24 July 2015

Columbia Road; Why I'm a Sucker for Succulents

Ok, I am a hoarder. I feel so much better with that off my chest. I'm nowhere near as bad as my mum (she has an entire python skin in the loft from her day's in Africa, Lord knows why she kept it) but I collect things. Shells being the main hoard as discussed here, but also jars and bottles (because you never know when you'll make a jam or flavoured gin), almost 30 house plants, and lots of recipes I've never made but have torn out and kept from various magazines. Oh and then there's the one thing I haven't mentioned which is photos.

Believe it or not I've narrowed done the amount of photos in this post. I know you're shocked, I'm shocked, this blog has almost frozen in shock from having too many photos to load but it's true. I take hundreds of photos when I'm out, I'm officially the definition of snap happy. I'd be embarrassed but there are worse obsessions...a lot worse.

These photos were snapped before I went to meet my friends Alex and Janet for a bit of retail therapy and doughnuts, Crosstown doughnuts to be precise, which you can drool over here. I initially took a trip to Old Street to go photograph some street art but then I realised it was a Sunday, and Sunday's mean Columbia Road's flower market is on and that means more plants to indulge my house plant obsession so I went there instead. It's pretty easy to get to, just follow the route the stream of people with flowers are walking away from.

I've written about Columbia Road before, you can see it here if you fancy more flower photos and the ones in this post are not enough. Before my friend Emily and I went for a stroll around Columbia Road, bought some herbs (which by the way are still going strong except the thyme...) and ate brunch at The Breakfast Club. Back then, I was mucking about with my friend's old Olympus DSLR and I think you can tell I was a big old newbie when it comes to taking photos. I mean I'm still a newbie now, but I'm throwing myself in the deep end and trying to learn more about photography.

This Sunday I had one thing on my mind going to that market and that was succulents. Succulents have been super trendy for the last couple of years, they require very little care and are happier indoors (mostly), plus they replicate like crazy so you know if you or someone else breaks one (which you might because they're really fragile) it doesn't matter because you just take the leaf, water it a little and it'll grow another one.

I'm always on the hunt for new types of succulents and Columbia Road has a lot, alongside all the cut flowers, of which the peonies and hydrangeas are the most popular. This year there's been a lot more plants on offer as opposed to just cut flowers, which is a nice change to stall after stall of peonies. I love peonies as much as the next person, although hay fever sufferer and man friend Dan calls them instant headache so I rarely (if ever) have them at home, but it's nice to see a bit of variety.

With all the succulents and cacti on offer, it was hard to narrow down which ones would come home with me (it's always hard to narrow down). This is the one obsession Dan lets me go wild with, he hates my jars, recipes and, in particular, shells. However, show him a plant and he's all 'is one enough'. Let me just say one house plant is never enough.

The worst thing is I've become a crazy plant lady. Not just because we have loads, but I'm also turning them constantly so they get an even amount of light, replanting them every month or so, and the worst of all I worry about them when we go away. It's all has it got enough water, what if it hasn't got enough light, will it be ok? I have to lay wet towels in the bath and sinks, and pile all the plants in before long weekends, and I've even asked friends to come and water them. Reading this I am 100% crazy, but there are some pros about having plants, they never cover me in hair, I don't have to worry about what their doing when I'm at work and whether their destroying the house, and my house never smells of cat or dog...just soil. I realise I'm likening my plants to pets, but Sally the succulent means a lot to me. 

Judge me all you want but I'm not changing. It was a good job I had a limited budget of £8 at Columbia Road Market, ok I had more but I spent it on cake and tea. The result was three new succulents, although I had my eye on the blossoming neon cacti, Dan would not have approved of their fake coloured blossoms. I'm all about a bit of fakery but I have to share my house with Pod (if you haven't seen Snog, Marry, Avoid you need to correct that right now). I sacrifice a lot for Dan; peonies, fake coloured cacti, it's too much I tell you!

