Friday, April 29, 2016

#100daysoffresh update 2, days 6-10

The #100daysoffresh fun continues over on my instagram, with each day presenting new ways to make delicious and nutritious goodies.  It's inspiring me to create and try new flavours - I'm eating so well!  Here's some recent goodness.

Day 6: 


Love a good, slightly geometric, salad.  Courgette, cucumber, tomatoes and pepper.  Perfect crunchiness!

Day 7:


Freshness for breakfast - what a way to start a week!  Spinach, tomatoes, scrambled egg, guacamole and salsa.

Day 8:


Pan-fried courgette and peppers, with a honey and balsalmic glaze - perfect for an April day with snow.

Day 9:


Loved this creation, a new one for me.  Shaved pieces of sweet potato, roasted in a little olive oil.  Quartered slices of courgette, roasted in olive oil and chilli & garlic flakes.  Halfway through the roasting time add some pieces of feta to the courgette roasting dish.  Complete roasting, plate up, and drizzle with a little honey.  Devour with such gusto that you end up with small spatters on your teeshirt.  Regret nothing.*

*Last two steps optional.

Day 10:


Some days, you just need a sandwich....soft wholemeal bread, homemade basil butter, then loaded up with thick slices of deli chicken, halved miniature plum tomatoes, and loads of spinach.

So good.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Theatre: Funny Girl: A Sort of Review


On Monday, I was excited to go to the theatre to see Funny Girl.  As both a Barbra Streisand fan-girl and a huge admirer of Sheridan Smith I was hugely excited to see the show - the tickets for the run at the Menier Chocolate Factory had all sold out so quickly that I missed out, and I was delighted to snap up a ticket fairly soon after the transfer to the West End.

Funny Girl is playing at the Savoy.  I like this theatre, it's big without being soulless, welcoming and warm.  I love turning left past the topiary of Kaspar outside the hotel to filter down to the theatre doors, I even enjoy the complex pas de deux this can involve with impatient drivers of Rollers, Bentleys and Mercs as they deposit their well-heeled passangers at the Savoy for dinner or a show.  I've seen many shows here, from Guys and Dolls, to Gypsy, to Guys and Dolls, and have sat in many of the areas - from front row centre for Imelda Staunton's star turn to the very back of the gods.  Acoustically I think it's quite blessed - even in the nosebleeds I've never hear badly.

As I was going solo to the theatre on Monday I decided to sit in the cheap(er) seats, up in the Grand Circle (I don't think we can call them properly cheap - this is theatre in London after all!).  I try to do this if I'm reviewing too - I think if people are going to the theatre the show should play to every level.  I arrived on time, found my seat and settled in for the show.

I was sat in row H, in the grand circle.  It's pretty high up, but you get a good view of the stage.  That is, until the rude lady sitting in seat F26 arrived.  In front of row F there is a handrail, as it's the front row of the back section.  When you buy tickets there you know this, and you also know not to lean forward on the handrail, lest the rows behind you have their view obstructed.  Seat F26 didn't seem to care about this though, and perched forward, meaning that for the first act everything that happened front and centre (so, much of the acting, many of the solos, plenty of the comedy) was entirely blocked by her head.  A person behind me raised it with the usher who asked the lady to sit back.  She did for all of thirty seconds before relocating herself to the position of wall, blocking the view.  Hemmed in by other theatregoers and oh-so-Britishly too polite to cause further disturbance, I stewed for the rest of the act.

At the interval I went to request a refund (I genuinely couldn't see between a third and a half of the stage).  As the box office was closed I was instead given another seat, after twenty minutes of standing in a cold corridor and being offered the chance to watch the action on a 'sort of fuzzy screen' for the second half.  This time I was steated down in the stalls, which was kind, but not particularly helpful to the others in my section.  As lovely as it was to have a comfy seat and a clear view for the second half, I was still disappointed at the rudeness of F26, and also by the lack of action taken to prevent her rudeness (there was an usher less than seven feet from where she was leaning forward and causing an issue).

I cannot abide bad manners at the theatre. Live theatre is such fun, and rather uniquely when enjoying an artform your fellow audience members become part of the experience.  This can be wonderful - I've been handed napkins by kind American tourists as I've wept at Billy Elliot; I've booed and hissed villains at the Hackney panto on many occasions; I've joined in enthusiastic dancealongs during encores, been nonplussed and bemused by many an experimental piece, and shared a standing ovation with fellow theatregoers many a time.  This part of the experience can also be a pain in the rear - from noisy wrappers to phones going off to taking pictures or filming during shows (this seems to be on the rise, hideously).  On Monday, it simply meant that I cannot review the first half of the show.  Because effectively I was listening to the soundtrack.  The soundtrack in this case was very good; but I hadn't ventured out across town and paid good money for a listening party. Thanks, F26, you (insert rude word of suitable vehemence - tastes may vary).

