Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Eating my way around Boston

“I lurched away from the table after a few hours feeling like Elvis in Vegas - fat, drugged, and completely out of it.”
― Anthony Bourdain 

With four days in Boston to eat as many carbs as possible and armed with a list of recommendations, insta-faves and a nose for a sweet treat, my best friend and I set about exploring, hoping the high step count would work off just some of those french toast delights. 

Day 1
Arriving late and full of crap aeroplane food we had drinks and tater tots at Shojo which calls itself an Asian fare gastro pub but to me seemed more like a bar. High top tables, prompt service and unusual cocktails made for a great intro to being a Boston foodie. No photos as I had a plane - face but you can use your imagination.

Day 2
We started with an epic breakfast at probably my favourite restaurant of the trip. The Friendly Toast, less than 10 mins from our hotel has a whopper of a menu. To be honest I could probably have eaten there every meal and not run out of choice. 
I was impressed by the vegan/veggie options (not that I ate them). I went for pancakes with eggs and she had french toast. We did a half and half swapsies. Delish.
Snack time, we hadn't even started on the Freedom Trail and I'd already spotted the Cookie Monstah truck. I went for a salted caramel, she had a snickerdoodle (I mean, when in Rome...)  Thankfully the sugar propelled me through 20,000 steps of history all the way to Charlestown and back.  We had a tiny pit stop at the hotel before jumping in a cab down to Huntington Theatre for a pre show cocktail.
Dinner, a late one at Cheesecake Factory post show. Ready to eat but knowing they have massive portions I went for the quesadillas, with chicken (and a salad garnish) which were supposedly an appetizer, before tucking into a giant slab of salted caramel cheesecake (hold the whipped cream).
It was sooooo good but amazingly for me, I couldn't finish it. She had pumpkin which the waiter recommended. He was the most enthusiastic man I've ever met and he looked like Pumbaa. cute.

Day 3
Following a recommendation from our concierge we headed down to a local diner Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe. We were skeptical, but oh so wrong. Completely authentic, staffed by vintage Bostonians, huge portions, cheap prices, endless coffee, 6 different ways to have your eggs... what more could you ask for? This time I had a egg & cheese muffin with breakfast potatoes.. and just a little bit of her pancake smothered in maple.
 We jumped on a bus to Harvard, in the rain and had coffee at Crema Coffee, the first bustling place we came across and staffed by androgynous student types. 
We squeezed onto a communal table and delighted in the fact we'd found some non dairy milk whilst trying to air dry my fringe to an acceptable standard.
After a damp walk round the Uni gardens doing our best Legally Blonde impressions, we bought a cookie cake slab and some sugar free snack bars (oh the irony) from a Planet Organic type market shop and decided to backtrack to a cool looking cafe we'd seen for a dry pit stop, Border Cafe.
Cue the best decision we made all holiday. The tex mex restaurant gave us free, unlimited chips and dip. I repeat - free and unlimited.  
We ordered ourselves some very reasonably priced margaritas, some guacamole and had ourselves a party. Considering we hadn't actually stopped for a meal I basically had to roll myself out of there.
That evening, after deciding we absolutely didn't need dinner we headed out for drinks on Tremont Street. There's a really cool selection of places, but as it was drizzling we headed for the nearest which was Masa. We sat at the bar, ordered a cosmo and made chit chat with our bar neighbours who knew the owners. They ordered nachos... then the girl the other side of us ordered nachos. I had both food envy and a feeling of nausea. I was so full from our snack stop but so craving the nachos we had to leave!  
We moved onto the next place, Picco, a pizza and wine place. Sitting again at the bar - our new fave thing to do - we ordered sparkling wine and eyed up the pizzas for so long that I actually felt hungry again. She persuaded me to a little margarita to share, which came on an oil can and was super fresh and tasty with added 'char' to the crust. 
Day 4
Saturday brought our only pre-booked meal of the week. We'd booked a table at Met Back Bay which is a steakhouse and slightly fancier than the other places we'd had brunch.  Booked solely on the fact that they served 'nutella stuffed french toast' this actually got the worst rating of our breakfasts. We went for a cheese omlette with home fries and one portion of french toast to share. 
We should have guessed, but it of course came deep fried! With the smallest smear of nutella inside. So we werent overly impressed, although it tasted like donut and who would complain about that?

We took a stroll down to the SOWA arts market which had food stalls, vintage shops, art galleries, homewares stalls (and a hoopla demonstration). 
The weather was gorgeous but I got tempted by the s'mores counter (and live flames) so tucked into a cookies n creme flavour.  No wonder I needed the emergency buy factor 45 sunscreen.
Another pit stop at The Wholy Grain for a chocolate scone and coffee, which is a newly opened, super cute bakery. They were on every corner and we had a good gander at the menus as we strolled past. Everyone sitting outside, chilling, eating and drinking gives the South End such a nice vibe.

