Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Travel: Brunch In Barcelona

Barcelona in July is a little crazy as it is - it's super hot and very crowded. Oh, and I was there for a hen do where I knew maybe two out of the twelve attendees. It turns out that being super tired from coming back from New York a day before left minimal headspace for my help-only-child-in-organised-fun-situation-and-what-if-no-one-likes-me worries and actually if someone is friends with you then they have good friend-making judgement (haha) and it'll all be fine. Being my third visit to Barcelona meant that I'd already ticked off the sights and didn't feel fussed at the thought of not being able to do everything. In the end I got to re-visit favourite spots and take in some new experiences (bar hopping dressed as a penguin being one). Here's how to visit the city in the summer and not lose your cool...

Barcelona is on the beach but it's easy to forget that when you're in the city itself. Barceloneta playa is a nice sandy stretch, judging by the lack of bikini tops it's mainly frequented by locals. Forget all notions of personal space, pack a beach mat and you'll be fine.

Parc Guell is my favourite spot in the city - it's actually not really near anywhere else so hop in a cab  there for minimal fuss. If you want to visit the main park then you need to book a time slot (as it's not really near anything else its not convenient to wait if the next slot isn't for a few hours). Otherwise you can walk around the edges for free and still get the panoramic views of the city. Bring cash to buy 1E bottles of water from the numerous sellers dotted around - July in Barcelona is hot work.

Brunch time - brunch spots are everywhere in Barcelona, probably a new-ish concept as the menus are not too dissimilar from getting brunch in London. Brunch number one was at Firebug in the Arc De Triomf district and I very much enjoyed these spicy baked eggs. Spanish food isn't exactly vegetarian friendly and there are too many restaurants which have pictures of the food on the menus so do some research before you go...

Sundays are pretty quiet as a lot of attractions and shops are closed. As our flights all departed at different times, I went for a wander around the city armed with iPod and book. I popped into two quite strange museums which I wouldn't say were particular must-dos (but you be the judge), a free Dali museum at the bottom of Las Ramblas and the Hash & Hemp museum which has a free exhibition.

Even on holiday, even when your phone is in airplane mode for 99% of the day there's no escaping the, at times, pretty damn awful world we live in. Big sigh. Stumbled down a side street and found an awesome keyboard playing busker so ended up watching for an hour because I would never, ever do that in London.

Brunch nombre dos at Milk Bar - Hannah and I actually went here in 2014 and as I was following an offline Googlemap there I thought that it looked familiar! I had the huevos rancheros because at Milk Bar they are veggie (i.e. no chorizo). Also had a Virgin Mary and a soy cappuccino (praise be for finding somewhere in Europe that stocks soy milk) because at this point I was doubting my ability to sightsee for another 7 hours before my flight home. Did the trick. Sort of wished I'd had the non-virgin drink.

Until next time, Barcelona.  


Friday, 26 August 2016

Working It: Disco Yoga at Trapeze Bar

Disco balls at the ready.
One of my best discoveries of summer 2016 (close tie with the realisation that I like Bloody Marys) has been Disco Yoga. Two concepts that maybe do not seem logical to combine have been brought together on Thursday nights at Trapeze Bar in Shoreditch by yoga teacher Sarah Hunt and DJ Darlo. By Thursday evening I'm always feeling a bit too low in energy to hit the gym (the weekend is so near but still SO FAR) and yet weeknight drinking makes me feel a little guilty and makes my Friday morning inbox seem so much more insurmountable. The answer to this Thursday night conundrum is ...Disco Yoga. Bear with me here, all will be explained.

Post glitter-station.
 Yoga purists should look away now - this class takes place in the bar's basement, with disco balls, flashing lights and, goes without saying really, a disco soundtrack. Before the class there's a glitter station to get you looking the part (wearing disco clothing is optional but encouraged) and once the class is over there's an ever-changing menu of yoga-themed, healthy-ish cocktails to choose from and to help to kick-start the weekend.

