High Tea: A Very English Afternoon

What would a summer in London be without a proper afternoon high tea? Incomplete, that’s what. So when it came to my attention that there was a popular tea room and bakery that served up a cake stand filled with gluten free goodies, I was sold! Enter Bake-a-boo, a darling destination tucked away in West Hampstead. With about 20 brews to choose from, I took advantage of the endless tea by ordering first a pot of vanilla and then a pot of almond, both of which were delicious!

IMG_6389And of course there were the treats! I started by nibbling on the finger sandwiches before digging into the scones. I layered on the cream and jam quite generously… to the point of needing to take a break before diving into the cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries. Laura and I killed some time by chatting and sipping on tea… but it didn’t last long because the blueberry and vanilla cupcake was calling screaming my name. As were the chocolate covered strawberries immediately after. But that’s where I had to admit defeat. I couldn’t stomach the last raspberry cupcake, so that will have to be my dessert with lunch tomorrow!

Bake-a-boo is the perfect place for anyone looking for an amazing afternoon tea, but especially fantastic for those of us with food sensitivities! In addition to their gluten free spread, they have a dairy free and sugar free option! And the entire café is adorable… right down to the bathroom adorned with a wall collage of hilarious and clever canvases. Ok, all of this reminiscing is making me crave that last cupcake. Maybe it won’t last until lunch tomorrow after all…

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Mojito Master Class

It’s no secret that I’m a wine girl. But when I want to up the ante a bit, rum is my go-to liquor. So it makes sense that mojitos are one of my favorite beverages. I’ve had my fair share of these beauties over the years. When I studied abroad in Spain, I regularly ordered mojitos that were from a machine that emitted mojito mix, rum was poured in, and maybe a few mint leaves were thrown on top if the bar was feeling fancy that day. They were cheap, the size of small pitchers, and generous with the rum so that became my usual.

master barman 2But let’s be honest – that’s not a proper mojito. A proper mojito requires fresh lime and sometimes some muddling… what is that you ask? I didn’t know either. Until Sunday that is when I attended an Indytute Mojito Master Class by Ping Pong located at the incredible Battersea Power Station. My friend Laura and I arrived early and were served (yup, you guessed it) a mojito to keep us busy. Once our fellow cocktail classmates arrived, the madness began. Demonstrations were thorough, but once the competition started, limes, sugar, and rum were flying in every which direction as we attempted to make the best mojito in the shortest amount of time. As the recipes got more elaborate and the intoxication level rose, the master barman’s face after each taste got funnier and funnier. “Did you forget to add ________?” became a common question. In the end we let him make our drinks while we sat in the sun and enjoyed a lazy summer Sunday.

Now that I’m completely sober, let me enlighten you on how to make a proper mojito… I am now a master after all.

mojito 1Ingredients:
– 1 Tb. lime juice
– 1 Tb. simple syrup
– 10 fresh mint leaves
– a double shot of rum
– a dash of soda water
– 1 lime wedge
– crushed ice

Method: Add the lime juice, simple syrup, and mint leaves, to your glass. Add crushed ice so the glass is about 1/4 full. Using a bar spoon, mix the ingredients, pulling the mint leaves toward the top. Add the rum. Fill the glass completely with ice. Stir again. Top with a dash of soda water, a fresh lime wedge, and mint leaves for garnish.

Viola! A classic mojito made with fresh ingredients!

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Eating My Way Through London

Whoever said London has terrible food was going to the wrong places! This amazing city has everything from world-renowned cuisine served in breathtaking restaurants to hole-in-the-wall dives where you grab your delicious grub and run. Dishes from each and every country can be found dotted throughout the city – and you don’t necessarily have to leave central London to enjoy truly authentic and unique culinary experiences.

Greenwich Nutella Mini PancakesThis weekend I turned twenty-two and between all the sightseeing, I filled my time refueling with new and exciting food. Day one was spent exploring along the south bank and eating Brazilian food, then catching a boat down the river to Greenwich where I noshed on mini pancakes generously draped in nutella and strawberries, all before heading to the weirdest meal of my life.

Famous for serving the “most unusual food in London,” Archipelago didn’t disappoint. We were escorted to the dimly lit basement where we sat at a table that had a huge bouquet of peacock feathers – these were relocated in order to allow cross-table conversion which mostly consisted of commenting on the eclectic decor. Mini towels were placed in a bowl and then topped with hot water, which upon contact expanded into hand-towels. As we browsed the menu, I inquired about the lovebug salad – but once it was discovered that the “wildlife” served on top of the greens was a variety of insects, we decided to steer clear of that particular dish. Instead we opted to start with zebra, crocodile, and python. Surprisingly, the jerked zebra was the crowd favorite. The crocodile wrapped in vine leaves was nice, but didn’t really taste like anything unusual. And the python carpaccio was more salty than any of us preferred. For mains, we decided to go with more mainstream dishes – bison rump and duck confit. These were yummy – but the overall verdict is that you reserve a table at Archipelago for the experience and bragging rights more than the food quality.

