Winter is on the way

November already. This year has gone by so quickly.  I’m listening to the rain fall heavily against the windows and the heating is on full – I hope this isn’t a sign of what winter has in store for us.

Thankfully the bad weather only turned up an hour ago as prior to that we had a beautiful autumnal day. Our weekend has been productive and fun.  Das did a DIY plumbing course yesterday, which he enjoyed and learnt some good tips. In the evening we met at Bar Douro.  So a bit of background to this, when we were in Porto in June we went to the Churchills cellar and met Max, the owners son (the owner being John Graham, from Grahams port which he sold before starting Churchills,  the name coming from his wife’s maiden name… ) He told us about opening a place in London and we’ve been keeping an eye out since. I joined the mailing list so was informed of the soft opening this weekend. Well we went along for 5pm only to find them all getting ready for the evening but closed to customers. Well luckily Max recognised me from being up at the cellar, so said we could come in and have a drink. It was so lovely being the only customers – the place is only small but very cosy with extra friendly staff and once the wine cellar is opened there will be a huge array of wines and ports to choose from. Very pleased we had the chance to try it.

Sunday morning saw Das heading our for a run and me making granola. I was lucky enough to have a meal at Eleven Madison Park in New York. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had and at the end of the meal you are given a glass container with granola in it. It’s the most delicious granola ever and I found a recipe for it here and although not exactly the same it isn’t too far off. I also add almond slivers, sultanas and leave out the sour cherries. Today I added dried blueberries, cranberries, mulberries and golden berries and it was the best ever!

Once Das was home we headed into town and down the affluent New Bond Street to Sothebys as they are selling David Bowie’s art collection and are exhibiting it to the public. We were just interested in the art but some people were clearly planning on bidding when the items go on sale. Bowie had very eclectic taste in art and a lot of it was bright and colourful and alongside pictures were pieces of furniture, lamps and ceramics. 

LV’S window display
Jimmy Choo’s amazing window display

Das needed a new winter coat so off to Oxford Street where they were setting up for the Christmas lights to be switched on. The trip was successful and Das found a coat so we could then head off to Pho for a delicious Vietnamese lunch.

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Adult sleepover

A couple of months back Das and I booked something we thought sounded pretty amazing.  Dinosnores! An overnight stay at the beautiful Natural History Museum.

Leading up to the event I was so excited, just like a kid at Christmas. I worked from home Friday as we had to take pillows and sleeping bags and I couldn’t face lugging that to work during peak time. 

With gates set to open to the 300 guests at 6.30pm, we aimed to be there just gone 6 and weren’t the only ones with that idea – a queue of maybe 50 odd people had already started.

We soon started slowly moving through, a thorough bag search was carried out, our bookings were checked, wrist bands to identify which of three teams we were part of handed out and we were given our table number. We were also given two mats each to be used as a mattress and then had to chose our spot. We were lucky to find some space right next to Dippy, the Diplodocus.

Once settled we headed to the bar with a voucher for a free drink. Some prosecco was ordered and we waited for the hall to fill up.

After an introductory chat, the evening’s events were explained and we headed to the restaurant for a sit down meal. The table had 4 seats free and luckily the starters at 2 of those appeared to be veggie. We sat next to a friendly couple named Sarah and Andy who, unknown to us at the time would make the evening extra cool! Dinner was actually very nice, a rocket and sweet potato starter, polenta with delicious mushrooms for a main and finally the most delicious chocolate mousse to finish off. Washed down with some white wine and decent conversation.
Once dinner was complete we saw the purpose of the three groups, we’d all be heading off to one of three events and then rotate. Our first stop was an excellent talk by one of the biologists on animal penises. I know it sounds like a totally odd topic but she was an excellent speaker, very funny and it was actually insightful. 

Next stop, a comedy act. The Ugly Animal Preservation Society is a comedy night with a conservation twist founded in Great Britain by biologist, writer and TV presenter Simon Watt to raise the profile of animal species which lack traditional aesthetically appealing characteristics. Simon was funny and the act well rehearsed. 

