Monday, February 29, 2016

What to blog about in March


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 Sunday (6th) it's Mother's Day here in the UK, and it's always a nice time to celebrate the mums and mummies.  We have an early Easter this year (27th), so it's always nice to do posts on that if you celebrate the season.  I'll be hosting an Easter get-together and will probably do a post on food and decor for this.  St Patrick's Day on the 17th can produce some fun content too, if you're Irish or enjoy Irish culture.

After the dark, dark days of winter, we are now looking forward to the lighter, brighter days of spring! Themes which I find work well in March are:
  •  Spring outfit posts - as we look forward to warmer weather and the newer season clothes are everywhere in stores, it's nice to share recent buys and new stylings.

  • The new season brings with it a lot of things to do in the city - I love reading what people get up to as we leave the winter behind.

  • Home projects - there's something about the onset of spring and summer which inspires homemaking instincts.  We have a growing list of things we'd like to do around here, from the simple (moving some bookshelves around, swapping some soft furnishings, planting some new items in the garden) to the far more ambitious (swapping a study for a bedroom, getting some builts-in made).   

  • Spring cleaning!  I know we have some big plans for house tidying this month, and I love picking up other's tips for this!

  • Spring themed recipes - all sorts of lovely ingredients are coming into season in the next few weeks (peppers, potatoes, spinach), and it's so nice to come up with new, tasty ways to incorporate them into meals.

  • Travel posts - a couple of paychecks clear of Christmas, and with a long weekend at the end of the month, it's a great time for a break.  We have long weekends planned to both Aberdeen and Luxembourg, I'm super excited to plan them and share them.


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.  It's Vegetarian Month, a great chance to showcase meat-free favourites.  I'm excited for British Pie Week (7th-13th), because pie.  And International Waffle Day on the 25th is definitely a celebration I can get behind!

Here in London there are lots of events to look forward to as well. The 3rd of March is World Book Day, and there will be events in many bookshops to mark the occasion.  Also expect to see lots of children trooping off to school in costume! On the 5th of March the V&A launch their Botticelli Reimagined exhibition, with over 150 key pieces on display.  The 5th also sees the launch of the Urban Food Fest in Shoreditch, which will be running every Saturday until mid-December.  Just looking at the website had me hungry! The Head of the River Race takes place on the 19th of March, and is a lovely chance to see some formidable rowers in action.  On Easter Sunday there will be the excitement of the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race - will Cambridge further extend their lead or will Oxford win the day?

I'll blog later about some of the cultural elements I'm looking forward to in March, but I hope you've found some inspiration here for your March blogging.  I can't believe we're nearly in spring - this year is FLYING!  Hope you've all enjoyed/are enjoying your extra day - I love the quirk that is Leap Day. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

#TheLBDI - what a week!


As I type this on a sunny Friday afternoon in London, wearing my little black dress and reflecting on this past week, and the months of planning before it, I can hardly believe what a busy, full week it has been.  I've written about the Little Black Dress Initiative before, and it's efforts to support the work of the Junior League of London (JLL) and its work to target the effects of poverty here in the city.




Through fundraising, volunteering and advocating, the JLL tries to make a difference in our community, through giving upwards of twenty-thousand volunteer hours per year, and using the funds we raise to support the many projects we partner with (for a list of these please click here).  The money we have raised this week goes towards this.  One of my favourite things about the campaign is how little it costs us to run - meaning that the money goes where it's most needed.




If you'd like to sponsor us our Virgin Money Giving page is here.  If you'd like to sponsor me (and a million thank yous to everyone who has done so so far), my personal page is here.  If money's tight or you're all sponsored out this month, but you'd still like to give us a little support on social, please see the hashtag (#theLBDI) and give us a like, a retweet, or a hello!  To learn more about the work of the Junior League of London, and to find details on joining us, please visit our website.




Now I'd like to share a few glimpses from our hectic, busy week.  I'm so proud to be part of Team LBDI and can't wait to see what our total might be and how we can use it to help with our mission.  As well as being featured on many media, including a piece in the Evening Standard (alas, not archived online) and another in the Telegraph, our participants have been very busy on social media; throughout this post I've shared just a few of the things we've been posting.  We also hosted a Poverty Awareness Symposium on Wednesday night, with over 70 attendees and speakers from two of our community partners, Smart Works and Suited &Booted - I'm very excited for the clothing drive we're doing for these charities, and the invaluable work they do, next month.




