31 December 2017

Lessons of 2017

Has anyone else spent the last week planning their 2018 bullet journal spreads/new year diary? This in between Christmas and New Year is a time for relaxation and reflection for me: sleeping in til whenever, doing yoga, taking naps, writing, reading, grazing on chocolate and crisps throughout the day... Nothing dissimilar to what most other people do, but it's the kind of self-care I live for – to not know what day it is, to be slow and self-indulgent. And while the anticipation for 2018 is building, I'm relishing in this week that has passed – reflecting and realising all the lessons I've learnt this year.

2017 has been a year of friendship and letting go. I drifted from some old friends and established and nurtured new ones. I let go of some things that had been holding me back, as well as smaller things like books and hobbies that just needed to go.

Adulthood really began for me when I moved to Bristol two years ago. Since then I have been blessed with so many rich friendships I can't even begin to tell you how much they make my life. I realised this year that when you grow up and move out of your parents' home your friends become your family. No one promises you a husband, wife or children, but wherever you go there will always be friends.

Through bad mental health days and breakups, new jobs and promotions, I learnt to focus on my friendships. I have laughed more, loved more, experienced more with my friends than I ever thought possible this year. A lesson learnt from 2017 and one I will carry into 2018 is to invest in my friendships and love them like my family. I never thought I would make some of my best friends after uni, after school, or that the best times of my life would occur beyond this safe period but this revelation makes it all the more enjoyable. 

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If something doesn't make you happy or helps others, why are you doing it? This is a question I ask myself to regain perspective (my word for the year) and refocus my priorities when I'm feeling dissatisifed. Letting go of things that weren't making me happy or serving any helpful purpose was another lesson I learnt this year. I let go of books I couldn't finish, TV shows I didn't like, running long distance, clothes I didn't wear, time I was wasting, all in favour of things that made me happy or helped others: reading cookery books and magazines, starting yoga, volunteering, visiting family. I started filling in my Happiness Planner (highly recommend getting one!), my bullet journal and dedicating more time to God. As a result, I feel much more content, grounded and confident in myself than I did a year ago, and for that I am so thankful.

Did you learn any lessons this year? I'd love to know what you've discovered or let go of, and what you hope for 2018!


9 December 2017

Paris: A Food Guide

I'm a planner. Rarely do my ideas ever pan out exactly as I imagine, but I like the idea of organisation. A huge part of exploring somewhere new is having one or two fail-safe spots to visit if nothing in the area takes my fancy. Not only does it save time, it means I don’t leave feeling like I've wasted my money on food/drink that wasn’t exquisite.

So, I arrived in Paris armed with a fresh list of patisseries, boulangeries and coffee shops to visit. My source was this article, Dominique Ansel’s Favourite Bakeries in Paris, written over a year ago but with spot-on recommendations – Emily and I visited (and loved) three out of the eight on the list.

And along with the planned jaunts were some discoveries of our own, including Liberte Boulangerie, Gilles Marchal and Chez Casimir – possibly our favourites of the trip.

You can really get to know a place through the food it has on offer. Here is my list of favourite spots from my recent trip, through which I discovered even more of Paris...

In the quaint and cobbled Montmartre we ate the city's best pain au chocolat on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, which is a must-see, by the way, if only for the incredible views.

L’éclair de genie 

For elevenses, in the spectacular Galeries Lafayette, we devoured eclairs. These treats are elevated to a whole new level in Paris. Unlike the puffed up tubes, half filled with cream and dipped in cheap chocolate, we're used to in England, French eclairs are petite, symmetrical, mirror-glazed and filled with decadent, thick chocolate or caramel cream. There are a thousand other flavours, obviously, but the classics are exactly that – classic.

Jacques Genin

If sweets are your thing (and why wouldn’t they be), you’ve got to go to Jacques Genin. I’ve never really liked fruit pastilles, and I guessed the pâte de fruits on offer here would be similar, but something about Donminique Ansel’s review compelled me to spend 12 euros on a box of these jelly jewels, and I have no regrets.

With flavours such as kiwi, blood orange, pineapple and fennel tucked into a patchwork assortment just for me, it was a treat like no other. I felt like a child again, and after I had picked all my flavours the woman serving us gave us one to try each. The flavours are, indeed, pure, but red pepper isn’t one I’d be in a rush to sample again.

As well as the pâte de fruits there is an immaculate array of chocolates – all square, all smooth and shining perfection – and the caramels, which I left for my next visit.
I picked 12 chocolates to take back for my parents, which included classics such as coffee, raspberry and orange and more unusual flavours like basil, cinnamon and grapefruit.

