A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Boxing Day Brunch: Toad in the Hole

Merry Christmas everybody!
I hope you've had a fun day along with family and friends and ate all of the lovely stuff that surface this festive period.
We had a golden turkey and a Roast Salmon fillet with Herb stuffing, oozing with buttery tarragon and basil, prepared by yours truly. It is a great alternative if you have vegetarians around the table.
 

Boxing Day always makes me feel a bit deflated (no, not for lack of food) but because the big build up for Christmas is over, the big day has passed and everything is somehow quitter. Unless you hit the Sale off course, but we'll leave that for later.
A nice brunch always seems to do the trick though, especially if it comes along with some Bucks Fizz and hearty food. This time I decided to make Toad in the Hole for the first time ever, using the little sausages wrapped in bacon that we normally have on Christmas Day. They tend to get lost amongst the rest of the trimmings but I think they deserve their own little dish to shine through. Then you have the fresh Yorkshire Pudding batter to hug them and lift them up in fluffiness heaven!
 



Toad in the Hole with mini sausages, for 4 people:  
- 24 mini pork sausages wrapped in bacon
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half or in quarters if too big
- 300ml milk
- 3 heaped tablespoons of all purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- salt & pepper
- Vegetable oil or Shortening (I used Trex)
For a simple Gravy:
- 1 cup of red whine
- 1 cup of water
- 3 tablespoons of Onion Gravy powder
- pinch of dried rosemary
- salt & pepper
Use a deep baking dish for this one. Put the sausages in the baking dish with enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the dish and about half an inch high; bake for 15 minutes in a 200C oven. The trick is that the oil is bubbling hot when the batter goes in, the heat will help the Yorkshire pudding batter rise to perfection.
In the meanwhile, in a deep bowl beat the eggs and milk with the pinch of salt and pepper and add the flour spoon by spoon, whisking constantly.
Once the sausages have had their 15 minutes in the oven, pull the tray out carefully, and pour the batter all around the sausages evenly. Pop it straight back in the hot oven for 20 minutes and watch as it all rises up! The corners and sides will rise first. After 20 minutes watch it closely to make sure that the top is deep golden and crispy and that there is no uncooked batter in the centre of the baking tray. It might need another 10 - 15 minutes, it depends on your oven really.
Prepare the gravy:
Pop all of the ingredients in a small cooking pot over a low heat and cook until it thickens a bit and the sides start bubbling.


Serve the Toad in the hole with a good helping of gravy and a scoop of mustard and a dose of Christmas cheer. Oh! And a glass of Bucks Fizz!
Have a great day! x

Christmas Baubles: Su Chases, Old Amersham

Old Amersham is an unlikely Christmas shopping destination - I thought so too!
Ever since we moved into the area though, Su Chases shop in Old Amersham has become a favourite destination when Christmas comes around. It is an interior design shop with lots of home accessories, small furnishings and fabrics.


But around the end of November this pinky townhouse in the middle of the old town transforms into a warm, fairytale Christmas hub. It is my absolute favourite destination for baubles! Prices start from £3.5 and range up to £20 for the biggest bauble you'll ever see...the size of a small watermelon! 
 
 The Crown Inn courtyard (left), One of our new vintage decorations from Su Chases (right) 

This place makes me happy. 
You don't have to decide on a colour scheme before you get there. 
Every room is filled with different colours and all kinds of baubles; decorations are found on trees, in baskets, on garlands, hanging from the banisters & off chandeliers: glass, brass and copper even! 

And then there are the vintage baubles in smoky grey and silver, love them! There are fury ones and cotton-fabric wrapped ones and my absolute favourite this year: a clear glass bubble filled with fake snow and a white dove sitting on top! 

I've been twice this year already: once to buy some gifts for friends and then once more to buy some new decorations for our tree since...we cannot find our old ones. 
It's a bittersweet feeling. It's such a treat to buy new decorations but our old ones have been collected over the years and come with great memories; 

A couple of them came from Su Chases bought the first year we moved here, others came from an impromptu trip to Bruges over Guy Fawkes weekend, seven years ago, from De Witte Pelican, an all-year Christmas shop! 
I'll tell you about this another time, but if you find yourself in Bruges at any point during the year, look for it!  



Old Amersham is worth your time on a lazy weekend afternoon. 
The Crown Inn, an old wobbly-turned-shabby-chic coaching inn, offers the perfect fireside spot for afternoon tea. It was also the location where Hugh Grant's character stayed, in Four Weddings and a Funeral! You didn't know that, did you? 