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Day two was spent perusing the shops on Upper Street. I fell in love with the quirky independent stores which housed everything from clothing and stationary to odd cooking gadgets and funny gifts. All that window shopping of course called for brunch. We stopped into La Farola, an adorable Spanish restaurant which had a brunch menu consisting of just five options – but five delicious options! I chose a vegetable pisto topped with broiled mozzarella and two poach eggs, served with a side salad and spiced breakfast potatoes. Delicious!!! Fried eggs and chorizo, a cured ham, cheese, and fried egg toastie, tea, and coffee also made their way to our table. At just £6 a person, this is definitely a place to return to!

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Oh and we obviously had to stop into the gluten free bakery!!!

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The day continued with more shopping through Old Spitalfields Market and wandering through London, all of which had me starving by the time dinner came around. I met up with family friends who took me out for a birthday dinner at Balthazar. We had lovely dinner which kicked off with pommes frites instead of bread (my ultimate weakness), followed by an octopus, tomato, and basil salad speckled with olives and shallots, all tossed in a light lemon dressing. For my main dish, I selected sea bass “en papillotte” with Jerusalem artichoke, mussels, fennel, and tarragon. And anyone who knows me is well aware that you don’t have to twist my arm to order dessert. Out came a pavlova which was wrapped around vanilla bean ice cream and sat on top of fresh strawberry sauce – with a little happy birthday message written in chocolate. I blew out my birthday candle and called my birthday celebration to a close. Don’t tell, but I wished that I could eat like this every weekend!

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Seeing London Through New Eyes

Life is all about perspective – in order to see the detail of some things, one must look closely. But other times, stepping back is the only way to see something clearly. In addition, the lens through which one looks can make all the difference.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon on an Alternative Walking Tour of East London. I joined the group as a naïve American tourist hoping to learn a few fun facts, but as the tour began my perspective shifted and I was suddenly seeing things in a different way, noticing things I never would have before. And it was all thanks to this guy:

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Our tour guide, an East London artist originally from Australia, spoke with deep passion about the creativity that surrounded us as we wove through side streets and admired artwork. He had profound appreciation for the architecture that set the scene for his tour and raw admiration of religious structures that had survived periods of brutally violent history and made it out alive, although sometimes as homes for different religions. Some of the artwork was done illegally, but much of the artwork was done with permission – allowing artists to visually communicate with whoever was willing to walk by and actually see.

IMG_5814Take for example what is known as a Jonesy. These tiny, yet extraordinarily detailed sculptured are placed on the top of street signs, only to be noticed and appreciated by by those who truly have their eyes open. It’s amazing how many times we walk through the day with our eyes open, but not really seeing anything. I can’t tell you how many times I look at my phone to see if I have a new text message only to have the a blank screen with the time on it. But then 30 seconds later I have to look back at my phone because I didn’t actually see the time, just the lack of text messages!

The amount of creativity and innovation was incredible. Once my eyes were opened and I was able to see through the proper lens, East London transformed before me. Knowing that the blue building below is number eleven and a half because the house was split into two due to the lack of affordability at the time changes everything. And the mural below of an unknown man was made by drilling away at parts of the concrete. Our tour guide summed it up perfectly when he said, “destroying something to create something is the essence of what graffiti is.” Graffiti, street art, creativity, or whatever you want to call it – it is absolutely breathtaking.

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After two hours of engrossing ourselves in East London culture, Laura and I wandered back towards Old Spitalfields Market with the group, tipped our guide, and headed to dinner. It was on the way that I found this amazing old car.

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We ended up going to Dishoom, a Bombay Café home to the most delicious Indian food I have ever had. I was so hungry I forgot to photograph the dishes, but I did manage to get a shot of the table behind us with this awesome clock and a sneaky shot of the kitchen where fresh naan was being prepared..

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Yesterday was an awesome day of experiencing London culture and indulging in ethnic food. And it really made me think about using my sight to actually see the world around me – It’s all about perspective.

London

My 24 day Contiki bus tour took off from London, the city where people drive on the wrong side of the road, call sweaters “jumpers,” and refer to anything fancy as “posh.” Because London only served as a meeting point, I was stuck on the wrong side of the road for a mere day. But because my tour of 53 people consists of 50 people from Australia or New Zealand plus a British tour guide, the funny vocabulary continues to follow me. And because I am one of the two Americans, I’ve picked up on some foreign phrases in an attempt to blend in. I find myself calling college “uni,” shopping for “jumpers,” “getting on well” with my fellow travelers, and being “quite keen” for the upcoming adventures.

We only had a matter of hours to explore London as part of the tour, so I’m going to finally publish my photos from my previous trip to London over a month ago.

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Next Stop: Paris