Weekend Catch-Ups

27 April 2014

It's been a strange sort of weekend. After a fun night out on Friday, catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in far too long, I woke up on Saturday morning with a horrible headache and spent most of the day in a migraine haze. To those of you lucky enough not to suffer from migraines - I'm so jealous! If you do, however, I'd love to hear any little coping strategies you've discovered. My usual technique is to take some painkillers and rub some tiger balm on my temples before lying down in a dark room - the tiger balm sends a delicious warmth though my head which somehow seems to reduce the tension.

Alas, nothing seemed to work on Saturday though and I spent a good amount of the day curled into a sad little ball and feeling very sorry for myself.

Thankfully, come late-afternoon, the mister (who was also suffering with a cold) and I had a visit from a good friend who came over just to cook us dinner - aren't we lucky?! A delicious monkfish curry with mushroom pilau rice, no less. We felt very spoiled. And full. 

Today I headed over to my parents' house to begin the terrifying job that is Organising My Bookshelves. Living in a tiny flat, I could only bring a tiny percentage of my books with me when I moved and so my childhood room doesn't really look much different without me there. However, it's about time to begin sorting through my books to put them into boxes to wait for the magical day when I can have my very own house with a library (and an attic bedroom, beautiful kitchen with aga, a study, and a garden WITH CHICKENS) so that my Mum and Dad can actually make some use of the room.

It wasn't an easy task - my books are stacked three-deep on the shelves and entirely in alphabetical order - my first Saturday job was in a library and, you know, I'm fun like that - so I felt quite sad taking them all down. I have so many memories associated with those books - childhood books, university texts and all manner of Japanese books picked up while I was living out there. It wasn't just the books themselves that evoked so many memories though but the little items tucked inside - train tickets from London to Scotland (I got through so many books on my journeys to and from university!), scraps of paper covered in doodles, old concert tickets and exhibition notes. As you can probably imagine, a lot of time was taken up by flicking through my favourites; deciding which ones can go into storage and creating a pile of others that are too well-loved to store for long.

Image found on Pinterest here
I have three big boxes that are almost full and two big bags to donate to my local Oxfam bookshop (although I'm loath to part with them). It's very much an ongoing process though and I'm already looking forward to un-boxing all of my boxed-up favourites again and arranging them on my future bookshelves.

So in a suitably nostalgic mood, I'm now curled up on the sofa watching the Artist - a gloriously nostalgic nod to the silent movie era. Very cosy.

A quiet weekend but enjoyable in its own way, and productive too. I hope you all had wonderful weekends. Can it really almost be Monday already?!

Places to Visit: Chartwell, Kent

21 April 2014

Last Sunday, the mister and I went to visit some friends and we all decided to take a little trip to visit Chartwell.

Chartwell was the principal adult home of Sir Winston Churchill and his family, and the house is presented to reflect what it would have been like during the 1920s and 1930s when the Churchills were raising their four children. The rooms of the house contain lots of lovely little mementoes, paintings and family photographs, and books, so many books! When you look out of the windows of the house, or step out onto the gorgeous little terrace, you can see out to the lakes, gardens and estate beyond, and once you've finished exploring the house you can enjoy rambling around the gardens and estate at your leisure.

The hillside gardens include lakes (with ferocious black swans!), a kitchen garden, beautiful flowers and a wild expanse of woodland. After enthusiastically enjoying some of the swings hanging from the trees, we found a sunny patch and sat on the hillside looking towards one of the lakes and the house beyond.

You can also visit Churchill's studio, which is located in the gardens, and contains a large collection of his paintings. We unfortunately remembered this a little too late and didn't make it in time so that's something for the next trip! But there's definitely more than enough to see and do if you don't visit this spot.

Despite the gorgeousness of the old house and the gardens, I think my favourite little detail was discovering some of the correspondence exchanged between Sir Winston and Lady Clementine Churchill throughout their very happy marriage. This side of Churchill was definitely not conveyed during my history GCSE! Throughout their correspondence, Clementine referred to herself as 'Cat' or 'Kat' and Winston was 'pug' or (later) 'pig'. The letters were often illustrated with a little drawing of a cat, pug dog or pig. Shameless romantic that I am, I loved reading snippets of these letters and I've hunted out a couple to include here. 

Soon after Churchill proposed to Clementine in August 1908, they began exchanging notes and he wrote:
"My dearest, I hope you slept like a stone... The purpose of this letter is also to send you heaps of love and four kisses XXXX"
Her reply to this note ended as follows:
"Je t'aime passionement - - feel less shy in French".
The couple continued writing to each other whenever they were apart and many years later, on 23 January 1935, Winston wrote to Clementine while she was travelling abroad:

"My darling Clemmie, in your letter from Madras you wrote some words very dear to me, about having enriched your life. I cannot tell you what pleasure this gave me, because I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt, if there can be accounts in love... What it has been to me to live all these years in your heart and companionship no phrases can convey".
There's something so special about a handwritten letter, be it a note from a friend with all their news or a romantic missive. Time to dig out the note paper, perhaps?