Onwards, then, to my 'sort of' review.  Sheridan Smith was delightful - her richness of tone soared beautifully in her solos and she imbued the part of Fanny Brice with exactly the perfect balance of moxie, pathos, and realness. What a gift to the London stage she is.  In the parts where she had to react to the wider company or the audience she really came alive, bringing real verve and charm to the role. As the trio of older ladies Valda Aviks, Marilyn Cutts & Gay Soper were wonderful - you really believed the friendship (and gentle competition!) between them.  Joel Montague is delightful as the long-suffering Eddie, and Bruce Montague shines as the impresario Ziegfeld.

The company are great, and the dancing and chorus pieces are really nice.  The use of props, scenery and lighting is charming - I loved the changes in perspective, taking us behind the scenes one minute and having us in the audience position the next.  Everyone sounds in fine voice - at least I could hear the whole thing clearly!

In conclusion, I think Funny Girl is a good show, and another triumphant turn for Sheridan Smith.  I just hope if I ever get to see it again, it won't be with someone's head taking up most of the stage.  I'd love to return and review it properly at some point!




PS I'm aware this is all very 'first world problems', but manners get me, man.

Food: Discovering Brazilian Wine with Cabana



I've been lucky enough to attend two events in the last two weeks with the lovely folks at Cabana.  I love good fresh produce, grilled meats and a cheeky cocktail or two, so this can only be an excellent thing.  I think it's so nice that here in London there are so many spots to enjoy different cuisines, from Vietnamese to Argentinian; Japanese to South African.  What a place to be a foodie!

One cuisine I haven't had as much of is Brazilian*, so this past month, with the two great Cabana events and the awesome brunch at Carioca has well and truly whetted my appetite.  There are lots of familiar elements from other Latin American cuisines (the heat of chillies, the marinaded and grilled meats), but also many things which mark out Brasilian cuisine as something different.  Last week I went to the Brixton branch of Cabana for a yummy meal with some of the Bangarang lovelies, and that will feature here soon.  Today, however, I'm turning my attention to the Islington branch, where I attended a fun wine tasting.


Now before we begin....I didn't actually know a tonne about Brazilian wine before I attended.  I like New World wines (favourites being Chilean Malbec - so good with steak; and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough), but I hadn't encountered Brazilian wines before.  That was about to change.  In a big way.  I was so impressed with the different flavours and tastes on show; Brazil's sheer size and location means it can cultivate such a wide range of grapes, and the flavours on display were really exciting.


We were given such a comprehensive tour of the regions and geography of Brazil - I regretted not getting my notepad out to take notes.  What really stuck with me were the parallels between to wine-making traditions of the pampas regions and how closely they mirrored those you might find in regions of France.


We began with two lovely fizzes to try, and they were delicious.  Light and fruity, with the gentle acidity of a prosecco - perhaps something to try as an alternative if the forecasted global prosecco shortage does happen?



Love me a good wine pour shot!

After the sparkling wine we progressed to white, then on to the reds.  Even Erica, who doesn't usually like red wine, got on board!


This 2012 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon was my favourite of the evening.  It had a real velvetty mouthfeel, and a deep, fruity flavour.  Smooth and dangerously easy to drink!

I'll write more on the food in my piece on Brixton (spoiler alert: we ate very, very well and I had to hit the salad hard in the days afterwards), but I did take a few snaps when I wasn't thoroughly enjoying the wines.


I enjoyed leafing through this cookbook - lots of great recipes you can make at home.  There's a new one being released soon I believe, and I'll be looking forward to trying some dishes at home.  Not sure where I'll find palm hearts though....


A lot of the starters and puddings are spherical, and also amazing.  The cheese filled rolls above are devilishly moreish, flavoursome and tangy.  And the chocolate dipping balls below?  Should simply not be allowed.  Far, far too good.



If you're looking for a delicious meal, some tasty wine, and lovely service, definitely give Cabana a visit next time you're in Islington!





* Brazilian or Brasilian?  I'm still not sure!




 Disclaimer like whoa: I was invited to attend this event and filled with delicious wines and food.  All opinions, as ever, are my own.  If something was not good...my *hashtag* opinions would be shared.



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book review: We'll Always Have Paris



I am a sucker for a good memoir.  I love the glimpse into a life of another, the stepping into their shoes for a few hundred pages, the moments of high drama mixed in with the quirky minutiae of the day-to-day.  Whether it's the lives of the great and good or a meandering tale of travels or toils, if it's well written I am totally on board.

