Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Undercurrent






It's been six days since my septoplasty surgery and I'm still a little tired and shaky, but I'm certainly on the mend now. Thank you for all your lovely messages of support, they really got me through! I might write a separate post soon about the not-too-gruesome details, as a sort-of public service - since I completely freaked myself out in the days leading up to the operation by reading dozens of horror stories online, which unsurprisingly turned out to be utter rubbish (or at least in my case they were).

These lovely photos were, as you might have guessed, taken before the doctor got his hands on my nose, at a new favourite secret spot in East London. Those tiles are just so dreamy! As is my new dress, which was featured on the Anthropologie website today! I had to pick something out for a summer wedding so I went for a colourful number - not that I know much about wedding attire, since I've only been to three weddings, and the one time I was meant to be a bridesmaid I ended up being demoted (story for another day...it's quite scandalous...). In any case, I think I make a convincing wedding guest, don't you think?

What I'm wearing  |  Leilani Tulle Dress c/o Anthropologie  |  Belt: Gift  |  Shoes: Vintage Ferragamo  |  Bag: Michael Kors  |  Sunglasses: Marc by Marc Jacobs  |  Watch: Daniel Wellington





Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Guide to Amsterdam



Oh, Amsterdam. If only I were a Dutch-qualified lawyer, I’d quite happily reside in one of your flat-faced houses along the canal, and ride my bicycle to work every day! In March, the Texan and I celebrated my birthday with a long weekend in one of my favourite European cities. Just 50 minutes away by plane, there really is no excuse for not planning an annual pilgrimage there… And while Amsterdam is a small city, it certainly isn’t short of things to keep you occupied, and no, I’m not referring to comedy-sized penises, coffee shops and ladies in shop windows (!). The food, the people, the shopping, the art – Amsterdam is fabulous – and here’s why:








Eating

Between my Dutch friend and our AirBNB host, we had a list as long as our arms of recommended restaurants – and we were really impressed with all of them so I can only urge you to follow the same list!

For breakfast:
Kessens, Rozengracht 24 
Le Caféier, Rozengracht 144 

Both of these are really cute places for a cheap, light bite to start your day – Kessens had a proper breakfast menu, with eggs, smoked salmon and so on, while Le Caféier was more continental with pastries and great coffee.

For lunch:
- Mazzo, Rozengracht 114 
- Lavinia Good Food, Kerkstraat 176 

We were starving when we first arrived in Amsterdam, so we headed straight to the first restaurant we saw after dropping off our bags – it just so happened to be Mazzo on Rozengracht. The pizza was delicious, as was the antipasti – perfect for filling a gap before hitting the shops.

Lavinia Good Food also has a delicious offering of healthy sandwiches and mini pizzas, and the restaurant is really pretty space to recharge for an hour or so.

For dinner:
- Lieve, Herengracht 88 
- Restaurant Blauw, Amstelveenseweg 158-160 

Lieve has a funny concept for a Belgian restaurant – they have three different menus: one which is for sharing, one which is home cooking, and one which is more theatrical and flamboyant. We went for the home cooked food and it was delicious – and we even had a different complementary wine with each course!

We were told that we had to have an Indonesian curry while in Amsterdam so I googled “best Indonesian curry in Amsterdam” and I was led to Restaurant Blauw. And boy, it really was the best! I’ll say no more and leave the surprise to you, but honestly it’s worth the trek through the Vondelpark to reach it.

For a nightcap:
- Conservatorium Hotel, Van Baerlestraat 27 
- Hotel Okura, Ferdinand Bolstraat 333 

Right around the corner from the Van Gogh museum, the Conservatorium Hotel is Amsterdam’s old classical music institute. The old school yard is now a garden with a big glass roof where you can have drinks. The building is beautiful and there is often live music (classical or jazz) playing. The perfect spot for a nightcap, I say.

If views are what you’re after, then head to the top floor of the Hotel Okura for a cocktail or two.

My poor, swollen belly couldn’t take any more food after all of the above, but if you’re still hungry then head to:
- Pata Negra, Utrechtsestraat 124 – for excellent wines and tapas. It might look a bit off-putting from the outside, but I’m told it’s where the locals go.
- De Foodhallen, Bellamyplein 51 – I’ve heard quite a few people raving about this indoor food market, so worth a wander if you’re in the area.  






