January goals....so how did that go?

One month down, eleven to go - 2016 is whizzing by at a heck of a clip!  I'll get into my goals for the month to come later in this post, but first, let's see how January went, shall we?

1. I would like to read 5 books this month - I have a huge stack of great reads to get through so I want to make sure I make the effort to read them!  My inner Hermione needs to be unleashed.

Books read in January?  SEVEN.  Oh yes, A-plus, go self!

2. I would like to visit and explore two areas of London I haven't explored fully before.  In the city it's very tempting to stick to the same stomping grounds, I'd really like to get out there and see some new places. 

I have done some exploring in the Shepherd's Bush/White City area, and around the Strand ahead of next month's adventures.  Done!

3. I would like to track my food and exercise on either MyFitnessPal or Sparkpeople...I'm always better at making good choices when I'm recording.

I managed to track on MFP 26/31 days.  Not perfect, but a big improvement.

4. I am so overdue on medical appointments - I need to make appointments with my dentist (and hygienist), doctor and optician (and if possible get them done this year).  I need to make sure I'm keeping on top of things.

I made it to the doctor's, the dentist, and the hygienist.  Only the optician's appointment eluded me - I'll hope get this sorted in March!

5. I want to finish researching cameras and finally purchase one (the Olympus PEN is the strong front runner at the moment!).  I'm excited to improve my photography and start work on vlogging this year.

Research completed, money saved - I'm ready to go, but will wait till the end of my very busy February to purchase, when March should afford me lots of time to enjoy the getting-to-know-you season with a new camera!

6. I would like to lose 5 pounds.  I could stand to lose lots of pounds, but I figure every big number is made up of small ones!

January weightloss?  Five pounds.  Right on target!

7. I would like to visit the gym at least five times.  I'm aware this is a small goal, but that's the 'attainable' at work. I've also been soooooo lazy in the last month when it comes to going there, five will be an achievement.  I'm also aware that this involves going to the gym in January....good heavens, please wish me luck.

I approached this a little differently and....quit the gym.  I didn't like going, I do like using the cross-trainer. walking and dancing.  In the spring I'll add some swimming to the mix, but I feel so good about giving up a membership I simple wasn't using enough and which for me was a bit of a crutch.  I think sometimes I made poor choices because I thought I'd go to the gym...and then I didn't.  So an epic fail on this goal, but a happier position.

8. I would like to watch four movies at the cinema - between my Unlimited card at Cineworld and the many delights of the PCC and the BFI, there's no excuse for this to not happen.

The Danish Girl.  Our Brand Is Crisis. Room.  If we make it to see The Big Short later, I've nailed this one!

9. I would like to devise three new recipes and post them here on the blog.

Two out of three ain't bad, right?

10. I would like to throw out / recycle / donate at least twenty carrier bags worth of items currently residing in the house.  The place is so cluttered, it's beyond time for a clearout.

I managed fifteen.  Not twenty, but still a lot!

11. In March Shona and I are going to the awesome Country 2 Country festival (again!).  This month I'm going to try and make a spotify mix of all the acts performing, so we can spend February getting up to speed on all things country.  Every year I saw I wish I'd done this when the festival arrives...this year I'm going to get it done.

Done, and here.

So all told, I'm pretty chuffed with January.  In addition to the eleven goals above, I've also kept to my new year's resolution of walking at least half an hour a day (including some days where its been well over two or three hours of walking!).  On the whole, I think setting monthly rather than yearly goals works better for me personally.  So tomorrow I'll share my goals for February - it's a busier month as I'm doing an internship for four weeks, but I'm hoping to still hit the goals on my list.

How's your 2016 going so far?

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February: A Month In Culture

Last month I wrote my first 'month in culture' post, and I must admit it was handy having notes to work from whilst planning my book-buying, cinema-going, etc! There are so many cultural elements to look forward to in a given month, and as someone who loves books, movies, theatre and film, I thought it would make sense for me to write about these things more often here on the blog.  Here's what February has in store.

After the saturation of top class films we found in January (ah, awards season), the coming month sees much more of a mixed bag.  I should point out here that I share the films I'm hoping to see, so there are several I won't touch on, mainly horror films such as The Forest and The Green Inferno (I'm a scaredy cat!), or movies that have been critically mauled and which look awful (Jem and the Holograms, Zoolander 2).  That being said, there's still plenty to entertain at the movies this month!

Friday 5th sees the release of two very different films.  On one hand we have the beautifulkly crafted, critically acclaimed Trumbo.  Twentieth century American history is one of my favoruite eras to study, so I'm fascinated to delve into this film. On the other hand?  Dad's Army! Having grown up watch the series I'll certainly check it out; I'm also a sucker for anything starring Bill Nighy.

There are two midweek releases in the following time, with both Deadpool (released February 10th) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (releasing February 12th) shunning a traditional Friday debut.  On Friday 12th the festival circuit darling A Bigger Splash releases, alongside Will Smith's NFL drama Concussion and the children's film Oddball and the Penguins.  As an utter penguin fan, I'll be seeking this one out!

On Friday 19th The Finest Hours, Freeheld,  and the comedy How To Be Single all have their releases, and on Wednesday 24th Sacha Baron-Cohen's Grimsby is released (Rebel Wilson has been busy!).