The old Market Walk houses merchants selling anything from baked goods, to vintage books and toys and fresh Christmas wreaths, this time of the year. 




On sunny winter afternoons I like walking all along the main street in the old town. It's like an open air museum filled with history... you'll spot the cutest cottages, alongside grander townhouses, named after their previous tenants. 
 
I can't help but peek inside the cottages, every time I walk by; the wooden beams and old fireplaces fill little rooms and I'd love to pop in to have a cup of tea and hear old stories! 
 
Then don't forget to look over the rooftops, far in the background you'll spot the rolling Chiltern Hills...I remember them covered in snow a few years ago, such a treat! x

How to be a Parisian


One: Kate Spade New York 'evening belles - feather mimi' clutch (get it!)
 Funny enough a similar, much cheaper clutch is available from Aldo! (get it)
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Two: Kate Spade New York 52mm retro sunglasses Blush (get it!)
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Three: Ella Mos Dot Lace Top - Cream (get it!)
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Four: AG Adriano Goldschmied 'The Stilt Jean' - 4 years Seattle destroyed (get it!)
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Five: 'How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits' (get it!)
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Six: Kate Spade New York Licorice - Black Glitter (get it!)
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Seven: Dior 'Vernis' Gel Shine Nail Lacquer 155 Tra La La (get it!)
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Eight: Saint Laurent Monogram leather shoulder bag (get it!)

Kourabiedes

It all starts with cognac and buttery fragrance when you whip the butter and sugar together...



Then comes the rosewater sizzling over hot, crumbly, fresh-baked cookies, filling the whole house with sweet aroma...

This is a traditional, old-fashioned, rich recipe.
Firstly, you will probably panick at the amount of butter needed; well, this recipe makes 100 pieces and it's put together for big, loud, Greek families;
Back in the day you'd take Kourabiedes to friend's homes as a seasonal gift. Not to forget that people used to pop in to see you and wish you Merry Christmas unannounced, so you needed something luxurious and yummy handy.
 
Then there is the old fashioned measuring system: saucers! They usually mean the saucer that came with their coffee cup. If you feel you can't swing 100 cookies then just half the amounts and the recipe works perfectly!
 
 
 
Ingredients (make 100 pieces):
 
- 1kg butter (I use half salted & half unsalted)
- 250gr roasted and chopped almonds
- 1.2kg all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 saucer of caster sugar
- 1 saucer of fine semolina
- Splash of Cognac or Brandy
- 1kg icing sugar
- Rosewater 
 
Leave the butter out for a couple of hours beforehand, to soften. If you are using unsalted butter only, then add a pinch of salt. It helps bring out the flavour of the butter and the rosewater. 
 
Whisk together the butter, baking powder, sugar, semolina and Cognac. 
In a separate bowl mix the flour and chopped almonds and combine with the butter mixture until you have a glossy, soft cookie dough texture. If the mixture is getting too warm making the individual cookies will prove tricky, so pop the mixture in the fridge between batches for 10 minutes. 
 
Line a baking tray with baking paper, no need to butter it. 
Using your hands, make small round balls and press them down slightly to make round cookies about 2inches in diameter and 1.5 inch high.
They will expand quite a bit, but make sure you give them enough thickness. You need to be able to take a good bite into the crumbly-buttery texture. 
 
Bake in a 200C oven for 20-25 minutes. Watch them closely, they cannot go darker than golden. 
 
Have another baking tray ready, dusted with icing sugar.
As soon as Kourabiedes are out of the oven sprinkle with rosewater - they sizzle and release the most intoxicating fragrance!
Carefully using a spatula move them on to the icing sugar. Put some more icing sugar in a small hand-held sieve and dust generously over the Kourabiedes. 
Let them cool down for a while and try restraining yourself from finishing them all off, before Christmas! My mother always reminds me that I have to guard them overnight when I first make them, so that my husband won't finish them off! x    


The Delaunay...and more fireworks!


First meal of the day: impressive brunch spread at the Delaunnay

We have had our fair share of fireworks-watching this year. 
We seem to stumble upon them everywhere we go! No complaining!
Last Saturday they provided the customary impressive ending to Lord Mayor's parade in the City of London, hence, we had the ingenious idea (always so modest) of watching them from Sushi Samba in Herron Tower. 

But that was just the end to our lovely day; here's what else we got up to!

View from Herron Tower, can you spot St Paul's dome?

