Friday 15 December 2017

15th December: Holiday Brunch

Just a quick one today as it's the school holidays now (hurrah!) and there are lots of lovely Christmas preparations to get underway. But the nicest thing about breaking up from school was having a lazy morning lie in and then meeting a colleague for a celebratory brunch. Teacher goals!

My friend recommended Farm Girl in Notting Hill on Portabello Road and it did not disappoint. OK, it's the sort of place that doesn't leave you with much change from a tenner for some toast, but it was really good toast. Piled with avocado, pomegranate, lemon juice and coriander, and served with a perfect poached egg nestled alongside the sourdough. So good.

It seemed rude not to pile a few sweet potato wedges on the side.  Farm Girl is a buzzing cafe with a laid-back, health food vibe.  They had loads of Veggie, Vegan and gluten free options and I think the best bit of the their menu was the drinks list. I sampled their Christmas special peppermint hot chocolate which was perfect for a chilly winter morning, and my friend enjoyed a hibiscus matcha latte which was so pink and pretty.

My favourite though, was a golden latte: a warm drink made of almond milk infused with tumeric, cinnamon and honey.  I know turmeric lattes seem to have become a bit of a thing lately, and I'd never tried one before, assuming they were probably quite bitter.  But curiosity eventually won out and I loved this smooth, golden potion: I could have drunk several of them! (But I could live without the weird dog giving me a sad face. Cinnamon swirls are all you need!)

It was the perfect way to start the holiday and I would definitely recommend Farm Girl for a celebratory, up-market brunch.

Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is part of a series I'm writing throughout December in response to Shimelle's scrapbooking class, Journal Your Christmas. By blogging each day, I hope to savour each and every lovely moment of the most wonderful time of the year, and have some great memories to look back on.

Thursday 14 December 2017

14th December: A Christmas Night Out

Over the weekend I was mired in the depths of miserable cold; the temperatures had dropped, I felt shivery and flushed at the same time and just drawing breath seemed like an unreasonable amount of effort. But I got my first good night's sleep in a while and woke up on Sunday morning to find a little covering of snow outside my window. I decamped to the sofa in dressing gown and piles of blankets, attempting to feel a little more human, consumed some leftover pizza and pondered the rest of the day.

It was a day that was worth getting up for. Even feeling lousy and pretty sorry for myself, I was looking forward to heading out.  That evening, I was due to meet a colleague on the South Bank to wander the Christmas markets before crossing the river and heading north in search of a delicious bowl a ramen and a production of the ballet, The Nutcracker.

I pulled on my coat and my hand-knit mittens (thanks Mum!) and headed out into the snow. And actually I felt much better; it's hard not to when tripping through snow! I caught the tube to the south bank; while large chunks of the London Underground had been taken out by the first three flakes that fell, enough was working for me to arrive in time. It was half past four and already completely dark when I met my lovely friend and colleague Wendy and we made our way into the market, cameras snapping. 

The market isn't huge but it's cheerfully festive and there were loads of food and drink options.  We snaffled a warm, mulled plum cider each and found space on benches nestled inside giant teepees; it was cosy and out of the dripping weather and the cider was toasty, clutched in my hands.

We had a good natter and a catch up as we polished off our tasty mugs of cider.  And then is was time to venture back into the cold for the next phase of the evening. Crossing Waterloo Bridge is somewhat bracing in the icy wind, but the views out over the city are fabulous: modern skyscrapers are lit up and loom over the river and the dome of St Paul's sits in state, elegant and dignified.

 The juxtaposition of incredible history and a vibrant future is an exciting one. Especially with twinkly lights.

We scurried up Shaftesbury Avenue and hustled inside a Japanese restaurant, ordering giant, steaming bowls of ramen. The food was perfect: piping hot and comforting and flavoursome. Definitely what I needed when feeling a bit under the weather. We happily slurped up soup and noodles, making imaginary travel plans for the new year and enjoying pots of green tea and lots of little gyoza. As dinner on a Sunday evening goes, I couldn't have asked for more.

The grand finale of the evening was a trip to the ballet to see one of our students dance in the Nurtracker. Quite a few of our students were in the audience to support their friend, chattering and waving and giggling excitedly. The ballet was truly wonderful: the Nutcracker always is at Christmas, but the atmosphere in the theatre that night was brilliant and supportive and hopeful and the dancing was a dream. We chuckled at very tiny young dancers scurrying in mouse costumes - when the toy soldiers came on with their toy rifles, one mouse got a little ahead of itself and fell over, before realising no one else had, jumping back up and then falling over again properly on cue with everyone else when the rifles went 'BANG!' We watched fairies twirl and twinkle, and a set of dancing Russian dolls almost stole the show, waddling on in plump costumes in height order down to the tiniest little dancer who couldn't have been more than 4 and was clearly awestruck by the idea of dancing with the older girls.