Thank you again for all your support on this!  Regular blog programming will return in full very soon.  Have a great weekend, and if you can donate/share our page, thank you in advance for doing so!


Note: All pictures here were tagged with the  #theLBDI hashtag, and I've used them as this is part of our promotional materials.  Naturally, they remain the property of the photographers involved - in this case, a number of the participants in this year's LBDI campaign.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

I Love Your Blog: Kings Road Rocks!


I love this little 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.

Today I'd like to share about the lovely Mina of Kings Road Rocks.  I've been reading Mina's blog for a few years now and am forever picking up great tips for places to visit or new restaurants to try!  She's a great writer and I love follwoing along with her adventures and was delighted she had time to take part in this series.  Enjoy!


All pictures in this post kindly provided by Kings Road Rocks.

1. How long have you been blogging?

I've been blogging on King's Road Rocks for about 5 years

2. What do you blog about?  

Most of my blog posts are about food, which is a huge passion of mine and if I have time I like to sneak in posts about culture: art, photography and film especially.

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?

My blog started off as a marketing platform for a novel I was writing 5 years ago, called Chelsea Girl. It started as a short stories blog with posts about cocktails. Over the years, it's evolved and whilst I do write restaurant reviews I think essentially my blog has always been about things I love. 

From my blog and with my marketing diploma, I have also developed a social media career and my company Relish Content.

3. What is your favourite thing about blogging?

Food but I am also hoping to get back to my local stories, which was the starting point of my blog and which I really enjoyed writing.



4. What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

I really love blogging and I guess what I dislike the most is the time it takes to maintain a blog. Unless you write your own blog, you don't realise the time and effort it takes and sometimes when I'm feeling tired, when my little one needs his mother and I have a million things to do, I wish it could maintain itself. But when I write a post, it feels so good I feel very lucky.

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?

Ooh, good question. I did have a few pieces - my short stories which I wrote when I first started the blog. But they're back in draft now. I feel like I'm soon going to get them back out because my readers at the time really enjoyed them.

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

I love blogs that take me somewhere and have gorgeous photography as well as a personal voice. Some of my favourites are Silverspoon London; Adventures of a London Kiwi (you can see my 'I Love Your Blog' interview with Emma here) Lux Life Blog.

7. Is there anything in London you have yet to try and can’t wait to get to?

These are great questions. I really want  to see the Monet to Matisse exhibition at the RA; go to a Secret Cinema event; and dine at Nobu.



8. I love your posts on restaurants – which in town would be your ‘must-visits’?

Depending on what you like, I would say: Steak at Goodman, A roast dinner at Hawksmoor, cocktails at The Connaught and afternoon tea at The Corinthia. Am still trying to figure out the best place for seafood.

9. Apart from our fair city, what are some of your favourite places to travel to?

New York, hands down. I love Sydney too and also Pangloa Island in the Philippines.

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

Stay true to your voice because that will define you and make you distinctive from the other bloggers. Have fun with your blog because blogging is hard work so you need to have passion to fuel your writing and photography when you are feeling too tired to post something. Also, embracing your community is a great way to nurture your development as a blogger. Social media is fundamentally about relationships and conversation.


Thank you so much for taking part, Mina!  More to follow on this series soon.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Recent Reads: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, Furiously Happy, and Reading Like A Writer


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.


I'm actually on book nine of the year...but way behind on reviewing them!  My apologies for not being the best blogger this month - I've been interning full time at a publishing house this month (more on that soon) and it's had me pretty busy.  I have lots that I want to write about though, and a free day this coming week, so hopefully I'll be posting more regularly again.  I'd got into such good habits, but then February upended them.  Isn't that always the way?  Anyway, here are three more books I've read so far in 2016.




The lovely Christy bought me this book as a present years ago.  She has mad book selecting skills, so I should have read it immediately, but for some reason it took me months, nay, years, to get to this book.  That was an error, as it's a really charming little read.  The world constructed in the book is delightful, and the characters quirky and interesting.  Many of the books mentioned raised familiar smiles and several of the sadder moments in the narrative made me have a little weep.  After reading this I wanted to open a bookshop, stat.

