April: A Month In Culture

Another month, another wealth of cultural highlights to enjoy!


The big release this week is Eddie the Eagle, which looks really sweet and funny, in a Billy Elliot / The Full Monty groove.  I'm really looking forward to it.

On the eighth The Huntsman: Winter's War and Midnight Special have their debuts.  The 15th sees the release of the Helen Mirren starring Eye In The Sky and the much anticipated live-action version of The Jungle Book.

The 22nd has openings for Bastille Day, Desert Dancer, Jane Got A Gun, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Tina Fey fan that I am, I cannot wait for this one.  And trailers which utilise Missy Elliot are always fine by me).  The end of the month sees Captain America: Civil War, Demolitionand Son of Saul, this year's foreign-language Oscar winner.  It's definitely a mixed bag of films this month!


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!

On the 1st, Mary Beard's Roman history, SPQR, is released - I am so excited to read up on this fascinating era, which I haven't really studied in depth since primary school. Ready Steady Glow (releasing April 7th), the sophomore offering from Madeleine Shaw, looks full of lovely, healthy foods and lifestyle tips.  I'm in the market for a few new cookbooks so this may be a purchase! The 7th also sees the paperback release of Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling - I adore his travel writing so will definitely be seeking this out. 

Also releasing on the 7th and incredibly different it Irvine Welsh's latest novel, The Blade Artist, which looks like a gripping, shocking read. April 14th sees the launch of a new edition of Scotland the Best - I love these guides and frequently gift them to friends holidaying in the bonny land; I'm excited to see what new attractions may have made the cut! On April 21st, Career of Evil, the third of J.K. Rowling's Robert Galbraith crime novels launches, following the travails of Robin and Strike.  I haven't tried these books yet, but have added it to my list; curiosity always gets the better of me!


On April 1st Glenn Close will be making her West End debut in the ENO's semi-staged version of Sunset Boulevard (Coliseum).  Shona and I have tickets for her final evening show in May and cannot wait - Close's Norma Desmond is the recording I grew up listening to, so I'll be ready to fangirl! From April 9th Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington will be starring in the Jamie Lloyd Company production of Doctor Faustus (Duke of York's).  The 9th also marks the transfer of Funny Girl to the Savoy; I am so excited to see Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice. Another opening on the 9th is Show Boat (New London Theatre) - I've never actually seen this particualr musical so may have to seek it out!

On the 13th the Pulitzer-prize-winning The Flick opens at the National, and I'll be seeking out some day tickets because it sounds wonderful!  April 30th sees the debut of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Shakespeare's Globe, Emma Rice's first production at the venue.  I'm excited to see what she does with the Bard's magical comedy.

Music / Events

Muse are playing the o2 for five dates at the start of the month, and Adele has two more evening shows there too (the lady will have played eight nights in total!).  Later in the month Ryan Lewis and Macklemore will be playing at the Greenwich megadome.  On the 10th the Royal Albert Hall plays host to the imagiNATIONS concert, performed by the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.  Later in the month the RAH will be the venue for several concerts in aid of the Teenage Cancer trust, featuring a wide range of artists, from New Order to the Vaccines. 

So that's some of what I'm looking forward to this month.  How about you?
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What to blog about in April

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!

Without Easter there are fewer festivities to write about, but I’m looking forward to doing something nice for St George’s Day on the 23rd.  In much the same way that I like to make a little fuss for St Andrew’s in November, I always like to raise a glass to St George at this time of year.  The joys of a Scots-English upbringing (makes the rugby a nightmare, however).  It's also the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, so I'll be reading some plays and sonnets in his honour. Book nerd for life, man.

An April without Easter is going to be strange (wasn’t it early this year?), so I think spring is going to be a big blog theme in the coming month.  Themes which I find work well in April are:

  • Flowers, greenery and all things garden related.  We’re doing some big work in our little patch and I can’t wait to share it.

  • Fun things to do in the city (or the country, if that’s where you’re based), to make the most of the longer days.  Even if it is raining.

  • Getaway plans – whether it’s a day by the seaside one weekend, a long weekend away to capitalise on the upcoming May Bank Holidays, or looking forward to the summer, now is the ideal time to share!

  • Spring fashion posts.

