at the name.
It was dark and mysterious, the cocktails were flambeed right in front of your eyes and as we sat next to the big windows with a tiny candle lighting our corner, we both felt like going back in time; a "Midnight in Paris" kind of moment. 

Pie, simple, traditional, delish!
On the way to Spuistraat our friends pointed out a couple of more local, smaller cafés, that looked like safer options to stop at and have a hot chocolate even, while watching the tourists inhale in smoke for dear life! Funny, you must admit! 

The Tweede Kammer  plays Latin chilled out music in a wood-panelled setting and the Dutch Flowers has a great view of Herengracht. If you are thinking "dodgy" cafes, think more "the next Steve Jobs-types" sitting next to the windows, having a coffee, working on their laptops; times have changed!  
Compared to these little ones, the very touristy cafés like the Grasshopper and Bulldog, looked like Irish pubs on steroids and certainly not inviting, for me anyway. 

Did you know that Van Gogh did all of his famous  work within a ten year period?
I had never paid attention to dates before, but it makes you think...
if you feel you have a talent, you must unleash the beast!
 
This reminds me of a Christmas card and yet...
it's right in the middle of the Red Light District!
 
Leidesplein is buzzing all the way to 3am on a Saturday - or should I say Sunday - morning!
We opted for Little Buddha, funky mix of nineties RnB and hip-hop, not impressed with the music but the place was busy because of the MTV EMEA awards and Jay Sean was on the decks - if that means anything to you; 20 euros and we walked straight in, bizarre? 
  
The famous "skinny bridge" on river Amstel
Christmas on the way...
Sunday was my absolute favourite, it was all about lounging and strolling. 

Brunch in George café was just what we needed to start the day in a relaxed and chic environment. We opted for walking from our hotel in Damrak and were rewarded with some of the most scenic views around the Nine Streets and Leidesgracht area.
It was sunny and crisp and I would have gladly moved straight into one of the apartments overlooking the canals in Nine Streets district! It's buzzing but not manic and people seem to take a moment to sit and grab a coffee every now and again. 

Am I tired of London? No, but I must take a leaf out of their life book I think, taking it easy every now and again; oh! and come back more often! x
 
Brisk Sunday morning walk with the girls! 
Caffe George on Leidesgracht - picture perfect? 

Holy Moly Guacamole

Guacamole is more complex than you thought: is it a dip, a topping or a salad?


The Aztecs originally mashed avocado with sea salt and called it "a-waka-mol-i";
but off course we love complicating things so we had to add and add to it. 

Apparently if you dig into old  Spanish dictionaries it comes up as  a "salad of alligator pear"...hmmm funky!

Either way, it turned out to be rather popular though, don't you think?

I hadn't made it at home before, but it seemed like a good alternative to butter next to toast and scrambled eggs.

My version has a bit of a kick to it, which funny enough comes from the mustard and garlic - it's not for the fainthearted and needs no extra pepper.

All you really need is a tasty bread, maybe olive or even soda bread, sliced and toasted and you have a crunchy-yet-smooth canapé to accompany your drinks with.



Ingredients:  

- three ripe avocados
- juice of one lime
- one tablespoon of Dijon mustard (for extra punch use English mustard)
- two cloves of garlic, grated
- a quarter of a cup olive oil
- one teaspoons of salt
 
Half the avocados and empty the green fluffy flesh in a bowl disregarding the seed in the middle.
 Add all of the ingredients and using a fork, break the avocado down, while mixing to a thick paste.
I like having chunks in there blended in the paste, so don't overwork it.  
If the avocados are not quite ripe yet just pop everything in the food processor and blitz it twice. 
 
Preparación Rápida! x

Café George, Amsterdam

 

By now, you should know that going out for brunch is one of my favourite Sunday rituals. What a treat to catch a sunny Sunday morning, strolling alongside peaceful canals, autumn coloured trees, bikes, artistic building facades and rustic cafés!
Our destination: Café George. 
French inspired menu, New York inspired tiled walls, mosaic floors and bistro wooden chairs, all wrapped up in Amsterdam canal-side living! Tempted?


The eggs were smothered in hollandaise sauce and the coffee had a heart on top, that's enough to make this girl happy!


As the saying goes...you can take five girls out of London but you can't take London out of these five girls..."why isn't the waiter picking up the money for the bill, don't they want us out of here?" No! They actually want you to take it easy on a Sunday morning, imagine that!

Dalmunzie Castle, Scotland

Try saying out loud "Spital of Glenshee".
Now repeat with emphasising your "s-es" and your "e-es"... Ay! Now you are in the Highlands spirit!  

We have been looking forward to driving around the Highlands for years, but never made it until now; why, because it's so far away from London!