I was going to name this post "Nameday Shenanigans" but then I'd be steering away from the main point:  brunch at the Delauney. So good! And I'd have you wondering about what a "Nameday" is, too.
For those of us with a Greek upbringing, "Nameday" is a real celebration with all the gifts, treats and wishes of a second birthday! If your name happens to be celebrated by the Orthodox Church, then you too have a Nameday and you get one more special day per year!
Any excuse for a party! 



When I was growing up, people used to pop in unannounced for Nameday wishes and that meant that my grandma would start cooking early in the morning when it was my grandpa's Nameday, because we never knew how many people would turn up for wishes...and lunch!  The more respected in your community you were, the more people you would have to feed on the day, it seemed! 
But nowadays things are simpler and everybody is busy, so no unannounced guests any more! I haven't decided if it's relieving or sad... 

The older you get the more important your Nameday celebrations become  - a good excuse for birthday numbers to fade away in people's memories. So, my dad always makes sure he visits to spend the day with me and this year was no exception. 
We started the day at St Sophia's Cathedral in Bayswater for blessings. If you are interested in architecture, pop into St Sophia for a look, the structure and décor will blow your mind away. The dome opens up the space immensely and is decorated with spectacular paintings and mosaics. Not to mention the wooden panelled altar and the essence of burning candles. This semi-lit space can provide a very peaceful escape in the middle of ever-bustling London life. Religious or not, it is healthy to make space in your mind for a moment of peace throughout the day. But that's just me, anyway.

Left: Christmas red in Covent Garden Market. Right: The impressive conservatory in Royal Opera House

On to Covent Garden for brunch; we got there early and had a look around the market. I have to admit that as much as I used to love Covent Garden, you won't find me around there very often any more, firstly because it's a nightmare to park at and secondly because it's always so busy with tourists...I like peace and quite as you may have already realised!


Still, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that on the east side of the market a food fair was talking over the air with amazing sizzling and barbecuing smells. Off course I went off and looked up the details and apparently the market is called Real Food Market and is on every Thursday (although it was on last Saturday too?). If we hadn't booked a table at the Delaunay I would have attacked the slow cooked pulled pork from Dixie Union followed by the cutest mini red velvet cupcakes from Crumbs & Doilies!
Oh! and we got to pet two real reindeers too! There seems to be a lot happening around Covent Garden market this Christmas so stay tuned here!   


Now, about this charming little place called the Delaunay...it is Art Deco at its' best with a hint of olde-worlde need for manners and use of silverware! The brunch menu has it all covered: from eggs Benedict to Kedgeree and  Viennese Schnitzel. It was a tough choice. 


I went for the Arnold Bennett Omelette. It was almost constructed as a fish pie, with flaky cod in a cream sauce and an omelette for cover, instead of pastry. Very filling and light at the same time. I also had almost no bread with it and I felt perfectly full. I did say "almost"...

My husband had the eggs Benedict, a good old staple. My dad was excited to see the Viennese breakfast: a plate full of cold meats, cheese and a pretzel, oh and a boiled egg. Not sure it was what he expected, but he liked the setting so much that he kept sipping on his Black Velvet cocktail, spoiling his whiskers (he has a neat white beard) with the Guinness/Champagne foam. 
Oh yes, Guinness and Champagne all in one go, not for the faint hearted!


It was a lovely day with two of my favourite people and we managed to navigate through horrendous traffic to  get to Sushi Samba just in time for the fireworks. The view is always mesmerising, I just cannot believe how much London has changed in the last fifteen years...it reminded me of Singapore with all these skyscrapers and lights. 
 
 
But then, there is always St Paul's and the Tower of London, to remind you good, old, Dickensian London! Let's hope they won't be obscured by the mega-structures popping up around them, any time soon! x
 
 

Early Start in East London

Oh, the pleasure of being a tourist in your own city!