  • Home projects!  We are going to move my study to another part of the house, with better storage options and more natural light for photos.  It’s going to take weeks (flatpack furniture my friends, always a challenge), but I’m excited to reveal the new digs once we are done.

  • New recipes and meals using the wealth of produce that’s coming into season now.

  • Spring cleaning posts.  Whether you’re a Kondo aficionado or just want to move the piles of stuff into slightly neater piles of stuff, it’s definitely the season for sprucing.

  • Health posts – there’s something about the better weather that makes one want to refocus and break out of hibernation a little, no?

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.  April 2nd is PB & J Day – I’m going to look for some cookies using these two ingredients to make and share. On the 11th it’s National Cheese Fondue Day.  I need little provoking when it comes to fondue, so I’ll be heading out for some cheese based goodness to celebrate.  Then the 12th is Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, so I’ll be making good friends with the cross-trainer. Towards the end of the month the 24th is Sauvignon Blanc day- as it’s one of my favourite wines I’ll be sure to enjoy a glass or two.

Here in London there are lots of events to look forward to as well. The city has something for everyone! This year is the first for the London Games Festival, which takes place from the 1st to the 10th of April.  From April 4th for three weeks, the Roundhouse in Camden will be home to Circusfest, with performers from all over the world.  The 6th April sees the opening of Exhibitionism, a seminal exhibition of merch and memorabilia from the Rolling Stones' personal collections at the Saatchi Gallery over in Duke of York's Square. On April the 7th the familiar upside-down purple cow takes up residence on the Southbank as the yearly Udderbelly festival returns; I'm excited to check out some comedy! Over at the Old Truman Brewery the London Coffee Festival will be in residence from the 7th - 10th.  What a way to caffeine up...

From Saturday 16th the Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear exhibition opens at the V&A.  I'll be attending for the witty name alone.  On the 23rd Trafalgar Square will be full of festivities for St George's Day, with a Shakespearian slant. Also from the 23rd the City Garden installation will open over in the City Centre - I'm looking forward to heading over to see a glimpse of this floral piece.  The 24th sees the London Marathon, and many in the city will be heading out to cheer on the brave runners (or watching at home with toast and tea.  Always a great day.  On the 30th, at the start of the spring bank holiday, the Canal Calvacade will take place in Little Venice.

I'll blog later about some of the cultural elements I'm looking forward to in April, but I hope you've found some inspiration here for your April blogging.  Have fun!

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Travel: A day by the sea at Stonehaven

Twenty minutes south of Aberdeen by train is the beautiful town of Stonehaven.  Famous for its picturesque Dunottar Castle, with its sweeping views of the North Sea, it's a pretty and pleasant little town.  Stonehaven is also known as the birthplace of the delicacy that is the deep fried Mars bar, and is famed for the fireballs it hosts each Hogmanay.

I spent many happy days in Stonehaven in my childhood and my youth, as its the hometown of our family friends Sandra and Frank and their children and grandchildren.  I was keen to take Matthew to Stonehaven to show him the town and was delighted when Sandra and Frank said they were free for dinner, and even happier when my mum and dad said they'd drive the hundred miles down from Forres to join us for supper.  Living at the end of the country, we don't get together too often, so dinner with some awesome people sounded ideal.

We hopped on the train from Aberdeen, where I spotted this cute little guy made of old whisky barrels.  I have spent so much time in Aberdeen station over the years!  Platform 6N was the way to home when I was at uni, when I could afford the train fare (rather than getting the number 10 bus up).
Upon arrival we had a wee bimble through the town and down to the beach.  We had considered heading out to Dunottar, but a lie-in had prevented our making the trip in tip.  Holiday mode, man.

Just look at that moody sky!

Advice for life.  Aberdeenshire seagulls do NOT mess around!

Even on a grey day the sea and sky are beautiful.  Big contrast to London, that's for sure!
Despite the chilly weather, we indulged in ice creams from the wonder that is Aunt Betty's.  With 'toppings' naturally!

No, I couldn't stomach a deep friend Mars Bar after that enormous ice cream (I've never had one, in fact), but had to get a picture of the special site nonetheless! 
After a good walk through the town we headed to the harbour where we enjoyed a couple of ales before meeting Sandra, Frank, their daughter Gillian and my mum and dad for a big, silly supper at the Marine Hotel.  Owned by the same team as 6 degrees North in Aberdeen, this place is passionate about beer and offers beer pairings for every meal of every course.  We all had a splendid meal eating way too much delicious food and laughing way too much to remember to take any photos.  A lovely end to our trip north.

