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Sunday Catch-up #40

It has been a great week and an even better weekend. I only have three days left of term and I always feel a bit more positive knowing half term is in sight.

On Friday night, Ian and I met up with friends for a night at the theatre to watch Avenue Q. It was the most bizarre and random show I have ever seen but also one of the funniest!

On Saturday, after a 5:30 alarm call (ouch!), I was on the train to London to attend Stylist Live with my besties. It was an amazing day – I bought loads and there was a lot of tea and cake involved.

Today has been very relaxed but we did pop into Bath for lunch to try out the new Burger and Lobster restaurant which was so delicious and filling I am skipping dinner tonight!

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This week I have been…

Making: bagels for breakfast every morning

Going: to Stylist Live and seeing Queen Nigella!

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Wearing: layers!

Eating: a burger and half a lobster…and a pudding!

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Drinking: pink champagne

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Reading: Escape from Camp 14 on my kindle (for the second time)

Watching: Narcos – each episode is like a mini film and it’s refreshing my Spanish too!

Buying: a Clarins goodie bag

Planning: a new haircut

Cooking: lamb and cauliflower rice

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Baking: nothing this week although I did buy a tin of pumpkin ready to make a pie!

Writing: not enough on my blog this week

Favouriting: capes on various websites – I have my ideal one in mind but I just need to find it!

Working on: my final essay

Trying to decide: where to go on holiday next year

Wishing: there was a Crosstown Doughnut shop near me after sampling their goods this weekend

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Enjoying: time with friends

Needing: to get back into yoga after a few weeks off

Feeling: very ready for half term

Giggling at: Avenue Q

Travel Diaries – New York (Part Two)

If you haven’t already, you can read Part One of our New York trip here!

Day Three – Wednesday 29th July

We were up bright and early for another beautiful, sunny day in NYC. We jumped on the Metro and headed for breakfast at Tick Tock Diner. I love American diners, especially their breakfast and brunch menus, and I had some delicious lemon and ricotta pancakes with a raspberry sauce and maple syrup.

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That morning, we decided to head up to the top of the Empire State Building. It’s one of those iconic New York buildings and just has the most breath-taking views, including my favourite building, the Flatiron. Weirdly, this also really helped me get my bearings and see how far apart various areas were – there was also another good audio guide session here!

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After we had taken in the views, we walked the High Line. This wasn’t in existence the last time we visited New York so was something I really wanted to do. An abandoned railway line, it is now an elevated walkway lined with wild flowers, art work and great views over the surrounding neighbourhoods. We wandered along, cooling off with some ice lollies (I had a refreshing cucumber and mint one), adding to the Lego artwork, dipping our feet in the water features and relaxing on the day beds.

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We ended up at the end of the High Line near Gansevoort Market, aka foodie heaven! There was such a lovely selection for lunch but I opted for another lobster roll, a mint iced tea and macarons for pudding.

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After lunch, we had a wander around Greenwich Village, visited Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker (which was a huge let down!) before popping back to the hotel for a cat nap as I had something very cool planned that evening…kayaking!

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I found a place online that offered free kayaking on the Hudson River and was slightly worried it sounded too good to be true. However, it was so much fun and such a pretty sight as the sun set although we did get very wet bottoms so had to go back and change before dinner!

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That night (the last in my twenties!) we went for wings and margaritas at Hooters (I love their chicken wings!) before heading back up the Empire State Building for a second view of the city at night. Although we had to queue for a bit longer, this was just as magical and I just don’t think I could ever get sick of the 360° views up there.

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Day Four – Thursday 30th July (and my 30th Birthday!)

I started my birthday off with another Central Park run and chai tea from Argo then opened my presents from Ian. He knows I can sometimes suffer with post-holiday blues so he bought me tickets to see three of my favourite comedians so we would have something to look forward to over the next few months – an excellent present!

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We went to Stardust Diner for breakfast, near Times Square. This place is so much fun – the waiters sing (mostly show tunes) as they serve and there is just a great atmosphere inside and the food was good too!

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After breakfast, we hopped on the Metro and spent a few hours at the Natural History Museum before a spot of shopping, which included theatre tickets for that night.

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I love Mexican food so we had an early dinner of taquitos and margaritas at a place near our hotel (it even had its own mariachi band!) before going to Broadway to watch the play ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. I enjoyed the book of this and had wanted to see the play for a little while. I loved it and thought the staging was excellent, although some of the Wiltshire accents were a little off!

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We ended my birthday with beers and mini birthday cakes in bed.