I love Shoreditch, yeah it's full of hipsters but we all have a little hipster inside of us. I love the markets and the pop up restaurants, the graffiti and the buskers. I particularly liked these guys who were playing some cool Persian style folk music, and there was another man down the end doing some sad indie ballad (cry me a river). Columbia Road is definitely worth checking out next time you're round there even if the flower market's not on to check out all the shops and grab a bit of brunch/lunch/dinner/drinks. 

A word to the wise, if you fancy heading to Columbia Road Market DO NOT:

- Go if you're an agoraphobe. You're packed in to the road with flower stalls on either side tighter than a tin of sardines;

- Get there late. The flower market winds down at 12am and gets super busy so head there for 9am to escape the masses;

- Eat breakfast before you go. I would 100% recommend grabbing coffee or a juice while you're there, and sampling some pastries in the cafes on either side.

But do buy lots and lots of flowers, succulents and plants galore, and stand around swaying to folk music, we're pro being a hippy here!

If anyone has any recommendations on any London garden centres or where to buy more succulents drop me a comment below. Do you think I'm a crazy plant lady or are you also a crazy plant person, if so what's your fave? Although I've talked about how much of a sucker I am for succulents in this post I'm also a keen herb gal (legal herbs only readers). 

22 July 2015

Phee Phi Pho at Cay Tre

How do you feel about Vietnamese food? This is a make or break question because I love it. If you don't like it maybe you should leave...this post. 

Having moved round the country a fair bit, my first taste was in London in my old stomping ground Finchley, known for it being Margaret Thatcher's constituency, almost three years ago. Then it was fresh, clean and herby, completely different to any other Asian food I've had before. Today Vietnamese food is currently the big food trend of 2015; we've had sushi, we've had Korean food, we've had bao, now it's Vietnam's time. And its exploded across the capital. 

One of my favourite Vietnamese restaurants in London is Cây Tre. I'm not one to usually jump on chain restaurants, and although you could probably try and class it as an independent it's still part of a wider group of Vietnamese establishments. The reason why it's one of my favourites is because it's home-style Vietnamese cooking at it's best. It might be elegantly presented but you can't get away from the ginormous portions. Pho is always an ambitious dish to tackle but here it's piles of noodles, mountains of meat (if you're that way inclined) and an accompanying meadow of herbs and bean sprouts; not skimping on the herbs puts Cây Tre ahead in the pho department. 

I'm hoping that Vietnam fever spreads out across the country, when we moved out of Finchley, I was heart broken to find out there was no local Vietnamese restaurant. No Friday night pho to take away was tough but it's made me set myself a challenge to find the best pho around London. If you haven't tried Vietnamese food then I have three questions to help you decide if you should:

1) Do you want to eat healthy food?

2) Do you want to eat delicious food?

3) Do you like beer? 

If you can answer yes to any of those questions then I think you should at least join me in trying to find the best Vietnamese food around and start campaigning locally to get more Vietnamese food in your area. Write to your local MP, hold a protest, go on hunger strike (that's how extreme my love is for Vietnamese food is) and we will see Vietnamese take out in our local high streets soon.

Anyway back to Cây Tre, my friend Janet (you might remember her from our éclair fail at Maitre Choux in this post or the time we went for afternoon tea at Bea's, doesn't she look pretty!) and I hit up the Leicester Square branch one day after we caught an excellent (if slightly morbid) session on the Brontë sisters at the National Portrait Gallery. Spoiler: there were more than 3 sisters. Just showing you my cultured side, bit of Art History, bit of Vietnamese food, I'm a show off at heart. 

Cây Tre is pretty tucked away on Dean Street in Soho, or as I like to call it the centre of  my current foodiverse. So many good places I've found recently are hidden round the side streets of Soho such as The Coach & Horses. Just dropping the Coach & Horses in here in case you're veggie or vegan, if you are you might want to look away from this post now and go check out that awesome first vegetarian pub in London (with vegan options!) instead.