Please note in the books section links are amazon affiliate links.  Other links, and other book suppliers, are available. I like to be transparent on these things!

When Breath Becomes Air releases on the 4th, and looks heartbreaking, wise, challenging and wonderful.  I predict a need for tissues aplenty.  I'm also looking forward to reading West of Eden (also published on the 4th) - books about the golden age of Hollywood are always a favourite.  On the 11th I'll be embracing my love of sweet, nourishing chicklit, with the publication of A Summer at Sea and The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After, as well as Marian Keyes' memoir, Making It Up As I Go Along.

Also published on the 11th is the beautiful Raptor: A Journey Through Birds, which looks awesome - I love learning about our special and diverse wildlife, so I'll be seeking this book out.  All of that should keep me busy until later in the month, when on the 25th Hemsley and Hemsley's new cookbook, Good + Simple, releases, as well as the latest James Patterson, 15th Affair.


It's quite a big month for theatre!  On the 1st Red Velvet opens officially at the Garrick, after a week or so of previews. I'm looking forward to going to the opening night of The End of Longing at the Playhouse on the 2nd.  I'm excited to see a Matthew Perry penned play.

On the 12th both Uncle Vanya (Almeida) and Nell Gwynn (Apollo) have their full openings, and on the 15th Hand to God (Vaudeville) and Showstopper! The Improvised Musical (Lyric) debut.  I adore Showstopper! and have seen then several times - I'll be hoping to catch them during this West End run.

On the 16th Mrs Henderson Presents opens at the Noel Coward (after previews from the 9th), and from the 17th the Dominion hosts the epic War of the Worlds (previews from February 8th).  Phew!

Music / Events

Amaluna continues its residency at the Royal Albert Hall throughout February and is sure to be a big half-term hit with families.  On February 5th Jason Derulo will be bringing his poppy-R'n'B stylings to the o2 which should be a fun night out!  Later in the month the o2 will play host to the Brit awards on the 24th.

Over on the Southbank they have some great classical offerings.  I'm intrigued by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's Marin, Madness and Music programme on the 6th, part of the Changing Minds 2016 season.  On the 13th the Royal Festival Hall plays host to a Mozart Masterpieces evening, which looks great fun!  As much as I adore dsicovering new music, sometimes a good 'greatest hits' evening is just what's required.  On the 29th I'll be aiming to be at the RFH again for a concert featuring the Purcell School Symphony Orchestra, and one of my favourite Romantic-era pieces, Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto.


Yet more awards!  The Baftas are on Sunday 8th (and always a delight).  The WGA awards happen on Saturday 13th, and the Brits music awards, as mentioned above, take place on Wednesday 24th.  At the tailend of the month we have the Oscars - February 28th.  As well as watching to see who takes home the prizes, I'll also be fascinated to see how host Chris Rock handles the furore surrounding this year's awards.  He's such an incisive and intelligent comedian, I think his take could be brilliant. 

So that's much of what I'm looking forward to.  How about you?
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Food: In Praise of Pasta

As the winter continues, I'm always looking to make good, hearty meals for us.  As the healthkick continues, I'm always looking to make meals with plenty of veggies in.  As the saving kick continues, I'm always trying to do this in a way that stretches the money we have and still creates healthy, yummy food (shoutout to my fruit and veg guy on the high street - so much fruit and veg, bargain prices.  Plus free avocados / nectarines / cherries for regulars!).

In this cold season, pasta is a house favourite.  Whether it's farfalle in a soup, spaghetti with a rich homemade bolognese sauce, penne with slow roasted tomato sauce, or fusilli tossed with peppers and pesto (I love regular basil pesto, especially homemade, but also have a soft spot for some of the ready made ones - the spicy ones are brilliant, and so useful when you're in a time crunch!), pasta often forms part of our go-to meals.

As I'm trying (and succeeding, slowly but surely, yay!  More on that tomorrow) to lose weight, several people have asked me if I'm cutting carbs and my answer is always a no.  Low-carb/no-carb can work for some, but for me to live the life I like, good sensible portions of carbs are a necessary part of the plan.  If I'm going for one of my two, three, or four hour walks (such fun, especially with the radio or an audiobook or some podcasts for company), I'm enjoying a bowl of pasta or a jacket potato, whether before or after.  One thing I'm being much better about this year is portion size, and I love that paying a little attention in this area means I can keep the foods I like in my wheelhouse.

Food geek that I am, I was delighted to be sent this infographic by Jamie's Italian about the various types of pasta and how they all got their names - this is precisely the sort of knowledge that my brain soaks up like a sponge!  I thought I'd share here for my fellow foodies - if it's a little small then you can click through to a larger version on Visually.

Man, I'm hungry now, and grateful Italian food is planned for later!

Do you have a favourite kind of pasta?

Disclaimer: Jamie's Italian created this infographic which I am sharing here in a sponsored post.  As ever, I only share content that I like, enjoy, or find handy!  I think it's a really fun little guide.
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What to blog about in February

I've been blogging for a long time.

