19 April 2014

Top 10 London Staycation Activities

This year over Easter we're avoiding the magical overseas destinations, airport queues and funny foreign tummy bugs, and hanging out in the capital of Ole Blighty, Madam London herself.
With fairly good weather on the horizon, we've decided that we are going to hit up a few of our favourite spots, as well as a few new goodies.
Our rock of literary ages, the British Library.
According to the official website, you can explore 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, 3 million sound recordings, and much more. Find what you need - in the arts and humanities, sciences, or any subject.
Plan my next visit to Buckingham Palace
My schedule so far consists of
  • Drink Tea
  • Hang out with Her Majesty
  • Check out the online 'Baby George's first visit to the farthest reach of his empire' photo album with her
  • Try on all the tiaras
  • Walk the Corgis
Take a picnic to Kew Gardens & soak up the sunshine.
I am absolutely no good with plants. The cat reminds me to feed her, but plants just slowly, accusingly, wither away. It's nice to see that I'm in the minority. Perhaps my admission fee karmically makes up for all the plants I've killed over the years (there is only one I managed to keep alive, and that's because it lived on my desk and most of the times that I took a sip of water from my glass I'd feed the plant).

Pretend to be a Wizard at Kings Cross and dream about Paris from St Pancras.

Wander Regents Park/Little Venice - The Grand Union Canal Path Walk
Starting the wanderat the Camden/Chalk Farm end. The Canal is pretty equidistant from each tube station, and you just walk along the High Street until you get to the bridge that spans the industrial marvel - dug by hand by Irish workers - that are local branches of the canal networks. Under the Camden Lock, is the Camden Lock food market where tantalising tidbits are laid out for your delectation.

Get a Pie Mash & Likker fix. Oh yeah.
The basic premise is you get a beef/chicken pie, creamy mash, liquor sauce (a mostly clear containing Parsley and a few secret ingredients) and quality jellied eels (if desired). It is simply the best, quick, easy cheap comfort food on a cold winters day, and I imagine that dock workers adored it on their Dinner breaks.

 Re-visit the Elfin Oak
The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens, the children's book which Ivor Innes published with his wife Elsie in 1930, describes how "for centuries now it has been the home of fairies, gnomes, elves, imps, and pixies. In the nooks and crannies they lurk, or peer out of holes and crevices, their natural windows and doorways

 Get some moolah for my sky rocket (Money for your pocket): Cockney Cash Machines
 If we're lucky, we'll end up on a train or in a caff cafe (there is definitely no circumflexing in the East End) with a group of proper Cockney gals and geezers, getting to listen to their musical, melodical and almost nonsensical accent and phrases. 

Wander to Dr Johnson's House; Dictionary compiler, cat lover, Twitter enabler and traveller.

Say hey to the peacocks in Holland Park.
We've explored Kew Gardens, Bushey Park, Battersea Park (in a fashion) and of course the Queen's backyard but there is a special place in my heart for Holland Park.

Now just to decide where to start...

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18 April 2014

Friday Figments and Photos

I was beginning to feel like I was losing my mojo. You know, that get up & go feeling, the one that drives you to race around the next corner to see what's behind it, all the while researching the next one?

Bubbly Amanda from Rhyme & Ribbons has inspired me to take another look, and de-funk inspired with her Life Lately By Numbers post.
780: Minutes enjoying the gorgeous views of a blogger sleepover in the heart of London.

43: Jaffas scoffed.

1: Mojo lacking. I had simply dropped out of my creative loop.

3: Gluten Free Hot Cross buns eaten instead of breakfast. Oh Yes I Did.

1: Gluten Free Hot Cross bun nicked by my workmate.
3: Pints of delicious Czech beer.

4: Svíčková dumplings (a Czech specialty of slow cooked beef, dumplings and cream sauce)...

62: Times I've listened to and belted out at the top of my lungs 'May you never' by John Farnham, and meant every single word.

98: Bubbles in each flat white shared.

1: Hokey pokey milkshake slurped.

362: Blossoms on the trees in Regents Park.

4: Days of Easter fun planned.

1: Gluten free kiwiburger extraordinaire.

and a cat nap or two in the midst of some serious DIY.

"project management".

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17 April 2014

New Zealand, Aoteoroa, Land of the Long White Cloud #travelthursday

Home of the mighty Kiwi, how many ways do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
It's pretty gorgeous, if I do say so myself.
View of White Island from Ohope Beach, Whakatane

It's a tiny but beautiful island waaaaaaay over the other side of the world that more than makes up for it's size with sheer passion and friendliness.
Auckland's Sky Tower: tallest building in the southern Hemisphere that you can eat in, gamble in and pay to jump off (attached to a zip wire).
The exhilarating opportunities for extreme sports are too numerous to be sane.