I've followed Emma Beddington on twitter for a good long while, which took me in turn to her super blog, Belgian Waffling.  I love her writing, full of heart, and humour, and pop culture / culture culture references which are exactly  where I like them to be - a little low, a little high, a little in the middle.  I write as someone who enjoys The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills, books on Platagenet history and Austen in equal measure.  I like to mix it up, and Emma's blog has much to enjoy if you like to learn, while also enjoying plenty of cultural touchstones you know well.

And lots of cake.

As a fan of Emma's blog, I was delighted, then, when she tweeted that she'd be writing a book.  When some bloggers make similar proclamations I'm chuffed for them, but I know I won't be reading the finished article, because their blog seems to be their outlet, with not so much left to say.  No bad thing, but a definite stopping point for purchasing a book.  With Emma the opposite was true and as soon as pre-orders opened I bagsied myself a copy. It was released last week and I read it as soon as I could.  Remarkably quickly.

This is a great book.  Funny, witty, wry; but also silly and touching and clever and emotional.  Emma is a spectacular writer and the joie de vivre and piquant observations and humour of her blog translate beautifully to the pages of a book.  In much the same way that Jenny Lawson's books match her personality and the tone of her blog, Emma Beddington's book is unmistakably her - the same authorial voice and cultural timbre is at work here.  It's lovely to have a longer time to spend with Emma as she leads her readers through the ups and downs of her teens, twenties and thirties.

From a teenage obsession with French Elle magazine, Emma is full of ambitions to become French and to fully embrace the many quirks and ways of la vie Francaise. As the book unfolds we see some of those dreams realized and others dashed as Emma navigates the milestones and millstones of life.  I really enjoyed the honesty of the book - in some memoirs there's a huge knack for glossing over or sugarcoating situations, but here Beddington shares honestly, even when situations or occurrences were unpleasant or difficult.

The passages dealing with loss were genuinely moving and summed up for me quite brilliantly the sorrow and emptiness that these seasons of grief can give us.  I loved as well the vivid pictures she painted of her cast of characters; from her loving and able descriptions I really feel I have a sense of her loved ones.  I also adored how Emma made you really feel like you knew the places she visited - the areas in London she visits I know well, and she evokes them beautifully - the sounds, smells and sights of the city are beautifully realised.  She has a real eye for details and descriptions....and plenty of passion for baked goods too.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and devoured it like an excellent flan or a choice pain au chocolat.  If you like books which take you away to different climes, tales of redemption and self-discovery, or just a good, fun read, I'd highly recommend We'll Always Have Paris.

I Love Your Blog: Miss Pond


The blog love continues.

One of the best things about being part of this little blogging merry-go-round is the cool people you get to read, enjoy, and meet through their blogs.  I started the I Love Your Blog series to celebrate just some of the bloggers I enjoy and to share them with those of you who read here.  Today's guest star is the delightful Emma, of Miss Pond.

I've been reading Emma's blog for a couple of years now, and I love her take on life, travel, and gin.  She's such a clever, funny writer and her passion for food, and her writing on the city of Manchester, always has me coming back for more.  I'm also amazed at all the plates she manages to keep spinning at once - the girl is an organisational marvel! Here's my interview with the lovely Miss (or should that be Dr?) Pond.

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Pictures in the post provided by the lovely Emma :)


1.      How long have you been blogging?

Just over 2 years, although 4 if I hadn't have taken a break and then deleted my old blog before starting again!

2.      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 blog about all sorts- recipes that I have been commissioned too or have written off my own back, accounts of what I get up too and my time in Manchester and other places I visit. I use it as a record mainly, that is not to say I do not enjoy the perks of events and the like, but I would definitely be blogging anyway.

3.      What is your favourite thing about blogging?

I have to admit it is the social side of it, I love that I have met some of my favourite people via blogging. It means I have friends that understand those blogging down days and are so supportive, but we also have a right laugh at events. Big love to them!


4.      What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

I have to admit it's Twitter chats. I do join in now and again, but it always feels like opinion bashing, with no positivity, despite some people claiming it is positive. I have found it quite easy to get bummed out by them, especially some peoples attitudes towards "freebies" and the like. I blogged before these stupid expectations of us and the competition feelings can be quite evident. I like to just plod along and see where things take me, no pressure!

5.      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?

Yes some posts regarding my rise up through my PhD (here), my life pre- viva (here) and then what it felt like after (here). These have had stupid amounts of hits, numbers I'd never thought I would achieve for posting something different to my usual stuff. I have also received so much positivity for my honesty in these posts, there are many PhD students or other postgrads feeling the same but feel trapped. I'm just glad that people have something to relate to.



6.      Whose blogs do you love?  I’m always looking for recommendations J 

I'm going to give a shout out to some amazing Manchester bloggers here- Emma (What Emma Did), Clare (Tweet) and Charlie (Gin Fuelled Bluestocking) - all fab blogs, go follow them all!

7.      I love how much you share about Manchester on your blog (love that place) - what's the blogging community like up there?