Sarah and I with our cocktails - mine is the Going Coco Down In Acapulco (tequila, vita coco and chia) and Sarah has the Goji-Yogi Pear (rum, pear, cognac and goji berries)
As for the yoga class itself, because I'm filing this blog post under "work outs" rather than "bars", it's an actual yoga class which will challenge you and threaten to sweat off the glitter that you've just applied all over your face. Sarah is a great teacher - I'd been to her usual yoga classes and the disco format means that while the class is light-hearted it's still a great workout and a proper hour-long yoga class. The upbeat soundtrack means that I always tap into energy reserves I didn't know I still had by Thursday and Sarah will sometimes throw in an impromptu "dance party" mid-flow which will have you laughing and dancing with people you've only just met. Not your average London experience while sober on a school night. The relaxation segment at the end definitely wipes out any working week stress and makes me feel like my weekend self and totally ready for my post-class cocktail. The class is suitable beginners and more experienced yogis - it's in the dark and doesn't take itself seriously so there's no judgement on your yoga skills here. Mats are provided so just bring along an open mind. And maybe some leg-warmers.

I couldn't not have a cocktail served in a pineapple now, could I?
Disco Yoga has been on a summer break but resumes on Thursday 1st September and tickets are available here for £15 which includes a post-class cocktail.

If you're looking for something a little more chilled, The Yoga Mela are hosting a charity yoga day at the beautiful Edwardian Stanley Halls on Sunday 25th September which sounds like the perfect way to end a weekend and honour the change of seasons.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Life: My Money Diary

I have been loving the money diary posts on Man Repeller and Refinery 29 of late. Having a snoop into someone else's spending habits is akin to those "what I ate today" posts which I used to be addicted to reading. Seeing how others eat and spend is either reassuring or...less reassuring when those "what I ate posts" fail to include the entire box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates, brought as a gift, eaten at 11pm because, don't kid yourselves, sashimi isn't filling.

I kept track of my spending for five days, including a weekend, 100% honestly so as not to show you the food equivalent of a day where I just had green juice and a salad. I am actually pretty sensible with money over all - I pay my mortgage, I pay my bills, I pay friends back (even if it means literally throwing a £2 coin into their handbag as I hate owing). But with a penchant for frequent holidays, a savings account with £0.26 in it and having the attitude that money is sort of the "prize" for being an adult (it is though!) I thought it could be interesting to see where it all actually goes.... Read: my credit card statement just arrived from my trip to NYC, either the exchange rate was truly dire or I had more than a "couple" of drinks in each bar and I've been thrown into a temporary state of spending awareness.

How we live and how we chose to spend our money is so personal, and yes, I'm incredibly lucky that I have money to "waste" on sushi and Starbucks and I don't need my #privilege being pointed out but I hope this be taken light-heartedly and maybe your spending habits are like mine or maybe they're entirely different. As a Brit, talking about money is extremely awkward so I'm obviously not sharing what I earn or my mortgage payments - this is just pure day-to-day disposable income. If its not blindingly obvious from my lifestyle, I'm single, I live alone and I work in the City. Maybe I should spend my Sundays batch-cooking quinoa for the week ahead and maybe if I had a partner to do that with it might be fun but right now doing that sounds about as appealing as eating the stuff dry.

My gym membership fees come out of my pay cheque so I'm basically saving money by going for a 7am spin class, right? I have breakfast at my desk because eating any earlier than 9.30am is a no-no for me and the work canteen is pretty cheap (sadly the coffee is awful). I usually try to get out for lunch but couldn't escape from The Desk today so grabbed a wrap from the canteen (cheaper than Itsu by far). Popped into Boots after work for cotton wool and hay fever tablets and spent my evening watching the Rio Olympics on a big screen with a £3 M&S sandwich because watching other people do sport is hungry work.

Started the day with a free Heart Core barre class and feel pretty good about y'know life and stuff. Pop into Taylor Street Baristas on the way to work for a soya cappuccino which counts as breakfast. Lunch is a falafel salad from a place near the office and I pop into one of those ubiquitous City card shops to buy a card for my penpal (yes it's 2016 and I have a penpal). The graduates at work are moving on to new departments next week so we have drinks and nibbles for their departure - a Diet Coke and (several handfuls of) Mini Cheddars equals dinner (oops but free!).