   

 I enjoy Jenny Lawson's blog and adored Let's Pretend This Never Happened, so I had such high hopes for this book.  I was not let down.  Thpught-provoking, enlightening, touching, and at points incredibly silly, I galloped through this book at a rate of knots.  Jenny's take on mental health, anxiety, and life in general is so refreshing - I can tell that anything she writes, I'm going to love.  Great book.

   

 There is so much to learn from this book, and I enjoyed the way Prose took her readers through every step of the construction of prose.  It reminded me of the study texts from my degree, and definitely inspired me to pick up a lot of new books - there's a fantastic appendix which is essentially a reading list of awesomeness.  At times the density of the content made this tougher going, but I can tell I'll be referring to the book often.  Not exactly a leisure read, but well worth a look for any aspiring writers!

Next three books on the list are Spectacles, Our Endless Numbered Days, and The Good Girl.

Friday, February 19, 2016

I Love Your Blog: Curled Up with a Good Book and a Cup of Tea



I love this little 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!

Today I'd like to share with you the lovely Shan.  I've known Shan for years in that wonderful 'oh, we made friends on the internet' way, and have enjoyed her blog since its very early days.  Shan is a formidably good reader and a fantastic suggester of books (between her, Christy, Kaz and Hannah, I am kept busy!), and her blog is a real treat too.  Over to Shan...



1. How long have you been blogging?

I just celebrated the 6th anniversary of my blog. Over the years, I had started and stopped a few personal blogs but I definitely found my stride when I started book blogging. 

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?

My blog is all about books. Every once in a while I will discuss television shows or movies I’m watching, but 99% of my blog is books. I mostly write reviews, but I also do author interviews and guest posts, book blasts, and coverage of bookish events. My goal is just to talk about books with other book lovers. But it did also help me get a job as a bookseller, so that’s a plus!

3. What is your favourite thing about blogging?

I love that I have a community to talk about books. No matter what you read, there are other people out there waiting to talk about it. And it feels great to know that people are reading and loving books that I have recommended to them.

4. What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

I’m terrible when it comes to scheduling and getting posts done ahead of time! Sometimes life will get busy and I won’t have any posts for a while and that bothers me. I think consistency is important when it comes to blogging and that is an area I need to work on.

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?

I’m proud that my blog promotes a lot of Canadian literature. Years back, I committed myself to reading more CanLit and I’m so amazed and proud at the literary talent of my country.  I keep a list on the blog of all of the Canadian books I have reviewed and you can find them here -http://goodbooksandacupoftea.blogspot.ca/p/oh-canada.html

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

Tanya is a Canadian currently living in Scotland. She and I have very similar reading tastes so I love reading her blog 52 Books or Bust.https://52booksorbust.wordpress.com

I always look to Jackie at Farm Lane Books Blog for literary fiction recommendations. It’s amazing how many books I find out about from her.www.farmlanebooks.co.uk

Darkowaa of African Book Addict reviews and discusses books from the African diaspora and always has great recommendations. She helps me discover authors that may not get as much attention outside of the continent. www.africanbookaddict.com

7. I love your take on books and writers – which are your favourite genres/authors to read?

Over the years you can see how my book tastes change. Before I started blogging I stuck to the same few genres so I’m always challenging myself to get over my comfort zone. CanLit is my favourite because it tells a wide range of stories and I’m a very proud Canadian. My favourite Canadian author from this genre is Lawrence Hill. I will read anything he writes, fiction or non-fiction.  

British Chick Lit is my comfort reading genre.  My favourite authors are Lindsey Kelk, Chrissie Manby, Alexandra Brown, Kirsty Greenwood, and Lucy Diamond.

8. What’s the longest book you’ve ever read?  What’s been the trickiest?

The longest book that I have actually completed is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It took me almost two weeks to complete but it was easy to keep reading because it is such an amazing book. (I usually read 2-3 books a week, so two weeks on one book is a big deal for me!)

Two years ago I started reading the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. I’ve been reading it in bits and pieces because at over 1400 pages, I have trouble reading it in the time the library allows me to have it! I’m still only about 500 pages in. I have a hard time reading long books, I’d rather read a few books in a week than one long one.

9. Do you have any ambitions for your reading this year (particular challenges etc.)? (I know you often do these and I think it’ll be fun to share the kinds of challenges you do!)