Gilles Marchal 

We found Gilles Marchal on our way to Gontran Cherrier in Montmartre. Here I picked up another éclair – this time a chocolate one (omg) and some chocolate coffee beans for my mum.

Café Craft 

A favourite among local freelancers, with a designated area at the back of the cafe for workers to tap away at their projects. Delicious coffee, a quiet space, nice décor, and time to sneak one of those sweets I had picked up from Jacques Genin.

Liberte Boulangerie 

Bread, pastries, tarts and a clean-white aesthetic, Liberte was a surprise find on our way to Craft Café. Obviously we went back the next morning for a few take-home treats.

Chez Casimir 

We wanted to go to a restaurant I can’t even remember the name of now, and it turned out to be closed for a private event anyway, but as we hovered at the door the owner invited us to join him and his friends at the bar.

These men were so French it hurt – all Parisian and had lived in the city their whole lives. They were drunk, and filled up our glasses without charging a penny. Charmed, we agreed to follow one of the men to his restaurant around the corner. We didn’t die, but had ourselves a great 4-course meal at Chez Casimir for just 32 euros each. The sweet waitress translated the menu for us and we left feeling so stuffed, I can’t even tell you. It was worth it, though – to fully immerse ourselves in an unprecedented evening of French food and company.

Sea bream (I think!) on pureed butternut squash
The most incredible cheese course I've ever had

One last thing - eat at least one ham and cheese baguette when you're in Paris. Le Grenier à Pain was on my list but we didn’t have time to go – however, there is no such thing as a bad baguette in France, so eat as many as you can. Ham and cheese are optional, but they're pretty good fillings.

Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in Paris? Let me know your recommendations so I can start planning my next trip!

12 November 2017

Katie & Kim's Kitchen – Bristol

A weekend void of brunch is a sad weekend indeed. Whether you're a stay-at-home, breakfast-in-bed kinda gal/guy, or, like me, long to get out into the fresh morning and find a new place to absorb, starting the weekend with delicious food is just the best.

A few doors down from my absolute favourite burger joint, Oowee Diner, is Katie & Kim's Kitchen, a gorgeous little cafe in Picton Street with the most delightful aesthetic. Walking inside to an enormous wooden table, which takes up most of the space of the cafe, gives this place a really welcoming atmosphere. It's lovely, sitting next to strangers who have a sliver of something in common with you.

Fresh orange and grapefruit juice made from the fruit in the bowl on our table – just yes.

Side note: ain't this girl a dream? If you're not already following Emily, go and check out her Instagram now – her blog is a must-read, too. We're going to Paris next week and this breakfast was supposed to be a time for us to make a plan for our trip. There were too many distractions, though, namely the food.

Em ordered the sardines on toast and I had the cheddar and rosemary scone with poached eggs and greens. This was confirmation (if it were even needed) that the best food is simple. Good quality, small quantities (sometimes), prepared and assembled with thought and care. Slow eating, real plates, like sitting in a friend's kitchen and eating their signature dish. I can't wait to go back.

26 October 2017

A speck of dust

During a season of change it's easy to forget about everyone else. There are 7.6 billion beating hearts in this world and all I can think about is my own.

Perspective is one of my favourite words because it is one that cropped up four years ago when I was first getting treatment for my anxiety and depression. Perspective is the word I go back to every time I stumble, every time there is change.

Even when the change is good, it can be hard. I started a new job a few weeks ago and I love it. It's what I've wanted to do ever since I figured out what I wanted to do (this has been the year of, like, realising stuff) but it is bloody terrifying.

I think I will always feel like this – fear will always manifest itself in my experiences, following me as I venture down different avenues. Today, however, I am finding my groove and I am staying put. I feel useful. I am contributing to something I care about, finally. I am placed exactly where I need to be. I am a cog in this magnificent mechanism that is life – something I will never be able to fathom.

I don't know why, but writing and rewriting a sentence to grammatical perfection makes my soul sing. And I know I don't always get it right. There are probably mistakes in this blog post, but I'm in my flow, I'm feeling it. It might be different for you. Whatever it is that gives you a buzz - feeling needed, feeling new, feeling like you can change something in this gigantic world. It's the same feeling I get when I finish my to-do list, when I cook my favourite dinner, bake a delicious cake, when I finished an essay in school, nailed that point I had floating around in my head, speak up when I'm scared, find a fiver in my pocket.

It is these moments that bring me to the surface of my own suffering. My head bobs up and sees the potential in everything else. It asks someone else how they are. It gives someone a compliment. It sees a sliver of your life.