Cây Tre looks small from the outside but inside there's a long line of tables that extends all the way to the back of the restaurant and actually it's one of the only places that we found would take a booking for 7 of us a couple of weeks ago. The decor is monochromatic and minimal in white and pewter with hints of gold to liven things up, it's basically how I want my home to look. Like the décor, service is pretty slick too. Janet and I ordered from the lunch menu because, one, we went for lunch and, two, it was a main and a starter for £10. Prepare to be well fed. 

The second reason why I keep going back to Cây Tre, the first being their pho, is because of their Anchovied Chicken Wings. For all fish haters out there, these don't taste of fish. They're salty, sweet and with a caramel like glaze that makes me go crazy, in a good way. Janet and I split our starters and we both favoured the wings, fighting over who would get to mop up the sauce with the salad. A sauce has to be really good for us to fight over salad. We also got the Cha La Lot, delicately spiced pork and peanut dumplings wrapped in leaves served with some rice noodles and a fresh dipping sauce. These dumplings are good but I'd go for something else next time, something like their amazing Chilli Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab or just more Anchovied Chicken Wings. You can never have enough wings.

For mains we're both pho queens so it had to be a big bowl of steaming Pho. I normally go for the Hanoi Pho because I'm a garlic fiend, and this has whole roasted cloves of it and fried steak. But we went for the Classic Pho because it was on the lunch menu and guys it was lunch for £10! I'm reiterating this fact because it's such great value. So one huge bowl of Pho with every cut of beef under the sun later, Janet and I were fit to burst. I couldn't finish all of my broth, partly because I'd eaten so much and partly because I went a little heavy handed on the Sriracha; my go to condiment of choice. My brother has been raving about it on cheese on toast for years and I recently tried it and it was a revelation. Never again will Lea and Perrins grace my cheesy toast...Marmite still will though. Oh my God what if we combined Marmite and Sriracha on cheese on toast?! I'm doing this asap.   

In summary, Cây Tre is great. Go for the Anchovied Chicken Wings, stay to finish the never-ending Pho and grab some Vietnamese beer for giggles.

If anyone has any Vietnamese restaurant recommendations drop me a comment below. Likewise let me know if you think I'm crazy to mix Marmite, Sriracha and cheese on toast, or let me know if you have. In fact don't bother telling me I'm crazy, we all know it's true, just tell me about the cheesy toast!

17 July 2015

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

If there's one thing I miss about living back home (apart from my family of course) it's the seaside. Growing up in the Falklands, my mum used to do a lot of diving so my memories from then are of us being on the beach surrounded by penguins or watching elephant seals and killer whales. When we came to the UK, we moved to Broadstairs to be close to my Grandmere, and my family's been there ever since. Broadstairs has always been, in my very bias opinion, the gem of Thanet (yeah that's right my family live in Thanet with Nigel Farage, he's my mum's bestie). 

Broadstairs has the best restaurants, the best pubs (If you visit make sure you check out The Chapel, a bookshop turned ale house), the best beaches, the best waves, the best people (ahem)...the list goes on. In Broadstairs, we swapped penguins, elephant seals and killer whales for surfing, Mr Whippys and Jelly shoes. I still used to see the occasional seal pop up while surfing, a couple of beached whales (its sad but it happened, an ex-boyfriend once photographed himself in a sperm whales mouth. I've moved on to maybe not bigger but certainly better things) and I've recently heard a shark was sighted in Herne Bay (whether this is true or not who knows, but I'm excited for sharks on our shores). 
Anyway whenever I go home, my mum and I always try and take a stroll by the sea. Last time I went home it was a gorgeous clear day, but it was bloody freezing. My brothers, man friend Dan and  mum's boyfriend all sheltered in our local pub, while my mum and I went down to the beach.

