Cashew & Pomegranate Pancakes

HAPPY PANCAKE DAY! Truly one of the most noble days of the year. I remember finding out that Shrove Tuesday was called ‘Mardi Gras’ in French, which translates to ‘FAT TUESDAY’, and feeling like that was the most glorious name for a day ever. So with that in mind, here’s my fairly healthy pancake recipe. In honour of Fat Tuesday, this dish features good fats, like the cashew nuts!

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I added a scoop of cashew butter into my pancake mix as well as for a topping, because I wasn’t particularly sold on the two ingredient egg/banana pancakes everyone’s been raving about. I mean, they’re perfectly fine – but fine in a ‘wow, these are two ingredients, they actually taste alright for a healthy pancake’. I don’t want something that just tastes ‘ok for a healthy alternative’. Nope, these are delicious in their own right. The cashew butter fluffs everything up, and there’s no need for syrups when you’ve got pomegranate.

I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did!

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Pancakes
1 ripe banana
1 egg, room temp
1/2 tbsp cashew butter
Coconut oil

Topping
Pomegranate
Mixed berries
1 tsp cashew butter
Spoonful Greek yogurt (optional)
Sprinkle coconut palm sugar, if desired

Method

(Serves one)

1. Mash the banana together with the cashew butter, and whisk in the egg

2. Heat the coconut oil, spoon three dollops of mixture in and cook for a couple of minutes on either side, until golden brown

3, Add toppings as desired. EASY!

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Hotbox & Columbia Road

I apologise for the amount of ‘lifestyle blog’ cliches about to be unleashed on you, but I’m afraid I’m going to do it anyway.

Last Sunday we headed out to Shoreditch for brunch at Hotbox on Commercial Street. Renowned for top notch barbecue food, the venue opened in late 2014, and has just expanded the menu to include an absolutely stonking brunch. This also involves a bottomless option: all the Bloody Marys, Prosecco and Mimosas you can hack for 25 quid.

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We got there on time to avoid longer queues – I even missed The Archers to haul myself out East, but I regret nothing. From the second we arrived, the staff were a delight, calmly and politely handling the jostling queues. The waiter we had was an absolute peach; chatty and attentive without being disruptive. The venue itself is dark and cosy, with long tables and benches, high stools and ledges. Everything has been designed with precision: tiny glasses are topped up from an industrial steel jug, lightbulbs are bare, black frames abound. The music is excellent: from Sly & the Family Stone to Roxy Music within a track, ideal for a Sunday.

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The brunch menu is instantly appealing – we opted for Huevos Rancheros, avocado and roasted corn on sourdough, and smoked mac & cheese. To turn down the opportunity for macaroni cheese at what is ultimately a breakfast hour is criminal, and I question anyone’s motives for doing so. We shared all our dishes (particularly difficult on said mac & cheese…there was nearly a fight) which was a strategic move designed to give us as much of the menu to try as possible.

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Dipping a spoon into the Huevos Rancheros was a glorious experience thanks to eggs with exactly the right amount of runniness, a green coriander sauce, and a reassuring dollop of chunky guacamole. The sourdough dish was an excellent balance of sweetness from the roast corn, spice from paprika, and the creaminess of the avocado. I’ve been let down by so many macaroni cheeses in my life, and joyfully this was not so at Hotbox. Oozy and smoky with a crispy topping, I could happily have eaten a whole panful. The Bloody Marys were pleasing but perhaps a little watery, although the spicing, celery AND lemon wedge were spot on. I cannot recommend Hotbox enough – just make sure you get there as close to 11.30 as possible. After all, you can listen to The Archers on iPlayer.

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Barely able to move, we somehow manouevred ourselves down Brick Lane and through the market, on a floral mission. I used to keep flowers in my room as a matter of course, but when I started trying to cut down my expenditure, they were the first to go. I forgot how cheering heading home with armfuls of fresh flowers was, and meandering down the market was a joy. We took our time (we didn’t have much choice, given how stacked the place was), and enjoyed the sunshine and a coffee from one of the little wall cafes that appear all over the area.

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By the time I headed home, I felt like I’d been on holiday. I’m often staunchly anti-East, just because I’m a big fan of South West. But on a Sunday, there was a special atmosphere. There’s not really anything like it on my side of London – the energy, the people, the architecture of the place. I’m determined to explore more of this city, instead of just sticking to my little corner, so stay posted!