Loved this subtle, light blonde beer

Fish and chips by the sea is always a good idea!

Full of food, beer, and a couple of nightcaps, we were ready to head back to Aberdeen and tuck up for a nice long sleep - the sea air had done for us. I loved spending a little time in places I'm so fond of, and hope we can head north of the border again soon before long.
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"Spring"-ing into a new season!

Spring 2016

Spring 2016 by cmclaire-badger 

After a pretty grey February, we are now being treated to some gorgeous spring sunshine.  The evenings are lighter and slowly but surely the UK is waking up from it's long winter's nap.  All this sunshine has me thinking of cute new spring outfits to wear to brunches, afternoon teas, or just a walk in the park to see the spring flowers!  Here are ten items I'm currently lusting after for my spring (and in some cases, my summer) wardrobe.  Have you spotted any items you'd like?  Have you begun snaffling a few items for the warmer weather?

1. How cute are these yellow wedges?  Such a blessing if like me you find heels a challenge!

2. This wrap dress from Hot Squash is lovely - I have a maxidress in a similar hue and adore it!

3. Love this nautical sweater from Dorothy Perkins!  Ideal for a chillier spring day.

4. These trousers are delicious!  I love a good wide-leg style, I'd pair this with a simple teeshirt and a kickass bag!

5. I used to love my Converse.  I think a new pair in navy will be on the horizon soon - I get the men's to ensure there's room for my odd feet!

6. I love a splash of yellow to break up the blues and whites I gravitate towards during the sunnier seasons.  This top from George is bright and floaty, perfect with jeans. 

7. The drape on this Boden maxidress is to die for.  I'll be hoping to pick it up in navy for spring and summer get-togethers.

8. This pale blue cardigan from Marks & Spencer is lovely - I have it in several colours already (such a great standby!) but I'd love to have one in this pale, springy shade of blue.

9. I am a sucker for a cute ballet flat!  Love these glittery George flats.

10. As it's spring, everyone is blogging about their holidays to come.  I don't have a summer break away planned, but if/when I have the budget for a quick sunshinebreak, I'd love to wear this cute, cute, cute Boden swimsuit on the beach or by the pool!
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Travel: A visit to Aberdeen

This club sign made us giggle - wow, TfL are expanding their reach!

After the hibernation of January and February, this month sees us heading off on two little trips.  Both are visits to places I've lived before and haven't been back to in ages.  I've been saying for a while I wanted to take Matthew up to Aberdeen, where I studied for four years, and last weekend we made the journey up to the Granite City.  Later in the month we are heading over to Luxembourg, where I aupaired for a few months after university.

For our journey up, Matthew had two complimentary tickets in first class (loyalty scheme win: thanks, all those farflung football fixtures!), so we decided to take the journey up by train.  We caught the 10am train from Kings Cross, which then delivered us to Aberdeen a little after 5pm.  Our journey was smooth and uneventful - the crew kept us going with food, drinks and snacks and we whiled away the day with reading, watching downloaded TV shows, listening to music and generally lazing.  It was so nice to have a day together when neither of us was dashing off somewhere!

Long journey!

All set up for the journey

I love the 'Hop On Board' beer on Virgin East Coast.  So fun!  Matthew's pie smelled amazing - I totally had lunch-envy.

Once we arrived in Aberdeen we stepped out of the train station and our hotel was all of fifty metres from the exit.  Since I left the city in 2003 all sorts of developments have sprung up, including the giant Union Square development of shops and restaurants where our hotel, the Jurys Inn, was located.  This was my first stay in a Jurys Inn and I was pleasantly surprised; the location was fantastic (as well as being close the the train station it has the bus station on the other side, and is a stone's throw from Union Street), the rooms were clean and well appointed, and the staff in the bar downstairs were very polite and sweet, and didn't mock me when my drink of choice on a Saturday night was a nice cup of tea.

