Breakfasting in Amsterdam: Pluk

If you thought that my last post looked suspiciously unlike London, you were right. Just last weekend Tiarnan and I hopped over to Amsterdam for the marathon. I refuse to allow our marathon weekends to only be about limbering up and eating shedloads of pasta, though. We had Saturday for exploring, and explore we did.

After some minimal research I decided that I most wanted to visit The Nine Streets, or De Negen Straatjes, area. Just outside the centre and the very heart of Amsterdam’s canal district, it is a beautiful place to wander with plenty of independent shops and small cafes along the 17th century canals. It was here that we discovered Pluk.

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I challenge you to leave Pluk with just a full stomach. It is the most gorgeous café meets gift, stationary and interiors shop and not picking up an entirely unnecessary treat to self is almost impossible. From wooden platter boards, travel mugs, notebooks, photo frames and an enormous selection of fresh fruit and veg, it is only a small shop but you are completely spoilt for choice.

The café is on a mezzanine level overlooking the shop. The girls in there are absolutely lovely and as it was full when we arrived, while we were browsing the shop one of them hovered by the door looking for any leavers whose table we could take. Pluk’s menu is all about healthy and fresh food, with a huge selection of breakfasts, lunches and homemade cakes. We opted for breakfast and ordered a generous selection from the acai bowl to yoghurt to homemade banana bread – all delicious.

It’s only small and incredibly popular, so expect a little wait but the shop will keep you more than occupied. It is the perfect place to fuel up before a morning of wandering the canals. It was my favourite place that we visited over the weekend and the best introduction to Amsterdam.

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Autumnal Pinks

I am not a pink person. In fact, I’m not really a colour person. I always end up in blacks, whites and – my favourite colour of them all – grey. I’ve had to ban myself from buying grey jumpers, it has got that out of control. But autumn is just such a colourful time. The leaves are putting on a firework display of reds, oranges and yellows and we haven’t even set off the real sparklers for the 5th November yet. So this is my attempt to put a bit of colour into my monochrome wardrobe.

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Not only am I absolutely not a pink person, but it isn’t a very autumnal colour either. Spring and summer yes but autumn? No. But this dusky rose Topshop jumper absolutely fits the bill. I love how the colour is slightly unexpected, but still fits in. And it’s a great option if, like me, yellow makes you look a bit sallow and red is just a bit too bold. Baby steps. This jumper has an amazing fit – comfy and relaxed but still slightly fitted, and it can look smart if you want it to. It’s also not too heavy, so ideal for these warmer autumnal days we are still enjoying.

I am also completely in love with this H&M scarf. It is so soft, so comfy to wear and so cheap! And it looks perfectly autumnal without being stereotypically so. The mustard yellow brings it straight into the season, along with the dusky rose pink I am loving so much. It’s also not too heavy so, again, perfect for these crisp autumn days.

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So if you buy one thing this month, make it colourful. Or at least slightly so. We are going to have plenty of time for monochrome when winter rolls round.

West London Weekends: Petersham Nurseries

Petersham Nurseries is the furthest away you will ever feel from London, while still in London.

It is bizarre. We hopped off the bus, rounded the corner and suddenly we were transported to the countryside. There was a dirt track. There were fields. There was a cute little church. There was mud. And of course I was entirely unprepared and had dressed completely inappropriately in my brand new pink suede trainers. So I spent the entire jaunt prancing around puddles like a real townie. But no matter. Besides the puddles, mud and other non-London elements, there was also cake. Which is why we are all gathered here today, obviously.

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Petersham Nurseries is a garden centre meets antique and gifts shop meets restaurant meets tea rooms. It is a total delight. You can browse the plants like you actually have a garden to plant them in, frolic in the gift shop and then have a slice of homemade cake. Their food is seasonal so the menus are ever changing. And the cakes are exactly like you’d bake at home but more inventive and, let’s be honest here, better. The banana bread was excellent and they had interesting offerings like an elderberry drizzle cake and even gluten free chocolate cake.