Due to aforementioned gym membership I try not to spend extra money on workout classes but the weather forecast is good and yoga at Dalston Roof Park sounds like an amazing way to start a sunny Friday and something I won't regret in November. I walk the 40 minutes there and hop on the train to work after. I rarely get public transport so just do pay-as-you-go on my Oyster Card or use a contactless credit card. A friend tells me that Adriene Mischler of Yoga With Adriene is holding a class in London in October so I book in a panic - crazy expensive but I don't really watch TV or care about the Kardashians so she's pretty much a celebrity to me. Lunch eaten outside from a Japanese cafe near the office. Food shop on the way home from work as I need to blog a recipe - buy avocados and salad ingredients in the hope of making something photogenic (the result) and having leftovers for the weekend.

I start Saturday with a £12 yoga class at Camden Beach - this feels like money well spent for a fun 90 minutes (and comes with a free juice). Spend the rest of the day brushing sand off of me. Jump on the tube to Leicester Square to meet friends for lunch at The Barbary. Lovely food, charming service but absolutely tiny portions. £26.39 on some sharing dips, a slice of halloumi, a tiny salad and a Turkish coffee to keep me awake during the theatre. "Small plates" are not a budget savvy way to eat as you'll spend more and eat far less than an equivalent actual meal. Especially if you are veggie. Will save small plates rant for another time. Not a fan. After lunch we see Romeo + Juliet at the Garrick - the ticket was bought over a year ago so it's sort of free and I'm not counting it as today's spending as I can't remember how much it was. I walk home after a wander around Soho and pick up a veggie salad in Itsu during their half price happy hour, forgetting in my hunger about the salad wilting in the fridge at home.

Head to Peckham for brunch with friends. Buy coffee on route because starting the day with alcohol feels wrong so it might as well be caffeine. We go to Frank's Cafe on the roof of a Peckham car park, my friend buys our brunch in celebration of having moved back to London but I buy a round of drinks for £20 (end up having three Bloody Mary's). I buy a later round of drinks at The Pedlar in Peckham Rye (espresso martini for me). Take the train home at 6ish and buy a Diet Coke on the way because I'm feeling a little sleepy. Spend evening writing blog posts and watching the Olympics which is free (daytime drinking makes me surprisingly productive) and eating the leftover salad from Friday.

Phew! So in total I spent £184.73. In five days. The following Monday and Tuesday brought it up to £203 for the week which I guess is a pretty average week's spending. I'm glad to have not made any impulse purchases, something I used to have a problem with and I also used to drink 2-3 cans of Diet Coke every day which I no longer do so yay for my bank balance and tooth enamel. My A-Level economics teacher used to say that every pound we spend is a vote so I'd like to think I've voted for mostly convenience, spending my free time doing things that make me happy and experiences over "things".

Do you keep track of your spending? What do you spend most of your cash on?


Monday, 22 August 2016

Travel: NYC City Guide - Food and Booze

Welcome to the second part of my NYC city guide. Part one is here but this part is about food and booze so stick around because it's good even if I say so myself. My first time in NYC as a veggie but fear not - unlike other parts of the good ol' USA, NYC is a haven for all your dietary requirements, restrictions, aversions and trends. I had a few places on my NYC vegan map and also hit up my friend's favourite spots (stick with the friends who have the same spirit of choice as you and the same drinking pace of said spirit), although due to gin-induced lie ins and it being far too hot to want more than multiple Diet Snapples and iced soy lattes in the daytime my food list is still about a mile long.

Happy Birthday Darlin' - The Standard has "birthday cake with a candle" on its dessert menu.
The first time I visited NYC in 2008 my mother and I wandered around in the pre-iPhone world wondering “where are all the restaurants”. Clue: not on the Upper East Side where our hotel was (but back then we were just happy that Starbucks was "half the price" thanks to the old £/$ exchange rate). The West Village is my favourite night time spot – all cute fairy lights and old cobbled streets. Bell Book and Candle (named after a Kim Novak film, grows its own herbs and veg on the roof) and Market Table (seasonally changing menu, un-American portion sizes - a good thing) are both great - make a reservation because everyone in NYC does that. Head for post dinner drinks at Highlands or Wilfie and Nell where cocktails are strong and there is table service. No photos of dinner and drinks because I was too busy eating, drinking, conversing and enjoying not being surgically attached to my phone so just take my word for it that these places were good.