Each year I set the number of books I hope to read. It started out at 100 and I fell short for a few years. Then one year I achieved it so the next year I set it at 105. It will remain at that until I hit and then I’ll bump it up to 110. I like a good challenge and don’t mind when I don’t achieve it. 

I used to enter blogger challenges but I found that I was missing out on books I wanted to read because I was busy trying to complete my challenges.  So now, I just aim to increase each year how many books I read by Canadians, writers of colour, and female authors.

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


When you start out, it’s easy to look at popular blogs and want that success to happen right away but it takes time. Especially with book bloggers, it takes time to establish yourself before you start receiving ARCs and event invites. Take the time to cultivate quality readership and relationships with other bloggers and people in the publishing industry and all of that will come to you. Let your blog grow naturally, find your niche, and have fun doing it. 



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

#theLBDI


Something I've mentioned here from time to time is my volunteering with the Junior League of London.  A women's volunteer organisation here in London, we work to target the poverty that is spread throughout the capital (the most recent stats in 2015 have it as 27% of the population living in poverty here in the capital; amongst under-16s that percentage rises to 37%), as well as promoting voluntarism and cultivating the skills and talents of our members.  In the US most cities and lots of towns have a League chapter of their own, and there are Junior Leagues in Mexico & Canada too.  Here in London, we're the European section!

I've been a member for over four years now, and JLL has brought a wealth of experiences to my life, wonderful women who I've befriended, myriad chances to give back and countless memorable moments.  A few of these include:

  • Impressing no child (ever) with my craft skills, but getting max points for effort! And glitter on my clothing that has lingered for days.

  • Learning a lot about parts of the city, and parts of life itself, that I might never have encountered otherwise.  The workers and volunteers we partner with are so amazing, and I never fail to leave a volunteering shift without feeling uplifted.

  • Leading a very upbeat dance off at many a kid's party...and having been summarily defeated on the dance floor several times over.

  • Helping with the yearly filling of hundreds of hampers each winter for families and individuals in need, in a chilly warehouse, often wearing antlers, along with dozens of other red-teeshirt sporting Junior Leaguers.  And reading the incredible thank you notes each January. 

  • Washing dishes for hours at a soup kitchen, or sorting suits at a donation drive, or stacking cans at a food bank, with bankers and students and homemakers and lawyers and financial whizzes and more besides; the women I volunteer alongside are so interesting.

  • Donating clothes and toys and books and toiletries if and when I can.  I love how the League makes me appreciate what I have, and also how much it inspires me to contribute.  Through the JLL I've truly seen how every donation, no matter how small you may think it is, can make a big difference.  It's also impressed on me how important a kind word, a gentle touch, a cup of tea and a giggle can be.  These human moments are so important for us all.


During my time in the League it has made me braver, kinder, harder-working, and more flexible.  Much more flexible.  I've heard amazing people speak, learned from some wonderful folk, and made some dear, dear friends.

By this point you're probably wondering why I'm writing about this now.  

Truth be told, it's because I need your help.  Next week (February 22nd-26th) is one of the League's big fundraisers, The Little Black Dress Initiative (LBDI). This is the third year we've done this fundraiser, raising a lot of money which we can then use to fund our projects and help our partners.

The premise is simple, but first a little backstory.

Two of our JLL partners are the amazing charities Smartworks and Suited and Booted, both of which help people who are looking for work.  They help candidates with their CVs, interview prep, and more besides.  As well as this, both of these brilliant charities also help their clients to find a smart, neat, confidence-boosting outfit for their job interviews.  Many people living in poverty looking for work can struggle to find the cash to fund a brand new outfit for interviews - these charities take that pressure away so their clients can focus on the job in hand!

During the Little Black Dress Initiative (#theLBDI), each member pledges to wear the same outfit (a little black dress) for a workweek.  We're doing it next week to coincide with London Fashion Week, a time when clothes are front and centre in the conversation.  During the week we each hope to raise awareness, through limiting our own options a little, of the many limitations faced by those living in poverty (healthy food, educational opportunities, travel, etc. etc.).  We also ask friends and family to sponsor us as we do so.

On a charity level, I'm hoping that I'll garner enough support to help make this a success...

...on a personal level I'm already dreading how many spills and mishaps I'm sure to have in the course of the week.  So clumsy, so sorry.