After unpacking and freshening up, we headed out for dinner at Amarone.  I'd heard great things about this Italian restuarant and we were not disappointed, tucking in to a lovely meal in a comfy booth at the back.  It's a big place but the tables and banquettes are well-appointed and the acoustics forgiving, so we were able to have good chats even in a very busy restaurant.  Matthew enjoyed a generous calzone, and I tucked into a delicious chicken with mushrooms and pancetta.  Delightful.  After that we headed for a couple of drinks and a little blackjack at the Soul Casino on Union Street; we went early in the evening so there were only a half-dozen people there - perfect for avoiding the St Patrick's Day crowds who were thronging to the other pubs in town. The casino was no doubt mobbed later on! After a long day travelling (albeit very comfortably) we were ready to turn in.

The next day we woke up after a huge sleep to find we'd missed breakfast altogether and that it was almost time to head out for lunch.  My brother Peter and his girlfriend Julie live in the city so we'd planned to meet them for lunch, and as Union Square is full of restaurants we figured that was as good a place as any to catch up.  We ate and chatted and got properly caught up - I hadn't seen them since my sister Sian's wedding last January so it was wonderful to see them in person.

So fun to see my 'little' brother, now half a foot taller than me!

After that Matthew and I went for a walk around some of my old favourite spots, as well as having a good nose around the Old Aberdeen, where the university has its base.  It was so fun to walk around the place where I learned so much and made such great friends and lovely memories.  After a few hours we wended our way back to the city, where we popped into the 6 degrees North brewpub, with its stellar collection of brews.  Then we walked all of fifty metres up the road to the flagship BrewDog pub to finish off our evening, where I bumped into a lady, Sheena, who had lived in the flat above me my final year of university.  We spent a good half hour catching up on the dozen years or so we hadn't seen each other!

King's College Chapel

I love that the animal of Scotland is the unicorn

I was always tickled that the English and Film departments were based in the Old Brewery.

Whiskeys at the St Machar Bar

Boozy coffee = winning

Decisions, decisions at BrewDog

Such a fun day, but then it was time to rest up ahead of our jaunt to Stonehaven the day after. So lovely to be up in the north-east.
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A glimpse of spring with Red magazine

Somewhat hilariously, this springlike delight arrived on the greyest day of the week!

I am almost insufferably optimistic.

I am pretty much always/often in cheerful mode.

I think sometimes people think I lack depth or intellect because of this, but hey, nevermind, I'll be over here being delightfully sidetracked by pancakes / naps / kitty videos.  Also, people who make those kind of snap judgements can do one, frankly.

I can do sadness and anger, frustration and darkness as much as the next person, but my natural ebullience always bubbles to the surface.  Whatever the problem, whether it takes me a minute, an hour, a day or a year to process it, sooner or later I bounce back like the Tigger I am.  That's not to say I think everyone should be like this, by the way.  Good God, that would be chaos.  But I am, for good or for ill, someone whose character traits always drag her back to the sunny side of the street. I like to think it's the universe helping to temper my natural propensity for worry.

I remember when I was younger this upbeat way of mine drove me bananas.  I forgave easily, dropped grudges quickly, sure, but also longed to be the deep, mysterious, unknowable woman.  It took me years and years to realise that that is just not me.  I'm not destined to be the mystery woman, the cool girl.  I'm the loud (sorry!), odd (not sorry), clumsy (again, sorry!) woman, and one of the greatest gifts of my adult life has been making peace with this and realising that I can still be wanted and needed and liked.  Just as I am.

As well as being an optimist, I also go off on tangents.  Much like the one above.  The reason I brought up my optimism in the first place is because I love what this means for any new event, season, or excitement.

Whatever the occasion, I'm always so excited for what's just around the corner (fear not, I'm percetly happy to love the moment and adore reflecting on the past too), and that makes any special occasions great fun, and the changing seasons of the year too.  Right now I am getting so excited for spring and the arrival of brighter days, lighter nights, and colourful palettes.

Helpfully my second magazine subscription for magazine.co.uk started this month.  I've chosen Red - I love that it's a magazine that covers such a nice range of topics, from home to health to celebrities, and I loved their events in London last September, so it felt like a good fit.  And this month's issue is all about spring!

I love spring.  I love the city waking up from the gloom of winter, the flowers unfurling in the park, the trees sprouting fresh green leaves.  Everything about it speaks of new life and fresh beginnings.  So I'm off to find a sunny spot where I can read this month's edition, and plan a few excitements for the spring months to come. I'll be writing more about Red over on the magazine.co.uk site soon, but first I need to read it.