It's all good and dandy driving up to Glasgow: five and a half hours of singing and listening to each others' favourite tracks, eating the necessary road-trip chocolate and crisps junk, sleeping, peeking through the rain at the colossal wind turbines, stopping for the familiar Starbucks caramel macchiato; but then you have to drive another two and a half hours on top of it!
What you don't realise is that you go uphill all the way, but it's so subtle that when you arrive at Glenshee and see the ski lifts, you wonder what on earth is going on. 


a good fry-up including haggis and black pudding, not to forget the creamy porridge!

waking up early was worth it for once! rewarded with this amazing sunrise

lovely original four poster bed...
At times we felt lost, although the navigation said we should carry on;
After Perth, only a few houses spring up here and there on the roadside and stone cottages blend in with the autumn green and reddish-brown mountain landscape.  
Deep valleys and rivers cut through the mountains and as we drove over the Bridge of Cally it felt like we were entering a magic world. By the way, don't you find that this name has a Lord-of-the-Rings sound to it? Anyway, moving on.

Driving up the 1.5 mile hotel drive, alongside the stream that runs through the estate certainly felt special. You do leave the rest of the world behind.

Dalmunzie Castle is in a lonely valley;

the closest structure, Spital of Glenshee visitor's centre, is two miles away and everything else about twenty odd miles drive. It hasn't been spoiled by tourism in any way and I can imagine that being snowed in at one of the estate's  stone cottages with a log fire and plenty of pie-making supplies is not such a bad thing! There is a golf course within the estate and deer roam around free.
Make sure you stay still if you spot one, otherwise they hop away and disappear, leaving you behind questioning whether you ever actually saw one! 
 

The hotel is furnished in the traditional tartan notes and wooden original pieces.
Every room is named after an ancestor related to the estate and their family tartan is framed next to the room door.

Yes, the floor is squeaky and there is limited phone reception but there is also complementary scotch and sherry to keep you warm! The bathrooms need refurbishing, but we were told the estate changed hands recently so renovations are on the way! I'd give it six months and go back to enjoy our wonderful tower room again!

Having dinner at the hotel also makes sense, you don't want to be driving down mountain roads in pitch black after a couple of glasses of sherry, do you? And sitting by the big fireplace after dinner is what you are here for anyway - ah, that lord of the manor feeling! 



A couple of sips of sherry for me, a dash of scotch for my partner and off we went to climb the hills and splash through the stream. Wellies territory at its' best! 

As soon as we were outside, we were taken aback by the complete silence and tranquillity of the place. You just want to be quite and keep taking in big gasps of fresh air and impossibly beautiful images. In traditional countryside style every field has lovely wooden gates that you can open and make your way across the hills, no paths involved! Be thoughtful and close the gate behind you though!

And don't randomly ask about kilts, it's a Highlands tradition but "you don't wear kilts below Perth" we were told, so now you know too! x

 
GlenShee, Blairgowrie, Perthshire PH10 7QG
Phone: +44 1250 885224
 
 

Pink Martini, Royal Festival Hall

According to the talented and always smiling Thomas Lauderdale,  they would like to call themselves "the United Nation's Band" and that, right there, sums up their style.
It also happens to be the reason I like Pink Martini so much, since I often say that I live in a "United Nations" family; so it's no surprise that I'm intrigued and mesmerised by this amalgam of different styles, languages, music and backgrounds that shine through their songs.

Last Friday they were performing in Royal Festival Hall, where amongst colourful balloons, they opened with "Amado Mio" and since that very moment my foot wouldn't stop tapping on the floor all the way to the end of the show!

As I was thinking that Royal Festival Hall was a good choice for this show because it's so open, with brilliant acoustics but we really needed to be in a dancing hall of some kind, Thomas and Storm went a step further and invited everybody to join them on stage for a little boogie.
And everyone went! No security, no diva-ish attitude, just good music and a vibrant beat to get everybody happy! 
Pearls and killer heels...had to be done for Pink Martini!

First, Storm Large with her sexy presence, powerful voice and impressive tattoo  across her back appeared straight from the start and took over singing and swaying in Spanish, Farsi, German, Italian, Turkish, Romanian and English off course...what a treat!

Then, I found out that the song I blast on my cd player, on the way to work in the mornings "And now I'm back" is actually based on Schubert's Fantasy in f-minor, with an "I will survive" beat, set in 50's Cuba, as Thomas explained! If only all of my work had such cool stories to go with it! 

To follow this revelation Timothy Nishimoto had us dreaming of Japanese cartoons flying across the stage blended with a 60's bosa-nova vibe in "ZunZunZun ZunZunZunDoko"! Oh! Thanks Ari Shapiro for clearing out what Storm's tattoo read : Lover. It did kinda bother me that I couldn't read it! Ari is the newest addition to the band, side-tracking from politics, to perform in a very sleek and talented manner. Oh he is good! And tall and a really nice guy, as everyone kept saying and he is looking for a flat in London...any offers?

That's another reason I like Pink Martini; they all wear many hats, following what they love the most. Finally, the Von Trapp children, an acapella group, grand kids of the original famous family, had us all going "lei-lo-lei-lo-lei-oh-oh"; give it a go, it's fun!

You got to love Pink Martini's down-to-earth approach when they deal with their audience paired with the most retro, vibrant and almost art deco glamorous performances; great combo if you ask me, keep making people happy guys! x

PS: Ari feel free to come over for dinner once you are settled in London, I dare say I am a rather good cook! 

