February’s Playlist

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And so it finally begins.

As one of my 2016 resolutions that I made on this blog, I said that I’d begin sharing a little bit of my musical world in the way of a monthly playlist and without further a do, here is my first.

Previously to this, music has always been quite a personal thing for me, I’ve always used it as a comforter – something that could make me feel better at any point in the day. If I’d had a bad meeting, then it’d be straight to something angsty like Against Me! or if I’m having a summery kind of day, then it’d be something like Elbow to really make the most of it. In fact, once I skipped all the way to uni listening to ‘One Day Like This’. Best. Day. Ever. It’s fair to say that a playlist can make or break my day.

This month, I’ve been going back to basics. A guy at work has re-ignited my love of all things 90’s and 00’s, as he’s been making his own Spotify playlist and I’ve been following along. I think that’s what’s nice about music, it can bring people together, whether you like the same bands or not. If you have a similar taste, then all the better!

February’s Playlist

  1. James Bay – Let It Go
  2. The Enemy – We’ll Live and Die in These Towns
  3. The Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
  4. Vampire Weekend – A-Punk
  5. Black Kids – I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance
  6. Dodgy – In a Room
  7. Ray LaMontagne – Hold You In My Arms
  8. MGMT – Electric Feel
  9. Against Me! – I Was A Teenage Anarchist
  10. Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
  11. Babybird – You’re Gorgeous
  12. Hozier – Someone New
  13. The Kooks – Naive
  14. London Grammar – Strong
  15. Mariah Carey – Fantasy

What have you been listening to this month? Is there anything you’d recommend for next month?

Why Travelling Is Vital For You

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Every now and then, I get to hear travelling words of wisdom from complete strangers. When they happen, they’re unforgettable.

Having worked in the travel industry for nearly 5 years, everything can become a little numb. That hidden landscape you once saw now doesn’t seem to ‘wow’ you in the same way and arguably some of the most luxurious resorts in the world don’t make your eyes pop with delight – that is, until you hear about travelling from someone else. Then it’s a different ball game.

Every so often, where I work, I hear from those who’ve been travelling – young and old. No matter their age, it’s always a pleasure to hear them regale their stories and share experiences they never thought they’d have. But over the past couple of months, there have been two that have stuck with me, both of them older gentlemen. More importantly, both of them said exactly the same line to me;

Whatever you do, you must travel.

Do it while you still can and fulfil all of those wish-lists you have hidden away.

Their words, not mine.

They had a number of reasons why this was imparted so emotively and I felt duty bound to share them:

Taking a well-earned break

As regular people, we spend a lot of our life working. Whether we like it or not, we work increasingly longer hours for little more gain (if any) in often stressful environments, with people we don’t always get along with. This takes a toll on our health and our wellbeing over time. So it’s important to break the pattern every so often to refresh ourselves and reinvigorate our senses.

Both men weren’t saying this  so you make a more valuable contribution to your workplace, it’s to make sure you’re doing right by you so it doesn’t come and bite you in later years. Travelling is the perfect way to take this break and make the most of it, immersing yourself in an alien surrounding and forcing yourself to think a little differently – about you.

Re-assessing your life

Quite often, we can find ourselves in a situation we don’t want to be in but simply because we don’t have the time to really think about it. Not only is this bad for our mental health, it’s bad for our personal ambitions and goals. Taking a break, travelling and having the time to think is vital.

I’ve been in this position myself and was reminded of it by both men. I was once desperately unhappy in a previous job and relationship but because I never had the time to process it, I remained unhappy for far too long. It was a miserable year of my life which I’d recommend nobody else endure. After reassessing, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been – I’m more in touch with me (without that sounding corny), I know what I enjoy and I make informed decisions about my future. All we need do is give ourselves a little time to think it over.

Expand your knowledge

What was clear from both gentlemen, was that they never had the time to really learn. They went to school but the teaching wasn’t really what they’d call ‘top-notch’, so they had resigned themselves to lives fed by manual jobs. That is until both of them found travelling vital to their ability to gain knowledge. They effectively returned to brand new lives. Part of these lives, were new jobs that had a wholly more human element to them.

They found that one of the best ways to gain knowledge whilst travelling was by volunteering. Both men I spoke to had done just this, don’t get me wrong, a lot of younger people I’d spoken to had also done the same. It’d taught them how to connect with other people which inadvertently changed their place in the jobs market they came back to. They wanted to make a difference in society and now had the skills and confidence to do it.

Gaining a new perspective

Second to the above point, is gaining new perspective. One of the best things about travelling is experiencing other countries and their cultures. Each person I have spoken to has had AT LEAST one experience abroad that has changed their life in some way, no matter how small. This point was brought home even more so when I saw Levison Wood speak about his travels along the Nile and Himalayas a few weeks ago – for him, as well as those I’ve spoken to, it’s all about human encounter.

Not only will you return from travelling with new skills and experiences, you’ll return with a different way of seeing the world, after making somewhere else your home for a little while. With this comes balance. You’ll be able to see things for what they are once you’ve returned and that ‘crisis’ you thought was oh-so-important, is actually a drop in the ocean compared to other peoples’ lives around the world. It really makes you re-think your priorities.

Having no regrets

Between these two men, their advice was clear – it was to travel – because for both of them, not doing it would have meant regret. And to them, regret was the worst thing they’d experienced in their lives. Not guilt or sadness but regret. Interesting, huh?

Without meaning to sound morbid, they always left the conversation with words to the effect of life being too short. So many years down the line, they had been left feeling overwhelmed by all the choice there was in the world – so they wanted to experience as much of it as possible whilst they still could. They knew now that there were things they couldn’t do, like hike Machu Picchu, so their advice was to do it as soon as you can. After all, life is about memories, not things.

So, if your second-guessing that trip you’ve always wanted to take – just do it.

