5 May 2016

Feeling Homey with Uncommon Goods

Something I haven't mentioned on this blog before is how me and my manfriend, Dan, are currently saving to buy a house/flat/shed/whatever we can afford in London (stop the front page). We've been together just shy of 8 years and I really want a place that is ours. As a bit of a DIY diva, for every flat we've rented I've dreamed about how we could improve it. This normally involves tearing down false walls, ripping up carpet and painting walls. Basically if you can't do it in a rented property, I want to do it. Unfortunately, I don't think our landlord would be too impressed if I went all DIY SOS (daytime tv anyone) on the flat. So we've made do and tried to make it our own while shaking off that university home style. You know what that is. Uni style is basically when you amass an array of mismatch items that just don't go together, pint glasses from your local appear in your cupboards (stop it guys you're breaking the 10 commandments) and things you find when you're drunk suddenly become wall art in your living room (aka the foam finger of this post, excuse the terrible photography, highway signs and magazine cuttings bluetacked to your wall). 

Recently we've been having a lot of dinner parties and having people round (if any potential future guests are thinking of bringing a gift to our next dinner party see here) so I've been conducting my usual spring clean, and throwing out all the old uni homeware and replacing it with a more adult, collected but still kooky (I sound like my mum) Scandinavia theme. It was about this time that Uncommon Goods, a Brooklyn based company that sells designer, handcrafted and unique homeware and gifts, contacted me and asked if I'd like to include some of their items in our flat update. Would I? That's rhetorical, of course I would. Dan has essentially banned me from buying anything house related (to which I have not listened to at all) under the guise of what if it doesn't go in the new house? What if we spend our whole lives saving for a house and we never get one or the new wardrobe we desperately need because our current one is falling apart, what if that happens?  Anyway back to the point, Dan said no to buying stuff but if I'm being sent it does that count? I quickly justified to myself that it was a no, and said sure thing to Tom from Uncommon Goods, keeping Dan fully in the dark till it arrived and I asked him to pick something up from the post office. 

The gig was up when he picked up the parcel covered with some cool branding for Uncommon Goods promoting their charity scheme (they've donated over $1 million to charities worldwide!) and saying it had travelled all the way from Brooklyn in the USA. Rumbled, I quickly unpackaged it to reveal a variety of homely items to which he replied 'only you would ask for glasses with cats on'. I disagree, I think there's a huge market out there for cat-themed goods and it's not just cat ladies it's guys do (although saying it's not just ladies have you seen this cat lipstick by Paul and Joe???? I'm in love). Uncommon Goods  sell more than just unique and hand-crafted products, they're selling goods that fundamentally are ecofriendly, and free from animal and human cruelty. In a world which is, unfortunately, still full of shops selling products created with pollution, slave labour and animal cruelty, I guess the question is why aren't you buying from Uncommon Goods. Essentially it's a way to feel good about shopping. Not only are you buying items you love, you've also helping to support charities that help sexual abuse survivors, provide victims of war with the means to provide for themselves and save the forests all in one purchase (how many people can say that!). 

14 April 2016

Eat Like an Icelander in Reykjavik on Any Budget!

If you've seen my previous post on Reykjavik (see here) you'll know we stayed in a self-catered apartment through airbnb (apartment's listed here if you're a nosey parker) and we got hold of a lot of local produce that we cooked ourselves and ate in with a couple of Icelandic beers. However, we also went and ate out at least once a day, be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. So I thought I'd compile a list of the places I'd recommend you visit if you want to eat out in Iceland. I've broken this down into food to go, casual dining and eating out like the fancy pants that you are, for ease of use. A quick note on food in Iceland; it's not as expensive as everyone says it is. Alcohol is a different matter (think London prices if not a little more for everything bar wine which is more like three times the price) but food itself is really reasonable. We ate at two really fancy restaurants for dinner, opting for their taster menus, and I think each meal cost us £65 per person which for me is beyond reasonable for 7+ courses considering you're looking at a minimum of £100 in the UK.

We didn't have a bad meal in Iceland, maybe part of this is because I research everything food related in the nearest 100 miles of where we're staying before we go away but I think a huge part is related to the quality of the food in Reykjavik.

If you're going self-catered and would prefer to cook in your apartment there's lots of great bakeries and a couple of butchers that you can go and grab some local produce from, which are all reasonably priced. Fruits and vegetables wise, if it has to be imported, it's going to be more expensive. However, Iceland grow a huge array of their own vegetables and fruits now, which is pretty cool when you think it snows for a lot of the year. We got all our fruit and veg from Bónus, which is Iceland's budget supermarket and the only one within walking distance of the apartment we were staying at. Things to try in Iceland are definitely their skyr (the thickest creamiest yogurt ever), their jams (this sounds like a weird one, but Iceland have a lot of unique berries so have a browse) and their lamb (if you're a meatasaurus like me, it's very reasonably priced and absolutely delicious)!