As well as the sponsored event, we also have a poverty panel next week where we'll be discussing how best to help the people we serve, and the current landscape in London for the charities targeting this area.  And in early March we'll be toasting our campaign and having a collection of work-appropriate clothes and accessories for both Smartworks and Suited & Booted - if you know me and are in London and fancy joing in, let me know.  It's a busy, exciting time, and I truly feel priveleged to be able to help in any small way.  We've been working towards next week for months; now it's time to double down and try to make a difference!

Links for you:

If you'd like to sponsor me (please), my page.

The wider LBDI page, where you can see all the people taking part.

To learn more about JLL, our site is here.

Please do also check out our #theLBDI hashtag on instagram, twitter, and facebook.  And thank you in advance for any/all support you might be able to give.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

I Love Your Blog: Jasmin Charlotte


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.

A blogger I am so fond of (and who I'm lucky enough to see in real life often as we both live and work in London) is the marvellous Jasmin Charlotte.  Funny, intelligent and kind, I love reading Jasmin's blog for great posts on the city, fantastic travel pieces, and amazing tech tips (bow down, all).  I was so please she agreed to take part in I Love Your Blog, and hope you enjoy her answers below!


Pictures used in this post kindly provided by Jasmin Charlotte


How long have you been blogging?

Almost 2 years! Well 2 years in April. I only really discovered blogging a few months before I started. I wish I had found and started earlier as I love it so much!


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?

The general gist is ‘Lifestyle, Travel and Tech’, the blog is very much just a record of what I’m up to, things on my mind and things I find interesting. I find it a really rewarding hobby, in terms of connecting with others and even making a whole host of friends (like the lovely Claire! - you're too kind, Jas!). However, I think if I had to write for a living I would soon get unmotivated so I’m very happy to keep it as a hobby!


What is your favourite thing about blogging?

I think it’s connecting to a whole host of other people! London, despite being a huge metropolis can actually be a really lonely place. A lot of the people who live here are very busy and it can be really hard to make friends, especially when I first moved. Blogging gave me the opportunity to connect with other Londoners, not only just by reading their blogs but also by meeting them!

Outside of that, my favourite thing about blogging is having that creative outlet. I work in business and tech so it’s nice to have something to balance that out with. I love thinking about content ideas and getting down to just writing a whole lot.


What is your least favourite thing about blogging?

On a pure blogging level, the thing I struggle with the most is photography! I’m definitely getting there but it is probably the main bit of blogging which really doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m always in awe of other people’s gorgeous images.

Speaking of others, I think another hard bit of blogging is comparison. Although I try very hard to never compare my space to others, sometimes it can happen and it can dishearten you. However, it’s just always so important to remember this is YOUR space, and you blog cause you love it, not because of the numbers or the stats!

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?

I’ll pick a couple from my different sections –

Lifestyle – I recently wrote a post on just Accepting Yourself. Not only did it feel awesome to write but it really resonated with a lot of my readers!

Travel – My Scotland Series was a real highlight, mainly as I just loved the trip so much, reliving it was amazing!

Tech – My Bloggers Guide to SEO was definitely one I was proud of, those does need an update for 2016!

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

Ah so many! For travel I love Unlocking Kiki and Let Us Wanderlust, for food I love Rachel Phipps and Sophie Loves Food, for lifestyle, I love Sophie Cliff and Life Outside London.

You are so good at advice and tech tips for bloggers – what do you think have been the most useful posts/well-received posts you’ve written on this?

I think my Bloggers Guide to SEO which I did last year was probably one of the best received. I know SEO can be a bit complicated if you aren’t keen on tech so I tried my best to break it down into more manageable chunks.

More recently, I did a couple of posts on social media optimisation which were interesting to try to experiment with. My post on increasing my Instagram by 25% in one month was a popular one – they are simple tips but ones that totally work when you put them into practice. I also really liked my post on getting the most about scheduling tweets.

You are a whizz at social media; do you have a favourite platform, or one you’re aiming to use more?

Out of all the platforms, I think twitter is probably my favourite! Mainly because you can have a good conversation with people and you can get a good lot of referrals to the blog relatively easily. I tend to be more of a word-y person and I like that you can quickly share updates without having to put a whole load of thought into it.

One that I’m aiming to use more is definitely Pinterest. I have declared 2016 the year of Pinterest! It is a platform I didn’t really use, but I’m starting to get a lot more into it. So many bloggers rave about how it can do wonders for blog traffic so we will see if that happens!