Then our final stop, a chat about gin. First speaker was from Sipsmith talking about the history of gin and Sipsmiths hand in helping get craft brewing of gin back on the map. And then a chap from the museum who looks after the collection of 5 million specimen of plants. We also had a chance to taste two gins. 

What I loved about the chats was the enthusiasm and passion that all the speakers had for what they did. 

By now it was nearly midnight. And for the next 2.5 hours the exhibitions would be open and we could roam as we wanted. So we all stuck together as a group and we did the following:

  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year
  • Buy drinks before bar closed 
  • Insect sampling  (Sarah)
  • Dinosaur display
  • History of the museum
  • Jurassic Park (by now it was 3am and Sarah and Andy went off to bed)

At 5.45 am Das and I thought we’d get some shut eye. And we managed 2 hours.

Up at 7am and we were going to have breakfast but decided to hit the road and have a big fry up at home.

What an amazing event.  Would 100% recommend to anyone. We were even luckier to find that Andy was an avid dinosaur fan and had soooooo much knowledge about them. It was like having our own guide! 

From Balham to Shaftesbury Ave

London always has so much to offer and lately we’ve been trying hard to make the most of it. 

So a couple of weekends back we firstly tried a new (well new to us) bar then restaurant in Balham to catch up with friends. The bar is on the high street and is called Hagen & Hyde and was actually very cool. Friendly staff, plenty of drink choice, not too crowded (especially being a Friday night). We then headed to Bedford Hill and tried out a very friendly, Italian run, Italian restaurant called Caminata.  The food was gorgeous, atmosphere warm and cosy and the wine flowed freely. It was a great evening and I can highly recommend both places.

Saturday was another outing. First stop in the late afternoon was Talli Joe’s, a fun cocktail bar and eatery that does Indian Street food snacks and deliciously different cocktails.  We very much enjoyed both. For dinner we’d planned on Shuang Shuang, a place where you chose your broth then add sauces and noodles and finally from a conveyor belt you add your protein and veg. Given that reservations aren’t accepted we weren’t surprised there was a 20 minute wait so we headed off to our favourite Japanese spot, Taro. The owner recognised us as lately we’ve been there quite a bit so he said ‘no menu?’ – we didn’t need it as we knew exactly what we wanted! As usual I went for the vegetarian bento box. It is just soooooo good. Also tried the Asahi Black which was surprisingly good.

And finally it was a quick dash up to the London Palladium near Oxford circus tube for our final event ‘Alan Cumming sings sappy songs’. The name really doesn’t do the show justice. Yes he does sing some sappy songs however it is more than just a musical concert. He chats and tells stories of his life in musical theatre and as an actor, sings the odd mash up, tells a funny tale then a sad one… he is so comfortable in front of an audience that although I’m sure it is extremely well rehearsed, it didn’t in anyway way come across forced or false. He has a fabulous voice and I’d certainly pay to see him the next time he’s on stage.

So thanks again London for providing us with a brilliant weekend!

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Hagen & Hyde
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Hagen & Hyde
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London has some gorgeous buildings
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Talli Joe's
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Talli Joe's
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Alan Cumming is a little hard to see

Hand made bags

My latest adventure was attending  a wonderful bag making course with a friend of mine.  It was recommended to me by a friend who had done a shoe making course at the same place.

I can make bags

Let me tell you about it.

So we arrived at Pillbox Studios in Bethnal Green at just before 10am last Saturday morning, a little unsure what to expect.  The oversized fibreglass pills in the front garden threw us but we later found out that the building is/was owned by a pharmaceutical company.  It now houses separate studio spaces that people can rent. It was very funky!

Amanda met us to the door, a lovely Australian girl who, although young  has been making shoes since she was 17. The handbag course was a natural extension to her shoemaking courses. We found out that it was just the two of us so we had Amanda’s complete attention.

Step 1: choose your bag type. We had three choices, a tote, backpack or small handbag. I went for the tote and Mafe chose a handbag.

Step 2: choose your leather. My choices were a little limited as I needed a fairly big piece for my tote. I went for a dusky pink piece with silver leather for an internal and external pocket.  Mafe went for a blue with a snake skin pattern.