Grasmere, Lake District

spectacular nature!

Half way up from London to Glasgow there is the fabulous Lake District. I had this image of melancholic rain around the lakes, rolling hills packed with rabbits (it did inspire Beatrix Potter back in the day!) and wet wet wet weather. Well, I wasn't far off but the scenery is ten times better than what you've heard of or imagined. No rabbits I'm afraid! And may I also add...you are in for a treat with the pictures we managed to take. The clouds and the hills were posing for us!

Our view from the breakfast room in Daffodil Hotel, Grasmere Lake

Houses on the hills around Grasmere. Spot the stream surrounding the house and pouring right into the field at the front?
It was raining the whole time we were there but somehow rain suits this place. Streams pop out of every little mountain slide. Low clouds hug the hills as they pass throughout the day. Such a romantic landscape! We stayed at the Daffodil Hotel & Spa, with its' quirky art and spectacular setting. We could hardly concentrate on breakfast; with every bite we were taking a peak at the spectacular scenery: lake Grasmere, hills covered in low puffy clouds and pairs of sheep munching away on grass in the rain, so serene! 

The Jumbleroom

Dinner was at the utterly childish Jumbleroom; bonbons and model planes hanging from the ceiling, kids books stacked on a shelf behind us, farmer & piglet salt & pepper set but grown up food! Sweet and soft pork belly bites, crab millefeulle, crispy sea bream on a bed of skordalia (spiced potato mash with garlic) and a very impressive, light and fluffy fish & chips! Still smiling at the thought of dinner in this place. We'll be back to hire a cottage and explore this romantic and tranquil part of the world and that's that! x


Lake Thirlmere

My Detox Diet Diary

Let's get one thing straight: I don't diet! But a bit of August-weddings, a bit of September-birthdays, a bit of October-travelling all piled up and I felt like giving my system a break!

I opted for "My Detox Diet", with the Juice-till-dinner option. I picked it because it allows you to have dinner, so it doesn't really feel like detoxing - within reason off course, provided you don't go out for a roast every evening! 

They have a great "before-9am" delivery service, so that you get to start day one with a lovely alkaline booster...you are not thinking "yummy", are you? OK, think grapefruit and pears then! You receive a fridge-like box filled with colourful juice bottles and a handwritten envelope addressed to you, with your daily plans included; it's a nice touch!
 
Day One...
"No Sweets" or actual food were not a problem for me, but "no salt" was; lunchtime was time for a broccoli, celery, cucumber concoction and although my skin was rejoicing just at the sound of these super charged anti-oxidants, my brain was missing the salt that comes with chewy food. That was before I had to drink the whole thing. I'm afraid to say that after having had about 500ml of the green monster I didn't actually feel like drinking anything else till dinner. It sounds childish, I know,  but it's all part of the tricks that your mind plays when you know you are not allowed something!
 
Beetroot-carrot drink in the name of "Raw superfood" came at a good time in the afternoon and since it contains natural sweeteners it's the midday booster your body needs. However the mind plays tricks (again) and despite its' deep red colour it doesn't taste like strawberries nor cherries...off course not, it's beetroot! 

Day Two...
You normally laugh it off when they tell you that coffee is addictive but here we are, second day of detox and I went straight for the coffee, only I took a detour and ended up with Utterly Fibre! Carrot, ginger and pear in other words - not great for breakfast I'm afraid! But then came the organic lemonade; regardless of the fact that there were no lemons involved, it was a great spicy orange and cayenne pepper afternoon pick-me-up.


Day Three...
I think this is the best-tasting morning drink of the whole lot! Maybe this Strawberry and oats smoothie is an attempt for positive reinforcement for making it to day three. It worked for me! What a lovely drink to start your day with. It's very filling so no naughty coffee thoughts till lunch. And to top it all off, the Virgin Mary comes to close your three day juice routine. I normally don't like Bloody Marys even when Tabasco and alcohol are involved so  you can imagine how I felt about the virgin version.

Three days later I can tell you that I am not entirely convinced that surviving on juice is natural. However, for a short period, your whole system can do with a break to cleanse and start absorbing nutrients more efficiently. On the upside you end up almost a kilo lighter but the best feeling for me was no bloating or sluggishness during the day, when you need to get on with work.
For it or against it - what do you think?   
 

The Phene, Chelsea

If you are after an urban garden to savour the last days of this very mild autumn we've been having, look no further than the Phene. Lodged in a tiny residential street in Chelsea, it's a good spot for lunch or drinks post King's Road shopping spree, or pre river-side strolling. 


In our case it started with an early birthday lunch...
so we could still spot the lovely Chelsea townhouses!

Very cosy interiors, grey tones and
a bookcase full of drinks! Perfect!
Bright red for fiery chit chat!

...and it lasted till it got dark.
Spot the outdoorsy fireplaces?
See, autumn in London is not all that depressing!  
© Life Love London

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