Because it's not just me and my problems. There are 7.6 billion others feeling this, feeling more, feeling less. I am just, in the words of Kimya Dawson, a speck of dust inside a giant's eye. And, while my purpose is solely grounded in God, my time on earth is limited. So, steeping in my millennial self-indulgence I will not. There is work to be done and I'm getting on with it.

1 October 2017

Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

The end of summer can only mean one thing for me; The Abergavenny Food Festival. Every year foodies flock to the market town and we eat. There are food vendors, market stalls and demonstrations. It's enough to keep you inspired for the next season, at least. I bring my camera and take as many photos as I can, and find some of my favourite memories here. It's the perfect way to embrace the start of autumn.

Don't these tomatoes look incredible? I did that unforgiveable thing of saying I'd go back later and get some, but ended up in a vegan cookery class that overran so I never got the chance. I can only dream about the bruschetta, salsa and ketchups I could have made with the above.

Crispy squid – something I love but often overlook in favour of something more substantial. This was so delicious, I could have eaten five times as much.

Jessica Seaton's sourdough toast event was the highlight of my weekend. She talked about starter methods, shared her tips and treated us to her favourite toast toppings on her freshly made sourdough.

Every year Mr Todiwala steals the show with his dosa and onion bhajis. I've written about his food before – back in 2015 I ate at his restaurant in London. There is something so simple and special about this food, it puts all other Indian restaurants to shame. I can't recommend it enough. 

Full of my favourite food, new recipes in my pocket and fresh photos on my camera, I took the arduous journey back to Bristol (delayed trains, cancelled trains, etc etc) and counted my blessings. Until next year, AFF.


20 September 2017

The Angel Bakery – Abergavenny

It's no real surprise, but recently my taste for the mass-produced, plastic-covered, soft-sliced bread found in supermarkets has dissipated, allowing my love for handmade, stretchy, crunchy sourdough to soar. Homely bakeries seem to be popping up just about everywhere right now, but only a few get it 100% right. The Angel Bakery fits in this category, and it just so happens to be in Abergavenny, my little teenage town in Wales.

Tucked just behind Abergavenny's main road, The Angel Bakery is an extension of its big sister, The Angel Hotel. If you're a long-time reader of my blog, you might remember one of my very first posts was a review of the afternoon tea at The Angel. Four years later and my love for what they do hasn't wavered.

Rivalling the likes of Harts and Bakery 47, The Angel Bakery covers all fronts: fresh bread (about a hundred varieties), pastries, brioche buns, brownies, truffles and coffee. I am sure that, depending on what day you visit, there will be a new treasure to devour, and this is one of the reasons The Angel Bakery is so special.

Being so used to the busy people of Bristol eating my favourite bakery out of its incredible pain au chocolat, I got up early on Saturday to get first dibs at The Angel Bakery. My fellow bread lover, Emily, came with me and we perched on the stalls inside, nibbling pastries (an almond croissant and raspberry danish), while the girls made our coffee. 

Everything – from the friendly service to the golden coffee machine – was perfect. I took a loaf of the fennel, raisin & hazelnut sourdough home and ate the whole thing in two days. When so much passion, love and hard work goes into something as delightful as The Angel Bakery, it's impossible to leave without a bit of that magic lingering in you. Just go and see for yourself.

13 September 2017

Bakers & Co – Bristol

I can take or leave a lie in. Mornings are sacred – the hours slip by and with them disappears the fresh calm I love so much. I have always been an early bird, and as summer draws to a close, I am desperate to make the most of the bright starts that are now, inevitably, numbered.

Emily and I wandered down to Bakers & Co a few weeks ago for an early morning brunch. Em's willingness to get up early for food is one of the reasons we are friends. We got there just after it had opened. It was quiet, golden and crisp – the perfect Saturday morning.

We sat outside and I ordered the smashed avocado on toast with a side of two poached eggs. Bakers & Co does the best smashed avo in Bristol, by the way. Emily got the pork belly with potatoes and egg, with a side stack of sourdough. I've realised that any dish can be elevated, or salvaged, with the addition of sourdough – it is just the best.

The coffee was strong, the flavours were fresh and vibrant and we were justifiably stuffed once we'd cleaned our plates. Bakers & Co is deceptively different. On the outside it looks like just another cafe, but step inside and you're greeted with fresh loaves of bread, friendly staff and an ever-changing menu. I only wish it were a little closer to home.

6 September 2017

Where is Your Identity?

Do you ever bury your words? I began writing this in May but my anxious nature left it in the drafts. I worry about who will read this. What will you think? But, sometimes, a moment of bravery brings you back – both in writing and in life. 