Manchester is my city, I feel this is the place I have done my growing up. From 18-28 this place holds so much dear to me and I'm always happy to see people say they love Manchester! The blogging community is great up here, we're smaller in number than the London bloggers, but there are so many amazing and diverse blogs. We all know each other in one way or another and everyone is so welcoming. I love going to events purely to catch up with my friends! I also run the MCR Bloggers Facebook group, which is a lovely community where everyone helps each other out.

8.      I've been so in awe of your ability to balance your studies with blogging (and everything else!).  What do you think is your secret?

Being incredibly organised, I live for lists and I discovered the Bullet Journal wayyyyyy before this more recent craze (original post from my very early blogging days here). This pretty much meant I could organise my time up to get everything I needed to do done as well as escaping for blog events. I also think when you're motivated in something- blogging- when something else is horrid but you need to get it done -PhD- the good thing can motivate the other one. I would reward chapter edits with time to blow off steam with blog posts or taking blog photos. It worked for me!


9.      What hopes and dreams do you have for ‘Miss Pond’ going forward?

That with my potential move south (things have been a bit upside down since my partner moved away for work) that my blog will be able to adapt to life outside of Manchester. I will of course (when it happens) document the whole process. I also hope to start vlogging my gin collection in the near future (watch this space)!

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

It's your blog, not that other person's blog, do with it what you want and never feel like you have to be like someone else. You should be PROUD that your blog is DIFFERENT.


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Emma, thank you so much for taking part!  Forever in awe of your organisiational abilities!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Life Lately, According to Instagram

It's been too long since I've done one of these little write ups.  I like doing them as they are a fun way to share a few little things that I've been up to - if I blogged everything separately I'd never get away from the computer!

If you'd like to follow me on instagram (below are just a few of my recent shares) I'm @cmclaire over there.  I'm also getting more and more active on snapchat (where I'm @cmclaire12) - turns out it's the ideal venue for chatter and silliness, particularly when your work life has you chained to the computer or a notepad solo for most of the day.... 


I'm really enjoying playing with my Olympus PEN and getting more and more used to how to get clearer, crisper shots.  There will always be space for an iPhone shot, of course, but I am enjoying spending a little more time taking and/or editing my shots!  This picture makes me smile, as it's the first shot I got once I was feeling perkier after my recent dip in spirits.


Plenty of posts documenting the joy of writing, planning, editing....and staring at the page!


Fun with friends such as these Bangarange lovelies.  This was such a fun evening with Katy, Milly, Ashleigh & Erica! #ballers  We were invited along to Cabana in Brixton to try out the new menu and it was absolutely delicious - fresh, tasty starters, amazing meats and salads, and nutella balls for dessert?  So wonderful.  It was actually my second Cabana event in as many weeks - a week beforehand Erica, Ashleigh and I had been invited along for a wine tasting at the Islington branch.  I now know 100% more about Brasilian/Brazilian wine (and Brasilian/Brazilian geography!).


There has been plenty of reading - I'm looking forward to reviewing Under The Paw soon!


Speaking of under the paw, the trio of trouble are loving having me home more often and are being very co-operative with my using the new camera to take their pictures!  This wee girl *loves* the camera.  I've actually set up an instagram just for the kits (to prevent my feed being all kitties, all the time....): for your fix of furry cuteness, their account is @thebadgerkits.


Another great book....another review to come!


I was craving mac and cheese a couple of weeks ago.  It's a food I love, but one I'd never made before.  I fixed this!


We had our last Little Black Dress Initiative meeting of the Junior League year; we went for happy hour at Facebook's HQ UK.  Always fun to catch up with my fellow committee members (and the Queen ;)), and to toast a year of working together!


Fighting the yo-yo, with fresh, healthy, happy breakfasts.


And always making time to celebrate!

What have you been up to lately?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book Review: Under The Paw


Anyone who reads here / follows me on social media / has met me, ever, knows that I'm a little bit animal crackers in general, and kitty mad in particular.

I've always loved cats.  I love other animals too (dogs, otters, sloths, badgers, penguins....), but cats have long had my heart.  I grew up with cats and their sweet, funny, independent, slightly potty natures, and they've been the little pawprints by my side for many years.

Our first cat was Moshe, a friendly black and white moggy who was already on the scene when I arrived.  Moshe was the best cat (this will be a theme.  All my cats are the best.  Your cat is probably the best too!); soppy and devoted and the perfect playmate for an only child (as I was then).  She also had the patience of a saint, putting up with many an hour of tea parties / dress up / rides in my doll's pram, with the loyalty and temper of a guard dog (once having to be detached from the leg of a friendly local postie who came a little too close to my pram as I napped, apparently).  When we moved across to Germany the quarantine rules would have had her separated from our family for almost a year, so rather than putting her through the stress of that, we left her with my mum's friend and her family, who we'd been very close to.  Moshe thrived there and lived out her days in peace, utterly beloved, for many years.