Mistress America: A Few Thoughts

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With the wind howling outside and drizzle patting on windows, today I settled down to begin the first of my 2016 film goals. Having missed Mistress America earlier in the year, as it wasn’t shown in any cinema within 100 miles of me, I rented it with a cup of tea and a few cheeky Hobnobs.

A fan of Noah Baumbach since 2010’s Greenberg, featuring Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig since 2012’s Lola Versus, it was definitely appealing as another one of their collaborative old school, screwball comedies.

What is Mistress America about?

Just arrived at college, Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke), is having problems socialising but eventually finds a friend in fellow literary fanatic, Tony, during class. Not only that, she develops a crush on him, that is, until he finds himself a girlfriend, something Tracy feels uncomfortable about. After a desperate phone call to her mum, she contacts her soon-to-be-stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who also lives in New York City.

When Tracy spends a whirl-wind night with Brooke, she soon falls under her chaotic charm and begins to write a short story about Brooke in the hopes of making her college’s Lit Society. As they continue to spend more time together, Tracy learns of Brooke’s plan to open a restaurant named “Mom’s” after her deceased mother – until it’s revealed that her partner has pulled out of the investment.

Brooke, distraught, has to ask for money from her former friend, Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) with whom she fell out with over a stolen idea and is now in a relationship with Dylan (Michael Chernus), Brooke’s former fiancé. A road-trip to their home later, relationships begin to unwind as truths are soon revealed from all corners…

What did I think of Mistress America?

Alike 2012’s Frances Ha, also directed by Baumbach and starring partner Gerwig, Mistress America begins in the same way – a stylish New York comedy about a girl with an uncertain future ahead of her. However, I’m sad to say that until Gerwig enters the melodrama, the pace is fairly slow and I wasn’t convinced initially of Kirke’s performance. It felt awkward but this could have been intended. Having excused this, the film becomes infinitely better with the introduction of more characters – each with their own quirky personality and own issues bubbling under the surface.

As I watched, Mistress America brought plenty of Baumbach’s usual themes to life; midlife and quarterlife crises, anxiety around different age groups, the fear of growing older, the younger person’s desire for more and achievement no matter what your age. It becomes apparent that Tracy wants to become the glamorous older Brooke with her exciting multi-facted career, if it can be called that, and Brooke wants Tracy’s youth and endless possibilities – it’s interesting as a woman who’s now been in both positions how realistically this is portrayed. What makes the story more tantalising is the underlying betrayal between the two women, despite them being ‘sisters’ of sorts.

More telling is a scene where a woman from Brooke’s past appears when her and Tracy are in a bar. The woman accuses Brooke of bullying her at school, calling her bitter, which she doesn’t seem to remember but then after prompting, does. It’s this bitter side to Brooke’s personality that is then brought out, it makes her, as a character, more watchable. She’s now become the frustrated, bitter woman whom she mocked. It’s clear to see her frustration with how her life has played out, carrying out temporary jobs just to make ends meat but never finishing them. It’s this conviction for her dreams that she lacks – she wishes that she could be happier with a simpler life. Gerwig plays this beautifully from start to end, initially hyperactive then dulled at the film’s conclusion.

Another scene that stands out is when Tracy is finally unveiled as the writer of the short story about Brooke, named ‘Mistress America’. Each character at Dylan’s house then rounds on Tracy, with their own opinion on why she is a bad person for having betrayed her ‘sister’. What’s telling here is that Tracy doesn’t feel guilt and she questions if that’s wrong. She doesn’t feel for her ‘sister’, she just wants the prestige from the piece that she’s written at, pretty much, any cost. It’s the all too common story of a younger woman’s drive to bolster her career. Kirke plays this well, having disliked her to begin with, she grows as a character and becomes believable. She’s no longer an awkward freshman, she’s a determined, driven young woman with dreams she needs to achieve.

In both instances, the lead women are struggling to make themselves heard in a world dictated by unrelenting time, the internet and social media – something which I can very much relate to approaching my 30’s, which made this film more appealing. Without this relate-ability, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much as Baumbach’s older films but it’s still entirely watchable as a darker piece of wit and comedy.

Have you seen any of Baumbach’s films – maybe Mistress America – or have you always wanted to?

Indie Cafés That’ll Charm You In Manchester

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Whenever I’m planning a trip to a big city, I make a daily itinerary – this always includes indie cafés. Now, I appreciate that sounds a little too organised but it’s always proved to be the right strategy for seeing everything that needs to be seen in however long it is I’m visiting for. It also means that if the city I’m visiting really isn’t all that good, then I needn’t ever return – silver lining.

Now, a large part of each of these itineraries has included indie cafés, none was this truer than with my first trip to a city I’d always wanted to explore, Manchester. Along with the People’s History Museum, Alan Turing’s memorial and Piccadilly Gardens, were at least a notebook page of suggestions from blogs I’d read, travel guides and advice from those friends and family who’d been previously – who equally understand my need for a artisan cup of coffee. You know, one with a fancy heart on top in the crema.

Being a trained Barista, it’s always a treat for me to see how other coffee cultures compare across the world and this can always be found in a trusty, quirky indie café. So, if ever you are planning a trip to Manchester and want to take in a cup of the good stuff, as well as a cheeky slice of cake, look no further.

Manchester’s indie cafés that will charm your socks off

North Tea Power – 36 Tib Street

With its bold, wooden interior and faint glow, this little gem offers absolutely delicious food as well as an enormous selection of tasty coffees and teas. Each one has a little twist of flavour and are expertly made by the friendly, casual-looking baristas. Not only does this indie café boast loose leaf teas that are every flavour from blood orange to liquorice, they also do pretty much any coffee you’ve ever heard of – including a delicious cold brew. Don’t just stop for a cuppa though, enjoy the hand-made cakes on selection and I implore you to have a New Yorker – spicy but memorable. If you fancy something a little healthier, they also sell warming soups with fresh bread on the side, perfect for relaxing and settling with an indie magazine or two – they’ve got a great collection.