Things I Love Thursday (17.04.2014)

17 April 2014

Things I Love Thursday (just about!) brought to you, after quite a few weeks, by a very happy Cat on the eve of a 4 day weekend... If that's not something to be happy about, I don't know what is. This afternoon I spent about 3 hours trying to make sense of an old accounts ledger whilst an outraged wasp flew angrily around the room. I could not be happier that today is over! In fact, this week hasn't been great so I really wanted to focus on some good things before the long weekend begins.

I can eat chocolate again on Sunday! I've managed to give it up completely throughout the entire period of Lent, without even a guilty Sunday nibble or trying to say that "chocolate cake doesn't count". I plan to celebrate by eating my body weight in chocolate, welcoming the day with a Cadbury Creme Egg for breakfast...

Blossom everywhere! The weather's getting warmer, my winter coat is banished to the suitcase of winter clothes (even if the mornings have still been quite chilly) and I've started planning picnics with my friends for the summer months. Doesn't the sun make everything better?!

Pugs. Just because. Don't they make everyone happy?!

Adventures and catch-ups with good friends. The mister and I visited Chartwell House with some friends last weekend and I loved it so much that I'm going to do a little write-up on here because it's completely worth visiting. I have a few dinner catch-ups planned over the next few days too - isn't life great when work doesn't get in the way?!

And a few links that I've bookmarked over the last week or so...

 10 foods that make you glow. An excellent excuse to eat more avocados!

 This recipe for quinoa burrito bowls.

 I'm a big fan of smokey eye makeup and love this quick routine - the easiest smokey eye.

 I can eat chocolate again on Sunday and I've been waiting to make this gluten free recipe for Millionaire Shortbread since the FreeFromFairy first posted it!

 A surprising look at what sleep deprivation does to your body.

 A Thrifty Mrs' round up of £12 and under pastel kitchen essentials - love the bird measuring cups and the mint scales!

 Watercress and walnut pesto with garlic-rubbed flatbreads - how delicious does this sound?!

Here's to a fabulous Easter weekend!

Review: Champagne Afternoon Tea at the ME Hotel, The Strand, London (gluten free)

6 April 2014

I had been counting down the days until Saturday for a long time. 'Afternoon Tea' was written in my planner and shone out at me, with glittery promise, throughout the dark, busy days preceding it. (Honestly, I changed departments at work this week so things have been more than a little stressful.)

ME Hotel's
Gluten-Free Afternoon Tea
The glorious opportunity to spend a whole afternoon drinking tea and eating cake was in celebration of a good friend's birthday (Happy Birthday for Tuesday, LT!) and I was also quite curious to see inside the ME Hotel, which has quite a prominent position on The Strand, close to Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge. 

My friend found a deal for champagne afternoon tea at £25 per person, which is quite reasonable for London, and we were allotted a quiet corner in the Marconi Lounge, with plenty of room to chat and enjoy the experience. The hotel itself was a little cold and modern for my taste - I prefer a little quirk and tradition - and more than one of us almost wandered into one of the shiny black bathroom walls (not because of the champagne, I hasten to add!) 

I chose the Palace Brew tea, which according to the tea booklet is, "a full-bodied and spicy blend of Assam, Nilgiri and Kenyan teas." I do like quite a strong tea, which I can then adjust to taste with milk, and this really didn't disappoint. The second pot was very gratefully received!

As a coeliac, I of course had the gluten free option and, for the most part, it was very delicious. The sandwiches disappeared far too quickly, with the salt beef and pickle sandwich and the smoked salmon and cream cheese being particularly good. Some forward planning on my part meant I had saved these options until last (does anyone else do that with the items they're particularly looking forward to?!) and they were truly lovely.

The scones were also wonderful - light and not too crumbly, which can be an issue with the gluten free version. The small pots of jam were just enough for the two scones, with a lavish amount of clotted cream. I always spread my jam first, then dollop the cream on top - it just seems to work better that way!

My only criticism would be with the top layer because, as you can see, there were no cakes! I was given a small cylinder of vanilla custard with raspberries on top, which is lurking in the back of the photo, and some fruit flavoured gummy lollipops and strange marshmallow creations, which were stuck in pink sugar. They were very pretty but incredibly disappointing and, considering how easy it is to make gluten free cakes (and good ones at that!), a bit of a let down. 

The staff were all very friendly and attentive, without being overbearing. They started clearing away the bottom tiers of plates as soon as we'd finished them, which I found a little unnerving, but we didn't feel at all rushed other than that and we were able to sit and chat for a while after finishing. I find that very important after eating a lot of sweet treats - having to dash off would be disastrous! One difference to other places I've been for afternoon tea is that they didn't offer us additional sandwiches etc. afterwards. Going for afternoon tea is such a treat and often quite expensive, so it would have been nice to have been offered the chance for more of certain options. 

ME Hotel's
(non-GF) Afternoon Tea

So, all in all, I'd give it a grand 3.5 stars out of 5 - lovely attentive service, delicious scones and sandwiches, but lacking an important element (in my case) for an afternoon tea. Coeliacs need cake too, you know!

I didn't hear any complaints from the others though and their cakes looked wonderful, so I've included a picture of the gluten-filled afternoon tea too for your visual delectation. 

Hope you all have a lovely week-ahead - have some cake for me!

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