Bring on the daffodils!

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Making Ropa Vieja for the #LanzaroteCookOff

The name ropa vieja means old clothes.  The prettiest it may not be, but the tastiest?  Oh yes.

I have written often about how much I like the Canary Islands.  Once Matthew and I started taking breaks together, we set off south to the island of Gran Canaria and promptly fell in love.  The sunny skies, friendly people, calm pace of life and delicious food and drink kepts us coming back again and again....we even got engaged on  Gran Canaria.

Canarian blue skies are always on my list of favourite things.

I adore Canarian cuisine.  Fresh and tasty and flavoursome.

For ages we've been saying we'd love to go to explore the other islands too; and I've had friends visit Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Tenerife and they have had the most splendid time.  Imagine my delight, then, when an email popped up in my inbox covering two of my favourite topics (food and travel, guilty as charged) and offering the chance to win a trip to Lanzarote with Thomas Cook Airlines.

On board.

The challenge was simple.  A group of bloggers were sent a range of Canarian recipes and asked to select one they would like to recreate at home.  These would then be entered into a competition to win a trip to the Canary Islands (apologies in advance for my vote rallying next week).  As part of the challenge we were also sent a volcanic rock to use as part of our recipe.  More on that later.

I selected Ropa Vieja, a stew enjoyed on the Canary Islands as well as in Cuba and South America.  Brought back to the Canary Islands by sailors, the stew is often served on Good Friday, but you can find it at other times as well.  I loved doing a little background research into the recipe (the one provided didn't specify amounts of certain  ingredients so I went for a google-wander) and found several other options as well, with different herbs, spices and veggies being used in different parts of the world.

Poppet looooooooooves food deliveries.  Because she thinks all the food is for her!

Chick peas always remind me of Canarian barbecue, and I'm a sucker for a good stew, so I selected that.  As you can imagine, as a stew, most of the work involved was stockpot based, but the recipe did call for the shredded meat and chickpeas to be crisped up mid-cooking and that's when I planned to use my rock.

The lava rock is a marvel - you heat it up in the oven and then it retains its heat, making it ideal for searing steak, frying veggies and cooking chicken.  It can also be cooled in a fridge and used to serve chilled sushi or charcuterie.  Turns out what it's not great for is frying small spherical foods, like chickpeas, which ping off the sides willy-nilly.  Added a delicious phase of mania and messiness to the cooking, I must say!  Loved the rock and the serving platter though and can't wait to break them out for some chicken or fish next week, perhaps with Canarian potatoes and mojo sauce (a house favourite around here).

Despite the chickpea based hilarity (who knew legumes had such comedy potential?), I loved making the stew and ended up with a rich, delicious dinner.  I served it with a peppry rocket salad with red pepper slivers and cherry tomato halves, drizzled in a honey-balsalmic dressing, as well as fresh bread for mopping up the sauce.  With a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc alongside it was a tasty, filling supper.

When the husband's away....more wine for me!

Fresh, tasty, and really filling!

Disclaimer:  I was gifted the lava rock and the ingredients needed to make this dish by Thomas Cook.  All cooking anecdotes, opinions, and Canarian remembrances are my own. 
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C2C 2016: What a Weekend!

As I mentioned last week, over the weekend London hosted the Country to Country festival (affectionately known as C2C) at the o2, and I was lucky enough to have tickets to all three nights.  Shona and I are nuts about country music, so we had got early bird tickets straight after the previous years event (and will be getting our early bird tickets for next year's show as soon as they are available), and had been looking forward to three days of music and fun for ages.  We were not disappointed.  What a treat to see so many great acts on the same stage!

On Friday we met up as soon as Shona had finished work and grabbed a quick burger before heading into the arena.  First up was Thomas Rhett, who was very fun, and not too cool to party so early in the evening.  After TR, we had Ashley Monroe (one-third of the Pistol Annies, fact fans) on the smaller Yamaha stage, followed by Dwight Yoakam playing a tonne of hits.  It was great to see Dwight, he's such a big name, but I was all about the headliner on Friday.