I adore your travel posts – where are your favourite places to visit/holiday?

Travel is a huge thing for me, I am a total addict!! It’s hard to pick a favourite place as I’m always looking for a new city or country to explore. If we narrow it down to the past couple of years, then I’d say my favourite places have been my road trip around Scotland last year, which reminded me so much of home in New Zealand. I loved seeing Loch Lomond, driving through Glencoe and ending up at the Isle of Skye. It’s an area of the world I can’t wait to go back to.

The other spot which was pretty idyllic was Gran Canaria – I really didn’t expect much from the holiday which I went on with my whole family but it turned out to be an amazing island, completely full of hidden gems. It’s nice to know there is a gorgeous island only an Easyjet flight away!


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

I think it’s important to find your balance of consistency, but not just writing because you feel you need to. It’s key to post regularly, whether than be daily, weekly or monthly, but if you are only posting something for the sake of it, putting out something which may not be of your usual quality will probably hurt more than just being consistent. This took me awhile to figure this out myself!


Otherwise, I think it’s about thinking of your goals and taking small steps to get there. If you want to grow your following, focus on a couple of social media platforms and see if you can grow on there. If you want to increase engagement then get chatting and sharing with other bloggers. There are so many great blogs out there sharing blogging tips and advice, I think some are really handy for when you need to focus in on where you want your blog to go!

Thank you so much for taking part in this series, Jasmin.  I *loved* reading your answers!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Flipping out for perfect pancakes

On Tuesday, it's Shrove Tuesday, or as we have it affectionately on these shores, 'Pancake Day'.  An early Easter has the fun of Pancake Day and the start of Lent very early in 2016 - it feels like a hop,skip and jump we were all getting back into the swing of things post-New Year's!

I love Pancake Day.  There's something so fun and festive about having breakfastey-dessert foods for dinner.  I'm aware of the many delicious and tasty savoury options available for pancakes and crepes, but in the Thornley household growing up, it was always yummy, sweeter options on Pancake Day.  We liked to prep for Lent with a bit of a sugar high!

My mum is great at making pancakes - she'd make stacks and stacks of them to enjoy for tea, smothered with lemon and sugar; or if we were really good laden with chocolate sauce and topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.  We'd have the thinner, crepes style pancakes, rolled up and light, as opposed to the big, fluffy American style pancakes.

As I grew up and set up my own home, I tried to emulate mum's pancakes, but I could never get it quite right...all too often I'd give up, and have a little subconscious sadness (nothing major, I'm aware this is very much a first world problem!) that I couldn't make the same pancakes for Matthew and me.  When I did try the result was all too often lumpy, stodgy pancakes and a smoke alarm blaring....

Flash forward to last week, when the folk at Debenhams asked if I might like to try out a crepe maker from Breville.  With a little trepidation, and imagined smoke alarms beeping in my head, I said "Yes, please," and prepped to meet my pancakey nemesis again.  Would this time be different?


The team from Debenhams sent me a crepe maker, and some super cute items from the Ashley Thomas range too (love Ashley, her homewares are gorgeous!).  


I love that it comes with a little stick, just like a proper crepe making chef would use!


Love these bright and busy accessories - I already had a flour shaker so I filled this with sugar for sprinkling!

I checked my recipe (I used this BBC one), put a little butter on the crepe maker, and switched the crepe maker on.... My first effort was a little off (I think it was just a matter of grasping how much batter to ladel on to the cooking surface!), but by the second one I was feeling in control and pretty darn happy.  My efforts looked like pancakes - just like mum's, in fact!  As I made each one I transferred them over to a heated plate in the oven, ahead of serving.


The finished article, laden with fresh lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar.  What a treat!  I'm now mega excited to try some more ambitious variants on Tuesday - I'm thinking chicken and spinach crepes to begin, then s'mores style crepes for afters?  I'm thrilled that I'll be able to make us pancakes that are actual pancakes, and so excited to try out new recipes.  I'd heartily recommend this gadget - if it can help me with my sorry prior attempts, it's going to help anyone!  I'm also intrigued to try other things using the gizmo - griddling peppers or making omlettes, perhaps?

Will you be enjoying pancakes on Tuesday?  What's your favourite topping?