One of the things I rarely run out of is things to write about, but I also know how tricky it can be when you're under the gun and looking for inspiration.  When time is short and themes are elusive, it can be difficult to come up with just the thing to write about, which people would like to read about.  To this end I thought that throughout this year to come at the end of each month I'd compile a post full of ideas on themes and things to write about in the month to come.  As I researched this the remit widened a little as I found more and more things to cover.  I hope you find it useful!

There are several feast days which may pique your interest.  On the 8th of February it's Chinese new year, and as ever I'll be hoping to get down to Chinatown to see the festivities.  We are entering the year of the monkey, which I always enjoy as that's the sign I was born under (#biased).  On Tuesday 9th it's Shrove Tuesday and I'll be looking forward to lots of pancakes to mark the day.  Wednesday 10th is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Christian season of Lent; very early this year!  The 14th is Valentines, with stationery shops and florists up and down the land hoping for a romantic surge.   

After the dark, dark days of December and January, by this point in the year there is a glimmer of hope building as the evenings get a little lighter each day.  While spring is still a way off, the slightly longer days make the winter chill a little easier to handle.  Themes which I find work well in February are:

  •  Anything to do with romance and love - from flashbacks to weddings to thrifty date ideas to Valentines gift posts - it's definitely the season!
  • I love pet posts at this time of year.  We tend to stay closer to home in the colder seasons and it's a fun time to turn our focus towards our furry friends.
  • It's Library Lovers' month, so if you're a bibliophile this might be a lovely theme to write on.
  • Both the Superbowl (7th) and the Oscars (28th) could provide some lovely blog fodder, if either sports or films are your bag.
  • It's National Heart Month, so as well as the soppier side of things, this can be a great time to talk about heart health and staying healthy.  So important.
  • It's a Leap Year!  I always think Leap Days are a little quirky and fun, so I'll be planning some silliness around this.
  • It's Snack Food Month, so sharing some of your favourite snacks, publishing a recipe for a new snack, or devising some healthy twists on snack favourites would all make for some lovely content.
  • If you give something up for Lent, I think a post on this can always be lovely.
  • By February, people's motivation with new habits and goals may be waning, if they've made it this far, so I think February is a great time for boosting people up with healthy recipes, advice posts, and inspirational stories.
  • If like me you're obsessed with Parks and Recreation, I'm sure a 'Galentines' post might make your editorial calendar around the 13th!
  • As we're still in the wintery months, home posts are always nice at this point - cosy interiors to inspire.  I also like to get plenty of 'before' shots ahead of the spring cleaning I usually kick off in March.

Special days can be fun to commemorate if they fit with your likes, passions, causes or hobbies.  As well as the festivals I've mentioned above, there are also lots of food based events for bloggers who write on this.  The 4th is Homemade Soup Day, on the 6th you may wish to mark Ice Cream for Breakfast Day; on the 7th Yorkshire Pudding Day arrives, and then you could round off the series on the 9th with National Pizza Day!  The 18th brings a personal favourite of mine (Drink Wine Day), just in time to enjoy that ahead of London Beer Week which begins on the 22nd.  Fairtrade fortnight concludes the month's foodie proceedings, kicking off on Monday 29th.

Here in London there are lots of events to look forward to as well. At Kew Gardens their orchid festival begins on the 6th (running till early March), with hundreds of beautiful flowers to enjoy.  On the 9th restaurants across the city will be serving up pancakes of every shape, size and flavour, and in Westminster the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race will be taking place (it looks hilarious!). The Southbank Centre hosts the Imagine Children's Festival from the 10th - there are dozens of wonderful sessions for little ones.  I especially love the look of those on the Roald Dahl theme! At the ExCel centre from the 11th-14th, those who adore the two-wheeled life may wish to check out the London Bike Show.  According to the website, there are Triathlon, Dive and Outdoor Adventure shows happening at the same time!  Chinese New Year brings many events to town (check out this Time Out piece for further details).  I'll be hoping to get into the West End on Sunday 14th to see the main parade.  At the end of the month, London Fashion Week and London Fashion Weekend will bring a rash of fashionistas to town!

I'll blog later about some of the cultural elements I'm looking forward to in February, but I hope you've found some inspiration here for your February blogging.  Have fun!  
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Recent Reads: In Order To Live, Pride & Prejudice, and The Good Liar

Please note that in this post links are amazon affiliate links.  Other links, and other book suppliers, are available. I like to be transparent on these things! If you do click, thank you for supporting my reading addiction.

This year I decided I really wanted to get back into reading regularly, and to read a good range of books too.  This month I've made a strong start to this plan and have read some brilliant books, three of which I'll be writing about today.


I find the politics and history of North Korea fascinating (as well as terrifying), and am always on the lookout for books which throw a little light onto this most mysterious of nations.  Yeonmi Park's account of her childhood in North Korea and her subsequent escape and new life as a human rights activisit is well-written, intriguing, and full of hope.  I look forward to reading a sequel in a few year's time!  If you're interested in North Korea I think this book and the seminal Nothing To Envy would make excellent partners for each other. 