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Secret Mondays

Firstly, apologies for this very long post! I wrote it straight after the session and was quite inspired…

I’ve become aware recently that I need to take a bit of time to address the way I think, the way I work, and even just the way I spend my time away from the office. Working long hours in social media has fried my brain. The constant switching from task to task has shortened my attention span, broken up my thought patterns, and left me with this insistent tugging feeling at the corners of my brain, like there’s always something I’ve just forgotten to do. I have a screen in front of my face for most of the day, I’ll sit in front of the TV with my laptop out, balancing a phone in my hand and skipping from app to window to remote. I’m in so many different places at once, and yet not really in any of them. My thoughts are half-formed, always about to turn to the next thing to deal with.2015-02-09 09.26.26 1

I read a while ago that while you think you may be multi-tasking by constantly switching between what you’re working on, your brain actually stops and has to restart again to address the next thing. It’s harder to get anything finished, you’re overloading your brain with too much information, and you end up feeling overwhelmed. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside or reading books. I could retreat into my own head for hours. These days, I watch as notifications pile up on my phone, emails flood into my inboxes, and I am further trapped behind screens. I’ve been trying to implement two hours without any screens every weekend, and the first time I tried it, it felt like days. Then it suddenly started feeling lovely, and I was conscious of everything I was doing, not numbing myself with a phone.

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I’ve been questioning the way I do things for a while, and looking for a better path, but it was by pure coincidence that I stumbled across Calmworks. Last week, I’d just tried a Vivid Matcha drink, and was dancing around with giddy joy at how delicious the Pear & Rhubarb juice was, and how I couldn’t taste the unbearably grassy classic matcha taste. I took to Twitter to share my delight, and on the Vivid page I spotted something about mindfulness. I’d heard about it, vaguely, and admired the principles of slowing down and being in the moment. A few clicks later and I’d signed up for a very mysterious #SecretMonday event with Calmworks. This is due to be a monthly event at secret locations across London, features a talk and various exercises, plus a perfect opportunity for networking. Tonight we were at the House of St Barnabas, and the crowd included journos, techies, PR types, captains of industry etc.

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Despite a childhood spent barefoot wandering around fields, reading poetry and whatnot, I’ve traditionally been very dubious about things like meditation and yoga. I’ll be the first person to yell BORING, running off to my fast paced cardio or my loud music. I’ve never had any inclination to look introspectively, and if anyone has forced me to meditate, I’ve spent the entire time thinking about what to have for dinner. Lifestyle improvement programmes, self-help and general surrounding jargon freak me out. The tiniest hint of patchouli oil and you won’t see me for dust. So let me be clear – mindfulness is not the same traditional meditation, and encourages you to pay close attention to what’s happening in the present moment. It’s more like an exercise for your mind, training yourself to think in a certain way, and taking a step back to reflect. The Calmworks website reassured my hardened, cynical heart, looking as it does like the beautifully designed homepage of some tech startup.

Even so, I was worried we’d be greeted by some tie-dyed, brain-fried old dude, telling us to imagine invisible threads and clear our minds. Thankfully not – there was wine on arrival, and two excellent chaps (Malcolm Scovil and Alexis John Bicat) to welcome us in. No one had the sheeny light of the born again in their eyes, no one was talking about chakras, and there was absolutely no incense. Instead, we were told to choose a coloured envelope, which contained a handwritten, uplifting quote, and a question to ask at least three people by the end of the evening. In case you were wondering, my question was ‘Growing up, what was your favourite toy?’

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The atmosphere was inviting, friendly, and accessible, and Malcolm was a wonderful and entertaining host. I cringed at precisely zero moments. We had a talk from neuroscientist Dr. Tamara Russell, which was absolutely excellent, and dispelled any remaining fears I might have had about the hippieishness of the night. In short, she talked a LOT of sense, both in scientific and emotional terms. Alexis then took us through some mindfulness exercises, which were a million times better than normal meditation. For one thing, he explained that getting distracted was perfectly normal, and that the aim was just to try and slow your thoughts down. This got easier with each exercise, and I found myself getting surprisingly emotional at one point as I filtered through thoughts. It’s alarming how rarely most of us pause. Alexis was a brilliant teacher, not least because his final exercise involved eating chocolate. I can see why he’d be the ideal person to lead mindfulness sessions at various high profile companies.

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I don’t want to reveal too much about the night, as I think it’s something everyone should experience for themselves – and after all, it is called *Secret* Mondays. But it’s so important to develop techniques like this to become stronger, happier and more capable in life, and to understand how to live in the moment.