It's worth noting, you can't buy alcohol from general stores so either bring it with you, stock up in duty free, prepare to spend big bucks on it going out, or have a detox cleanse and go booze free. We bought about 4 bottles of wine with us and picked up a couple in duty free in Iceland, for the 8 days we were there. We didn't drink them all but it was nice to have the option of having a drink at our apartment first before going out.

11 April 2016

Cider Crumble Cake with Rhubarb & Waddlegoose Cyder

I'm a hot house plant. I'm not one for sitting outdoors in the cold, indoors is where I thrive. Don't get me wrong I love the winter, hosting big dinner parties eating baked cheese (like this yummy Comte fondue), drinking hot chocolate while snuggled up on the sofa in my pyjamas, thick woolly socks and hidden under blankets while watching the latest episode of something awesome (currently rewatching season two of the OC for my Summer fix), and of course if you wrap me up in multiple layers (coats, hats, the whole shebang) I'll be the first to make (and instantly regret making) a snow angel before running inside for a glass of mulled wine. But Summer, Summer is my time. I'm not going to lie I win at Summer. I just do. It helps that all my European blood (Swiss/Italian/Excellence...I'm sorry I'll stop soon) has made me able to withstand the hot Summer temperatures, my love of food and easy cooking has given me great BBQing skills, and I excel at ALL Summer activities (sunbathing, swimming, sunbathing etc. [you get the idea]).

So yeah it's fair to say I'm looking forward to Summer. And I'm starting to see it coming round the corner. Rhubarb, probably my favourite and most underrated Summer fruit (or is it a vegetable? who apparently), has started appearing weekly in our local green grocers, and my mum recently gave me a huge hall from her little garden. My favourite peonies are appearing in Columbia Road Market, a sure sign Summer is almost upon us, and as such my boyfriend is overdosing on hayfever tablets. And of course there's my ultimate favourite Summer place, beer gardens. Beer gardens are upping their game, planting flowers, getting the umbrellas out, I even went to one with a BBQ the other day; combining all my loves. Grabbing a chilled pint of cider and sitting outside is looking pretty darn tempting right about now.

I've always been a cider and ale gal. I grew up in the Falklands where home brewing (of a sort) was pretty common, and since we moved to England I've always worked in cider and ale pubs (secretly/not so secretly being a bar maid was probably one of my favourite jobs, the people, the atmosphere, it's a good laugh). So when Aspall got in contact with me about sampling some of their new brand of cider Waddlegoose Cyder (find more information and where to purchase here), me and, to a larger extent, my mum jumped at the chance. My mum's actually the biggest cider fiend I know, and Aspall is her FAVOURITE British cider, no jokes, she's obsessed! She actually gets a bit snobby if a pub doesn't sell Aspalls, which is a bit much but there we go, she's a lady who knows what she likes.

24 March 2016

Egg Wars: A New Yolk

I wanted an epic name for this Easter egg review, I think this fits. I debated about Game of Eggs - Easter is Coming and Lord of the Eggs - The Fellowship of the Egg, and Dan suggested Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Eggskaban, but in truth I'm so excited for Star Wars to come to DVD in May (SO EXCITED) there was only one real option. Why was an epic title needed? Because this is the battle of the Easter chocolate, an egg to egg if you will. I'd very generously been sent an Easter Egg from the chocolate Gods, Lindt,who I've collaborated with before to bring recipes like Blueberry Cheesecake Brownies and Dark Chocolate and Malbec No-churn Ice Cream into existence. And the lovely Bettys had also sent me a couple of Easter goodies to try.

When I found out Bettys was sending me some treats I was so excited, just to put that excitement in perspective it wasn't that dissimilar to my feelings about Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out. This might sound a bit over the top, but let's take trip down memory lane to when I was 17 (yesterday...) and got my first actual paycheck working for a butchers as opposed to, you know, the dreaded cash in hand £3 an hour wage. What did I do with said first paycheck? I took my mum out for afternoon tea at Bettys Tea Room in York. It was perfect. Apart from you know my Swiss and Falkland Island roots, the dark side of my family is from Yorkshire. Last weekend my mum and her boyfriend came up to visit us and she bought up our trip to Bettys, it's nice that some days (ok several years) on we can still talk about how good their cornflower tea is. Having sampled some of Bettya chocolate they sent me, plans are definitely in the works for making a return visit!

So as the most spoilt girl this South side of London, let's crack on with this Egg comparison shall we (the puns run all the way through this post, I can only apologise for any emotional damage caused)?