 I need little convincing to tuck into an Austen book, so when I realised it had been three years since I last read P&P, I had to add this to my reading pile (note: this is an actual pile, by my bed.  A surfeit of books to hand makes my soul happy!).  I thoroughly enjoyed reredaing this, greeting the characters like old friends.  Austen's language, pacing, and charm never fail to thrill me; I'm constantly in awe of how astutely she draws her characters.  I love this book!  It now turns out that next month I'm going to a lecture on Austen at a school I used to teach at, so I'm pleased that this will be fresh in my mind.


 The Good Liar is a taut, interesting psychological thriller.  It's not necessarily a book I'd naturally gravitate towards, but as I'm trying to widen my taste a little (Austen rereads notwithstanding!) I picked this up on the recommendation of a friend, and I'm so glad I did; it's cleverly written and the final third in particular is compelling, as you realise that the myriad twists and turns may not turn out quite how you were expecting!  Such a great debut novel - I will be anticipating Searle's next novel with relish.

The next three books on my list are The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, Furiously Happy, and Reading Like A Writer.  Which books are you currently enjoying?

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Which wine wins?

This morning I find myself contemplating haggis and wine.

Two of my favourite things!

Here in the Roper household we are looking forward to celebrating Burns' Night this evening, with a chicken and haggis pie (recipe to follow in a couple of weeks).  We'll be enjoying a nip of whisky alongside, as is traditional when toasting the motherland, but I'm stuck on what sort of wine to serve in addition to this.
Luckily, the lovely folks at Roberson Wine sent me over this fun infographic to share, which handily advises on which wine to pair with different foods!  I really enjoyed learning more about which wines partner best with certain foods - if you click through on the infographic you'll be taken to a full size version so you can have an 'every day is a school day' moment as well!

After this advice I'll be looking out for a lovely medium-bodied Burgundy with my shopping today, which should both complement the chicken, while offseting the lovely spiciness of the haggis.  I'm getting peckish just thinking about it!

Which are your favourite wines to share?

Disclaimer: Roberson's created this infographic which I am sharing here in a sponsored post.  As ever, I only share content that I like, enjoy, or find handy!  I think it's a really useful little guide, and I'm always up for learning more about how to get food and wine to work together. 
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Most important meal of the day

A nice big bowl of muesli and a cup of coffee?  Good times, people.

Today marks the start of National Breakfast Week. I was excited to write a post about this, and thought I'd share my current favourite meals, along with calorie and nutrient breakdowns for each.

Growing up I adored starting the day with a healthy meal, from primary school porridge and toast through to boarding school cooked breakfasts, but like many people I got terrible at breakfasts when I hit uni and then the world of work.  Too much coffee and sugar, or no breakfast at all, was all too often my go-to.

In this year where I'm trying to overhaul my eating and exercise, to live a little more healthily, I've enjoyed sitting down and working out what I need from my breakfast, and ensuring I eat something which can keep me full.  My portions of good, wholesome food can afford to be generous, but as I (hopefully) slim down I may have to shrink them a little too.  Realistically though, I'll still be aiming for 250-500 calories for breakfast....because I feel so much better when I do! I am losing weight (as I set out in my January goals post, update to follow at the end of the month), and I think good sturdy breakfasts are part of what's helping me to do so.

Here are some of my current favourites for the most important meal of the day.  This is pretty much what I enjoy in an average week - I don't profess to be any kind of expert but I really, really like food, and I hope what's here might give you an idea or two.

Avocado on toast (2 slices) with lime and chilli

366 calories. 47g carbs, 29g fat, 11g protein.

This lifestyle change has given me a newfound respect for fats, and good, honest carbs.  As my lunches tend to be quite light (soup, salad, stir fry, sandwich being the four go-tos), this is an ideal kick off to the day and means I never snack midmorning because I'm delightfully full.

Homemade muesli with semi-skimmed milk

303 calories, 43g carbs, 10g fat, 10g protein.

I love making my own versions of muesli - it's easy to skip out additions you don't like, and to avoid extra added sugar.  With so much sweetness from the dried fruit already, there's no need for extra sweeteners here!  My current combo is oats, almonds, pecans, apricots, raisins and cranberries.  My usual serving is 3/4 cup of the mix with 100 mls semiskimmed milk, which comes in at a sensible total of around 300 cals per serving.

Berry parfait

315 calories, 45g carbs, 4g fat, 25g protein.

This is so simple.  I layer greek yogurt, berries, and a little (1/4 cup) of my homemade muesli to make a tasty, calcium rich, start to the day.  Greek yogurt is such a great source of protein; I used fat free because it's what we had in on Wednesday!


283 calories, 58g carbs, 2g fat, 8g protein.

Quick and easy!  Microwaveable oats are a porridge gamechanger in this house.  Topped with sliced banana and a 1/2 tbsp of honey, this is a great warming breakfast.

Fruit and veggie smoothie

215 calories, 50g carbs, 1g fat, 4g protein.

So quick and simple with the Vitamix! My current combination of choice is apple, carrot, spinach, with a splash of orange juice and some ice or water.  So filling and a great way to get some goodness in early.

One thing I'd love to improve in both this breakfast and the porridge one is the protein count, so I'm going to look into adding things such a whey protein to improve this.

Eggs, cherry tomatoes and toast

268 calories, 24g carbs, 12g fat, 18g protein.