We were both completely wrapped up searching for shells while wearing gloves and shivering, when a man climbed out of the sea in nothing but his whitey tighties. He put us to shame that day. Every year on New Years Day the citizens of Broadstairs go for a swim in the sea off Viking Bay to usher in the New Year. I'll be honest, this is something I've never done, and the only time I've gone in the sea has been when I've worn a full body wetsuit. I'm a house plant not a piece of Atlantic seaweed, so I like to be as warm and toasty as possible, which is why I'm going on holiday to Iceland in October...this is not why.
Other bloggers have been praising Broadstairs' showy neighbour Margate since it tarted itself up for the arrival of the much controversial Turner Centre, an art gallery come skyscraper which overlooks the harbour, my favourite review is by Lisa from Not Quite Enough which comes in several parts and shows the Shell Grotto...a grotto made of shells. Don't get me wrong I like Margate, it's gone from trashy to trendy quite quickly in the last 5 years and is full of vintage boutiques and galleries galore, but I'm just saying Broadstairs did it first and it's timelessly classic style can't be emulated. Accept perhaps by Whitstable.

In fact the one thing I don't like about where we live now apart from it being so far away from the ocean is how far away I am from my mum. It's a necessary evil, there are no jobs in our industries for me and Dan in Thanet, and quite frankly I could never move back to Thanet. I don't want to alienate anyone, people read this blog for their own reasons, maybe they like the recipes, London reviews or they just like me talking about dinosaurs for a post, but my childhood could have been better. My friends know about it, my family knows and the person that hurt me sure does know (FYI the powers that be know too), and I love my mum and my brothers and my mum's boyfriend, and the cat and dog, and that's why I go home. 
In fact I was quite unhappy we couldn't bring our dog down to the beach because they're not allowed on Viking Bay during certain periods of time over the Summer. I'm sticking up for our four legged friends rights everywhere. But it was good to spend some girl time, it's not often my mum and I get to do things solo with both my brothers still at home. So we walked round the bay, took silly photos and went to take a trip up by shell walk (not its real name, I think it's Fort Road) but it's basically an alley with shells fixed into the walls, a shadow of the Shell Grotto. But there are some pretty humongous shells.

I'm pretty sure this shelly walk was where my obsession for shell collecting started. My dream is to visit Oman, go diving and see all the shells. My mum lived there as a child so she has some whoppers, beautiful conches and one's I don't even know the name of. Don't worry, I won't be taking any home with me! Just photographs. Broadstairs has some gorgeous abalone shells with their pearl inside fixed into the wall, over time people have tried to take them away, queue Gollum shouting 'Thieves'. But it's still nice and people come to visit it after a lazy day on the beach.  
I won't lie, by the time we'd finished looking at the shells and being touristy I ran back to the pub and had a glass of mulled cider in hand quicker than you can say Quidditch. I'm rereading Harry Potter...can you tell? I'm looking forward to going home again in a couple of weeks, I might even be brave enough to go for a swim with my short wetsuit.

You will never know how many times I wrote and rewrote this post, which I was going to post on Wednesday. The truth is every time I think of home I think about my past and it's quite difficult to write about it without mentioning what happened. So I'm sorry but I'm not sorry because this is my blog and as much as I love you guys, I kept secrets for a really long time and keeping them in eats me up inside. This is probably why I'm such a gossip now. 

13 July 2015

Coach & Horses Pub, Pints & Plant-based Plates

Busy weekends often mean my healthy eating goes to the dogs (speaking of which there are cute pub dog photos in this post FYI). This is partly intentional. It's no secret that I like to eat a vegetarian diet during the week and eat the unhealthiest foods possible at the weekend, you know, like a lady in the week and a freak at the weekend.

However, this weekend was not my usual throw vegetables to the wind and scoff as many burgers and as much ice cream as possible weekend, albeit there were burgers but these were made of vegetables. And the only ice cream I ate was vegan, this is big for me because I love ice cream and I turned down a white magnum twice this weekend. I don't think I've ever turned down ice cream before. I mean who would right? Well I have the answer to that one, vegans.