The tearoom is in a glasshouse and the plants surround you, so you really couldn’t feel further from London. Petersham Nurseries say they are a refuge from the city, and they really are. They have a huge selection of plants and a big site, so you could browse all afternoon before having a cup of tea and slice of cake.

Being London’s answer to countryside, it obviously isn’t a particularly warm place to spend an afternoon. But wrap up, wear something appropriate on your feet and don’t leave before you’ve tried the banana bread. It is truly like no other place I have found in London.

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London’s Prettiest Cupcakes: Peggy Porshcen

WELCOME… to London’s most Instagrammable cupcake shop. With pastel pink walls, beautifully designed cupcakes and an enormous flower garland crowning the door, this is a very hard one to beat.

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The Peggy Porschen parlour has become somewhat legendary on Instagram. The marble table tops, feats of sugar craft and general pink-ness were enough to make it so, but the flower garland is what really attracts the attention. Based in London’s Belgravia, this hub of pink on the corner is impossible to miss.

And miss it you should not. You’ll get some beautiful pictures, but fortunately this place really does taste as good as it looks. You need a sweet tooth, but the selection of ready to eat cupcakes, layer cakes and confectionary are delicious.

We visited on an unseasonably hot day and with tables spilling out onto the street, it was the perfect pit stop for pink lemonade and people watching. And cupcakes of course. It’s a little out of the way but certainly worth it.

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Recent Reads

I spent my summer either lounging in the sun reading, or crammed on a train reading. In short, I did a lot of reading.

I went through a sad phase where I couldn’t seem to pick a good book, but fortunately that has passed. I’ve been making a real habit of hitting 4 stars on Goodreads lately. Not quite 5, because 5 is a really big deal. But 4 is pretty good too. And today I’m going to share all of that reading love with you.

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*The Forgetting Time, Sharon Guskin: I picked this up because I saw adverts for it on the tube. Genuinely, I was that low on reading inspiration. And a good job too, because it was great. It’s about children remembering previous lives and ideas about reincarnation (quite heavy for the morning commute). 4 year old Noah can remember a previous life, and the story centres on what exactly happened to the previous personality. This book could be a thrilling page-turner, but strangely it isn’t. The author doesn’t throw you any red herrings and you don’t have to work for the answers, they simply get revealed as the story moves along. That said, it is hugely enjoyable and manages a big topic without getting too mind-boggling about it.

*I See You, Clare Mackintosh: Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go was one of my favourite books from last year, a page turner to wear the skin off your thumbs. This is her follow-up, based around women doing their daily commutes and how the predictability of their movements can allow men to stalk them, rape them, murder them…(which makes for slightly alarming reading when you are doing your own commute). It follows one woman at risk during her commute, and a police officer investigating the case. Mackintosh was a policewoman herself, so the insights into how the force works are some of the best bits of the story. I didn’t find this as believable as I Let You Go, and there are so many red herrings that I feel it stops being clever and just annoyingly masks what’s actually going on. That said, I still loved it. Even though I can’t quite relax on my commute anymore…

*Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling: I was so sceptical about this. I’d go as far as saying I was mildly appalled by the whole idea. There can be no eighth Harry Potter. It stopped at seven and we should leave it at that. Also I hate reading plays (just what is the point? You’re meant to see them, not read them, I mean honestly). But in the end I (predictably) got a bit curious and picked it up. And I’m so glad I did. No, it’s not the same as the books. But it’s still a great story line in itself and it’s fun to see our favourite witches and wizards all grown up. I’m desperate to see the play now but seeing as tickets are sold out up to December 2017, it’ll take a small miracle for that to happen…

*Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson: This summer I have fallen in love with Bill Bryson and his travel books. He is hilarious, and reading about his travels makes the morning commute that bit more exotic. I’ve read almost all of them, but I particularly enjoyed his jaunts to Australia. My mum is Australian and I had to keep relaying back to her all of the many ways you can die a horrible and painful death in Australia (as if she didn’t already know).