For months now I've been craving for a "pretend" touristy day around London and yesterday it finally happened! I had an early start, picking my dad up from the airport and then since I had the day off work, I thought "why don't I take him down to Shoreditch to have a look around"?  I've been telling him about how much it has changed since I used to live there a good ten years ago, so this was the perfect excuse.
Driving through Hackney and Dalston was unfolding like a movie: all of the East London characters out and about first thing in the morning, workshops opening up unloading all sorts of deliveries, traditional chippies (fish and chip shops) in full swing and the occasional City worker rushing around all suited up. Life!  
We parked up around Arnold Circus, one of my favourite places around there for some quite time and lovely architecture. Perfectly symmetrical  Grade II listed, red-brick blocks of flats, built around the equally tall trees of Boundary Gardens, a break from the hustle & bustle of Shoreditch High Street. Calvert Avenue off the Circus has a New York village feel to it: Paper & Cup seems like the perfect spot to have your morning coffee, read a book and  watch the world go by.
On to Columbia Road, for a look around the vintage shops and cafes. Unfortunately we were too early and none of them was open; apart from the smallest café in the world! A hole in the wall, or in someone's hallway to be precise! How resourceful! Right across the street a primary school was the only lively place in this sleepy little street. We were in desperate need for a coffee and breakfast so on to Hoxton square, the Breakfast Club never fails me!

Hoxton square was in waking up mode too, everyone setting up tables and chairs outside. My dad said "who's going to sit outside in the middle of November?"
"Just wait for a glimpse of sunshine, this place will be buzzing", I said.
The yellow door at the Breakfast Club was shut and for a moment I thought...is it closed? But once we pushed it and got in we were very happily welcomed by bright colours and 90's pop tunes; big smiles! It's so retro! Mismatched chairs and benches and tables and all sorts of cool stuff. Love the comfy sofas and armchairs here and there too! There was a piano at the end of our table...yes my dad had to test it out! Big Kid!

My Caramel Latte came before I even had the chance to look at the menu, service is quite good! What we had for brekkie? Well, how about a stack of pancakes with vanilla cream and the Full Monty, a proper English fry-up, with sausages, bacon, beans and scrambled eggs? And tonnes of coffee! 

I love the Breakfast Club because no matter what time you wake up on a Sunday...they still serve breakfast! Thanks guys, we would like you to know that we do appreciate it!


Back to the car at Arnold Circus, I had to go in Leila's Shop to have a good look around a massive basket with all sorts of pumpkins. Remember I told you last year that I am obsessed with white pumpkins but I couldn't get any in London? Well, here they are, Leila's Shop and also at Daylesford Farm's shop in Westbourne Grove. Two doors down I couldn't hold back a smile when I saw a good old, tall and chubby cooking pot, steaming away on the stove inside Leila's restaurant, too bad we just had breakfast, otherwise I would have heard lunch calling.


There is a nice neighbourhood feeling around Calvert Avenue, go see for yourself next time you are around! x

Bonfire, Diwali & Apple Dappies

For a Thursday it doesn't get better than that: singing with my nieces for Diwali, watching a fireworks display, sipping mulled wine around the bonfire and eating apple dappies in the back garden around the fire pit...in late October!
Diwali prayers are a small, family affair that involves lighting as many lamps and candles as you like.
And then, also making as much noise as  you like, singing (or rather humming) along to lively rhythms and keeping the beat with anything you can imagine; clapping, tapping and snapping your fingers all perfectly acceptable! 
I never thought that my nieces' musical instruments would come in so handy: bells, tambourines and a cute little tabla set, all so professional! 
It was actually stress relieving too; no matter what the song was, trying to keep up was a good focusing exercise! Isn't that what meditation is all about, after all? Finding ways to focus?
It is so wonderful when celebrations and traditions coincide; one of the reasons I love living in UK and being part of a multicultural family! 

My nieces' school Bonfire Night for Guy Fawkes coincided with Diwali. Perfect!

Wellies on, off we went to the school grounds. As much as I hate wearing heavy clothes in the winter, I do love Wellies, they make you feel indestructible! You can walk in mud and splash in paddles without a care in the world!

It was a bit daunting for my husband and I to be confronted with so many kids at once! But parents were happily mingling, mulled wine in hand, my nieces disappeared to curve pumpkins and see their friends, so kids old and young all very happy! 

After the spectacular firework display we came home and decided to light a fire in the back garden. The weather was so mild, who would have thought that we would be happily sitting outside at nine o'clock in the evening, chatting away and eating lovely Indian food? 
Hearty saag paneer (creamed spinach with cheese) and mooli, a fresh salad made of grated white daikon radishes, spiced with chillies, salt, lemon juice and tomato powder. So refreshing! There were plenty of Indian sweets around too, all syrupy and gooey.

I normally love chamchams (a Bengali sponge cake dipped in syrup) but I wasn't up for that... I had to try my apple dappies. They are served with clotted cream after all!
Its the first time I'm making them so please be kind. It was a steep learning curve because the dough can be quite soft and sticky, but the flavour is just right, with an unexpected ingredient!
 