While we were in Germany, we had no cats.  The RAF ex-pat life and being in a new country precluded pet ownership, and I think we all would have felt a little disloyal to Moshe if we'd got another pet.  Five years later we moved back to Scotland again and discussed getting a cat at some point, in the future.  When we first moved back to the UK we were renting temporarily, so it was hardly a great time to get a pet, we thought.  Fate had other ideas.

One chilly, snowy day my mother was walking to the store after dropping off my siblings at school (I was away at boarding school, so was party to this tale through letters and phone calls.  So 90s, so pre-internet), when she heard a little mewing.  The high pitched sound attracted her attention and my mum looked around the car park outside the shop to see where the sound was coming from.  After a little investigation she found a tiny grey tabby kitten, curled up beneath a lorry.  She bundled up the wee mite and took him home.  A little investigation (ah, the joys of village life) revealed that he had been a Christmas gift a child had tired of....and this cruel fact was just the red flag my mum needed to make up our mind.  He was our cat now!

Sam was the soppiest, most placid, and adorable cat ever.  Muscular, sturdy and deep of purr, he was the perfect companion and was the family favourite by oh-so-many miles.  We all loved him to pieces and he was the gentlest, sweetest (and often silliest) fellow.  He was part of our family for nearly twenty years and we were all very lucky to have a cat like him.  What a gift.

As soon as Matthew and I bought our own home, we knew we wanted cats of our own....and Poppet, Leela and Fry have been part of our family for nearly four years now.  I'll be writing an update on the trio of trouble soon, but for now I think I'd better get to the actual 'book review' part of this book review, haha!

I've been following Tom Cox on twitter for ages, and love the tales of his many kitties, the good, the bad, and the sad.  I was delighted, then, when a friend gifted me Under The Paw, Tom's first book about the adventures of cat ownership.  A memoir with many cat stories and a fair few lists, I loved this read, both learning more about Tom's life and the cats he has owned.

I found myself nodding along to sections, and with tears in my eyes more than once when he recounted cats lost.  There's a section about a cat who they (Tom & his wife) couldn't adopt (for reasons fully explained in the book - no spoilers here, my friends) where Tom writes of his hopes for the kitty and the life he hopes they get to have that genuinely made me weep.  These little creatures, man.

There's lots of fun here too, and I enjoyed the parts where Tom writes from a cats-eye view.  With six cats in the family there's plenty of scope for fallings-out, adventures and sweetness.  I'd heartily recommend this book to any cat-lovers, or to anyone who enjoys a good memoir - I love reading about the twists and turns of the lives of others.  Tom Cox is a great writer and conveys the beauty (and the angst) of the everyday with a skilled and measured tone.  I'll definitely be looking forward to more of his writing in the future.

What to Blog About In May



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!

May is a quiet month when it comes to religious and cultural festivals, but with two bank holidays (YASS) there’s plenty of opportunities for travel, celebrating, and entertaining.  The Eurovision Song Contest is towards the end of the month too, which is always a riot.  Last year our friend Hannah had an awesome 30th party on a Eurovision theme.  Each couple / person / family / group got to be a country. We were Sweden, complete with blue and yellow outfits, snacks from Ikea, and hideous herbal liqueur shots.  Even though it looked like Russia might pip us to the post, Sweden won!

Spring has well and truly sprung, bringing with it tonnes of inspiration!  Themes which I find work well in May are:

·        Summer holiday plans!  We don’t go away over the summer months (it’s such a great time to be in London), but I love reading about trips away.

·        Recipe-wise, I’ll be sharing smoothies, salads and picnic items.

·        Fashion for the warmer months (even though I’m typing this snuggled up in a hoodie, the temps will soon be climbing!).

·        Springtime beauty looks and hairstyles – as the weather improves everyone is ready to embrace a few changes.

·        Outdoorsy posts – parks and fields and meadows, oh my!

·        Bank Holiday ideas: whether it’s a minibreak plan, a DIY bonanza or a Netflix marathon, those two long weekends are full of possibilities!  Similarly, any inspiration for half-term will be a great thing for parents looking forward to a week of fun at the close of the month.


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.  May 7th is both World Beer Pong Day and National Cosmo Day, which seems like a truly winning combination.  From May 8th-14th it will be British Sandwich Week, the perfect time to celebrate one of our national dishes.  On the 13th I’ll definitely be raising a glass to World Cocktail day (and again on the 21st for World Whisky Day).  The week of the 16th-22nd May is British Tomato Week; I’ll be looking forward to sharing soups, salads and sauces featuring this fave of mine!  From the 23rd-29th here in the capital we’ll be enjoying London Wine Week – I’m looking forward to seeking out a few events! 