Sugar Junction – 60 Tib Street

One of the more charming indie cafés in Manchester’s city centre, Sugar Junction, is the Queen of afternoon teas. As you enter, it’s like walking into your Nan’s front room – if it’s still in a state of 50s chic that is. Think vintage cutlery, doilies and crockery with fetching floral designs. Each tea and coffee selection has been hand-picked by the team and are specially blended by local companies for the café itself – try the Sri Lankan-inspired Northern Quarter blend, with hints of caramel and hops. While you’re there, make the most of one of the biggest selection of savoury and sweet delicacies available in the city, all hand-made by the team.

Takk – 6 Tariff Street

A little less average now, how about something Scandi-inspired? Takk, Manchester’s resident Nordic indie café, has to be experienced. The name of the café itself means ‘thank you’ in several Scandinavian languages. Expect to be surrounded by bearded creatives with a mac under arm, as well as those looking for a cup of crafted artisan coffee. I was most excited about the hand-roasted and drip coffee from Iceland that reminded me of the heavenly Reykjavik Roasters… what I’d give to go back there and watch the sun come up again. This simple but welcoming café is a comfortable hub to hide away in after a few hours pounding the pavements of Manchester, it couldn’t be more ‘Icelandic cosy’ if it tried. Surrounded by Nordic art, design and travel guides, sample an Icelandic Hot Dog – simple, tangy and perfect.

Blue Daisy Cafe – 36 Oldham Street

Always with an inspired film quote etched onto its window, the boho Blue Daisy Café, opposite infamous Affleck’s is a great spot for lunch. A people watcher’s ideal, you can enjoy varied vegan and vegetarian dishes in here from its deli counter of dreams in a comfy, colourful interior. Not only that, there’s always a scrummy range of home-made tempting-looking treats to be devoured with an ice tea in hand, just make sure you enjoy one of their eclectic salads first. The only other thing to mention here is that this indie café is obviously a community hub so tends to get quite busy fairly quickly, it’s definitely worth waiting for a seat though, especially in the Summer when you can sit outside and covet one of the table’s daisies.

Home Sweet Home – 49 – 51 Edge Street

Fast becoming one of the most popular indie cafés in Manchester, Home Sweet Home, is a traditional American kitchen. Available for Californian breakfasts and brunches as well as New York cake and coffee – your best bet is to head here before a day’s worth of exploring. The first thing that I was hit with upon entering was just how big everything is – I told you, American. The freshly-baked cakes and bright orange egg yolks are as big as your face and should always be washed down with one of this café’s infamous, creamy milkshakes, complete with a cherry on top. If you fancy a savoury dish, try the Cheeseburger Toastie – yeah, you read that right.

Teacup Kitchen – 55 Thomas Street

Owned by electronic music producer, tea enthusiast and DJ, Mr Scruff, this is one of the more popular picks of Manchester’s indie cafés, a bit of an institution. No matter what time of day it is, be prepared to wait but don’t be put off. In the heart of the city’s alternative Northern Quarter, as many dishes as possible are hand-crafted, locally-sourced, fair trade and organic. Alike North Tea Power, this award-winning café hosts a number of varied loose leaf teas but in addition, also serve Atkinson’s hand-roasted coffee, expertly crafted by Teacup’s baristas. However, it’s fair to say the real star of the show here is the Rainbow cake – Battenburg, raspberry jam and marzipan at its finest – close second best is the Coconut and Carrot cake, delicious to the last bite.

Have you been to Manchester before? What would be your indie café picks for this charming Northern city?

Mindfulness: A Twenty-Somethings Dream?

With targets to hit at work, the never-ending twenty-something quest to own a house and the big 3-0 on the horizon, there’s supposedly a lot to worry about in my world. But is it all really worth the stress, anxiety and lows?

Recently, I’ve got into a little something called Mindfulness and I can tell you now, it has changed my life. Instead of having a mini breakdown over an Excel spreadsheet, crying over the fact that there’s just not enough days in the week and feeling like ‘adulting’ is a bit of a big step to take, I practice a few of these tips below and come out smiling the other side on a natural high.

So, if you’re wondering what this miracle cure is, here’s a little guide to help you out on those days when you feel like you need a cheeky cuddle and a big, fat Dairy Milk:

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a simple way of making sure that we reach our human potential with both a combination of medical science and philosophical wisdom. It’s practiced to achieve focus, de-stress and slow ourselves down in a world with a steadily increasing pace, whether that be offline or online.

Why try Mindfulness?

  • Better acceptance and control of your emotions, which means recovering from bad moods more quickly. Mindfulness is said to greatly aid those with depression and anxiety.
  • Improved emotional intelligence; good social skills, ability to co-operate with others and see from another’s perspective.
  • Gain a more stable sense of self-esteem which is less dependent on external factors e.g. other people’s opinions and what is written in the media.

How to practice Mindfulness

Breathe to relax

Seven times a minute. This is how many times a deeply relaxed person breathes. The slower you breathe, the more relaxed you will become. I’ve always found this most helpful just before a presentation or interview, equally at times when I need to focus to get something done, maybe like coding a little on the blog. All you need do is breathe in for 6 seconds, hold for 2, then breathe out for another 6.

Go for a walk

Not only is walking one of the best forms of exercise to take, it’s also a proven stress reliever and mood booster. Walking can be made even more effective by simply taking in a few simple aspects around you – colours, sounds and sights. If your mind strays back to money concerns or deadlines, simply try and focus your mind on your surroundings again.