Apple Dappy Recipe
(adjusted from a similar Waitrose recipe)
3 apples, peeled & diced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Rosemary (fresh is more potent but dry works just as well!)
100g unsalted butter, in room temperature
400g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g caster sugar
2 tablespoons clotted cream, plus extra for serving
220-250ml milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Place the diced apples in a pan with 2 tablespoons of cold water, lemon juice and rosemary. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat for 7-8 minutes. 
Let the apples cool down a bit and then strain the cooking liquid away, leaving the apple cubes as dry as possible.
In a food-processor mix the flour, salt, butter and sugar until the mixture resembles  breadcrumbs. Add the cream and then slowly keep adding the milk to make a soft, sticky dough. You might not need the full 250ml.
Cover and leave the dough in the fridge for half an hour to chill, it will be easier to handle when you will need roll it out later.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. You might need to mix in a handful of flour at this stage, if the dough is too sticky to handle. 
Split the dough in two batches, it will be easier to roll out. 
Roll out each batch of dough trying to create a biggish rectangle 1 centimetre thick. Don't worry about creating perfectly straight edges, this is not an "elegant" dessert, in the sense that it's supposed to look more rustic and comforting. 
With a spoon spread out the apple cubes all over each rectangle of dough.
Roll the rectangle up tightly from the longer edge and using a sharp knife cut into 6 or 7 even slices, roughly 2 inches long. 
Don't cut them too big, or once in the oven they will fall sideways (like mine did, but I already told you it was my first attempt, so no judging!)
Place the slices standing in a baking tray, lined with baking paper. Leave some space between them, because they will puff up to almost double in size.
Sprinkle over the granulated sugar, generously. 
Bake in the oven 220°C for 25 minutes or until golden. Watch them closely towards the end because the sugar might burn quite fast. 
Have them warm with a dollop of clotted cream! Heaven!


The hidden rosemary flavour in this hearty dappy will make you a very happy bunny!

Lunch at Oblix, The Shard

Approaching the Shard at street level is exciting. 
 
This spear shoots straight up reflecting all blues, greys and whites from the clouds and the ever changing London sky; if you take a minute to discover nature even in this completely built up part of the city, you won't be disappointed.
 
Mind you, there isn't much parking around, so try to use the Tube or a cab. Oblix has its' own entrance on street level and a lift takes you straight up to floor 32, in the Shard.
If you have booked a table you can go straight into the lift, alternatively there is always a bit of a queue. 


On level 32 turn right for Aqua, the popular bar with spectacular views over the City and left for Oblix.
The entrance to Oblix is almost mystic... low lightning, floor to ceiling stone walls and a long corridor with a fire burning at the end...it's leaves you want to explore more! 

 
Walk between the kitchen and the bar, stop at the fridge to peek at all of the cured meats on offer and try not to be too loud when the view finally hits you! 
 
It's spectacular! Just like a classic painting in a modern frame. 
 
All the way from Battersea Power Station and the London Eye to St Paul's and Herron Tower, the city is there, shdowing off for you.

When we visited it was a rainy day so everything looked grey, the buildings, the landscape, even the river. But grey suits this place, it's not disheartening or sad, it's just sombre. Down around Borough Market, people were running around, the trains in and out of London Bridge station non-stop. Life.

At that moment I thought of Bridget Jones movie, why? No idea. Maybe because it was all too real! Maybe because there is rarely a moment to just sit back and let it all sink in.
Living in London never fails to inspire me, it's always like a childhood dream come true and even after having spent half of my life here, I still need to pinch myself sometimes. 
 

The restaurant is as sleek as you would expect, with a fake library background that makes the place a bit more approachable and a good mixture of couples and groups of friends happily enjoying their Saturday lunch;  it was refreshingly easy going. 
 

The food was pleasantly filling.
My duck was just right. Succulent but not rare, with a sweet mango chutney for balance. Mash with roasted garlic was so comforting and velvety, with a hint of spice, perfect for this rainy day!  
The  pork belly cubes looked rather small initially, but  after having all the trimmings they proved quite filling too. Not to mention they were so soft, they were falling apart!
My husband even proclaimed that the chips were the best he's ever had!  It's the little things in life, huh? 
 
Lunch at the Oblix was a birthday treat and a good one too!
It's great to be pampered once in a while but even greater to find the time to give yourself the chance to appreciate this moment in time and life! x
© Life Love London

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