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Day Five – Friday 31st July (and our two-year wedding anniversary!)

For our last full day in New York, we hopped on the Metro again (we definitely got our money’s worth from our weekly passes!) and went for breakfast in Grand Central Station. The building upstairs is stunning but it also has a really nice food court downstairs too.

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We then had a very cultured morning visiting the Guggenheim and the Met. This was my first visit to the Guggenheim and I loved it. Lots of variety inside and I really love the way the curved inside of the building guided you through the exhibitions.

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We then walked up through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This place is huge so we decided to just pick a couple of exhibitions to enjoy and explored the Ancient Egyptian section, the featured ‘China’ one which had lots of Chinese-inspired clothing from the major fashion houses and then saw some Monet paintings (one of my favourite artists).

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It was getting on to lunchtime then so we headed to a New York institution – Katz’s Deli. The queues were out the door but well worth the wait. We got one pastrami and one beef brisket sandwich and they were huge! I think I preferred the brisket but both were exceptional…my Dad was very jealous of this visit!

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We decided to spend our last afternoon chilling in Central Park so grabbed some drinks and snacks, a good book and found a quiet spot on the grass. On the way we bought each other our anniversary presents too. You are meant to give cotton after two years of marriage so we bought each other an ‘I Love New York’ t-shirt to remember where we spent the day.

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We had planned a big, posh anniversary meal that night but were so stuffed from the huge sandwiches at Katz’s that we just decided to do that the following evening and opted for cocktails and a slice of pizza near to our hotel before cheesecake and wine in bed!

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And that was the first stop on our trip. We love New York and cannot wait to return. Next up, Atlantic City…

Restaurant Review – Bill’s Restaurant, Bath

Ian and I had a great ‘date night’ last night seeing Sweeney Todd at the theatre. I had forgotten what a dark play it was but we both really enjoyed it and those little tubs of ice-cream in the interval are worth the journey alone! This morning, we woke up to the sun shining in through the window so decided not to waste the day and head into Bath for a spot of brunch. We parked outside our old flat and I always find it a bit weird walking past our old front door. I loved living in Bath but now we aren’t in the city centre, it makes it a little bit more special visiting it every now and again. bills9 We walked through the rugby ground and along the river which was looking glorious in the sunshine. bills3bills1 We headed to Bill’s Restaurant in the city centre. It has been open for a good few months now but this was the first time we had visited. As soon as I stepped inside, it reminded me of Jamie Oliver’s place up the road with the very cool mix of rustic and industrial interior and a variety of items on sale near the door giving it a part deli/ part café feel. The restaurant was busy but we found a seat near the bar and perused the breakfast menu. I was really impressed with the variety on offer and we both had a hard time deciding what to go for! bills5 We started with coffees and freshly-made orange, carrot and ginger juices then ordered. Ian went for Eggs Royale (smoked salmon and poached eggs on English muffins served with hollandaise sauce and pumpkin seeds) and I had the bubble and squeak which came with fried eggs, ham and hollandaise sauce. The service was quick and friendly and soon our meals arrived. bills6 I immediately had meal envy when I saw Ian’s and wasn’t that enamoured with what I had ordered. bills8 Now this is where I realise I am going to sound ridiculously fussy, but I hated the way they served my breakfast! There was a pile of bubble and squeak covered with ham, then topped with eggs with hollandaise poured all over it. In my head I pictured the items arranged separately on a plate but this was just a really messy was of serving it and it also meant it was difficult to get a bit of everything on your fork. Luckily, all of the food was delicious – the ham was really good quality, the eggs were still runny and the bubble and squeak was lovely but there was way too much hollandaise sauce which made the dish incredibly rich and I only managed to eat half of it as the sauce covered everything, making it quite sickly for my tastes. Ian on the other hand really enjoyed his dish and there was a good amount of smoked salmon, with the pumpkin seeds adding another texture. bills7 Although I did have a bit of a moan, I would definitely go back to Bill’s especially to try their pancakes or vegetarian breakfast which both looked really good. I think if I was ordering anything with a sauce again, I may ask for it to be served on the side because it really did spoil my brunch today but then again you may read this and just think I need to stop being so fussy?! Finally, after we did a spot of shopping to walk off our meals, I insisted we pop into Starbucks for my first Pumpkin Spice Latte (or PSM for those super-fans!) of the season…it was AMAZING! bills2 bills10

A Spot of Shakespeare

Last night, Ian and I went along to the Manor House down the road to watch an open-air performance of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. There have been signs around our village for the past few weeks and I was really looking forward to it.