Take time out to be creative

A visit to an art gallery or a museum needn’t be a special treat, especially as so many of them are free. Visit as many times as you like, find pieces that capture you and look at them for anything from 5 to 10 minutes and nothing else. Focus on it. When you leave, your mind will feel clearer for having only focused on that one thing.

Bring yourself into the present

Identify something that you wear – a ring, a scarf or a watch – whenever your day gets a little stressful, stare at that one piece. Let it remind you to focus on one thing at a time and tell yourself to breathe through the situation.

Listen to your surroundings

No matter what it is that surrounds you, people talking, the radio on or the chaotic noises of a local cafe, take time to stop and notice them. Focus your thinking on these individual sounds for up to 2 minutes, take in as much of them as possible. Don’t attach thought to them or begin to ask questions, just listen.

Make the most of idle time

Whenever you’re standing in a queue, waiting for the kettle to boil or even waiting for public transport, use this valuable time to de-stress. Breathe, don’t worry about what may or may not happen at your future destination and practice being still, maybe even listen to a chilled playlist.

Relax your neck and shoulders

When you’ve sat at your desk all day, remember to keep your neck and shoulder muscles loose. Unclench your neck, release your neck and pay attention as your head starts to feel a little lighter. Not only will this exercise make your head feel more relaxed, leading to less migraines, it’ll also make your brain function increase.

Sing a little song

Now, it doesn’t matter if you can sing for this one. All you need do is take 6 deep breaths and sing a little range of notes – doh re mi fa so la ti doh. Sing once getting higher, then sing once getting lower. Not only will it give you a giggle, it’ll also distract from any imminent anxiety.>/p>

Enjoy a brunch with friends or family

Weekends are often the best time to practice mindfulness, not only do we have more time but we also have availability to see those closest to us. Whenever you can, try to meet up with these people who inspire you and enjoy a healthy brunch outdoors in the fresh air. Instead of waking up to e-mails and notifications, you’ll focus on human interaction and have a real opportunity to focus on the simplicity of the food you’re eating.

Failing this, you could download these; Stop, Breathe and Think, Calm and The Mindfulness Training App.

Have you ever practiced Mindfulness before? Did it benefit you at all?

Hello 2016.

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Let’s begin the year with a little admission.

I don’t know when it was, it’s impossible to pin point it but when I hit a certain age, I became a different person. When I was growing up, from teenage years to my early twenties, days consisted of me searching out the latest tracks by my favourite bands, watching endless amounts of indie movies, enrolling in musical lessons meaning I could have been a one-woman band, reading piles of cultural magazines and undoubtedly, playing a bit of Playstation along the way. Now that’s all changed.

And I think it’s all this adulting – sitting at the same desk Monday to Friday, being too tired to do very much after, living for the weekend, attempting to make the most of them and then realising they’re far too short. To me, it breeds a life whereby the things you once loved could be left behind, buried if you like.

So, this year, it’s my mission to re-find those aspects of my life that I once loved but have perhaps dulled in order to reclaim a little bit of me.

Blog

Off the back of this, you’ll see that this little space I occupy online will change slightly. It’ll be based more around the things I love; music, indie cafés, travel, recipes and advice (if I feel qualified enough to give it!). I’ll also be re-designing and making more effort to put myself out there in the blogging community. Sometimes I can be a little shy, so it’s a personal goal to break free of my own constraints. I started to do this last year at events, like Blogtacular but it’d be great to continue it.

Music

This has always been one of my loves. At times, it’s often felt like music has got me through what nothing else could have and that’s no exaggeration. I’m sure everyone has a similar story. It’s one of those incredible arts that can pick you up one second, then leave you with tears rolling down your face the next. With the help of a little thing called Spotify, this year, I’ll be making a playlist a month. It’ll document what I’ve loved and become a little amalgamation of old and new because let’s not forget some old faves.

Films

As I said, I’d watch so many films a week – it’s a wonder I ever made it out on day trips with my friends, let alone school/college! Now, this hasn’t exactly stopped – I’m fortunate to live less than ten minutes away from my local Cineworld and I spend a healthy amount of time there *cough*. But it’s not those films that I want to aspire to, I want to be able to watch as many indie films as I used to. Starting with Mistress America, I’ve been a fan of Greta Gerwig for a little while, so it makes sense to start here. The aim is to watch at least two new indie films a month, no matter their genre.

Reading and Inspiration

Along with music and films, inevitably comes reading. It’s just part and parcel really. Growing up, my bedroom walls used to be filled to the brim with scraps of paper, posters, gig tickets and quotations that I’d torn from the endless magazines I used to consume from different publishers. In 2016, the aim is to maintain the commitment to the magazines I’ve been buying from Magazine down in Brighton, and keep reading Betty, Oh Comely, Frankie and Caboodle, as well as pick up on at least a few more, including my growing comic collection. Tied into this one is to feel more inspired. I think we can spend far too much of our time staring at a screen, I know I’m not the only one. So I plan on getting out and about, visiting exhibitions like I used to and indulging in cultures of this world that I would rarely be exposed to, if ever. This, for me, breeds creativity.

Gaming

I want to take a couple of hours a week to lose myself in a virtual world. When I was a kid, I used to read countless video game magazines and constantly look forward to the next big release. Don’t get me wrong, I still play now and again, as well as attend MCM Comic Con and Eurogamer but I want to do more. By the end of this year, I plan to at least complete a game and I mean a long one, not just any old arcade game, to really make use of that Playstation that I bought.

Travel

I’m a bit of a wandering soul. Already on the agenda are New York in February, Disneyland in July for our Anniversary, Germany in August to visit family and York in October for a romantic city break. Not a bad start to this one.

Learn Something

Of course, you can’t get through an entire year without learning a single thing. This year, I think may be the right time to pick up an instrument again – probably the bass because that’s what I enjoyed the most. I have fond memories of my duck egg bass guitar with it’s beautiful curves and creamy pickguard. Failing that, it’ll be learning how to become proficient at Pilates – I have the mat, I just need to attend a little more or it’ll be to become qualified at an intermediate grade in the German language. It can’t hurt with a fair few members of my family over there!