Lunch at Angelica's Kitchen in the East Village - the "Friday Salad" at the communal table which is a cool NYC concept to make solo diners not have to stare at an empty chair opposite them 
Matcha and Cookie Dough vegan ice cream - help, I'm a wannabe hipster cliche 
The East Village and Lower East Side were new areas to me on this trip. Both great for veggie, vegan and slightly off the beaten track offerings. We dined at Hearth which serves sharing plates of Italian food - it's not a vegetarian restaurant but vegetables are the star of the menu. Egg Shop and The Butcher’s Daughter are across the road from one another for brunch (pick the latter if you have an aversion to eggs). Satisfy your sweet tooth at Momofuku's Milk Bar (where Karlie Kloss has a range of supermodel cookies!), Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour for vegan ice cream and Erin McKenna’s vegan (/gluten free / Kosher) bakery for the cutest sweet treats. Angelica's Kitchen is a super cute vegan cafe, more of a hippie than hipster vibe (some people were vegan before 2014 I guess) and somewhere I'd had on my list for the last couple of trips.

Over on the West Side, The Standard (walk down the High Line first) does a great all day brunch with cheery service and perfect Bloody Mary's (I had two because that is the optimum Bloody Mary number). 

Egg white and feta sandwich and a hydrating (hangover curing) watermelon juice at Egg Shop (have a medicinal coffee while you're there too)
Back up town and Maya does the best guacamole imaginable, such a far cry from the sad green gloop that British supermarkets sell. The margaritas are good too and I say this as a dedicated gin drinker. Lexington Bar and Books may not be everyone’s scene but the gin and elderflower martinis should come with a warning (in a good way) and it lets one smoke inside - one of the most fun and bizarre nights out I've had in a long time. Closes at 4am when it's already getting light outside. If you’re after a rooftop bar then The Hudson’s is pretty great, albeit a challenge to get up to. Watching the city go from day to twilight from this vantage point was the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon. 

International avo-toast eating at The Standard 
Vegan cinnamon roll from Erin McKenna's - final day sweet treat

Friday, 19 August 2016

Recipe: Baby Kale Guacamole

Today is World Photo Day and Florette challenged me to put together a photogenic salad creation to celebrate.

kale guacamole recipe

I've created a city skyline inspired dip bowl - perfect for summer BBQs (because we have to squeeze a few more in between now and autumn) or as a lazy lunch option with warm pitta bread for dipping. Best of all it only takes ten minutes to make because summer is not the time to be in the kitchen any longer than necessary. This is the first time I've made guacamole that I've been happy with - that doesn't just taste like mashed avocado. The trick is lots of lime juice and lots of coriander.

kale guacamole recipe

For the yogurt dip:

200g Greek yogurt
15g chia seeds

Mix the yogurt and chia and set to one side while you make the guacamole. The chia seeds will make the dip super thick and creamy and while they don't have a particular taste they are packed with calcium and Omega 3s.

For the kale guacamole:

2 avocados
1 lime
1 small red chilli
small bunch of coriander
handful of Florette baby kale
handful of cherry tomatoes
pinch of sea salt

Mash the avocados with the salt and lime juice. Finely chop the coriander, cherry tomatoes and chill and mix in. Add another squeeze of lime juice before serving to keep the avocados bright and green.

kale guacamole recipe


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Travel: NYC City Guide Part 1

NYC: What to do (where to eat coming as part deux).
things to do in new york city
Ninth Ave views.
Until I figure out a way to move to New York I’m never, ever going to make it to all of the places on my NYC Google Map. Firstly because there’s so damn much to do and secondly because New York will ruin your carefully constructed itinerary, make you stay out until 6am and then sleep right through your brunch reservation. But that’s all part of the fun.

things to do in new york city
"The city as seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city as seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and all the beauty in the world."
This guide is probably more for your second visit to NYC onwards, once you’ve ticked off the big sights and want to pretend that you’re a New Yorker or just feel like you have a city as your holiday playground. I’m a city girl through and through so the combination of the best city, temperatures in the 90s (hey, Farenheit) and staying with a friend who already had found the best gin watering holes meant that despite being in a city not too dissimilar to the one I live in I still felt like I was in full on holiday mode.