I did have plans to make the most amazing homemade picnic with freshly baked bread, delicious salads and a pudding but this week has been so busy that I had to resort to a ‘supermarket picnic’! I popped bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, pork pies, posh yogurts, cheese straws, apples and a bottle of good red wine into my basket on the way home and grabbed a big blanket too.

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We walked down the road to the Manor House, which hosted our village fete a few weeks ago, and enjoyed our picnic, sat next to the fountain in the evening sun.

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Soon it was time for the performance so we took our seats, topped up our wine glasses and sat back to enjoy the show. The setting was stunning. As our village is off the main road it was so peaceful and accompanying the actors was the sound of birds and the occasional cow in the next field!

In the interval, I was ready for more wine but as soon as I spotted the cake stand I had to have a slice with a cup of tea! #rocknroll

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I have to admit that Antony and Cleopatra isn’t my favourite Shakespeare play, but I did really enjoy this modern adaption of it and I couldn’t fault the actors.

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Overall, it was a great evening with good food, wine and a bit of culture…and it didn’t rain!

Restaurant Review – Raphael Restaurant, Bath

Last night, Ian and I had a mid-week night out…reckless I know! I had been really looking forward to this because we were going for dinner and then to see my favourite ever musical, Blood Brothers, at the Bath Theatre Royal.

I first saw this show in London about 4 years ago when I had a weekend away with my Mum for her birthday and I remember loving the music and the storyline, and keeping my eye out for it playing at a local theatre ever since.

Set in Liverpool, a city close to my heart, the cultural references to the places, shops and people are great and they have managed to capture that elusive northern humour perfectly. Although, I have to say that Marti Pellow’s scouse accent was questionable!

Due to a particularly attentive waitress continuously topping up my glass of wine during dinner, I was a bit tipsy when we arrived at the theatre (so cultured, ha!) which may explain why I had a good cry during the performance!

This show is on until Saturday February 2nd in Bath. I know tickets sold fast, but if you see this musical is showing at a theatre near you then I cannot recommend it enough!

Anyway, onto the food…

We ate at an old favourite of mine in Bath, the French bistro Raphael Restaurant. I have eaten here a few times in the past and have always enjoyed the ambience and food, and last night was no exception.

Being a stone’s throw from the theatre, they do a roaring trade in their 2-course pre-theatre dinner, priced at £14.95.

With 4 choices for both the starter and main course, there is a good selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options. I have to say that the menu is very classic, which is absolutely fine when they do it so well, but there were no real stand-out options for me so I just ordered what I knew I would like and played it safe with a savoury  tart then chicken.

I just reread that and I think I sound completely pedantic and fussy but I do like trying new flavour combinations which this menu didn’t offer.

For my starter, I had a Leek, Pea and Ham Tart with a well-dressed mixed leaf salad and a delicious celeriac remoulade, which was like a lovely, refined coleslaw to accompany the warm tart.

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Ian had warm salad of smoked mackerel on a bed of potato and dill salad with a herby oil drizzled all over. The flavours in this were well balanced with the creamy potato salad and salty smoked fish working really well. (Sorry about the poor quality photo!)

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For our main courses, I had a pan-roasted thyme and garlic chicken breast which was served on a bed of green beans, savoy cabbage and bacon and a delicious creamy mushroom and tarragon sauce. All elements of the dish were perfectly cooked and seasoned and the sauce brought it all together nicely.

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Ian had a proper winter-warmer of Madeira and porcini mushrooms with braised beef and shallots, served with parsley mash and a lovely orange-scented sauce. I have had beef and orange together in Asian dishes but I wasn’t sure how well this citrus fruit would go in a rich, French-style stew. It turns out, very well! The orange running through the sauce lifted the whole dish and is something I would think about trying out in my own cooking next time I make a beef stew.

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Overall, we enjoyed two lovely clean, fresh courses which were full of flavour and well-balanced. The portion sizes were perfect for me too as it meant I had just enough room for an ice-cream during the interval!

A Christmas Weekend in London

Hello! Apologies for the lack of posts over the weekend but I have been away for a girls’ weekend with my Mum in London to soak up a little bit of everything the city had to offer!

My trip began rather disastrously on Friday night with a drive to the train station, which should have taken 30 minutes, taking closer to an hour and a half – I hate Bath traffic! Cue me having to run (anyone who knows me will know that is very unlike me! Haha) in the rain to catch my train with seconds to spare! I also managed to leave my purse behind and my car unlocked all weekend in my haste but luckily I had my bank card in my pocket so wasn’t completely lost!