Note: I was gifted this crepe maker and the Ashley Thomas kitchenware by Debenhams (thank you!).  All opinions, stories, ramblings and evangelical endorsements of gadgets are my own :)



PS The box is also kitty approved for sits.  Poppet makes me laugh!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Theatre: The End of Longing


It's been quite some time, several months in fact, since I last saw a straight play here in London.  It's been even longer since I've seen a comedy play - when I do veer away from musicals I have a tendency to plump for the dramatics and tragedies, the Chekhovs and Shakespeares.  This wasn't always the case, by any means.  In my youth I'd watch all the plays, from The Crucible to Abigail's Party, and saw as many plays as I did musical theatre....with the West End as it is now the big musicals tend to claim my attention first!  

This year I'm aiming to stem the tide a little though, and get back into seeing a better range of theatre.  Tonight I kicked off this new ambition by seeing the opening night of the brand new play The End of Longing.  Written by and starring Matthew Perry, it's billed as a fast-paced comedy, and as I took my seat at the Playhouse I was intrigued by the prosepct of a brand new, unknown play.

Confession: I'm a bit of a Matthew Perry fan.  I loved Friends growing up, and Chandler Bing, with his witty barbs and sarcasm, was always my favourite character.  Matthew Perry was great in the role, but it did mean that when he tried to break out in other projects, the Bing-ness often followed him.  This is a shame, as he's a truly gifted comic performer.  I was excited to see him in a play, rather than onscreen, and in a role I wasn't familiar with.  Even more, I was excited to see a play that Matthew Perry had written.  There's something about writing, the nakedness of words on the page, that can reveal so much about a person, and I was excited to hear what he had to say.

The End of Longing follows a quartet of characters trying to make sense of it all in the big bad city.  So far, so cliché, but Perry introduces them with verve and humour, and the play takes plenty of twists and turns you might not predict.  As the play progresses we get to know Stephanie, Jack, Stevie and Joseph and watch the paths their lives take, the times they fail and the ways they step up.  The characters talk in a slightly stylised patter-song of drawled American, the script loaded with big long words (and f bombs aplenty).  It took my ear a while to get used to the ways the characters talked, rather like the first time you watch something Sorkin has written, or to be a little less highbrow, like the first time you watch Dawson's Creek or Gilmore Girls. As I grew more accustomed to the ebb and flow of this particular dialogue style, the more I liked it.  Perry's characters are flawed and sweary and verbose.

As Jack, Perry does well.  He plays the character broadly comic for most of the show, but at times there's a real sadness and fear to this cad-about-town.  You'll root for him. The Bing-ness mainly stays far away, except, unexpectedly, when Jack is flirting. Stephanie is played beautifully by Jennifer Mudge - confident, charming, assured; until she's not.  Stevie is a high-strung pharma rep played by Christina Cole capably.  At first I found this character pretty grating and was glad that as the action of the play progressed her traits became more mellow and understandable.  Lloyd Owen was fantastic as Joseph, my favourite of the four, sometimes a simpleton, at others encompassing childlike wonder, anger, and wisdom, sometimes inside the same scene.

The production was slick and considered, and I liked the backdrop of the city lights, never far away.  I loved the score, perfectly capturing that loungey-bleepy-bloopy music so familiar to any of us who go to or who have been to bars, clubs, and other nightspots.

I really enjoyed The End of Longing, laughing more than I was truly expecting, but also leaving filled with hope.  The coda at the end brings a touch of gravitas to cut the humour and schmaltz, and gives hope that however flawed we may be, there's always a chance for happiness.

Monday, February 01, 2016

February Goals



Yesterday I updated on how my January goals had gone, which means today it's time to set some goals for teh coming month!  As this month is pretty darn busy with interning, the list is shorter, but I'm still excited to work on a few little goals. 

1. Read 5 books in February.  Bookworm for life, man!


2. Lose five more pounds.



3. Do seven sessions on either the cross-trainer or the rowing machine at home.



4. Research our upcoming visits to Aberdeen and Luxembourg. So excited for a little travel!


5. Tidy my study enough to post a picture of it (believe me, that's a pretty tall order as I write!).



6. Throw out / recycle / donate a further ten carrier bags worth of items.


7.  Attend at least five cultural events - films, theatre, lectures etc.


Happy February, you beautiful folk!  What do you have planned?

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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