 Love this at the weekend.  I always add a handful of cherry tomatoes or some spinach or peppers to my scramble to get a portion of veg in.  A little sweet chilli sauce on top is sublime, and well worth the few extra calories.

Bacon roll (because sometimes you just have to!)

454 calories, 43g carbs, 15g fat, 18g protein.

Giant bap (I love Warburtons barm cakes!), three slices of grilled bacon, healthy squirt of ketchup.  So yum!

So there you have it, some of my favourite breakfasts.  All of these I'll usually have with a coffee with milk (sometimes instant, sometimes filter).  I don't put butter on toast at breakfast time as I tend to have it with heavy things like avo or eggs - it's surplus to requirements! With coffee these options clock in between about 250 and 480 cals, not bad at all, and a nice way to fill up ahead of the day.

Now I'm curious - what are your favourite breakfasts?  I'm always looking for inspiration. Tasty, tasty inspiration.
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I Love Your Blog!

Many many moons ago (okay, 2012!) I started a little blog series called 'I Love Your Blog'.  Having been reading blogs for years it was a fun way to share some blogs and bloggers I adored, and I really enjoyed doing the series.  Last autumn I relaunched the series and every so often I'll be sharing a few more writers who inspire me!

Below are five bloggers I adore who I'd love to introduce, and who I hope to interview for this blog over the next couple of months or so.  I hope you enjoy these pieces and that you'll check out these fabulous writers.

Citrus Spice UK

I first met Nayna at a bloggers cookery event a couple of years ago and have read her wonderful blog ever since.  She's a talented chef and a wonderful writer - I really enjoy clicking over there for some kitchen inspiration!

Curled up with a Good Book and a Cup of Tea

Shan and I have been online friends for an age and I am such a fan of her writing....and utterly in awe of her reading prowess.  Reading her blog is both a delight and an expense, because I always end up with about eleventy million books I'm dying to read.  She is such a great book blogger!

Jasmin Charlotte

Jasmin is a witty and intelligent blogger whose posts are full to the brim with great stories, lovely pics and super tips for honing your blog game! I love reading her posts, whatever she decides to write about - her point of view is always so refreshing. She is also an absolute treaure IRL!

Kelly's Korner

I have been reading Kelly's hugely successful blog for over seven years, a fact I realised when I read her post about her eldest daughter Harper's birthday earlier this week...I remember reading the posts when Harper first arrived!  Kelly is such a sweet and kind lady and I love the heart she has for others.  I always enjoy checking in over there.

Kings Road Rocks

Here in London there are SO many brilliant blogs (many of whom I hope to showcase in this series....some of which I already have featured here!), and I'd definitely include KRR in that number.  Full of restaurants, spas and experiences you'll be dying to try, Mina has a unique take on the delights the city has to offer!

I hope you'll click through and check out these super bloggers - I've contacted them all for interviews and will hope to post some of these in the coming weeks.

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8 excellent cheese destinations in London

Happy National Cheese Lovers' Day!

As if I needed an excuse....

...my adoration of cheese is well-documented, and living in London I am lucky enough to be surrounded by destinations for enjoying dairy based fare.  Please enjoy this list of tend of my top destinations in the capital for turophiles.


Address: Old Spitalfields Market, 107b Commercial Street, London,  E1 6BG

An amazing cheese shop, plus a delightful bar (the fondue is amazing!), this is an east London fixture. This London outpost of the Parisian fromagerie par excellence is always worth a visit. The hampers also make wonderful gifts; I especially like the ready made cheeseboards, perfect for entertaining!

La Cave á Fromage

Kensington Address (there is also a Notting Hill location here in town): 24-25 Cromwell Place, London, SW7 2LD

The smell alone would have me recommend this place to you all - as soon as you enter you are greeted with the most wonderful aroma of gorgeous cheese.  I have had some amazing Bleu des Basques and Rocamadour from here.  Their events are meant to be amazing, I'm hoping to get over to west London for an evening before long.

The Deli Downstairs

Address: 211 Victoria Park Road, Victoria Park Village, London, E9 7JN

Whenever I pop over to Victoria Park (more often in the warmer months, I must confess!), I'm sure to visit the Deli Downstairs.  There's a great range of goods to choose from, not least the brilliant cheese selections, perfect for composing a charming cheeseboard.

La Fromagerie

Marylebone Address: 2 - 6 Moxon Street, London, W1U 4EW

A marvellous cheese shop and a fantastic little cafe adjacent to the store as well.  If you wish to make your mouth water, do click through and enjoy the alphabetised list of cheeses available.  There is a shop in Highbury as well, but I have yet to visit.

Gordon's Wine Bar

Address: 47 Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NE

One of my favourite bars in the city, not least for its excellent cheese selections (I adore the Saint Nectaire, the Gorgonzola and the Dambuster as a trio).  Pull up a chair, order a gorgeous bottle of wine, and fill a plate with fresh, crusty baguette, beautiful cheese and chutneys galore.  One of my favourite treats in town.

Neal's Yard Dairy

Covent Garden Address: 17 Shorts Gardens, London, WC2H 9AT

A darling of the cheese scene in town, serving up slices and wedges of the most delicious cheeses.  As well as the Covent Garden shop, there are also locations in Bermondsey and Borough Market.  