My student danced in the final act, performing an astonishing pas de deux with a professional partner. She danced so gracefully, seeming to be always en point and flying through air in a series of beautiful and dramatic lifts.  She looked to be having the time of her life, having been rehearsing and training for literally hours after school every day. That's a huge amount of discipline and it was a realy pleasure to see her in her element.

So all told, it was a very Christmassy evening.  And while sometimes it's good to curl up on the sofa when you have a cold and give in a little bit, it was definitely preferable to bundle up and let some Christmas magic take over.

Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is part of a series I'm writing throughout December in response to Shimelle's scrapbooking class, Journal Your Christmas. By blogging each day, I hope to savour each and every lovely moment of the most wonderful time of the year, and have some great memories to look back on.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

13th December: Curling

My first thought when I think about Christmas isn't necessarily winter sports. However, when I found out that Roof East was hosting a pop-up curling game, I messaged everyone I could think of asking them to come and play with me. A wise ploy, and there was definitely more than little curiosity about how curling worked. I think all any of us knew was that there was a fair amount of sweeping involved, but a quick peruse of the website FAQ told us that they could explain to us how to play when we arrived. Problem solved.

I should acknowledge from the start that actually there wasn't any real ice, which I suppose is fair for a hipster rooftop location at the top of a car park in east London. But no ice meant no little brushes and no hilarious sweeping which was a little bit disappointing.  However, we had been for dinner prior to curling, we were bundled up against the cold and the bar was serving hot mulled cider which certainly kept the mood buoyant.

A little bit of light drizzle failed to put us off and we were soon engaged in a couple of very competitive games of curling. We played 4 to a side, taking it in turns to slide the stones down the lanes.  It was a bit like bowling; the main difference was that instead of falling in the gutter, you could quite easily scoot your stone all the way along the lane to fall off the end.

The stones (which are not called kettles, despite misconceptions among some nameless players) ran on little wheels and propelled along quite rapidly so it took us a little while to get the feel of thing. That accomplished, things turned competitive, with players cheerfully sacrificing stones over the edge of the abyss in a bid to drag others down with them.

The scores were always worth a cheery dispute.

And some of us look pretty fantastic curling, if I say so myself.

Banterous team high fives, helpfully obscuring faces.

My team understood that friendship was more important than winning which is why we invested our efforts into dancing along to the music, having mulled cider and being good sports when the other team inexplicably beat us.

With games played, losers lost and winners won it was time to tally up the scores. My time scored an epic two points across all games.  I don't want to drag my team's name through the mud, but it was me that scored both of those.  It's hard to win when you've got to carry your teammates (I'm looking at you, Liz and Tori). 

It turns out that the target in curling really has nothing to do with the score. You do aim for the middle of it, but points are not awarded for accuracy, just for beating the other team.  So even if you slide off to the side, as long as you're in a better position than your opponents are, you're going to get just as many points as if you'd hit the middle bang on.

All that energetic sport gave us quite the appetite, so there was only one logical place to head after curling...

The rooftop marquee held off the rain very effectively, and the inside was kept toasty warm with outdoor heaters, despite the wind' best efforts to cart the whole lot over the side of the roof.  More mulled wine and cider we definitely in order, and we indulged in an unnecessarily tense game of giant Jenga.

And then a doubles tournament of table football (victory tasted pretty sweet on that one).

I love big, cheerful evenings out, and it was lovely to try something new and catch up with friends. Here's to winter sport!

Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is part of a series I'm writing throughout December in response to Shimelle's scrapbooking class, Journal Your Christmas. By blogging each day, I hope to savour each and every lovely moment of the most wonderful time of the year, and have some great memories to look back on.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

12th December: Hogwarts in the Snow

I LOVE snow! And it was extra lovely to have a little sprinkling here in London over the weekend, it frames today's little Christmas adventure quite beautifully. At the end of November, we took our Guide unit away for a weekend of pure Harry Potter magic. We sorted them into houses, had wands and made Bowtruckles, we played quidditch and hunted golden snitches, and there was a whole series of shrieks when Aragog made his appearance in the bathroom at night.