A huge thank you to Calmworks, to Malcolm, Tamara and Alexis for a truly incredible experience. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. IMG_20150209_214008

Vegetarian Pho with Courgette Noodles

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I had to practically sit on my hands not to do a punny title, because ‘pho’ is a total gift to those with a love of terrible puns. If you read it as written, you’ve got classics such as ‘pho my god’, ‘pho way’ etc. If you go pho-netically with ‘fuh’, you can go down an enjoyably unsavoury avenue.

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Anyway. The point is, I really love pho, but it can be hard to find a decent vegetarian option. When Nam on Old Compton Street closed for good last year, I also closed my heart to a decent bowl of veggie pho. I traipsed hopefully to other Soho Pho (Sopho) establishments, but none of them hit the spot. Also, I frittered away all my cash on Christmas presents, so homemade (phomemade? I’m really sorry, I can’t stop) was the way to go.

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I found the process of making the broth extremely soothing. Something about cooking this kind of food feels like it’s good for your soul. I recommend gathering and prepping all your ingredients in advance in a nice orderly way, and keeping counters clear for full relaxing benefits. I swapped in courgette for the noodle part, because I’m on a ludicrously cliched January health kick, but you should do as you wish. I was also going to boil an egg and pop it in too, but I decided against it, but the egg still snuck into the photos.

Forgive the slightly rubbish pics, my DSLR is in Sussex, so these are phone photos! Pho-tos. image3

For the Broth
1 white onion, peeled and quartered
2 garlic cloves, quartered
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 litre vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp soy sauce

For the Noodles
1 courgette
1 Portobello mushroom
1/2 red pepper
1 tbsp butter

Garnish
Bean sprouts
Mint/Thai basil
Chili
Lime

1. Heat the onion, garlic and spices in a dry pan over a medium-high heat until the veg begins to char.

2. Add stock and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Cover and heat on medium-low for 25 minutes.

3. Spiralize the courgette, dry it and salt it, then pan fry in a little butter until it begins to soften. Place in your serving bowl, along with the sliced red pepper.

4. Slice the Portobello mushroom and pan fry in the courgette pan with leftover butter until it softens, then add to the noodle bowl.

5. Strain the broth then pour it over the top of the noodles, before serving with the plate of garnishes.

Last Days: Festival of Love on the Southbank

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Exhibitions at the Southbank Centre are generally something I avoid, purely because it sometimes feels a bit too…well, corporate, I guess. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I suppose I assume I’m not going to have that much fun at them, because everything’s going to be very serious, and I won’t be allowed to touch things and engage with them. And there’s a part of me that tends to feel like I should try and find something elsewhere, like it’s some kind of huge cop out to go to one of the busiest tourist destinations in town.

That said, I found myself with too much time on my hands one Sunday after working in the morning, and was at a bit of a loss for what to do. I always like strolling down the Southbank, whatever the weather, so I found myself having a quick cloudy lemonade at the Hayward, and looking through the literature for what was on. Something caught my eye: the Museum of Broken Relationships had set up an outpost, pulling in contributions from London’s broken-hearted residents. I’d read about the museum before, and it really grabbed my interest. People submit artifacts from relationships they’ve been in that have fallen apart. It’s incredibly voyeuristic, but ultimately a fairly uplifting experience. Pain is universal, broken hearts are commonplace, and many of the stories accompanying objects are about how the person concerned has moved on with their life.

I spent a good couple of hours in The Heartbreak Hotel, where not only can you forensically dissect past romances, but you can also examine letters to Cathy & Claire, the agony aunts at ‘Jackie’ magazine in the 70s. You step into an interpretation of the Jackie offices, complete with blocky wooden desks, typewriters and extendable desk lamps. The letters themselves are fascinating, with advice written from most members of the Jackie staff (Cathy & Claire never actually existed). While you’re in there, you can also grab a cocktail from the Department of Good Cheer, and get dressed up as famous pop heartthrobs.

I liked it so much that I revisited the weekend after with a friend, this time going into the Tunnel of Love, which I was a bit too freaked out by to go alone. We wandered in down a corridor of pin ups, both likely (Jennifer Lawrence) and unlikely (David Mitchell). Everything was pink neon hued, saturated in saccharine. At the end of the tunnel we reached a large space with a big Twister board, some viewing booths and a DJ space. Obviously we made our way straight to the DJ booth and started scratching up Donna Summer before viewing a wall of lovelorn confessions written by visitors to the exhibit.

All in all, the Southbank is an excellent place to while away a few hours, and I recommend you giving the Festival of Love a final send off before it vanishes after this weekend.