As well as wine week (awesome), here in London there are lots of other events to look forward to as well. The city has something for everyone! From May 3rd London Craft Week will take over the city, showing off the best of the city's artisans and creators at venues across town. On the weekend of the 7th & 8th pet lovers can head over to the ExCel centre for the National Pet Show.  The warmer weather means that there are more and more open air shows to enjoy, with the season starting in May at venues such as the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (I can't wait to head over there to see Jesus Christ Superstar in July!).

On the 15th, Greenwich Peninsula will host the Urban Village Fete, offering a quirky twist on the countryside favourite. From the 24th-28th May the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (a perennial favourite) will be in bloom - always a gorgeous day out! And last but not least, on the last weekend of the month the ExCel plays host to the MCM London Comic Con - the place to be for all your fandom fun.

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


Sunday, April 24, 2016

I Love Your Blog: Rhyme & Ribbons


There are so many wonderful blogs out there, and I'm so lucky to be able to co-ordinate this series, which gives me a platform to share a few of my favourites with you all.

One such favourite is the lovely Amanda, who writes over at Rhyme & Ribbons.  From food, to travel, to the things making her smile each week, Amanda shares her life beautifully, and she's a dab hand with instagram too.  Here's the interview with the lovely Amanda....

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The lovely Amanda!  Pictures accompanying this interview kindly provided by the lady herself.


1.      How long have you been blogging?

I’ve been blogging since the beginning of 2013. Rhyme & Ribbons turned 3 this year, which is
shocking to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever stuck with one thing for so long before!

2.      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 blog about the things that interest me; travel, fashion, food, baking and a few personal posts
thrown in for good measure. I trained as an actor, and even though I’m not acting right now, I’ve
always needed a creative outlet after my 9-5 and that’s how my blog evolved. I’d love to blog
full-time one day, but I’m happily hobby blogging at the moment. I’d also love to write my own
cookbook one day. That or get to be a contestant on GBBO.

3.      What is your favourite thing about blogging?

My favourite thing about blogging is that it’s encouraged me to grow as a person. I’ve learned so
many new skills since I’ve started blogging from photography to basic html. I’m a huge
proponent of lifelong education and blogging supports learning in so many ways.

4.      What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

My least favourite aspect of blogging the is follower counting. Everyone falls into the spiral of
worrying about their follower amount at least once in their blogging career. But there’s always
going to be someone out there with more followers than me, and that’s okay!



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

My favourite posts are always the ones that are most personal to me. They are the ones that I
always hesitate to hit publish on, because I’m nervous about how they will be perceived but the
blogging community never fails to surprise me with their supportive behaviour. Even when
blogging about sensitive subjects like my special bond with my grandparents or feelings on the
6.      Whose blogs do you love?  Im always looking for recommendations 

I have so many! Club Narwhal makes the most gorgeous recipes. I always look forward to a new post
from Rebecca at From Roses. And I love how refreshing Hannah Gale’s posts are.

7.      I love your travel posts - where's next on your list?  What's the big dream destination?

I’d like to prioritise going to Italy and Ireland next. I’ve never been to either and they are both top of
my list! But since my wedding is looming ever closer (July - eek!) travel is on the back burner for the
time being. The Maldives are my ultimate dream destination though.

8.     You get to do all sorts of cool things through your blogging - do you have any favourites?

Oh, good question! I’ve been so fortunate in that I’ve been invited to some incredible things so it’s so hard to choose. Personally, I loved getting to go to Royal Ascot last year on Ladies Day with Appletiser.  I also got to spend a weekend in Cardiff with Visit Wales and that was absolutely incredible! But I’ve also gotten to eat some phenomenal meals for reviewing purposes. I got to spend the evening with Ping from Masterchef and that was a dream come true!


9.      What hopes and dreams do you have for Rhyme and Ribbonsgoing forward?


I’m always excited to see R & R grow, and I love seeing how my own posts have gotten better.
When I look back at some of my early recipe posts, the poor photography is very cringe inducing.  I
just hope to keep this space open and exciting for as long as possible no matter what curveballs that
life throws at me. Making money from a hobby is always pretty nice as well. 

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

In terms of growth, everyone always says that content is key which is absolutely true. No one is
going to continue to read your blog if your posts are rubbish, but nor is anyone going to read your
blog if you aren’t engaging with other bloggers and the wider blogger community. My biggest newbie
error was that I didn’t start a blog twitter until after my first year of blogging. To nurture your blog, I
recommend not being so hard on it and yourself. Maybe it won’t grow as quickly as you’d like and
maybe you are too busy to post that day. That’s okay. I think most readers can tell when posts are
forced, so if you aren’t feeling writing that day, then don’t. Quality over quantity is better for you in
the long run. 