What are your plans for 2016? Have you set yourself any goals?

Your Love Is Like A Waterfall.

Okay, so I promised a wedding-related post, and this it it (finally) – the Big Day itself.

Be warned it’s a little longer than usual and I’ve written it as if I were telling my wedding story to my late Nan, she was one of my favourite people in the entire world. It felt only right to do so once I began typing.

Let’s begin…

We found out a couple of days before flying to Iceland that Joe and I had to drive to Iceland’s registry office, en-route to Seljalandsfoss, and provide proof of our identity/signatures before our ceremony. So we both got up (yes, I know we should have been in separate rooms but convenience ‘en all), had a little celebratory breakfast with the family, before getting ready separately for our drive. At this point, I had a regular outfit on – the plan was to get dressed on the guests’ minibus at the waterfall, so Joe wouldn’t seem me in my dress. You’d have loved my beautiful floral crown, make-up and hair though – it was beautifully done. One of the rare times in my life where I actually looked ‘girly’.

Getting into the car to drive to the office, the atmosphere was full of excitement and nerves. We chatted but not like our normal selves as we both sunk deeper into our thoughts. Arriving at the office, we met our Sheriff who would marry us, handed over our documents and signed our first document – you’ll be glad to know, we held each other’s hand and smiled, more excited than before.

Driving to the waterfall was the strangest part, knowing in the next half an hour we’d be a married couple. I thought of you, and I wished that you could have been there – I’d always dreamt of you being there above anything else, it was the only part of my ‘Big Day’ that I’d ever imagined. It was never about the dress or the surroundings, it was having you there watching me on my special day. I could imagine you looking beautiful with your smile lighting up the world as it always did.

We’d planned to meet our Sheriff and guests there, they were travelling in a rented bright green minibus – a bit like your old 1960s Fiesta. And so Joe, our Sheriff and I waited for them.

The problem is they were nowhere to be seen. I know, right!? Just my luck.

Next thing I knew, I had to call Mum to ask where they were. Stopped by the police is where they were, as the driver hadn’t filled out his legal paperwork! I panicked. The Sheriff had to leave in minutes, so having to make the decision that it’d have to go ahead with or without them, I dashed with my dress and shoes in hand to the attraction’s disabled loo. At this point, I can hear your laugh in my head. I’ve honestly never got dressed so quickly in my life but stepping out was an experience I’ll never forget. Swathes of tourists crowded around me to congratulate and take photos but all I remember was seeing Joe’s face – he was doing his broad smile that I love so much. I know you never had the chance to meet but you’d have loved him, you really would – he makes me endlessly happy, in the same way that you do – safe.

As tourists telling us to kiss for their photos were hounding us, we spotted the green mini-bus on the horizon. They’d made it. 

Next thing we knew, we were all walking over to the waterfall for the ceremony. Even the attraction’s resident acoustic guitarist started playing wedding music, without us asking!

It was time.

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We took position, in one of the most spectacular places on Earth, and Dad held my hand ready to walk me down our make-shift aisle. I will always remember his words, the words that only he would say before walking me – ‘Brace yourself‘. Just like one of our favourite scenes in the Bean Movie. You know he’s stupid soppy!

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After I took my position opposite the most handsome man on the planet, the Sheriff read her legal lines, then Joe and I said our hand-written vows to one another, trembling. Both of us on the brink of tears, we rushed every word before we cracked. You could hear sniffles all around us from our wonderful guests; you’d have been one of them – if not the loudest! Then we exchanged our rings, with an ‘I do’ from me and a ‘Yes’ from Joe – clearly forgetting one of his most important lines! Then it was done and we both jumped for joy (no exaggeration). We were so happy we’d pulled it off and even happier to be man and wife. It was, without a doubt, the happiest day of my life.

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Before I stop writing (because this post is a tad long), I just want to say one thing to you. When Dad did his speech that evening at our meal, you were in it. It’s a testament to you and how missed you are, that our whole family burst into tears and he didn’t even have to say your name – the rest of the room looked a little puzzled. You are still an amazing and overpowering influence in our lives.

Love,

Your not-so-little and now married, Chicken Pie.

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A Look Inside Amsterdam’s Favourite Bakery

On my recent city break to Amsterdam, I recalled a bakery I’d visited on my very first trip to the city, Lanskroon. Cited in many a guide book as having the best Stroopwafels in Amsterdam, I wanted to find out more about this local institution second time around and how these world-famous wafels were made.

So I got in touch with the wonderful lady who runs this bakery, Claudia, and her bakers…

What are the origins of the Lanskroon Bakery?

Lanskroon is a 4th generation pastry shop. Everything in our shop is handmade, including our delicious world famous wafels and oliebollen. We’re lucky to have a very reliable and talented group of people working here. Inside we also run a school and train future pastry chefs to help them get their grades in baking.

lanskroon-bakers

You’ve mentioned previously that you love working with the local community, how do you do this?

It’s a fact that locals run the store, they are here every day and read the local newspaper with a cup of coffee. They also share their knowledge of the local area with tourists and travellers, it’s a springboard for all kinds of discussions like world news and what’s happening in the local community. Sometimes I feel we are a little cult.

What inspired you to work with the local community?

People are very interested to learn nowadays. In our profession, it’s very fashionable to help with this. To start a business is incredibly hard, so people bake at home as their hobby first and foremost. We just train them to get better at it in our local workshops.

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Who are your bakers and how do you decide who works in your bakery?

My bakers are lovely, healthy and honest people, they’re crazy about baking! In terms of picking people to work in the bakery, I decide normally on skills, health and my own personal feelings. It is a very tiny bakery so we have to love each other and be able to be close to each other 8 hours a day. It is almost like a marriage!