The highlight, however, was a trip to the Harry Potter studio to see all the magic behind the movies.  The girls were pretty excited to go and we piled onto a little coach, wands at the ready, bags filled with snacks (because every Guiding trip needs all the snacks) and big grins.

The studio really is fascinating; there's a huge amount of detail to see in the props, sets and costumes and we poured over it.  Or at least, the girls did while as leaders, we had half an eye on the displays and the other half trained on the Guides them trying to keep them roughly together in a group. I like to think of this as McGonagall style.

Our game of quidditch out on the frosty fields that morning involved significantly fewer tactics.  But just as many cloaks, so I think it counts.

We enjoyed wandering through the Great hall, seeing it all decked out for Christmas with the tree and stage ready for the Yule Ball musicians. In fact, the girls made the most of each opportunity: they had broomstick summoning lessons, wand lessons, duelling classes and I caught some of them bowing very correctly to Buckbeak.

Heading into the Forbidden Forest caused a real stir, especially with our young leader who is both addicted to all things Harry Potter, and terrified of spiders. I know because I had to go and turf one out of their room.  So while she refused to give up on the opportunity to shuffle through the lingering smoke-machine effects and enter the spidery section of the forest, she induced quite the cacophony of squeals among the Guides.

Actually, I'm creeped out by spiders too, but I don't tell the girls that.

Still waiting for my letter.  I am going to ACE arithmancy.  You'll see.

Although I refuse point blank to read this.

Seeing the paper models and constructions was one of my favourite parts.  Which I suppose is a given as a fan of papercrafts. Imagine if this was your job: how wonderful to spend days putting together perfect miniatures in cardboard.

The finale was seeing the giant model of Hogwarts, complete with grounds and dusted with snow for Christmas.  It really is magical and we were all a bit dazzled by the sheer detail and scale of it. It's just beautiful, and the lights change gradually as you watch so you can see Hogwarts in the glow of the moon, and by the light of day. Sprinkling it all in snow was the icing on the cake.

This was my second visit to the studio and it will not be last. I highly recommend a trip to visit the wonders of Harry Potter and I can't wait to go again!

Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is part of a series I'm writing throughout December in response to Shimelle's scrapbooking class, Journal Your Christmas. By blogging each day, I hope to savour each and every lovely moment of the most wonderful time of the year, and have some great memories to look back on.

Monday 11 December 2017

11th December: Friends at Christmas

It's lovely to get friends together at Christmas, and for the last few years, my friends and I have set aside a weekend to spend together rollicking around and generally hanging out. We call it Christmas Shindig, and last year was no exception. We spent a wonderful Saturday having brunch, playing Junkyard Crazy golf, wandering the Spitalfields market and indulging in a delicious dinner and cocktails. 

Then Liz and Chris kindly offered up their home on the Sunday for a chilled-out day of lovely food and drinks and good company.  It was such a pleasure to have time to natter and catch up and laugh together, made even more special by the onset of Christmas.  

It also happened to be an excellent time for me haul out the camera and do a photoshoot.

I like to do a photo shoot of my friends every so often, and Shindig is a good time to do it as everyone is together. I took a few pictures while we were out and about on the Saturday, but my pictures were never meant to be about the day, per se, but about getting some up to date pictures of my friends.

So on Sunday afternoon, we all piled onto the sofa, I whipped out my camera and started firing off a few shots.  And it's actually quite fun to do, when everyone is feeling the festive spirit and giggles through it.  The pictures quickly stop feeling awkward as no one is pressured to pose in a particular way, and everyone is part of a group.

In fact, I really like the concept of the semi-posed, semi-candid shot: everyone is seated on the sofa in the good light where I can get nice pictures.  But they aren't stiff and posed and formal.  They're clustered into a heap, chatting and laughing.  The resulting pictures are clear and have everyone in, but they are so much more full of life.

A few props don't hurt to mess around with either.

It's genuinely worth taking time to get pictures of the people you love.  Make it fun, make it an event, but make it worthwhile and strongly encourage (ie demand) compulsory participation.  Because I don't think anyone will end up regretting it.  And like I said, while Christmas is a natural choice of time meet up, I'm not really aiming to photograph the season, and so when I do a photoshoot isn't hugely important, I just like to get my favourite people together every so often and get a round of portraits; Christmas just happens to be a good excuse.

And remember, don't forget to get a picture of the photographer!

Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is part of a series I'm writing throughout December in response to Shimelle's scrapbooking class, Journal Your Christmas. By blogging each day, I hope to savour each and every lovely moment of the most wonderful time of the year, and have some great memories to look back on.