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Last Days: Camden Beach

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a loss for what to do, and fancied a bit of beach action. Home home is 20 minutes from Brighton, but as anyone who’s faced that pebbly megahulk before knows, it’s not the place to get sand between your toes and lie back contemplating the marvels of existence on a sunny day. In fact, you’re more likely to stumble across some druggy teen and sit there getting sad about the burnt down pier and the increasing shabbiness of the place as much as anything. Oh, and have you tried going through East Croydon on a sunny day? Forget it.

Instead, I opted for Time Out’s number one attraction of the week, Camden Beach. My friend later told me he was extreeeemely sceptical about going to the most popular place in T.O. on a sunny Sunday, but we trekked out to Chalk Farm tube and joined the queue. As my friends/colleagues (frolleagues) will tell you, I *hate* queuing. I turn into my dad, loudly tutting and getting increasingly irate, swaggering around declaiming ‘I just DON’T queue, I don’t do it. I refuse’. Well, on this day, I dealt with it and we only waited about 15-20 minutes to get in. You’ll actually be grateful for the queuing system once you’re in, because it ensures the place doesn’t get overcrowded.

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We found a spot, grabbed some drinks from the Tiki bar, and settled down for a couple of hours in the sunshine. They’ve got music playing, deckchairs, little beach huts, a volleyball net, a champagne & hot dog stand, and all sorts of other delights for city-dwelling beach lovers. I had a ridiculously good time – while it’s never quite going to match up to a glorious Cornish beach, there’s something pleasing on a deep level about getting covered in sand and lolling about with a cider. We even made sandcastles! It took a while to work out the optimum sand:water ratio, but once we had it, there was no turning back. We spotted a nearby girl getting jealous and attempting to emulate us with little success…she was a bottle of Prosecco worse for wear though, so I should be more generous.

I can strongly recommend it as a day out. It’s free to get in, and I made a pint of cider last a very long time, so you can do the whole thing on a minimal budget if you so choose. Bear in mind you can’t take any bottles in yourself though, so if you were considering beating the system, you should think again, sunshine. Take a few friends, take a bucket and spade, and enjoy the slightly disconcerting experience of seeing the Camden skyline while surrounded by sand and beach huts. To quote their tagline: you’ve got 99 problems, but a beach ain’t one.

Camden beach info can be found here, and it closes on Saturday 23rd August.IMG_8297

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August 2014 Playlist

Spotify Playlist here416788b

To say I’ve been neglecting my blog a bit lately is something of an understatement. It’s been nearly a year since I last wrote anything here, and I have to confess, I haven’t felt any sort of need to do it. I stopped blogging because I no longer believed I had anything interesting to share. Why should I just be scribbling endless ‘lifestyle’ posts out without any sort of reasoning behind them? With ‘lifestyle’ blogging (yes, I’m keeping the inverted commas for full ridiculousness) you eventually become aware that all bloggers are writing the same sort of thing, with the same kind of carefully neutral commentary. 

In short, I stopped writing because I was shouting into the void, writing for the sake of it. I moved up to London in the Spring, and I’m now aware of the sort of thing I want to write. There are so many amazing things to do in the city, and I’m going to try and write about some of them, purely because they interest me, and not because I’ve been asked to write about them or paid for my services. I started my blog as a way of recording things that made me happy, no matter how small or silly, and I’m keen to find that passion again. 

For today though, I’ve got a different sort of post. I thought I’d share some of the tracks I’ve been listening to this month, along with a handy Spotify playlist for easy listening. I’m a big sbtrkt fan, and I’ve enjoyed the collaborative work Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig has been doing (e.g. with Major Lazer), so this song has been on repeat for me. I love the imagery of the ‘flags flapping in Manhattan, gargoyles gargling oil’. Chet Faker’s No Diggity cover is an oozy, enjoyable trek of an interpretation, and professional saddo Lana Del Rey benefits from a bit of a speed up by Cedric Gervais. 

The War on Drugs seem to be steadily creeping into public awareness, and Under the Pressure is a glorious 9 minute showcase of their latest album that has soundtracked my Summer. I’ve also popped in a bit of the ever-rousing Is Tropical, which never fails to perk me up. Glass Animals are a new discovery, an addition to my adored coterie of indie exports from Oxford (see also Foals & Trophy Wife). They’re a bit of a revelation, like having thick treacle course through you aurally – full of expansive vowel sounds and languid vocals. Finally, Juce are an exceptionally promising trio who recall girlbands of both the 60s and the 90s. Their band logo is even written in the same font as the film Clueless, and they’re a gorgeously fun slice of pop for the final remnants of Summer.