As it was our last evening we headed down to the Wharf in an Uber for dinner.  By the time we got out of the cab it was pretty chilly and super misty. We'd gone more or less specifically to see the Boston Tea Party ship (she's a history buff) but it was barely visible in the fog.  It made for some good eerie photos before a brisk walk to the Mexican restaurant we'd been recommended.
 Tezmacal Cantina is a Mexican food chain with a clubby vibe. We had to wait for a table so ordered some cocktails and people watched.  Once seated, we decided to finally have some nachos along with some tacos and fries.  Then of course we got free chips and dip! So there was a whole lot of tortilla action on our table.  The nachos were great and I even managed to stop eating when I was full, so that was a welcome change. 
We headed next door to Legal Seafood for a last drink or two, again sitting at the bar (we didnt see many actual bars on our travels although I'm sure there's plenty). The whole Wharf area was buzzy and teaming with dates and groups out for the evening, but as usual we didn't have a late one and were back at our hotel by about midnight.

Day 5
An earlier rise for our last morning, we were checked out before 10.30 and on the way to our last Google recommended brunch at Mike's City Diner. We nabbed the last 2 seats at the kitchen counter and about 30 seconds later there was a queue of about 20 people waiting for tables. Pancakes are clearly pretty popular. This is a no frills, traditional diner with an open kitchen and really friendly staff. 
As we were sitting near the register we heard lots of banter, chit chat and it felt like we were in an episode of 2Broke Girls, or perhaps Cheers!
As it was our last day I went for choc chip pancakes with banana and berries. They were delicious and it felt good to be getting some fruit in my system, even if it was covered with maple.  I felt like I could have sat there for ages just listening to the goings on, but we had more sights to see and more places to walk!  
Heading through a couple of parks, back to Boston Common to look for one last monument, we found our way to JP Licks in Beacon Hill for a cup of joy. I went for brownie batter with cookie dough and she had a giant combo of cake batter & peanut butter in a choc waffle cone. It was so hot that we needed the break to sit in the shade (and stroke a nearby pug).
For our final, pre flight, meal we took a trip back on ourselves to The Paramount, which we'd walked past earlier in the day. It looked very cute and was serving pancakes so it ticked all the boxes!  I went for a grilled cheese sandwich with salad and she had a bean burger.  The portions were more regular than American in size and the service was very friendly.   

We sat in Boston Common for a while, enjoying the last of the sunshine before sadly making our way back to the airport and a life of yogurt and salad.

Boston, I will be back.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Charity Work

"My old man says when it's time to be counted, the important thing is to be man enough to stand up."
— Robert A. Heinlein (Between Planets) 
I recently decided I'd like to start doing some volunteering. It had been on my mind for a while, but thinking about things and doing them are not always the same!  So I signed up to a local volunteer centre which matches potential volunteers to volunteering opportunities.
The thing with doing something like this, is it needs to be convenient. If i had to commit an hour a day or travel an hour to get somewhere I wouldn't be able to keep it up, so I wanted to find the right thing that I could stick with.
I have found two opportunities that I think are perfect. One is doing social media for a volunteer hub, keeping instagram and twitter updated - I thought I could put my hours of insta-scrolling to good use and I love insta so it's fun too.  

Secondly I'm going to do some volunteering with a local dementia charity, working in their cafe and library at the weekend. I also have some plans for their social media too, but one thing at a time.  I'm excited to learn how to use a fancy coffee machine first. They have a really cute location right in my local village and even a secret garden out back.  Plus all that table clearing will be great for my fitbit.

It feels good to have some fun projects in the pipeline and I hope my time and efforts can be useful. I've not done much volunteering before but I'm looking forward to getting started. 
I'll keep you updated.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Summer Reads

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid 

With summer holidays and lazy afternoons on the brain I thought I'd round up a few of the books I've been reading recently in case you need some inspo.
I am a book fiend and constantly have at least one book on the go. My bookcase is like the leaning tower of Pisa, but I can't bear to give them away.
The Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler
An easy summer read that I managed to finish in about an hour and a half. Kate an intolerant, frustrated TA copes with her erratic father and teenage sister whilst trying to avoid getting sacked, or married.  Really vivid characters make it easy to bring this to life in your imagination.

The Girls - Emma Cline
A really unusual story that kept my attention right to the end. Evie, a lonely teen gets caught up in a cult headed by a wannabe musician. Told in present and flashback, Evie grows up to be a solitary housesitter whilst recounting her crazy adventures as part of a dark cult.

Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith
JK Rowling writes as Robert Galbraith in this 3rd story in the Strike series. Cormoran Strike and Robin continue their crime fighting adventures.  Not too violent but keeps your attention to the bitter end. The first one in the series is being made into a TV series already which I can't wait to see. 

Truly Madly Guilty - Liane Moriarty
I love Liane's books, they're all so different but such great holiday reads. Keeping the main event right til the end of the story, this book told by flashback keeps you reading as the tension builds. I was dying to know what had happened at the barbeque you hear about right at the beginning.

The Dry - Jane Harper 
This story starts with an apparent suicide and a funeral. However things aren't always as they seem in this Australian novel which had twists and turns aplenty. I love a crime novel so this was right up my street. 