You’re quoted in many a guidebook as having the best Stroopwafel in Amsterdam, why do you think that is?

We make a daily, fresh and exclusive product. The taste speaks for itself! They’re made every day, almost every hour.

Stroopwafels

Why do you think Stroopwafels are so integrated into Amsterdam’s culture?

Dutch people always eat a cookie or sweet treat with their coffee. It is within our culture to do so. Normally you get only one, so it best be a big one!

What are your favourite bakes for both Summer and Winter?

All year around are our wafels. In the Summer, it’d have to be our Strawberry cake with lemon curd in the middle or our Rhubarb Pie. In the Winter, it’d be the Apple and Cranberry pastry, Sachertorte, Schwarzwalder or the Honey and Cream cake.

lanskroon-bakery

How important to you is local produce in everything you produce and where do you get yours from?

Holland is a small country so almost all is local from a 50km radius. We are a member of a co-operation who buys the best for their members.

What is your Stroopwafel recipe?

Sorry… this is a secret.

Okay. So I couldn’t get their recipe, which makes sense when you have something as successful as Lanskroon’s wafels. Instead I’ll share with you my own…

Ingredients

Makes 10 Stroopwafels

  • 500g plain flour
  • 250g butter, melted
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons dried active baking yeast
  • 60ml lukewarm milk
  • 1 eggFilling
  • 350g treacle
  • 200g brown soft sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Method

  1. Combine the flour, melted butter, sugar, yeast, milk and egg in a large bowl. Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Set aside and let it rise for 45 minutes.
  2. To make the filling heat the treacle, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon in a saucepan over a medium heat. Mix well and set aside.
  3. Knead the dough briefly and divide it into balls roughly about 4cm in diameter. Place the ball in a waffle iron and close the lid to cook the wafels until no more steam escapes and the wafel is golden brown for up 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the wafel carefully with a spatula or palette knife. Use a round cutter to cut off the edges and make a perfect circle. Carefully split the wafel into two rounds whilst still hot.
  5. Spread a little of the filling on one of the halves and then sandwich with the other half. Repeat with the remaining wafels.

How to get to Amsterdam

I flew from London Heathrow and back to Birmingham International as a guest of KLM UK via their hub at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. My flights were complementary, but return flights with KLM UK from London to Amsterdam start from just £95 per person, or from Birmingham starting from £89.

It’s important to note that all views here are my own.

How to Spend 48 Hours in Amsterdam

Having been to Amsterdam before and experienced it’s famous tourist sights, such as Anne Frank Huis, the Royal Palace, the Vondelpark and the Rijksmuseum, on my second visit, I wanted to experience more of the real Amsterdam. So, I asked a few locals where they’d recommend in preparation for my city break, here’s what I thought of each…

Where to Eat in Amsterdam

Ree7

ree-7-amsterdam

(Reestraat, otherwise known as ‘Nine Streets’, 15 euros for brunch and a drink)

An extremely warm, stylish and intimate café in Amsterdam, Ree7 is my top recommendation for a cosy, value-for-money brunch spot in the city.

With a menu boasting warming, homemade soups and hand-made sandwiches, it’s very hard to choose what to order in this self-professed gastro-bar. But if I were you, I’d opt for the breakfast platter with its multiple options. Choose a base (eggs, granola or pancakes), 2 supplements (jam, Nutella, cheese or ham) and you’ll get a free orange juice too. Top it all off with a pleasant takeaway Chai Latte and your set for a day of exploring!

Tip – Get here just before 11am when it starts to get a little busier and whatever you do, go back in the afternoon for a slice of their Carrot Cake or Apple Pie.

Los Pilones Cantina Mexico

(Eerste Anjeliersdwarstraat 6, 15 – 20 euros on dinner and a drink)

And to think I nearly let this place pass me by. Without a doubt the best tacos I’ve ever eaten anywhere in the world in one of the most unassuming Mexican restaurants I’ve ever come across.

A little dark inside but with catchy Mexicana tunes, Los Pilones has a more traditional interior with sugar skulls hidden in wall alcoves and tequila lining the wall of the bar at the back of the restaurant. Arguably too small for its growing clientele, this place crafts thirst-quenching cocktails and Mexican dishes to savour. Their flour-dusted soft, wheat tortillas topped with a chilli sauce, fresh salad, cool sour cream and juicy chunks of tuna were a dream – I’d go back to Amsterdam just for them.

Tip – Book ahead, this restaurant is garnering a great local reputation so it fills up quickly, especially on the weekend.

De Bolhoed

de-bolhoed

(Prinsengracht 60-62, 13 – 15 euros on dinner and a drink)

From the outside, this charming Vegetarian restaurant is hidden by ivy. All you’ll be able to spot from the main canal walkway is the main window and a revolving door, a true metaphor for this hidden gem.

Inside, you’ll be hit by warmth, artistic interiors and a smell that will immediately make your mouth water. Expect plentiful Mexican, Asian and Italian-inspired veggie dishes that will leave you full and your taste buds tingling for days after your visit. I had the smoked tofu kebabs, spinach strudel, quinoa salad and hummus dip, washed down with a glass of white wine. It was honestly the best vegetarian meal I’ve ever had – unforgettable in a word.

Tip – Ask about the ‘Dish of the Day’, it’s much better value for money and practically includes a little bit of each of the menu’s main dishes.

Where to Shop in Amsterdam

Kitsch Kitchen

kitsch-kitchen-amsterdam

(Rozengracht 8-12)

After happening upon this kitsch shop on Instagram, I knew I had to go there. Bright, full of plastic goodness and a vibrant, Mexican theme – who wouldn’t?