16 March 2016

I Left my Heart in Reykjavik - Apartment & City Tour

At the end of last year I fell in love. I should say we fell in love, because there's two of us in this relationship. Dan (my long term man-friend) and I, fell head over heels for Reykjavik, the small, urban and hip capital of Iceland. I've always wanted to explore Iceland. Coming from the Falklands they have a similar climate, sparse beauty in it's environment and wildlife (we're talking whales, seals and sea birds), oh and a couple of Icelanders live there too. Chuck in a few penguins and a sea lion, and Iceland's practically home. My family has always talked about going back to the Falkland Islands (East side baby) but with return flights costing at least a couple of thousand pounds per person, it's a dream that's long been in the pipe line. So when Dan started mentioning he wanted to go to Iceland, I did the kind of reckless thing I am prone to doing sometimes and booked flights...without looking for somewhere to stay, checking if I could get the time off with work or even asking Dan (how do you think I booked our trip to go to Edinburgh...queue one semi-mad phone call from Dan). Yes, I agree I can be a tad unpredictable, but in truth I prefer the word spontaneous; it sounds more fun and care free, and less manic and volatile. 

Flights booked, I found a cute little central apartment on airbnb to rent for 8 days (it's this one if you're nosey), and Dan proceeded to be, what I like to call, a sensible salamander buying us ski jackets and thermals, while I bought several very unsensible pairs of heeled boots and a super short shirt dress as my Iceland appropriate clothing. After a super quick flight to Iceland (I can't believe it's only 3 hours from London) we landed and I hate it when Dan's right. 

It was bloody freezing.

Never have I been so grateful for Dan and his ski jacket, thermal layers and general sense. As we stepped off the plane I was so cold I almost didn't see them...the Northern Lights. Even in Iceland, it's rare to see them and we saw them stepping off the plane. Can you believe that? It was incredible! They're so beautiful, how the molecules collide, it really does look like they're dancing across the sky. By the time we got on the coach and were fast approaching Reykjavik I realised I hadn't even taken a photo, just as the driver told us we probably wouldn't see them again while we stayed in Iceland because of the cloudy forecast for the rest of the month. Not going to lie I was gutted (SPOILER - wait for the end of the post).

2 March 2016

Feasting like a Boss at Berber & Q

Let's talk about shawarma baby
Let's talk about shawama and me
Flick, They Called It The Diamond Blog

I feel like I have spent a lot of time recently eating round Haggerston lately, but with so many good places cropping up who can blame me? No one. We've sampled the newly opened Chick 'n Sours, Duke's Brew and Que, and Berber and Q. Basically all the and's and q's. Coincidentally I have been to all these restaurants with my friend Louie, who is finally left London to go and live in New York after years of threatening to do so. 

Before he left, his one request (alongside going to Hawksmoor for breakfast, bowling, karaoke, being reckless at Club Propaganda [I had to draw the line somewhere, plus I hate clubbing]) was to visit Berber and Q. As huge lovers of Lebanese food, of course Dan and I said we'd accompany him, and by God am I glad we did. We were the kings of meat that day (vegetarians turn away now). 

29 February 2016

Getting Back to My Roots with Comte Fondue

'I don't like cheese.'
Said no-one, ever

When Megan (blogger at Got To Be Gourmet meets PR extraordinaire) from MBA asked me if I'd like to receive some Comte cheese to make a recipe for Mothers Day (#MothersDaytheComteWay, can I replace Mothers Day with any holiday, or just you know a Monday. Let's be honest it doesn't even need to be a Monday), I had to think for 0 seconds. In what has to be the quickest reply email I've ever sent, I played it cool and said sure why not. I totally played it cool. 100%. Like an iceberg. I can tell you I didn't reply and out myself as a 'big' cheese fan, or you know go down the whole I'm Swiss so give me the cheese route (why do the Swiss only get aggressive over cheese?), and I definitely did not follow up anxiously when I had yet to receive said cheese...two days after receiving Megan's initial email. So yeah I'm the picture of cool.

Assurance of me being cool aside, I really love cheese, it's a family weakness (at least on the maternal side, who knows about paternal, who cares? No one, moving on). Being French Swiss, my family is full of cheese lovers, my Grandmere's favourite is Comte, my mum's Gruyere, and I can't choose a fave (I'm like Brucey on Strictly Come Dancing, they're all my favourites). So every time we make fondue the fight goes down about what cheese we should use. It normally ends up being a combination of Gruyere and Emmental, Comte and Emmental, or a mix of all three (who's bringing the Emmental to the table, nobody knows) depending on who's cooking. But having spoken to my Grandmere only the night before about how much she misses Comte and having sampled how good the Comte was that Megan sent me (plus you know, Mothers Day, and my mothers certainly love fondue), I decided to make a Comte fondue all on it's lonesome (sorry Mum) and it was, in my boyfriend's words, the best fondue he's ever had. Which actually could be seen as kind of rude about my Grandmere and Mum's cooking, albeit one time my mum had a bit too much wine before making the fondue and used red wine instead (JUST NO), but you know what I'm not going to complain because it really was the best fondue I've had in ages. And I friggin made it. Me. The least Swiss person in my family of Swissanites.

No words can describe the amount of national pride I'm feeling right now.