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Amanda, thank you so much for taking part in I Love Your Blog - I loved reading and learning about
your blogging journey!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

#100daysoffresh update, days 1 - 5

So far I am really enjoying my #100daysoffresh project over on instagram.  It's really making me think about what I'm eating, and to look for ways to make my plates appealing and nutritious.  Here's what I've been consuming and sharing so far!

Day 1:


Thinly sliced courgettes, matchstick carrots and halved plum tomatoes.  So yummy, served with a sprinkling of lime juice (I'm rather addicted to limes at the moment!

Day 2:


Shaved carrots and courgettes, surrounded with peppers and tomato. Served with a simple balsalmic vinegar and olive oil dressing.

Day 3:



A smoothie stuffed with all sorts of vibrant, pretty lovelies!  Spinach, grapes, strawberries, carrots, cucumber, apple & green tea.  Such a great way to kick off the day!

Day 4:


A simple plate of cucumbers, spinach and carrot.  Served alongside grilled salmon and dressed with Mary Berry's light salad dressing (which is amazing, by-the-by).

Day 5:


It's a pretty chilly day here in London, so I opted for slow roasted plum tomatoes with basil, served alongside a hunk of fresh, crusty bread - perfect for mopping up the tomato and basil infused oil!

I'm having such fun with this challenge and am excited to see what freshness awaits.  Are you taking part in #the100dayproject?  I'm posting every day over on my instagram and am so loving being part of the project (even on the days I get the hashtag wrong.  Whoops!). There are so many creative people on board - it's fast becoming my favourite hashtag to follow!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A low, a low, a low, a low.....




FUN FACT NUMBER ONE: Singing the title line above to the "Hello, hello, hello, hello" refrain from Smells Like Teen Spirit is super fun.

FUN FACT NUMBER TWO: This is not a happy clappy Claire post.  But there is a happy twist at the end, so do stick with it if that's your bag.

So, I've had a bit of a wobbly week. Or two.

In this season of my life, it's all a bit rollercoastery and unknown.  Nine times out of ten that is fantastic, exciting, thrilling...the other ten per cent of the time it's beffudling and scary, and sometimes a little sad.

Lately the 10% has hit me, hard.  It's had me riddled with self doubt and sad and pretty lonely.  As the divine Katie would describe it, the 'anxiety goblin' was riding high on the hog.  When this happens I enter the same spiral, and my subconscious basically berates me, and before I know it nothing (not friends, not sleep, not TV, not books, not even kitty cats) can distract me from the inner monologue in my head, which on any given day is "You're such a bad writer / friend / wife / sister / daughter / blogger / person."  The order of titles and focus shifts, but the message is always loud and clear: YOU SUCK, CLAIRE.

FUN FACT NUMBER THREE: As an ex-teacher, and a longtime reader of everything Debrett's has ever published, I cannot tell you how it pains me that my inner anxiety goblin is the kind of horror who shouts "YOU SUCK!" at volume.

Once I'm already feeling down, something always happens to kick the boot in.  A nasty comment, a missed opportunity - it can be a huge thing, it can be a little thing, but it's always a thing.

So I'm sad and down and feeling defeated, and then comes the guilt.

I feel so guilty when I'm feeling down and blue and wanting to go hide in a cave somewhere.  In this big old world I truly appreciate how hashtag-blessed I am, but sometimes I still get sad.  So then that freaking goblin starts in on me with that.

"How ungrateful are you?  You get to write and create and live in London and you are sad?  What a selfish heap of c**p you are!  People are struggling!  People are ill!  You don't have the RIGHT to be sad!!"

FUN FACT NUMBER FOUR: Everyone has the right to be sad.  I know this.  You know this. We all know this. The anxiety goblin does not know this.

So the spiral continues, and I withdraw and I cry and I do a lot of sitting and staring.  The screen stays blank and the page unfilled and I cancel plans and I do not sleep and I sleep too much.

And then, after a day, or three, or seven....the storm breaks.  Like Glinda the Good Witch, my normal subconscious (think a Labrador, or an otter) sweeps in and dispells all the worry and self-hatred (well, a good portion of it), and I'm back to my normal self.

I'm glad to be back. I've missed being myself.

How are you all today?



FUN FACT NUMBER FIVE: The permalink for the post has automagically become a-low-low-low-low....so now I have a Flo-Rida earworm in addition to the Nirvana one.  You're welcome.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Love Your Blog: Being Erica


I love this series.  It's such a great chance to share some of my favourite writers and bloggers with my own little audience, and I relish the opportunity.  There are so many wonderful blogs out there across so many genres, it's so lovely to have a small platform to talk about the ones I read and enjoy regularly.