Rotorua on the Luge.

It's full of musty mountains, hobbits, sheep and friendly people.

Wellington (aka Wellywood after the Lord of the Rings workshops) has an amzing view from the cable car and gardens)

We love our pop.

Eight metre bottles of lemon-ish-pop. World famous in New Zealannd.

The surrounds are pretty geothermic, volcanic and all sorts of excitement.
The sights, sounds and smells of sulferous geothermally active Rotorua

The views, well, they're ok I guess.

The hills and peaks of our mountainous countryside

And oh, the beaches. Probably the aspect I miss the most living in this coutry. Some smart person calculated that no-one living in New Zealand is more than 3 hours drive from a beach.

...and of course our natural icon, the Kiwi himself (this pic is terrible, but they are nocturnal which is rather hard to photograph.)

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16 April 2014

La Mancha, Chiswick. Reviewed.

Come close.
Closer still.

Much as I loved Spain, I've never been very sure about their infamous Tapas. Usually. especially in London it's an excuse to charge loads of money for teeny tiny portions of very bland food. Not so at this sliver of Spanish sunshine on Chiswick High Street.

To dream the impossible dream, To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow, To run where the brave dare not go

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is a Spanish novel about an aging nobleman named Don Quixote becoming obsessed with stories of ancient rivalry and being a brave knight. He transforms his servant, Sancho Panza, into a trusty squire and off they go. Whilst  proceeding to fight invisible rivals, puppets, and windmills, he also imagines that he sets out to rescue the lady of his dreams, named Dulcinea.
Aceitunas Mixtas (V) Marinated large olives with herbs  
In Barcelona we had delicious pinchos; (literally pinchos translates to "thorn" or "spike"). Expensive, but well worth the novelty and feeling of travel. They were a great example of small taste explosion and the best tapas that we had tried, to date.
To right the unrightable wrong, To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary, To reach the unreachable star

Tabla Castellana; Serrano ham, chorizo, salsichon, Manchego cheese

Disclaimer: We were invited guests of La Mancha, but my (many) opinions are only ever my own.
This is my quest, to follow that star, No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To be willing to give when there's no more to give, To be willing to die so that honour and justice may live

 Pimientos De Padron (V) Sweet hot peppers from Galicia, sautéed in olive oil
Thankfully, the team at La Mancha in Chiswick aren't tilting at windmills. (Oh yes, I just went there in a restaurant review, mashing up classic literary references.)
Calamares Fritos Quick fried squids with tartar sauce

If I were you? Go to Chiswick, take a good group of friends (in my case the lovely Sarah accompanied me, and better company I couldn't wish for), order a few plates of Berejenas Fritas, Crispy aubergines with honey and romesco sauce perfect to start you off, with a few glasses of vino from their excellent selection and a lot of laughter. In fact I would be tempted to just sit at the bar and order these all night. But then that's not really a balanced diet now is it?

Berejenas Fritas ( V ) Crispy aubergines with honey and Romesco sauce
Then I would order the deliciously piquant Pimientos De Padron, Sweet hot peppers from Galicia, sautéed in olive oil; beautifully light & light Tortilla Espanola, Spanish omelette (potatoes, onions, eggs); the surprisingly delicious Croquetas es Spinacas, Spinach croquettes with a hint of pinenuts, and something meaty to round out the tapas feast before you.

Tortilla Espanola ( V ) Spanish omelette (potatoes, onions, eggs)

We loved the variety of dishes we tried, including a lovely seafood paella and hearty portion of roasted suckling pig, by which point we had all eaten so much our stomachs were beginning to groan. 
I'm so indecisive (I often order two starters rather than a main) so a tableau of tapas is the perfect vehicle for sharing nicking many tasty titbits.
And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest
TARTA DE SANTIAGO A traditional Santiago de Compostela almond cake, Amaretto, vanilla ice cream

True to the cause, we ended our evening properly with their heavenly almond cake with vanilla cream, the crowning glory of our meal. It was an almost a polenta style cake, punctuated with a caramel syrup, followed with a heavenly dessert wine.
And the world will be better for this, That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage, To reach the unreachable star.

The restaurant owner and staff are proud of their selections, and actually go out of their way to advise that the portions are fairly large, and unlike most tapas places where it's sell, sell, sell, they tell restaurant goers it's best to only order around 5 tapas for 2 people, or 1-2 tapas per person and a paella as main course.

The décor has a Don Quixote theme running proudly through it, is fresh, bold and fun. Glass of beautiful wine in hand, paella cooking and the sun shining over Chiswick High Street, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you were on the streets of Barcelona.

I plan to happily adopt La Mancha as my London corner of Spanish sunshine.