As soon as you walk in, you’re surrounded on all sides by so many colours; it’s almost blinding. With a ceiling of piñatas made from characters out of various Disney films, there’s no way you can walk out empty-handed. To put the store’s offering into perspective, I walked out with a scuba diver bath toy, a doughnut Christmas tree decoration and a jingling tumble bear – I wanted to leave with so much more. Go – it’s an experience in itself.

Tip – Don’t forget to go upstairs and look in the reduced section, that’s where I found my bear at less than half price and I was planning on buying him anyway!

Papabubble

papa-bubble-amsterdam

(Haarlemmerdijk 70, 10am-6pm Monday to Saturday)

When you read countless guides to Amsterdam, you pick up a lot of ideas – especially foodie. So when I read about this little sweet shop near to where I was going to be staying, it was fate that I’d end up in there.

Papabubble only need sugar, water and glucose to make the most fun creations for sweet tooths the world over. All sweets that you’ll see on the shelves are made in store and what’s more, you can watch them being made. When I visited, both artisan sugar crafters in-store were making a penguin! I watched them for about an hour, asking them all about the process they go through and it was eye opening. I left with a sugar robot and a pair of clogs in tow…

Tip – Take a look at the sugar clumps that don’t quite make the shelf; they’re cheap and they’re massive. You’d have to love your dentist a little!

Where to Visit in Amsterdam

Noordermarkt

noordermarkt-amsterdam

(Noorderkerkplein, 8am-2pm Monday, 9am-4pm Saturday)

Noordermarket is made up of two bazaars set around the base of the Noorderkerk. On Mondays, you’ll find secondhand clothing and antique gems whereas on Saturday, you’ll find fresh farmer’s produce and blooms from all around Amsterdam.

I wandered around this market on Saturday morning with the locals and their cute little shopping hampers. It’s fair to say, you can’t walk within a few metres of any of the stalls without smelling their fresh produce, no matter what it is – cheese, meats, pastries and much more. You’ll be spoilt for choice among the many different vendors, so it’s definitely worth investing some time and looking for the best price with a couple of laps of the stalls. I’d recommend trying the Pecan Pie, Stroopwafels and bright green Pesto Gouda – free samples are aplenty!

Tip – Get to this market as early as you can, after about 11am, it becomes pretty busy with tourists.

Canal Sightseeing

(Stop off points are available all around the city, expect to pay between 10 – 14 euros for 24 hours of travel)

Since the 17th century, Amsterdam’s UNESCO-protected canal ring has been one of the city’s main draws, so I’d suggest beginning your trip with a little urban exploration via boat.

I’ve been on tours from both Canal and Lovers but there are many more reputable suppliers available; both were as good as each other with regular hop on hop off services. Unpack, relax, take a tour on your first day, get your bearings, take a few snaps of the curious Dutch architecture, then take to your feet and begin getting into the city itself.

Tip – With some providers you can get discounted tickets to various museums with your ticket, this is worth investing in for the fast track element.

Van Gogh Museum

van-gogh-museum

(Paulus Potterstraat 7, adult 14 euros, child free, 10am-6pm Saturday to Thursday, to 10pm on Friday)

If you love expressionist art, then this is the place to be in Amsterdam. This contemporary museum houses more than 200 canvases as painted by Van Gogh himself, ranging from his early works in Holland to his bold, later works in France – the largest collection of his in the world. Even if you’re not a fan of art, per say, this museum does a brilliant job of walking you through this troubled artist’s mind – fascinating from a psychological perspective.

Tip – Queues can be long, so I’d suggest enjoying some lunch in the De Pijp neighbourhood nearby, then wandering over for about 3pm.

Where to Stay in Amsterdam

AirBnb – Cozy apartment in center Amsterdam

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(Anjeliersstraat, Jordaan neighbourhood, Host – Boyd)

Last time I stayed in Amsterdam, I spent far too much on a hotel for 2 nights, this time around I spent just under £250 but on this fabulous AirBnB apartment and didn’t regret it one bit.

Boyd is an amazing host – super helpful with all communications and even gave me a few local tips that I’ve included in here, not bad for my first AirBnB experience abroad. His minimalist apartment is perfect – not only does it look like something out of an IKEA catalogue; it’s in a quiet, friendly neighbourhood too, which is why I have no hesitation in recommending it here.

Tip – Book up on AirBnB ASAP, the nearer you get to your travel date, the more expensive it becomes and the less options you’ll have.

How to get to Amsterdam

I flew from London Heathrow and back to Birmingham International as a guest of KLM UK via their hub at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. My flights were complementary, but return flights with KLM UK from London to Amsterdam start from just £95 per person, or from Birmingham starting from £89.

It’s important to note that all views here are my own.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam – what would you recommend?

An Adventure Through Bangkok, Thailand

And so an Adventure begins…

At first sight, Bangkok is an incomprehensible, sprawling metropolis of some 8 million, a chaotic capital of dust, humidity and tuk-tuk driven traffic made for daredevils. However, once you look beyond the obvious distractions, Bangkok has a uniquely astonishing beauty and grace.

In the early morning, see the wet and humid mist lift from the Chao Phraya River; revealing the golden spiralling towers of the Grand Palace and the many other temples glistening across the horizon. Look close to hand and you’ll see the little details that present life here with a deep spiritual significance: the shopkeepers who put lit incense sticks and food oblations in front of their shops’ little statue of Buddha; the craftsmen working on the roadsides, carving little intricate figurines of spiritual icons; diligent vendors in the markets with their family’s behind them learning the family business; the immensely agile street cooks preparing intoxicating Pad Thai; and monks carefully preparing the temples, like Wat Arun, for the day ahead.

bangkok-sunrise-GLORIOUS!