*Little Lies, Liane Moriarty: I loved this. Liane Moriaty has this incredible way of drawing characters. By the end of the story, I felt like they were all my friends and I was part of their small community. Little Lies is based around a primary school and three of the mothers. At the beginning of the story, you know that someone has died – but you don’t know who or anything about it. You just know it happened on the school charity night. The story builds and builds and the tension is increased as you know when you’ll find out what happened, but you have to keep waiting for that critical moment. Liane Moriarty also doesn’t have the annoying habit of throwing a million red herrings your way. Everything is relevant and it all comes together so cleverly.

*The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman: I was a bit disappointed by this one, mainly because I thought it would be like The Night Circus and it wasn’t. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a sideshow of ‘natural wonders’ (or freaks) in Coney Island. It follows the daughter of the leading showman, as she becomes a mermaid for the show, and a photographer, who takes to New York’s underworld and records everything that goes on there. It was fine, but not extraordinary, as the name would have you hope. And, to be honest, I don’t remember much about it which I always think says a lot.

*The Bridget Jones Omnibus, Helen Fielding: I’m twenty years late to this bandwagon, but better late than never. Who doesn’t love Bridget Jones? I have seen the films a million times, but the books are far better and much, much funnier. I sat on my sun lounger giggling away at this, reading out the best bits until I annoyed everyone. If you haven’t read Bridget, read it. And go see the new film while you’re at it.

*Ctrl, Alt; Delete: How I Grew Up Online, Emma Gannon: This memoir is for all of us who grew up putting on cheap make-up just for webcam chatting, sharing the ‘luv’ on Bebo and having enormous fights over MSN. And making complete fools of ourselves while we were at it. Emma Gannon’s honest and completely hilarious stories from her time growing up online are so recognisable and relevant to all us nineties and early noughties babies. And after all of the horribly cringey moments, her insights into the role of the internet and social media today are really interesting and so well put. I don’t often read memoirs, but this is definitely one to add to your reading list.

SKATE at Somerset House

When the ice rink goes up at Somerset House, you know that Christmas has arrived in London.

London has many an ice rink at this time of year. For the city dwellers, there’s the rink at Canary Wharf  (I love the idea of business men spinning around fully suited). The moat at the Tower of London is turned into a rink, there’s a beautiful one outside the Natural History Museum (complete with Christmas tree at its center) and the biggest ice rink belongs to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. But Somerset House has always been my favourite.

P1030202 (2) P1030209 (2)Somerset House host Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas pop-up SKATE each year in their courtyard and, of course, they have decked it out beautifully. Complete with fairy lights, festive music and an enormous Christmas tree, it’s just tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Strand, so a crowd tends to form to cheer the skaters on.

Aside from the beautiful rink, what they really get right is the food. Nothing builds an appetite like ice skating, and Fortnum’s hold the best apres-skate in London. The Fortnum’s Lodge smells entirely of mulled wine, and has all kinds of warming treats to enjoy while nursing the inevitable bruises.

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As we were there for Tiarnan’s birthday, we celebrated with champagne and chocolate truffles (which were completely delicious), but we looked on with envy at our fellow skaters.

The Chocolossus particuarly caught our eye, Fortnum’s ultimate hot chocolate. Complete with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, the biggest marshmallows I’ve ever seen and a cheeky shot of something alcoholic if you so wish, Starbucks will never be the same again! Many of the other skaters also feasted on fondues, tartiflettes and cheese boards, leaving Tiarnan and I wishing we were up a mountain, strapped into ski boots and fueling for the next piste.

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If you visit, be sure to check out Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade – the pop-up version of their Piccadilly Store. In my opinion, nothing can beat the real Fortnum’s at Christmas, with the decorations, luscious red carpets, stands piled high with all kinds of festive goodies and the assistants rushing about in their pillar-box red tailcoats. But the Christmas Arcade comes pretty close. We wandered through the rooms, trying every taster we saw, hinting at possible Christmas presents and admiring the bauble selection.

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So if you’re in London, pop along to Somerset House. Even if you don’t brave the ice, cosy up with a Chocolossus and get that last minute Christmas shopping done.