Step 3: cut out the leather. Amanda had the patterns so we just had to draw the pattern on then cut it out.

Step 4: sew it together. We had fun working with the sewing machine and quite quickly saw the progress.

Step 5: add the hardware. For my bag this was adding the screws to hold the handles on and for Mafe the eyelets for the draw string.

And that was it!  We were both so surprised at how quick and easy it was. I’ve already started buying bits and pieces online a d from my local haberdashery to make another one. The idea behind Amanda’s courses are to make both shoe and bag making accessible to everyone without the use of industrial machinery. My basic sewing machine will (I hope) be up for the task.

Once done we headed to London Bridge to meet up with the boys for a drink and then on to Rabot for dinner. Every meal includes cacao and on paper it seemed quite cool but in reality I don’t think the cost matches up with the quality.  However the decor, service and wine was very good.

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Tooting just keeps getting better

I’m sure everyone is totally sick of hearing about Tooting.  But I just love it.  I’ve lived here since September 2000 so celebrate 16 years in the area.  And what better way with a weekend of wrestling and Tootopia 2016.

At the start of the month Das, myself and another couple met in Tooting and started with lunch at Mesa.  We’ve not been there for some time so it was nice to return and to enjoy a delicious meal.  The food was a good as I remember it.  Then after that it was off to watch some cage wrestling run by BEW – British Empire Wrestling.  I was totally sceptical about this but ended up having a great time.  Wow, even though the wrestling is ‘fake’, they certainly take a beating – and given we were so close you can really feel (and hear!) every hit they take.

Then this weekend just gone it was Tootopia weekend.  I wrote a blog about this last year, so this link takes you to that post and explains what it’s all about – but really it’s just a celebration of all that is good in the area.

However before I get to Tootopia, let’s go to the Friday night as we had a lovely evening in town.  First stop was Opium, a really cool cocktail bar in the centre of china town.  Not our first time here and a really chilled place to enjoy a drink or two.  And then on to the Curzon Soho – a fab cinema (that’s currently in danger of closing down, like it’s sister venue Curzon Mayfair).  What a super cool place to watch a movie – we could buy a bottle of prosecco and enjoy that whilst watching the movie, with plenty of leg room and comfy chairs.  So what were we seeing?  Hunt for the Wilderpeople – a fantastic kiwi movie with Sam Neill.  It was so awesome!  The scenery was spectacular, the acting incredible, the storyline fabulous.  Go!  Then after the movie we wandered along the back streets to Pic Circus to get to Brewer St – I forgot how much of a buzz London has on a Friday night, and that whole area around there has totally changed – there were restaurants and bars with bifolding doors flung open, laughter floating out and smiles on everyone’s faces.  So cool.  Anyway, back to Taro, our favourite Japanese café for a brilliant veggie bento box.  We left having eaten way too much.

So Saturday saw us heading to Graveney and Meadow, their garden bar transformed in to a street food area.  We got there around 1230 and it was PACKED!  A small craft market was also housed indoors (I bought some cool earrings and Das bought us a slice of vegan choc cake made by a member of the WI).  We bought a beer and just waited in the sun until a table became free.  It didn’t take long and we shared a table with some friendly guys and settled in to enjoy a host of Beavertown beers and a delicious tofu bahn mi (Vietnamese baguette which is a name that doesn’t give it justice as it was so full of flavour).  It started to get really busy with people standing inbetween the tables so slightly uncomfortable so we then headed off to Unwined, a wine bar – stopping at New Look for a cheap scarf as the evening had turned chilly.  Tooting Market was buzzing!  Unwined and We Brought Beer were crowded so we headed to the end of the market and The Secret Bar, a tiny little place that was cosy and warm and just the ticket.  We sat in here for a couple of hours, before Das did a reccie to see if Franco Manca was free – massive queue.  Also there were going to play True Romance in the market, but couldn’t get it working so decided to show Pulp Fiction, but being only 8pm and with lots of children still around, after 10mins they decided it might not be child friendly so stopped it!  The organisers told the DJ just to do his thing!  Well we had True Romance stored on the Sky Box (I’d never seen it) so we went home to make our own dinner and watch the movie.  Great day!