Shopping

Where to begin?! I guess I’ll start with Hutspot.

HutspotRozengracht 204-210 and Van Woustraat 4
I’d been following Hutspot on Instagram for quite a while and so it was top of my shopping list when we arrived in Amsterdam. If I ever have a shop, I'd want it to be a replica of Hutspot - simple but beautiful homewares, mid-century furniture, vintage collectors' items and basic and well-tailored clothing - I really was in heaven. There are two Hutspots in Amsterdam - we went to both, which I'd recommend because they do stock different things.

Laura DolsWolvenstraat 7
Laura Dols was my favourite vintage shop in Amsterdam, with a distinct 1970s vibe and a beautifully curated selection of suede jackets, big-collared shirts and leather boots. Sadly for me, however, the Dutch tend to be at least a foot taller than me so there wasn't much on offer for little people.





Bijons VintageNieuwezijds Voorburgwal 150 and Reestraat 13
There are two Bijons Vintage stores in Amsterdam, both stocking a similar vast selection of 1960s dresses, denim and leather handbags - worth a rummage in what are both well laid-out shops.






If you're passing by don't forget to pop into:

- One of many Episode stores - very much like Absolute Vintage in Spitalfields, i.e. a bit of a jumble sale but there's bound to be a bargain hidden among the rails and rails of denim cut offs.

- Kiloshop, Jodenbreestraat 158 - again, another jumble sale of stuff but worth a rummage if you're in the mood (plus it's just around the corner from Waterlooplein market, see below).

- Tut & Nola, hidden somewhere in the Nine Streets (see more below, I'm afraid I can't find a website for it) - I came across this place by accident, it had the most beautiful selection of 1950s dresses and embroidered bags, all neatly organised by size; only downside was that it was on the pricier end, and by that point I'd spent all my pennies...

- ZipperHuidenstraat 7 - for more contemporary vintage, such as mum jeans, beanies and tees.


Retro & ChicStaalstraat 2
Another gorgeous vintage shop, with some beautiful once-in-a-lifetime pieces. This is reflected in the price, however, so don't expect a bargain - but a perfect place to browse if you're looking for something really special.


Kitsch KitchenRozengracht 12
This shop is crazy! Filled with Mexican-inspired homewares, you better bring your sunglasses when you pop into Kitsch Kitchen, the colours are just fantastic! Even if you're not in the mood for buying anything, it's worth popping in - I've never seen a shop like it.




Spiegelkwartier
This area is lined with fine art and antiques shops - all mostly out of our price range, but I always love a gander and seeing all the pretty things from time gone by.


Nine Streets
Most of the shops and restaurants that I've listed above are in or around the Nine Streets - as the name would suggest, these are nine streets which cross in a grid and are lined with fantastic independent shops and places to eat. It's really worth focusing your shopping in this area if you're pressed for time, as there's enough there for an entire day.






Noordermarkt and Waterlooplein markets
Head to the Noordermarkt on a Saturday for a huge number of stalls selling vintage pieces and antiques. Waterlooplein market is open every day except Sunday - I'd read that it's mostly a tat market so was surprised by the amount of vintage clothing and bric-a-brac on offer. 






Things to see and do

Flower market, Kerkstraat 248
Holland is famous for its flowers, particularly its tulips, and after a stroll through Amsterdam’s flower market, it’s abundantly clear why – the colours, variety and quality is just out of this world. All I could think was how much I’d love to live in Amsterdam just so I could fill my house with beautiful fresh flowers all of the time – and they were so cheap too! We picked up some tulip bulbs (sadly, it was all we could fit in our hand luggage) which are now blooming on our balcony.




The Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1 
This place is one of a kind. You could spend an entire long weekend at the Rijksmuseum and still not manage to see everything! I thought it might just be another National Gallery, but the collection is varied and vast, so you can easily pick a handful of sections which interest you and stick to those. Best to buy tickets online and get there early, as the queue was huge!




Katten Kabinet, Herengracht 497
Okay, so I know I’m a crazy cat lady but whatever! The Katten Kabinet is, for all crazy cat ladies, a must-see in Amsterdam: it's a house full of everything cat-related and there are some real-life kitties too! There's also a shop selling reproduction vintage advert posters featuring cats.