After the bad start, I decided to skip the tube and treat myself to a taxi to The Royal Opera House where I met my Mum, her friend and her friend’s daughter for a performance of the ballet The Nutcracker.

I have never been to the ballet before but have always fancied it and The Nutcracker is Christmas-themed so this seemed the perfect time of year to give it a go!

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We had the cheap seats at the back but got quite lucky when our seats were upgraded before the performance started, although we still needed our binoculars to see the detail on stage.

The show itself was absolutely stunning with beautiful backdrops, wonderful costumes and lovely music. At times, the dancers on stage looked like they belonged on a Christmas card and I was surprised to recognise several of the pieces of music too.

I wish I hadn’t been in such a rush getting to the show because it was a rather glamorous affair and I would have loved to have dressed up for it. The Royal Opera House building was also stunning – I managed to get a few pictures at the champagne bar during the interval.

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The next morning we were up early and headed out to breakfast as the sun was rising over London.

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We had breakfast at one of my Mum’s favourite places to eat, Café in the Crypt, just off Trafalgar Square and recently named Les Routiers Café of the Year 2012.

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The café is housed downstairs and is a lovely building with a real sense of history, echoed in the tombstones lining the floor. It is very reasonably priced for central London and we indulged in some delicious pastries for breakfast.

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After that, we jumped on the tube and headed to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. We arrived quite early so missed the crowds and it was a lovely, crisp morning meaning we could wander around without getting too cold!

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For me, the highlight was all the different food and drink stalls available and I just loved the Bavarian wooden huts and stalls. I imagine the atmosphere in the beer hall would be great in the evening too!

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We indulged in a Bailey’s hot chocolate (at about 10am!)

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This attraction would be great to visit with children but I imagine you would spend a fortune on all the fairground rides and ice skating rinks dotted around!

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I managed to persuade my Mum to have a go on the ghost train with me and I think she hated every minute of it! As a thank you, I treated us to a portion of one of my favourite Spanish foods; Churros.

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These lovely sweet fried doughnuts are indulgent but delicious!

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When it started to get busy, Mum and I headed off to hit the shops. We began with the Harrods’ Christmas window displays. They had a Disney Princess theme this year and even had my favourite, Mulan! Each mannequin was dressed by a different designer including Missoni, Marchesa and Versace. Unfortunately, the sun was shining so brightly that a lot of photos came out really badly but I managed to capture a few pictures that show how beautiful the windows looked.

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After that, I had several foodie places I wanted to tick off starting with La Durée, the masters of le macaron! These little Parisian delicacies are notoriously difficult to make but La Durée are renowned for the quality and variety they offer. We bought a rose flavoured and a salted caramel version, both absolutely beautiful and scrumptious.

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Next, it was onto another foodie landmark, Fortnum and Masons. Rather pricey but beautifully packaged, I loved having a wander through here and treated myself to a few items including some biscuits and jam. I can’t say much more as the other things were all Christmas presents!

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I also loved their wedding cakes, a snip at about £800 each!

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One of my favourite designers, Emma Bridgewater, has collaborated with the store on a Christmas dinnerware range and I fell in love with the print although it was so expensive I will just have to admire from afar!

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Our next stop that afternoon involved more cake at The Hummingbird Bakery! I have been wanting to visit one of their stores ever since I bought their first baking book years ago and it was lovely to go and enjoy one of their cupcakes. Having made several items from their books, it was almost strange to see them all on trays having seen them in my own kitchen. Obviously, their versions were how the products were meant to look too!

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I couldn’t resist the classic red velvet cupcake.

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That evening, we got dressed up and headed to the Savoy theatre to watch Cabaret. Will Young was playing the role of the master of ceremonies and did it in such a wonderfully camp way. The show itself was fantastic; great songs and dancing and lots of bare bums (including Will’s) for us to giggle at!

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Afterwards, my body finally rebelled against a day of cake and I just had to have something healthy. Cue an M&S mini picnic back in our hotel room!

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I finished off the weekend with a wonderful lunch with one of my best friends at Peruvian restaurant, Ceviche, however the food was so good that it really deserves a post of its own!

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Today has been quite a struggle at work as I feel shattered after such a packed weekend but it was a perfect time to go in the run up to Christmas and I loved the two shows we saw. As a food blogger, I was in heaven eating my way around different places but I do feel like I have overindulged slightly…totally worth it though!!!