The Pace of the River

Bangkok was always destined to be even grander and more exuberant than the older capital it replaced, the Ancient UNESCO city of Ayutthaya. Since its creation, the city has seen major development and has had to build upon its ageing khlongs (canals) but it’s clear the river still sets the pace of this enchanting city. A tour on a hired long-tail boat splashing through the water is often the fastest and cheapest way to move around. Navigating along the river has more of an air of authenticity about it too, waving at the locals as they pass by, always with broad smiles on their faces (and a boat full of ingredients!).

Temples, Palaces and Markets

While the temples and palaces alone are enough to fill a week, for me, Bangkok was all about getting a real feel for the city’s past and its extraordinary foodie culture. Taking a journey through Thon Buri, through its narrow canals, you witness an impervious maze of sounds and sights. I spent half a day alone walking through one of the markets, the huge Chatuchak Weekend Market, where you can buy literally anything. I tried crispy fried chicken feet, chilli-infused crunchy calamari, Som Tom Salad (known as ‘hot smash’ because of its flavours) and Mango Lassi – if you have a sweet tooth then you’ll love this fruit and honey yoghurt smoothie.

Market-Bangkok-GLORIOUS!

A day in Damnoen Saduak floating market

But venturing slightly out of the city to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak, just 2 hours south of the city – is where I saw the real joy and zeal of Thais buying and selling their freshly-grown and cooked wares from their curious boats. You get the real sense that the market is a deeply peaceful and spiritual texture of life, permeating everyone who takes part, something I have never witnessed in any other country I’ve visited. I could try to describe the sheer vibrancy and smells of the food but you should definitely witness this for yourself; words do not do it justice.

Damnoen-Saduak-GLORIOUS!

After spending just minutes in the market, I realised that Thai cooking has to be sweet, salty, sour and spicy, from one of the many cooks who liked to have a chat – if one of these flavours is ever missing, then the cook simply throws it out. It’s not worthy to be eaten. As such, Thai food is characterised by the use of coconut milk, chillies, nam plah (fish sauce) and lemongrass – embodying all of the necessary characteristics. It’s then that I realised the great amount of care that each cook takes over their dishes, it’s not just a natural culinary skill to them – it’s their integrity.

As I made my way through the street stalls and floating kitchens, you realise just how much you can treat your taste buds for so little Baht. Cheap, fresh, local food, like flavoursome chicken satay (skewered meat), is just an arm’s width away. I learnt to choose the busiest stalls, as the food there is likely to be freshly cooked, it’s here that I had the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring. It was so delicious; I had to have seconds knowing that I’d not come back for a while (sadly) and the best part, the cook let me have it for free! Incredible.

Damnoen-Market-GLORIOUS!

That’s not to say food is all there is on offer here, you can also buy local handicrafts, ornaments, clothes, fabrics and spices or visit the many Buddhist temples in the area, such as the iconic Phra Pathom Chedi, featuring the world’s tallest stupa. If you want a closer look, you can hire a boat, moor up and observe the temple. Be sure to take off your shoes and if you want to do it like the locals, you’re welcome to light an incense stick as a sign of respect.

A treasured travel memory brought to life…

Upon leaving Thailand, this floating market has always been my most treasured travel memory and its flavours are what I’ve been trying to re-create since, unfortunately to no avail. But coming pretty close is GLORIOUS! Soup’s dairy-free Sunny Thai Chicken.

When I’m heating this up at home or at work, I immediately reminisce about that day walking over innately carved wooden bridges, staring at the abundant colours of each fruit and vegetable beneath me loaded into each boat. The aroma from the chilli, fish sauce and coconut catapult me straight back into those streets, with that same recognisable spice-laden tinge. All this flavoursome soup needs is a hint of Sandalwood (not that you’d put this into food!), to add to its ginger, lime and lemongrass and it’d be the perfect antidote for my Thai wanderlust. This soup undoubtedly does the street chefs of Bangkok proud – bold but not overpowering.

Sunny-Thai-GLORIOUS!

How do I enjoy my GLORIOUS! Soup?

I prefer my soup fresh off the hob or from the microwave, piping hot, meaning I can do that little blow on each spoonful to cool it down. For this soup, in particular, it made sense to add some extra spice with a few chilli flakes (glutton for punishment!) and add a few Thai fish crackers on the side.

What I love about GLORIOUS! Soups are that they’re excellent for spreading over two days – hot or cold. With non-leaky lids and already in a microwaveable tub, they’re ideal if you’d rather imagine yourself being anywhere but your desk! You’re free to re-live your foodie adventure day after day.

Who are GLORIOUS!?

GLORIOUS! are an adventurous bunch. They source fresh ingredients, unearth authentic recipes and bring us bold flavours from around the world. With each flavour, or as they call it ‘Adventure’, they seek to bring countries to life, with soups packed full of genuine character and bold flavours.

They’re honest, innovative and exceed expectations. GLORIOUS!’ philosophy is simple – be adventurous through food and deliver a new experience with every mouthful. Because of this they’ve won a lot of awards, not just for their ingenious offering but also their unquestionable quality.

How do they do it, I hear you ask? A very talented team of chefs who have worked in top restaurants across the country, perfecting their flavours for years at a time – and it really shows.

Where can I get my GLORIOUS! meal soup?

You can pick your Sunny Thai Chicken meal soup up from all major supermarkets, including but not limited to Ocado, ASDA, Budgens and Sainsbury’s.

If you don’t fancy the flavours of Thailand, never fear, not only are there the regular GLORIOUS! flavours available to choose from, there’s also their SkinnyLicious offering too, ideal if you’re looking for a low-calorie but substantial treat. Let’s face it, I’m going to need these after Christmas!

GLORIOUS!-Products

Have you ventured to Bangkok? If so, what do you recommend or what Thai foodie delights would you like to try?

This post was written in collaboration with GLORIOUS! Soups for the chance to win a food-inspired journey to Mumbai, India.

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