Work Work Workout

Yes, I’m the sort of person who goes to workout classes while on holiday but NYC is so ahead of the curve that I couldn’t not sample out the city’s best places to sweat (although don’t worry, in July you'll sweat regardless). SoulCycle has branches all of the city and is like spinning turned up to 11. I loved it. You can get your first class for $20. I’ve already written about the free yoga in Bryant Park and Tara Stiles’ studio Strala offers a drop in class with no need to book – just buy a credit online and turn up.

things to do in new york city
Soul Cycle on East 63rd.
Culture Vulture

NYC museums are not free. We are so lucky in London even if it is November for 11 months of the year. Think about it. For NYC, do your research as most museums offer a free / pay what you want session although the trade off of this is that there will be queues. I finally got around to visiting The Frick on Sunday (11-1 is the time you need to go). The Whitney is free (/pay what you wish) Fridays 7-10pm and MoMa is free Friday 4-8pm. With a bit of planning you can visit them all and save around $60. The smaller museums are also worth checking out and I couldn’t recommend The Lower East Side Tenement Museum enough – you have to book onto a group tour which I didn't realise before showing up. Our guide was so enthusiastic and it’s an amazing insight into the history of NYC. As a fellow visitor told me – “you can’t understand this country if you don’t understand immigration”. A great follow up to Ellis Island which I visited back in 2012.

things to do in new york city
LES Tenement Museum. 
things to do in new york city
I have so few pictures of me in NYC but here I am in The Frick.

Just because you’re being a non-tourist doesn’t mean you can’t do sightseeing. I mean, I still take photos of things in London and I’ve been there nearly 9 years. Stick to the free sights because look at the current exchange rate. I know. Central Park is always lovely, especially in July. I always see or notice something new. The High Line wasn’t even constructed when I first visited NYC and it’s a great walk (walk south ending your walk at The Standard for it’s all day brunch and practically medicinal Bloody Mary's). Pop in to Grand Central Station for the architecture and patriotism. The Flatiron Building is my favourite, it's so beautiful, continue walking down to Union Square for the farmers’ market.

things to do in new york city
Apparently topless sunbathing is ok in NYC but nude isn't. Just FYI.
things to do in new york city
The Flatiron.

NYC is a rather harsh environment in July. The city is hot, sweaty and you can literally feel the grime. A facial at Silver Mirror Facial Bar should be high on your list. I was sceptical but afterwards my skin literally glowed like someone who had never seen 1am, let alone 6am. Even at JKF airport as I washed my face in the loos (so glam) my skin still looked clear, glowing and like I’d spent the last week on some sort of joyless detox and not kindling a love for Bloody Marys. Honourable mention to Sephora to stock up on all things beauty – despite the dire exchange rate, most brands are still cheaper in the US but do your research because some European brands (Caudalie) are not. The Kat Von D make-up range is ridiculously good.

things to do in new york city
Central Park - pretty sure I take this photo on every trip to NYC.
So this turned out ridiculously long (even after taking out the food section for another post) but I never really blogged properly about my last trip and yes, I could really do with a NYC style martini right now because drinks in London have been such a let down since I got back. Hit me up with your recommendations for my next visit because if Trump doesn't get in then I'm going back as soon as I've paid my credit card bill for this trip.

things to do in new york city
Anna Laurini on the LES.


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Food: Coconut Coffee Cocktails

I'll take any excuse for a cocktail. Currently, it's summer and whether it's a lazy Sunday brunch or a 5pm pick-me-up an espresso martini is always a safe bet. Lacking in cocktail mixologist skills, I've created my own coffee cocktail creations using condensed and evaporated coconut milks from Wing Yip. The coconut milks are dairy free, gluten free and vegan and perfect for sweet or savoury cooking. And smoothies, coffees and cocktails, too. I created two coffee themed cocktails, inspired by my love of espresso martinis and the Vietnamese iced coffees (made with condensed milk - so good!) that I drank daily while travelling around Vietnam earlier this year.

Coconut Latte-tini

This one is so easy. Fill a glass with ice and add equal parts cold brew (I use Jamie Oliver's method), vanilla vodka and condensed coconut milk. Stir gently and sip through a straw. Perfect for a lazy summer brunch as a slightly milder espresso martini.

Coffee Dulce De Leche

This is more of a dessert than a drink - it's indulgent but the coffee stops it being too sickly sweet. Start by mixing cold brew and coffee liqueur in a small glass until half full. Slowly pour in the evaporated coconut milk and gently stir with the end of a spoon until layers form. I drizzled some of the evaporated milk around the rim of the glass for that Pinterest-look.

See you at cocktail hour!
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