So when I went out on Saturday with Steff, one of my closest friends from university, who turned vegan just after we got back from Hamburg 6 months ago (it was all the bratwurst we ate that did it), I suggested we try The Coach and Horses on Greek Street in Soho, London. The Coach and Horses used to be your normal everyday boozer whose menu became solely vegetarian and vegan back in 2012. Don't mistake me, this is still a pub, although there is a swankier dining room upstairs, there are pickled eggs, pints galore and a sticky bar top, but there is also simple and delicious vegetarian and vegan food on offer. They've got vegetarian and vegan alternatives to the classic pub dishes we all know and love, Tofush and Chips anyone? But they're not trying to emulate pub food, more like make vegan and vegetarian comfort food that should be classics in their own right. Plus they have ice cream...vegan ice cream.

With both of us being highly experienced in the art of navigating London, we thought we'd find this place easily. The problem was there are several Coach and Horses pubs in Soho, only one of which is veggie, so we kept getting thrown off course by google maps telling us we'd arrived outside a steakhouse. Never one to force plant-based eating upon anyone, Steff kept looking at the menus and saying we could eat here there is one vegan option. But I wouldn't give in, we had the promised land in sight! 

Eventually we found it, and grabbed a table downstairs by the bar. It reminded me of the pub I used to work in at university, small, wood clad, with an array of bottles of booze behind the bar and old photos adorning the walls. Oh and there was a piano. In fact the only thing it was missing compared to my uni pub was a ceiling covered in beer mats, and they don't serve cheesy chips and gravy. As a student I practically lived off the stuff, that and beer.

As we were now starving we ordered at the bar straightaway, a couple of pints of coke, vedgeree aka veggie kedgeree for me and a pesto burger with onion rings for Steff. Firstly before I go on to talk about the service, which was really weird by the way, let me just say the food was excellent. Their pesto burger is possibly the best veggie burger I've ever had when eating out, and the vedgeree was really fresh, and I haven't even told you about the puddings yet.

Ok, now I've praised their cooking, I can talk service. Occasionally you get bad service, it happens sometimes but rarely in London, with the Coach and Horses the service was really mixed. After ordering, we were given a pint of water with a top of coke, when asked to change it the barmaid refused because she heatedly said we wanted ice, and because  the ice had melted in the bucket she'd poured the ice water in. Common sense suggests she shouldn't have done that and should have just changed it, but it took a more experienced barmaid to step in and tell her she was wrong. The same barmaid then bought out one set of cutlery and another didn't know what the symbols on the menu meant when asked. It's ok, everyone's been new at something once, but lose the attitude! I'm not forgetting it's a pub, but as Steff and I have been barmaids in the past it doesn't take a lot to say 'I'm sorry I'll replace/get/find out that for you'. The staff changed while we were there, so for the last part of our meal the service was really pleasant.

Rant over, the food was spot on. The vedgeree was zingy and refreshing, with cauliflower and edamame beans as a nice point of difference, of course I had yoghurt and a boiled egg on the side because I'm greedy. Steff's pesto burger was amazing, it had courgette, chickpeas, peas, all the goodies, it was really meaty in the whole it's a filling dish way rather than the it has meat in way, and the onion rings were perfect crispy onion ring delights.

We couldn't walk away on a hot Saturday without sampling some lemon and basil sorbet, and a coconut milk panna cotta topped with poached rhubarb and a brandy snap (my ultimate favourite biscuit in the whole world). We got two vegan desserts so Steff and I could share, and although both of them were delicious, the lemon and basil sorbet was by far our favourite. I'm loving herby ice creams at the moment, I recently had some lemon and sage gelato from Gelupo and have been hooked since. It is so refreshing and just awesome. The panna cotta was everything it should be, creamy with a little wobble, and if Steff hadn't been there I would have eaten the brandy snap in one.

Steff said she has put on a bit of weight since going vegan, at first I laughed but now I understand why. When faced with so many tasty vegan dishes it's hard to not eat them all. Especially when those dishes are in a pub, where they serve beer. I confess I had a cheeky Sol. I'll be back for a bit of Sunday Roast in the near future, and have to try the Tofush and Chips!

What is your favourite pub food classic? I'm often told I'm a weirdo for eating cheesy chips and gravy, but honestly it's the best. If anyone has any vegan restaurant recommendations drop me a comment below.