Sunday we continued with the Tootopia theme by heading to the Grenada – the old awesome cinema that is now a bingo hall (better than just being left to decay – it has Grade I listing).  I’d seen it last year but as Das had been away he’d missed out.  He was blown away, as much as I was the first time I’d been in.  Also this time it was even better as the bingo hadn’t started so we had free reign to wander around and also, as a treat, someone had come in from Pinner to hoist up the old Wurlitzer from under the stage floor.  Apparently it’s a famous Wurlitzer, it’s very cool!  After that we needed brunch so back to Graveney and Meadow for their special brunch menu – sadly though they had counted on so many people so they weren’t taking any food orders – 20mins to get a coffee!  So off to Sainsburys to buy sourdough bread, avocados, tomatoes and mushrooms to make our own brunch at home 🙂 Yum.

Tooting you just keep on getting better!

From decking to lawn

We were both excited to see Saturday come round as it was going to be lawn day! Earlier in the week Das had ordered some artificial grass from a company called Tru-Lawn. Two years ago we’d been to one of the home shows at the Excel centre and found this company – they’d come round and given us a quote to lay the grass bringing some samples with them. For various reasons we never got them back in to actually lay the lawn but the samples stayed outside for the whole time. This summer Das said let’s do the grass and we went back to Tru-Lawn for the sole reason that the samples had remained in such good condition. Anyway due to the companies full schedule the guy recommended, that as we were laying grass on decking, to do it ourselves. So last week the grass, joining tape and glue all arrived.

Saturday morning we started at 8am clearing and cleaning the area. Then we started with the 4m width roll which was doing the main part of the area. It’s really heavy stuff… so we lined it up and then started with the cutting. We used a simple Stanley knife  (the guy warned we would need to regularly change the blades) and found out how to cut the grass (we found it easier cutting from the back as there are lines to follow and you make less mess cutting through the pile.) We then used 20mm tacks to ensure it was secure around the edges and special joining tape and glue to join the grass where we needed to. It took us 6 hours in total but I think we did a really good job! Afterwards we were certainly deserving of a drink so headed to a nice Italian hoping to have a late lunch (it was 3pm by this stage). Unfortunately the Italian restaurant was closed so we wandered down Upper Tooting Road stopping for  prosecco in the King’s Head and enjoying the sun in the garden. We decided to go back to Franco Manca but came across a new Lebanese called Usmania with tables out on the pavement. The menu looked scrummy so we decided to stay. The food was nice, nothing more than nice. Service was a little slow, overall it was a pleasant late lunch. Then home to enjoy some more prosecco whilst sitting in our new beanbags on the new lawn!

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Before
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Das lining the grass up
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Higgins being helpful
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Grass done!
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And with the planters and seating
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Lunch at Usmania
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And finally, relaxing in our beanbags

Veggies to your door

For some time there have been companies delivering organic, seasonal fruit and veg to your doorstep. I’ve always preferred to choose my own produce whether it’s from the local  markets or the supermarket. However when some friendly young adults knocked on my door offering a discount on abel and cole veg boxes it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  I was really excited when the first box arrived and although here was nothing too adventurous in the box, it was fresh, organic and really tasty. Best of all they gave me a free Veg Box Companion book with recipes and info on loads of various fruit and veg. However it soon dawned on me that the discount price wasn’t bad but the full price wasn’t at all cheap.  So I went on a delivery holiday for 5 weeks! And then forgot to update the settings and arrived home on Friday afternoon to find a box of goodies on the doorstep. This time round the box included two pattypan squash (among other things like marrow, grapes, flat peaches, fresh peas…) And I thought what on earth do I do with them! So I went straight to my veggie companion and found an amazing recipe Stuffed squash with zesty tahini dressing. It turned out fabulous, the tahini dressing was awesome!  I may do the same recipe but with the marrow instead.

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First veg box
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Delicious watercress soup made from the first box
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The yummy stuffed squash