Paxton & Whitfield

St James' Address (there is also a location in SW3): 93 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JE

One of the oldest cheesemongers there is (established in 1797), and good enough to have a Royal Warrant from both The Queen *and* the Prince of Wales, Paxton and Whitfield is truly a London gem!  A membership to their Cheese Society is firmly on my wishlist, with a monthly delivery of a dairy delight, four cheeses picked to be enjoyed at their best.  Some of the best Stilton I've ever enjoyed came from here.

Rippon Cheese

Address: 26 Upper Tachbrook Street, London, SW1V 1SW

A lovely little cheese shop in Pimlico that's been in business for just over 25 years, selling around 500 varieties of delicious cheese - if you need it, they've probably got it!  I love perusing their stock whenever I find myself over in that part of town.

Writing this post has left me both famished and desparetely craving some cheese - I hope you've found some turo(phile)-iffic inspiration here.

Where are your favourite spots for the best cheeses?
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Believe that good things are about to happen

January is an odd time of year.

It's cold.

It's grey.

Many of us are saving money after the Christmas rush, or eating more simply after the Christmas goodie-fest.

We tend to see less of our favourite folk after the cosy conviviality of December.

Like all parts of the year, it's a season, a stage, a moment....but it can make everything feel a little gloomy.

So at this time of year I always like to look forward to good things, to new things, to fun things.  I like to plan little excitements, whether it's a film, or a coffee date, or just curling up with someone you love to watch a favourite show (M and I are tearing through Parks and Recreation at the moment.  How have I not seen this show before?).

I also like to activate my inner optimist in these trying & grey January days.  Even in the dark spots, there's always a little glimmer of light and hope in my nature, telling me to believe that good things are about to happen.

Today I'm thankful for that little glimmer, and for choosing to believe and look forward and treasure the sunny days ahead, rather than feeling glum.  I'm also thankful for this season, and the chance it offers for reflection and introspection - always important to have a good think!

How's your January going?

Are there any things you're especially looking forward to?

Are there any good things you're hoping to make happen?

Have a great Monday you gorgeous things!
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Recipe: Cauliflower Cheese Soup

January is a big month for soup in our household.  It's such a great food - wholesome, easy to do on a smaller budget (great after the December bacchanal!), freezes beautifully and is such a treat in the chilly, dreich weather.  I love salads when the sun is out but for a winter lunch soup is a firm go-to!

This year I'm trying to make better use of in-season produce.  There are some family favourites which we eat year round (onions, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes) and we are big fans of frozen veg for convenience, but at other times we are going to try to make use of produce that's in season here in the UK.  I think seasonality is a nice thing to embrace, even if it's just a little.

British cauliflowers are lovely just now, and as I wandered the supermarket aisles the other day it occured to me that I hadn't cooked cauliflower in ages.  Knowing that I had a lot of cheese in our fridge (never a bad thing, but there is a lot post Christmas), I thought combining the two would be a good idea.  So I did, and came up with the recipe below - a filling, cheesey, and not horribly calorific winter soup.  I hope you enjoy it - please let me know if you give this recipe a try!

This recipe makes between 6 and 8 portions depending on hunger levels and whether or not you're serving it as a starter, a light lunch, or a main meal.  I'm having it for lunch most of this fortnight - it freezes beautifully so I have portions aplenty to enjoy.


1 extra large cauliflower
150 grams grated cheese
50 mls reduced fat creme fraiche
1 tbsp butter
250 mls semiskimmed milk
Black pepper


1. Fill a large stockpot or pan with water, and put it on to boil.  While it is doing so, wash your cauliflower, detach the leaves, and chop the vegetable up into pieces.

2. Once the water is boiling, add the cauliflower and boil for around 10 minutes (roughly until the vegetable is soft enough for a fork to pass into it with ease).

3. Place a colander over a large bowl - you are going to reserve some of the water the vegetable has been boiling in to add to your soup.  I find warm water is always easier to add than cold, and the water you've used to cook holds some of the flavour of the veg and negates the need for stock - a good thing given how salty the cheese will make the soup already.  I ended up using about 6 ladles full of this reserved water when combining my soup.

4. Drain your cauliflower, and set your cauliflower and reserved cooking water aside.

5.  Return your large pan to the hob.  Add butter, then milk, then creme fraiche.  Here I used what I had in the house, I'm sure swaps various would work with the dairy components.

6.  Next, alternate adding cauliflower, cheese, and reserved water to the pan until all your ingredients are combined.  I used a combination of Red Leicester and Double Gloucester cheeses as that's what we had a surfeit of in the fridge.  I think a good strong mature Cheddar would be amazing.

7.  At this point your mixture will look a little odd....because it's blending time!  I used our Vitamix to blend our soup to smoothness in batches, but I'm sure a stick blender would work just as well.

8.  Bring the whole mixture up to piping hot, add your black pepper to taste, and serve.  A yummy way to enjoy a hit of vegetable goodness.

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16 Places I'd Like To Visit in 2016

I make no bones of the fact that I like to travel.  In my younger years I didn't always get the chance to do much travelling, but in my thirties I am doing more and more; I love seeing new places, soaking up history, trying new foods and exploring new places.  Last year was an amazing year for travel, expecially our wonderful honeymoon to the US, and I'm hoping to travel even more in the next twelve months.

