Feeling Festive

Friday evening and after ten days apart, Letad arrived (with flowers) to stay for the weekend. It was a lovely reunion.

It was a dark, cold evening. The wind whistled outside but we were warm and cosy in the little flat in Chalk Farm as we cooked homemade pasta with prawns and zucchini remembering the delicious lunch we’d eaten in Verona and drank a bottle of champagne to celebrate everything we could think of.

The festive entry hall

We had the inaugural lighting of the balcony as Christmas is rapidly approaching and for the first time in years, I won’t be travelling. This year, possibly for the first time, I have actually decided to decorate.

With the spectacular view of London as a backdrop and what promises to be a New Year’s Eve to remember, it seemed fitting to wrap lights around the railings to create a festive atmosphere. We should be able to see fireworks across London!

I do declare this balcony lit

Four weeks to go…

Windy soup

It’s a windy day and so with a sniffle in my nose it seemed like the perfect soup making day. 

I’ve been a big fan of soup even before the days of frugal living but since I’ve been in London, it’s the ideal comfort food on cold days. I’ve been missing my trusty Vita-Mix, possibly the world’s most expensive blender but possibly my most essential piece of kitchen equipment. It’s really, really hard to live without. www.vitamix.co.uk

While I hope my Vita-Mix is now en route to London, it seemed I would be making a more rustic soup and so with caramelized onions, garlic and mushrooms, I added red lentils. It all seemed a bit bland so I added a bit more curry powder than I’d intended. 

And some tabasco sauce. 

Now that’s more like it. 

And some black pepper of course.

And then it seemed like a good idea to throw some brussels sprouts in, they are my favourite vegetable after all. It all cooked together until the brussels sprouts were lovely and squidgy and the flavours were melded together.

And then I tasted it. 

It’s absolutely delicious but watch out London, I can’t be held responsible!

Make do and mend

A grey, rainy day in London. 

The mythical job is still on the horizon but has yet to materialize so while I’m waiting, I’m attempting to throw myself into the festive spirit. 

I decided exercise would be good and so with drizzle overhead and the trusty ladies’ umbrella in hand, I strolled across Regent’s Park to my nemesis, Oxford Street. I was heading to Selfridges to buy my first Christmas present.

The Christmas spirit is everywhere on Oxford Street. Lights, trees, coloured baubles, glitter, sparkle, frosting and of course, interesting gift ideas. It’s overwhelming and already the panic buying seems to have set in. This could get expensive.

With my first present bought (I’m not giving any hints) and mission one accomplished, I returned to the little flat in Chalk Farm to start making my version of Christmas decorations while the rain and wind buffeted against the windows outside. 

Christmas birds

I suspect the pink sofa is influencing my Christmas colour palette.

Up North

It had been a busy week. 

From Venice to Nice, London and so Saturday morning saw me going back to my roots and heading north to Yorkshire. 

My earliest memories come from Yorkshire and I would say, if asked where I come from, that I am a Yorkshire girl. It’s been many years since I lived up north, but it’s familiar and from someone who has lived on three continents, it’s still home.


First stop, the new and improved Kings Cross station. Masquerading as Charles de Gaulle airport, it was surprisingly impressive even at 8am on a cold, damp Saturday morning, before coffee.

The concourse roof, Kings Cross

Three hours later, a brief shiver on the platform at York and I was in Harrogate. The place of many a Sunday lunch at my grandma’s house, memories of potted meat sandwiches and Songs of Praise. 

The smell of pastry filled my nostrils and it must be said that I’m a true northerner as I love a nice bit of pastry. And so it was off to lunch with my two aunts for a good catch-up.

Yorkshire at her best

A delicious lunch at the Timble Inn, the quintessential Yorkshire pub. Dry stone walls, Autumn colours, rolling fields and sheep. You don’t get much more Yorkshire than that. www.thetimbleinn.co.uk


Sunday morning saw us heading to a Yorkshire institution, Betty’s. www.bettys.co.uk Betty’s cafes are legendary in the north and growing up we loved going for a special treat. Sunday was no exception as I spotted one of my absolute favourite things on the menu, Yorkshire curd tart and so I indulged.