MIRANDA LAMBERT.  I love her - her musicality, her voice, her sass.  Her set was amazing - punchy and ballsy and fun. She'd come to London directly from Houston (where she'd played the Rodeo) but was full to the brim with vim and energy.  Her band was tight and everything sounded great, even if jetlag did lead to a small two-songs-intros-being-played-simutaeneously moment, which if anything just made the audience fall even further in love!

Saturday was a fairly early start as we headed to to o2 around lunchtime to catch a few of the pop up stages which are throughout the venue.  Ashley Kinsey (who is fourteen!) was a little delight, and Lori McKenna (one of the writer's behing Little Big Town's monster hit, 'Girl Crush') played a delightful set too.  Then after some pulled pork sandwiches and a little Meantime Pale Ale it was time to head into the arena for day 2 of the big guns!

First up were Maddie and Tae, who were really good!  I like their album, but seeing them live bumped them way up in my estimation - they were so confident and charismatic, playing a neat, tight, fun set.  No mean feat at 5 in the afternoon.  After Maddie & Tae Sam Hunt, the new-country star, took to the stage and had the whole arena in the palm of his hand with his unique singing-speaking-rapping sound.  The ladies (and some of the men) looooooooved him.

Second on the bill (only at C2C would they be anything but headliners) were the awesome Little Big Town (who, thanks to Shona, I will only ever think of as the Abba of country now!).  Amazing harmonies, great songs, they really got the crowd going.  And then it was time for the main event - Carrie Underwood.  Her set was spectacular, she's just one of the finest singers in the business right now.  I loved hearing the songs from her newest album, Storyteller, alongside the older hits, and I thought her version of 'I Will Always Love You' was stunning.

By Sunday, we were very much in the country zone, and headed over to the o2 for a little mingling early afternoon.  Sunday had four acts on the main stage too, and was such fun.  First up was Andrew Combs.  His voice is lovely, and his songs beautiful, but a little hard to pull off in a venue as cavernous as the o2.  I'd love to hear him in a more intimate venue, because his stuff was lovely.  After Andrew, the lovely duo Striking Matches played brilliantly on the smaller breakout stage.  Their C2C journey has been such fun to observe...in 2014 they played a small pop up stage.  In 2015, a full to the gunnels set in the Brooklyn Bowl.  Last night, the second from top stage.  I'm rooting for them to reach the main stage in 2017!

Next up was probably the most extraordinary performance of the weekend.  Chris Stapleton arrived from the States with so much buzz around him, and the album, Traveller, is killer, but that ddn't prepare me for the awesomeness that is his live set.  His voice is primal, raw, transformative, and the entire arena was just rapt.  His band, including his lovely wife Morgane on backing vocals, were sublime and the whole performance was a thing of beauty.  He got the biggest applause of the whole weekend - no mean feat given the company being kept!

After a glass of wine and a moment (much needed after that set!), it was time for Kacey Musgraves, who was an utter sweetheart, playing a skillful, pacey set, backed by her boys in pink.  I adore both her albums and was so pleased to finally see her live!  I especially enjoyed the sing along to 'Follow Your Arrow' - such an inspiring, uplifting song.  Then we rounded off the evening with some Eric Church.  I knew his back catalogue a lote less than others on the bill but really enjoyed his polished, rocky performance, with a cracking band in attendance too!

So much good music, and once again I was so graetful to see so many of my musical favourites up on stage.  Excited for 2017 already; in the meantime, here are a few pics from a fun and busy weekend.

Loved Ms Musgraves pink set

We both had wardrobe themes for the weekend; I went for red,white and blue.  Shona rocked out her (awesome) cowboy boots.

A little snap from Dwight's set.
Loved seeing Striking Matches for what must have been the sixth or seventh time!

Ashley Kinsey is fourteen.  FOURTEEN.  And already touring internationally.  

I love the pop up stages dotted around the o2 - they really add to the festival vibe!

In the o2 bar they streamed social media posts on a giant screen - Shona and I had fun spotting ours whenever we popped in to grab a drink.