I originally sat down to write about the ten places I'd like to visit this year....but that just didn't give me much scope.  So here are the sixteen places I'd like to travel to in 2016.  Some of these are already booked in (Matthew and I are definitely planners by nature!), some I'm researching right now, and some are still at the pipe dream stage.  I don't think I'll manage all of them, just from a funds and time position, but oh, imagine if I could....

1. New York

I've wanted to go to NYC for ages, but have never actually made it across to the Big Apple before.  We've booked several days her when we head across the pond for our big holiday of the year and I'm so excited.  I can't wait to see the city I've seen on screen a thousand times, to soak up the culture, and to try the food, which I've been assured is out-of-this world.

2. Skye

I was talking to some fellow Scots-in-London the other day and talk turned to the homeland in general and the islands in particular.  It has been over a decade since I've headed to the isles, so I had to pop Skye on the list.  Probably in the spring or summer.

3. Copenhagen

The Danish capital has long been on my wishlist, and at the current time seems a good chance for a visit.  For the first time in, well, ever, I'm not behoven to the school calendar - so I'm determined to make use of my flexible schedule to see more of Europe on short breaks.

4. Luxembourg

I lived in Luxembourg for a few months after university, working as an au pair.  While the job was trying (long story), I loved the country.  We're hopping over for a long weekend in the spring and I'm excited to explore more with Matthew in tow.  He's pretty excited at the thought of catching some Luxembourgish footballing action - another nation's football to be enjoyed!

5. Aberdeen

I spent four years in Aberdeen while I was studying...and have been back about four times since!  The Granite City is a beauty, so I'm looking forward to a little jaunt north at some point.  I'm excited to take a little trip down memory lane!

6. Toronto

I've visited Toronto before and adored it, so I am psyched to return - it's one of my favourite cities on the planet!  We've built a few days there into our North America holiday and I'm so excited to eat, drink, shop and explore this great place some more.

7. Lisbon

I have never been to Portugal, which seems crazy given the sheer volume of flights available.  I might change this a little and go to Faro or Porto rather than Lisbon proper (although that's the frontrunner), but Portugal is firmly on the list.

8. The Cotswolds

I've read so many books where people go to a cosy cottage in the Cotswolds.

This year, I would like to go to a cosy cottage in the Cotswolds.

9. Las Vegas

We had such fun in Vegas last year, and I was so pleased with how fun it was, as well as glamourous!  I'm looking forward to more casinos, more shows, more adventures when we visit in the autumn.

10. Cardiff

I've spent a little time in Wales, but my time has all been spent in either the Brecons or Snowdonia.  This year I'd like to take a short break to Cardiff, to explore the Welsh capital a little - I've heard great things!

11. Perth & Pitlochry

Hailing from Moray, this region of Scotland has frequently been a place I've been through, not to.  Pitlochry I've visited a fair few times and would like to see again, Perth I've only ever seen from the A9 or the train station.  I'm looking forward to finding out what delights it may have to offer!

12. Rome

For at least the last five years, we've discussed going to Italy.  This year I'd like to actually start going!

13. Boston

Another leg of our 'big' holiday, I'm so excited to see what this city is like, and doing lots of fun history based sightseeing.

14. Barcelona

Chalk this up with Portugal on the how-have-I-not-been-there-yet-it's-so-close list!  

15. Reykjavik

I think Iceland is just the most amazing place, with geography and culture by the boatload.  They are also mad keen on reading, so I imagine I'll fit in!

16. Berlin

I lived in Germany for years as a child...but never made it to Berlin.  This year, I'd like to fix that.

As you can see, I clearly have some planning ahead!

Which places are on your 'to visit' list this year?
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Recent Reads: Why Not Me?, The Girls, and Killing Monica

Please note that in this post links are amazon affiliate links.  Other links, and other book suppliers, are available. I like to be transparent on these things! If you do click, thank you for supporting my reading addiction.

Winter is always a great time to curl up with a good book (or several good books!).  As a total bookworm it takes very little provocation for me to dive into a good book, and this year I'm determined to be better at recording what I do read here.  Here are a few of my recent reads:

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

I'm a Mindy Kaling fan.  I liked her in The Office, I enjoy The Mindy Project, and I devoured Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me.  She's such a smart, witty writer, and I always enjoy reading authors who are as pop culture obsessed as I am.  My favourite portion was probably the emails from teacher-Mindy....very funny.  A great, fun, uplifting read.

The Girls, by Emma Cline

This book doesn't actually release until June of this year, but is already being heralded as the debut of 2016.   I was lucky enough to receive a preview copy, back in October when I went to see the author, Emma Cline in conversation with Salman Rushdie.  

This book is vivid, unsettling, and strange....in a good way.  As I turned the final page and completed the book I think my exact words were "that was.....weird."  And it is - it's a great book, but the theme and the style makes it creepy and a little bit dreamlike.  I don't want to give too much away, but it's the kind of boom that takes you on a real journey, and Evie's tale is told in raw, vivid way - some of the imagery is still stuck in my head, over a fortnight later.....

A great book, and Cline is clearly a talent to watch.