So there you have it, a few authors to research and a couple of tips if you're browsing the book store before you fly off somewhere glam. Let me know if you read any of them and if you have any recommendations please let me know!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

An Evening at Model Market

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
― Orson Welles

On Friday evening a friend and I ventured down to Lewisham to check out Model Market. An outpost of the ever popular Street Feast London, this south east market is in its 3rd year and I cannot believe I've only investigated it now. 
We arrived just before the £3 entry fee kicked in, so it's worth getting there before 7pm. Grabbing a prosecco from the main bar we had a catch up and a wander, eyeing up the food outlets (I'd call them stalls, but they are all housed in old shops).  The Model Market has a really rustic feel, it's like a forgotten old village or something, I really liked the vibe.


We plumped for fried chicken burgers with cheesy chips. It was pretty delicious. Diets don't count on Fridays so I hear....



We grabbed a rum cocktail and headed to the mezzanine to people watch. I've never walked past this place before but it's clearly been here since the 60s, like that ugly office block behind. We chatted away as the sun set, looking out for hotties as always. There was a really nice atmosphere, but it wasn't so busy you couldnt move or had to wait ages to order food. Clearly Lewisham is not as cool as Shoreditch (yet) although there were lots of trendy young professionals amongst the families there.

Finally we decided we couldn't resist dessert any more so got 2 to share. From SE Cakery a 'bruvnut' brownie stuffed donuts with chocolate sauce. Nice but not mind blowing.  The brownies themselves looked so yummy. Then we hit up You Doughnut for a s'mores sundae, now that was worth eating. Sweet, hot, melting icecream.. what more do you need from a pudding?

Filled to the brim and feeling tipsy we departed about 10pm, definitely the place to go for a date night, mates catch up, family visit.. go hungry and take cash!


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Finlake Holiday Resort - Devon

"I want
To do with you what spring does with the cherry trees."
— Pablo Neruda (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) 

To celebrate the Bank Holiday I travelled down to Devon with a group of friends for an adventure at Finlake Holiday resort. We had an easy journey down, flying past Stonehenge and stopping in a grotty Little Chef for toasties and a rest.
Our chalet was a pleasant surprise; airy, roomy, gorgeous terrace complete with hot tub, spacious rooms and a powerful shower. All the little niggles we had were solved in good time and as it was out of school holidays we basically had the place to ourselves. 
Waking up to views like this is definitely good for the soul. Peaceful, quiet (apart from my friends), calm and unhurried. Just what you need on a countryside break. I got lucky and had the upstairs room to myself, complete with little balcony. It was nice to be able to chill in peace and really relax.

We explored the whole resort (it's massive with a pool, bar, restaurant, shop and holiday homes, static homes, chalets etc all around the lake), we ate too much - breakfast is so much better when someone's cooked it for you, although my scrambled egg 'constructive criticism' didn't go down too well....

On one of the days we decided to throw caution to the wind and take a horse riding lesson. I was less nervous than i expected and less nervous than I should have been! No matter how fun I thought it'd be, sitting 6 feet up on something you aren't in control of is pretty nervewracking.
It was fun, but I couldn't relax and my lovely, stable horse Mabel was not in a hurry, despite my constant encouragement. I was not the teacher's pet!
As the sun went down we cracked open the prosecco and jumped into our private hot tub, such a luxury. Although I had about 20 mins relaxing and then had to get out - I'm such a fidget.  Sure the cleaners had a fit when they saw how much we'd drunk in 4 days. But, when in Rome......
 Finlake suited us beautifully and we were all sad to leave. Plus it's within driving distance of Exeter and Torquay if you need a change of scene. Not sure I'd want to visit in the summer holidays, but we had a wonderful time while it was quiet.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Rainbow Bagels

“Flour and butter, cream and sugar, words and images -all the ingredients for a rich, tasty story.”
― Rona Simmons, The Quiet Room 

On Sunday, needing a day of chill at home I decided to bake something. Having never made bread before I decided to make muti-coloured bagels from scratch. I'd say I don't know what inspired me, but it was Tanya Burr actually - so she's to blame for my bagel bloat.
I set off to Tesco, bought half of the baking aisle and set to work. 

Getting the dough to colour was probably the hardest bit, turns out Tesco's food colourings aren't very strong... the pics I've seen of some of the American creations are so vivid. Mine ended up more pastel coloured.

Also rolling out the dough was a bit of a challenge.. perhaps I should have started with something more simple!

This bit was fun, don't they look cool.  I definitely could have made 7 bagels out of this recipe, but only made 5. A couple of them ended up enormous, so something to bear in mind when you have a go.  Once they were cooled I topped them with cream cheese frosting, some sprinkes and tucked right it. They were delicious. 
As they have no preservatives they won't last fresh very long, so to keep them longer perhaps cut them in half and freeze until needed. 

Is it acceptable to have rainbow bagels with all meals from now on? 
I followed Tanya's recipe (if you want to have a go look here) and let me know how you get on. It's not too tricky although definitely time consuming and lots of steps to follow.