The Cat Boat, Singel 38 
And if the Katten Kabinet isn't enough to satisfy your inner cat lady, you can also visit the Cat Boat - a rescue centre for stray moggies, on a canal boat!

If you have time, don’t forget to:

- Spend an hour at the Foam photography museum, Keizersgracht 609, and treat yourself to tea and cake afterwards in their café.

- Take a stroll through the Vondelpark, followed by an Indonesian curry at Restaurant Blauw – for more, see above!

- Visit Anne Frank’s house, Prinsengracht 263-267 (unbeknownst to us, if you pre-book your tickets you can skip the queue).

- Enjoy an afternoon at the Vincent van Gogh museum, Paulus Potterstraat 7.

- Sail down Amsterdam’s canals on a tour boat – sure it’s cheesy, but it’s a lot of fun!


Getting around

It is super easy to get from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station – follow the signs to the train station as you leave the airport, find a ticket machine, select the English option and purchase your tickets (which are just 4 euros, none of the £35 return rubbish you get with Heathrow or any other London airport), and then board your train! 30 minutes later and you’re in the centre of town. 

Getting around the city is just as easy, with trams passing through almost every street. The city is small enough that most places can be walked to (just remember to bring your trainers!), or you could pretend to be a local and rent a bike.

Staying there

A Dutch friend of mine suggested we stay in Jordaan, which is, I suppose, the equivalent of Spitalfields – it’s about a 20 minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal Station and close to the Anne Frank museum and the Nine Streets, as well as all the trendy restaurants and shops on Rozengracht. AirBNB has a huge offering in Amsterdam, so we stayed in Anna’s lovely flat in Jordaan – I’d definitely recommend it!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Recipes From The Texan: Okonomiyaki

You all loved the Texan’s Mexican Street Food recipe a couple of months ago, so I thought I’d hand over to the boy today to share a recipe we picked up in Japan: okonomiyaki. Literally meaning “grilled as you like it”, okonomiyaki is super quick and easy to make, and it is so scrummy – it’s essentially a big noodle-y, bacon-y, barbecue-y, yummy pancake!

While we were in Tokyo, we wandered into a restaurant near the Shibuya crossing which looked decent enough – there were lots of Japanese people eating in there, and it seemed clean, so we thought it was probably going to be okay…until we sat down, in front of a big hot plate, and realised that you cook your own dinner at this restaurant! The only dish on offer was okonomiyaki, so, we deciphered the Japanese instructions (thankfully it had pictures) and, because it is so easy to make, the end result was really very delicious! We’ve made okonomiyaki quite a few times since coming home to London – it’s a fantastic quick snack – and here’s how you can too.

You will need  |  1/2 small head of cabbage  |  140g plain flour  |  1/4 cup of mirin (which you can get in a Japanese food store)  |  Bacon  |  Noodles (any type is fine, whatever you prefer)  |  Olive or vegetable oil  |  Dash of Worcestershire and soy sauces  |  2 eggs  |  Mayonnaise  |  Okonomiyaki sauce (which is very similar to brown sauce, with a slightly more barbecue flavour)  


Step 1: Roughly chop up half a cabbage.

Step 2: Place your flour and mirin in a bowl, then pour in 3/4 of a cup of cold water.  Whisk together well, until it forms a batter.


Step 3: Add a dash of oil to a hot frying pan, and then pour in the batter, covering the entire bottom of the pan and leaving a little of the batter behind.

Step 4: Layer your chopped cabbage and bacon on top of the batter, cover over with the remaining batter and leave to cook on a medium heat for five minutes.

Step 5: While the pancake is cooking, soften your noodles and then stick them in a frying pan. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce for flavour, and leave to cook in the pan for five minutes.


Step 6: Flip your pancake, using a spatula (this isn’t like a regular pancake so be careful, otherwise it will go everywhere!), on top of the noodles.

Step 7: Crack two eggs into another pan and swizzle (that’s the official term…) the eggs around so the yolks and whites are mixed up but not fully scrambled.

Step 8: Gently slide your pancake on top of the egg, and leave to cook for a further five minutes.

Step 9: Turn out your pancake onto a plate!

Step 10: Generously coat your pancake with the okonomiyaki sauce (or brown sauce or barbecue sauce if you don’t have any) and some mayonnaise.

And there you have it, okonomiyaki! A feast fit for a sumo wrestler, and it only took 30 minutes!