Killing Monica, by Candace Bushnell

Another book I picked up at an event, this time at the Red Magazine lunch with Candace Bushnell herself (such a funny, fierce, intelligent woman.  Loved meeting her!).  I've been meaning to read it for ages, and finally made time to as my first book of 2016.  This book is classic Bushnell - funny, inscisive, entertaining.  At points it was a little too frothy for me (you know, when the chicklit convention of naming designer brands / name-drops wears a little thin - but I'm aware for others this is the best bit!), but I loved the story, the characters and the slapstick comedy of many of the scenes.  A fun, swift read - perfect for a grey January.

More on my reading soon, I'm getting through books at a decent clip again, and will do these review posts in trios, I think.  Next three books are: 

In Order To Live
Pride & Prejudice  (felt like time for a re-read!)
The Good Liar

PS If you haven't seen this yet, this piece is great: 28 authors on the book that changed their life 

PPS As well as reading, of course I've been writing - loved putting this piece on Five Scottish Gems Everyone Should Visit together for Emma's lovely blog.
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I Love Your Blog: Rosalilium

One of my favourite things to do here on the blog is share some of my favourite bloggers with you.  The I Love Your Blog series gives me a chance to do this and to celebrate some of the people whose writing I go back to again and again.  There are so many wonderful writers and bloggers out there - I love being able to feature them here.

Today I'm very excited to share an interview with the lovely Elizabeth of Rosalilium. Elizabeth is one of the most creative and entrepreneurial bloggers in the UK, and I love her lifestyle blog which is always full of great style, travel, food, fun and inspiration.  I was delighted that she took the time to share her take on all things blogging - thank you, Elizabeth.  What a lovely way to kick off this series in 2016.

 How long have you been blogging?

Gosh, I think it's nearly 8 years of blogging for me!

What do you blog about?  Do you have a specific goal with your blog (i.e. reviewing products, promoting a business, transitioning into a writing / media / digital career), or is it more a record of your life?

I call myself a lifestyle blogger because it's the easiest term to cover the fact that I blog about a wide range of topics. Essentially Rosalilium is a personal blog where I share not only the stories of my life but also the things and ideas I discover along the way whether that is the latest recipe I've come up with, an awesome new skirt or a fun place to visit in my local area.

I have quite a few blog goals both personal and professional. Rosalilium started as a personal blog and at its core remains a place to record life. But it is now my profession as well so it serves as a platform for my career.

What is your favourite thing about blogging?

The people. Definitely. I have met so many inspiring and incredible people that I might not have crossed paths with if it hadn't been for blogging. 

What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

That some folks think it is easy or a quick way to make money. Honestly, I probably spend more hours working than if I had an office job. This really isn't the easy route.

Do you have any favourite posts on your blog – pieces you’re really proud of, which document something special, or which seemed to strike a chord with your readers?

That's such a hard question! A few posts that resonated with my readers include:

Whose blogs do you love?  I’m always looking for recommendations :)

Caroline Hirons for beauty - she's the best - http://www.carolinehirons.com/

Forever Amber for fashion and chat - http://www.foreveramber.co.uk/

Junkaholique for personal lifestyle type posts - http://www.junkaholique.com/ 

What has been the most surprising moment in your blogging career so far?

It surprises me every day that there are folks all over the world who want to read about my life and thoughts and witterings. It's quite bizarre if I really think about it. But I love it!

You are a masterful pinner on Pinterest - what are your favourite things about that platform?  Do you have any 'top tips' for people using that platform?

I do love a bit of Pinterest, yes! I love that Pinterest helps you discover. That is, I can go onto the platform not even looking for anything in particular and suddenly find something completely new and interesting to inspire me. 

That, and it's full of pretty things.

My top tip is to follow lots of people with the same taste, aesthetic or style as you. It's less a place to connect with friends and more about finding what resonates with you personally. I would also recommend creating specific boards to help you find your saved pins again.

I've loved watch the Blognix phenomenon grow and grow - how do you fit this into your already busy schedule?  What inspired you to start Blognix?

Oh jeez! Tell me about it, Blognix is rather time consuming event and website to manage. The simple answer is, I don't sleep much or have weeekends off! I do keep very busy. But it's ultimately very satisfying so I don't mind.

I started Blognix because I didn't feel there was a blogging conference for me. Being a 'lifestyle' blogger and crossing so many niches there wasn't anything for me. I also wanted an event that was a bit more advanced to help me grow as a blogger. Basically, I've just organised the event I want to go to. And that seems to have appealed to a lot of other bloggers as well. 

What tips do you have for bloggers growing and nurturing their blogs?

Don't give up. Sometimes it can seem a bit much, or you might burn out, but that's usually just before awesome things are about to happen. Trust me, I've been in this community a long time. But if something doesn't feel right then find a way to pivot. Add something new. Follow your instincts.
For me, I was burning out so I created Awesome Wave, my joint travel blog with my fiance. It was a place to talk about my travel experiences and insights, something I was extremely passionate about. By spending time on that blog/project I was able to come back to Rosalilium feeling refreshed and things really took off for me last year.

Thank you once again Elizabeth - I loved hearing your take on things, and will hope to see you at a conference or event soon.

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