It’s hard to explain how delicious curd tart is if you haven’t grown up with it. A pastry shell, curd cheese, sultanas and a hint of lemon. I’m tempted to have a go at making it but somehow eating it south of Yorkshire just seems wrong. 
www.greatbritishkitchen.co.uk

Too precious for online ordering…

The weekend flew by and having seen all the important people, it was time to head back to the South. 

London beckoned and I was greeted by engineering works on the Northern line, a common weekend occurrence and so, with a Marks & Spencer soup in my bag, I boarded the replacement bus and headed off to Chalk Farm for supper and bed. 

It was an excellent northern weekend!

Autumn Days

After spending most of the last six weeks in France, it was time to head back to London. Bills had to be paid and I was curious to see if Mousey Mousey had set up housey housey. Luckily he had not and apart from a few dead flies, all was how I’d left it.

Autumn in Regent’s Park

Arriving home late, tired and cold I was struck by the barren flat waiting for me. After starting to create a cosy nest in France having spent time brocanting (as we now refer to the pastime of antique hunting) the little flat in Chalk Farm felt empty and neglected. And so I decided to finally ship my belongings over from the US.

After nine months with nothing, or rather, a pink sofa, two pans and five Gerry Bendylegs (not a bad thing), I’m ready to make life in London a little more comfortable.

I’ve been waiting and waiting. In limbo for months and with job offers dangling tantalizingly, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I emailed the shipping company to ask them to ship my stuff.

They can’t make any promises but there’s a slight chance I may have furniture before Christmas. 

How nice would that be?!

The Kitchen Saga…

After four weeks, three trips to IKEA, extra parts, missing parts, no water, moving the sink, the sink leaking, the imitation Breville challenge, a leaking roof, two trips to Italy, a tour of a chateau and of course, five job interviews, the kitchen was finally finished and so, as it turned out, was our patience.

Coming downstairs


However, it was worth it as the finished kitchen was beautiful. It suited the house perfectly, reflecting the character and charm of a house several hundred years old yet adding modern conveniences. 

Work in progress


We were so pleased we’d installed wooden work surfaces rather than the pristine white Carrera marble. It was so pretty and smooth but wouldn’t have lasted a day without staining as a result of enthusiastic cooking. We loved the open pantry shelves painted a soft grey after endless discussions about colour choices.

Open pantry

Stacked
Of course it wasn’t all us as we owe a massive thank you to the family architect who designed the plan and payment in installations of whisky is underway.

Before 
It’s a long way from where we started, the tiles of death, dubious brown marble worktops and an extremely dangerous gas cooktop which came close to winning one night in the battle of ignition. My hair almost lost.
Before
After, now with a dishwasher

 After many discussions we went with an induction hob despite my initial challenges in London turning off the child proof lock. Letad was reluctant but has since become happily converted. 

Even with induction

The end was timed perfectly to coincide with my departure as it was time to return to London and so as I left the house, all the power went out as the oven hadn’t been wired in properly and had to be redone. 


A fitting end to the kitchen saga!

A Weekend in Italy… Part Six. That Sinking Feeling

Sunday morning and we thought we’d explore the romantic, mystical side of Venice without the throngs of tourists and so at 7am we dressed and headed down to the foyer of the hotel with the idea of going for a meander. 

Sinking

Stepping out of the front door, it appeared that things weren’t quite what we were expecting. Venice it seemed, had sunk in the night.

Before…

After…

Waves lapped the front entrance to the hotel and suddenly we understood what we thought were picnic tables, were in fact, temporary walkways for people to make their way around. 

Venetians had donned thigh-high waders as apparently Venice floods twice a week during the acqua alta or high water. This tide however was particularly high and combined with a strong wind, saw the water rise 5ft above normal flooding 70 per cent of the city. Apparently it hadn’t been forecast which made it even worse as no one was prepared.

Pontoon now underwater


The staff in the hotel desperately moved rugs and furniture from the ground floor as gradually the water pushed its way in and after our offers to help were politely declined, we sought refuge in the conservatory. As the water rose, the stench of raw sewage filled our nostrils as the water backed up and had nowhere to drain.

The back entrance to the hotel
Receding water

After several hours the water receded enough that we were able to make our way from the hotel to the boat stop. Eventually we made it back to the car and started our trip home. 

It had been a moving and surreal experience seeing Venice underwater.