One blogger whose writing I adore, and someone who I'm lucky enough to see a fair bit of in real life too, is the lovely Erica of Being Erica.  Witty, sharp, funny and clever, her posts are always well-crafted and frequently have me in stitches - she has such a great take on things.  She's also phenomenally good company - if you're lucky enough to attend an event with her, you'll have a ball!  Here's Erica's interview - enjoy!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

How long have you been blogging? 

it was four years back in March, and I can't quite believe that. the birthday came and went without any fuss - in fact it wasn't until Time Hop reminded me that I'd posted something vaguely funny about booze (naturally) that I realised the time. actually crazy. I've never even had a boyfriend this long.

The lovely Erica and her awesome hair! (this pic and the two below kindly provided by Erica)


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 blog about me. Yes my blog is very niche! no, I started 'being erica' as a way of documenting my travels and adventures around London when I first moved here, so my friends and family back home could keep up to date. back then I had no idea about all the benefits that came with this platform, and to this day I still maintain that I would carry on regardless. writing is my outlet, and without it I'd be an emotional wreck. I am very grateful for many an opportunity presented to be by way of my blog, but I am certain those are all a bonus. writing is what I really love to do.

What is your favourite thing about blogging?

the incredible friendships I've discovered along the way. who knew that through such an "anti-social" portal so many amazing people could be met?

What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

the pressure to be better than. I blog about what I want to blog about, with my own tone of voice, with my own shitty photos, and that's enough for me. but occasionally you see other bloggers pop up with their super expensive tech and photographers and press trips, and you can't help but think, "that could be me, if only I tried harder, or was better, or had more followers." those things actually don't matter - not to me, and I am perfectly content with my blog, my life, my style of writing, but there is often the unwanted pressure hanging out in the background, ready to pounce at a moment's notice...



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?

uhhhhm.. so, my blog is my happy place but it's also written by me; I'm pretty angsty. I swear a bit, I lose my shit a bit, but I make it out ok in the end. last year I went through some medical stuff that threw me a bit, and I had nothing else to do but write about it. that post was written for me - for me to get out what I was feeling, not to ask for sympathy, or comments, or anything. and yet, I got them. I got loads of them. which showed that loads of people were in the same boat as me, and struggling to talk about it. so, giving them a safe place to talk about it was a good feeling, and being able to know that i wasn't alone in what I was going through was probably the only thing that kept me from going wild at the time.

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

ugh, so many. I work in digital promotion, so reading blogs is part of my day-to-day, which sadly can mean that sometimes I just do not want. but then there are those blogs you just look forward to reading, that you know will help you focus, will clear your mind, will inspire a change. Rebecca's blog is one of those, as is Jasmin's. I also really love reading about what Amanda gets up to, and Hayley's blog is the only place I go for beauty recommendations.

I love your fashion posts  and your Erica sense of style - where do you get your inspiration?

oh Lord. honestly, right out of the H&M kids catalog. for as long as I can remember, I've tended to dress like a bit of a toddler; bright prints and polka dots (and of course: pink on wednesdays) are what takes up the majority of my wardrobe, and bloggers like Kaelah and Kate and Donna really inspire and champion my outfit choices too. I've never been 'trendy' but I have always liked to dress a bit differently to everyone else. life is too boring in black!


Your twitter stream regularly has me in stitches and your insta and snapchat are similarly awesome- which social media platform is your favourite?

instagram, hands down. my friends have put me on a daily limit too, mostly for when I am on holiday, as I can tend to get a bit spammy with my photos. I don't even care though, I love the simpicity of the platform, the instant glimpses into people's lives, and to be able to be so inspired an the touch of a button (er, screen). love, love, love it. come follow me! @imbeingerica across all the things.

What hopes and dreams do you have for ‘Being Erica’ going forward?

oh man, seriously, I have none. I don't want to grow it into an empire, I don't want to brand it into a magazine or TV show (although, could you imagine?!), I just want to keep my little space on the internet for me and my thoughts to live, and it would be nice to have some friends come and visit every now and then. I always say I didn't start writing for the freebies, and I'll be writing long after the freebies are gone. 

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

stay true to yourself, because the minute you start writing with an agenda, you will lose your way. socialise, be nice, say thank you. manners are free and they will get you everywhere.

Thank you so much for taking part, Erica.  Such a great interview!

Hi, I'm Claire...

Hi, I'm Claire...

About Me

I believe in 80s pop, 90s teen movies, and proper thank you notes. I just like smiling...smiling's my favourite.

I write here about London, food, books & travel, and a lot more besides. I'm never happier than when having adventures, cooking for friends, or lost in a good book.

If you'd like to work together, or if you'd just like to say hello, my email is: countrymouseclaire@gmail.com

Please note that on occasion affiliate links may be used in this blog. All items received for review or paid posts will always be disclosed.

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