Lights everywhere for a Little Big Town ballad.
Do you like country music?  Were you at C2C?
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An evening of Japanese cookery with Yuki Gomi

One of my favourite hobbies is cookery.  I love the whole process from choosing a dish, to making, to sharing with friends and family.  I tend to cook more improvisationally, going on instinct, than by following recipes, but I've got better at the latter as well.  In this season of my life, with career moves freeing up my schedule a little and with trying to make healthier choices (much easier to do when you're home for more than a couple of waking hours a day, it turns out), it's been lovely to try out new recipes of my own devising, as well as hitting the cookbooks and cookery shows for inspiration.  Ina Garten is my homegirl.

I've definitely come a long way from my freshman year of university, when my parents dropped me off at my self-catering flat with a 24 pack of tinned tomatoes, a couple of kilos of pasta and some baked beans.  That first year at uni was a big learning curve, on how to cook, how to shop, and how to budget.  My first term after rent, travel and from to uni, and books, I remember I had about £20 a week for food and socialising.  And clothes.  In the other three years I worked part-time during termtime, full-time during the holidays so I had a little more generous a budget, but in my first two semesters I wanted to really embrace the university experience during the termtime....so the budget (saved from babysitting and holiday jobs) was *tight*.  There was a lot of pasta.  Sometimes with tomato puree & salad cream, a truly heinous combo which I don't think I could stomach now!

As the year ticked on, my flatmates and I got better and better at budgeting and finding bargains.  We revelled in the blue-and-white stripes of the Tesco Value range.  We took to shopping later in the day to scoop up markdowns (the joy of finding a fresh pizza knocked down to 45 pence late on an evening!).  Many days we were vegetarians in all else but name, as meat was too dear to eat often.  However, necessity proved to be the mother of invention, and as the year wore on our cookery skills definitely improved as we learned how to stretch ingredients, fill out dishes with cheaper fare such as carrots and lentils, and generally cook and eat like grown ups.

Now my budget is a little more flexible, for which I am eternally grateful.  Nevertheless, the love of budgeting and learning about cookery has never left me, so I always relish the chance to learn from clever cooks and chefs, whether by reading, watching, or in person.  Last week I was invited to a masterclass on Japanese cookery with the lovely Yuki Gomi, hosted by the brand Yutaka, who make all sorts of wonderful Japanese ingredients and foods, from miso to wasabi to mirin and beyond.

Ten food bloggers met at the Central Cookery School, ready to learn from Yuki and to make ourselves a Japanese feast for dinner.  I was paired with the gorgeous Lucy of Lucy Loves to Eat who is such a delight (as well as a cracking cook), so I had a whale of a time cooking and giggling the evening away.  We worked on four dishes - a beautiful, fresh salmon ceviche; gorgeous croquettes with mushrooms, onions and sweet potato; Hoto Udon noodles, rich and bursting with savoury, umami flavours; and green beans tossed in a nutty toasted sesame glaze.

All the dishes were absolutely delicious, and the meal was wonderful - after cooking for two hours it was divine to sit down to sample our wares, enjoy a glass or two of sparkling sake, and catch up with some of the other bloggers (such fun coversations about food, blogging and life around the table).  Below, please enjoy a selection of pictures from a very fun cooking adventure!

Warning, hunger pangs may ensue....

The lovely Yuki preparing to teach us some super recipes.

Adore a nice bit of mise en place.

Lucy, my lovely partner in cookery crime!  Such a talented foodie.

Adored making these croquettes, so some step-by-step pictures felt in order!  Gorgeous colours in the mix.

Rolling in panko crumbs - so crispy and the perfect foil to the yeilding veggie mixture of the croquette proper.

I am always up for a goofy pose - popping the croquettes into the oven to finish.

Plated up alongside a tangy Japanese BBQ dipping sauce - so good!

SO much salmon.  So delicious, marinaded with lime, chilli and chives.  Dangerously moreish.
Dinner of champions!  

Thank you so much to Yuki for such an informative and delightful evening. I truly learned a huge amount about the cooking and food of Japan, and left eager to try some of the recipes at home (we were gifted a copy of Yuki's beautiful cookbook - I cannot wait to delve into it!).  Thank you also to Yutaka for hosting us and for a wonderful goodybag full of ingredients to sample in our own kitchens.  Thanks to all involved, I had a wonderful time!

Disclaimer, as ever:  I was hosted for this evening and the cookery class and food goodies were gifted to me.  All opinions, and recollections of recipes involving saald cream (good heavens!), are entirely my own.  

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