About four years ago, I woke up one day with an enormous weight of sadness hanging over me. I was a final year creative writing student in Cheltenham, and that was my life. I could pinpoint exactly what it was that triggered it, the beginning of it all, but there were so many other things to come. It was a snowball effect. There was no single reason. Not one I can pinpoint. If there was someone or something I could blame it would be easy.

My 21st Birthday was one I would rather have forgotten, had it not been for my family. You don't realise how fortunate you are, how much worse it could be, how much love there is in the world, until it all goes to shit and your family is there to see you through. Had it not been for the smallest gestures, the constant love, the every-day smiles, I might not be here.

Mental illness isn't a choice, but the way you deal with it is. And you always have a choice. I chose to find a way, and now, four years later, I am still struggling, but I can say with great boldness that I am 100% myself.

It is now, when I look back, that I see what God did. He brought me back to Him.

When I went to university I turned my back on God. I couldn't wait to do whatever I wanted after living in a Christian household my whole life, and while it was fun to begin with, the inevitable downfall was not worth it. Not even a tiny bit.

Now I know who I am, I know where I am and, even though I don't know where I am going, I know where my identity lies. My purpose is in something much bigger than me or anyone on this earth. It isn't spread around in a random scattering, on anyone or anything. It doesn't land on whoever captures my attention for longer than a minute, or two. It lies solely in Him.

When I put my identity in other things I allowed a part of myself to be lost. Whatever it was... it couldn't keep me safe. Nothing is forever or as constant as the love of God. He was the only thing that stayed the same in the darkest moments of my life, and for that I thank Him every day.

I have lost love, friendships, time, experiences, a piece of myself... but what I lost was found ten times over when I put my identity back in Him. My life is richer now. I have a purpose. My identity is in Him and I am protected. And, when I feel like I'm beginning to falter – when I feel like I am losing a part of myself again – I re-centre my focus onto Him, and it is well with my soul.

30 July 2017

Bread Meats Bread – Glasgow

It is a truth universally known that when visiting Scotland the diet goes down the drain. And a universally known truth I am happy to embrace once, maybe twice a year, because Scotland is the place where food is served with no second thoughts. It offers the kind of food that makes me sleep all afternoon, and in today's work-obsessed world, I can't resist a treat like that.

The whole family was up in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago for my cousin's wedding and a few of us went to Bread Meats Bread for a little post-wedding treat. Nothing can cure those end-of-holiday blues better than a burger, am I right?

But it was the poutine that stole the show. There was a bit of a Canadian theme running in my trip to Glasgow; Tim Hortons recently opened in Argyle Street and I was all over that. But back to the poutine:

I mean, it's not the best-looking dish but it tasted bloody great. Those squeaky cheese curds are where it's at. My brother had the raspoutine – the healer, an even bigger bowl of poutine with bacon and extra cheese. He barely made a dent in it – the portions here are generous. 

What makes Bread Meats Bread different is its rather extensive menu. Not only do they offer a lot – for meat eaters, veggies and vegans – they do it all very well. I first came here last year with my sister, Sarah, and we fell in love with the bacon fries. Everything else I've tried since has been spot on.

If you're in Glasgow (or Edinburgh) then Bread Meats Bread is definitely one to add to your list. I'll be going back to try some of their fried chicken, or even something from the vegan menu. Now that I'm back in Bristol, though, I'm readjusting to my regular, healthy (ish) diet – and my snug jeans. A treat is a treat, after all. 

12 July 2017

The Avocado Show – Amsterdam

I couldn't go to Amsterdam without visiting The Avocado Show. I mean, a cafe dedicated to the fruit (nut?) of our generation, where the colour scheme is pink and green, where Instagram dreams come true? I would have kicked myself til the end of time had I not gone.

On our last morning in the city we got up early and jogged down to The Avocado Show from our Airbnb. That's right, we went for a run on holiday, and I have to say it was my highlight of the trip. Exploring a new city by foot and tram was great, but to see it at the pace of a leisurely jog, while getting that rush of endorphins, was even better. 

The Avocado Show was everything I expected and more. The decor was absolute goals – greenery on the walls and pink velvet seating lining one entire side of the cafe – dreeeamy.

Elly and I had the avocado flower on toast with hummus and Rhi had eggs benedict. Everything was presented beautifully, which is obviously half the charm of this place, but it also tasted bloody delicious.

How the heck do they get all their avocados so perfectly ripe? Top marks from me. At €9.5 it ain't cheap but the whole experience was worth it, in my opinion. Also, our coffees came with mini avocado brownies!

And to top off a yummy brunch, the bill came with STICKERS.

This was one of the best brunches I've had in a long time, perhaps ever, and I will definitely be going back. But maybe they could open one a little closer to home? Say, Bristol? 
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