Tag Archives: London

Review: Hampton Court Palace

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Hampton Court – King Henry the 8th’s main palace of residence – has been on our to-see list for some time now. While it is recognised for being the palace of one of history’s most infamous tyrants – King Henry was far from the only royal who called Hampton Court home.

When the initial buildings were assembled in 1515 beside a quiet part of the Thames under the direction of Cardinal Thomas Wolsley there were nothing but fields surrounding as far as the eye could see. Today, Hampton Court sits on 60 acres in the heart of a bustling Surrey which has built up around it over the centuries.

One of the key features of Hampton Court is that it is a pick-and-mix of Tudor and Baroque style architecture. In King Henry’s reign it was erected and expanded in the Tudor style which consists of the traditional castle features of hard lines, battlements and windows which are more squared as well as its signature dark red brick.

When it was taken over by William the third and Queen Mary the 2nd they began renovations in the Baroque style which typically consists of softer lines, arches and white and gold accents.

We visited Hampton Court gardens last summer when we attended an outdoor cinema showing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone but have only just toured the inside this past January when tickets were on sale for half price – keep an eye out for future discounts!

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We started off in the Cumberland Art Gallery which house paintings by the likes of Italians Caneletto (1697 – 1798) and Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), Flemish-born Van Dyck (1599 – 1641) and German-born Holbein (1497 – 1543). They even have a self portrait by Dutch-born Rembrandt who is considered one of the best visual artists of all time and the crowning jewel of Dutch artists.

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My other half said the Cumberland gallery was the highlight for him.

We explored many grand reception and dining rooms…

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And of course, the master suite’s with their ambitious canopy beds, decorated fireplaces and sprawling ceilings.

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We also paused over Queen Caroline’s bathroom. It’s quite an interesting feature as science at the time deemed bathing frequently to be dangerous and even those rich enough to have the luxury of a bath and servants to cart heated water to and fro only bathed now and then, washing hair every 12 days or so (sometimes longer). Queen Caroline on the other hand bathed comparatively often and also bathed her children regularly in orange and rose scented water.

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Some children were equally delighted and horrified to learn from one of the museum attendants about the ‘Groom of the Stool.’ While by today’s standards wiping royal bums doesn’t sound like the kind of job which would have resumes pouring in on Indeed.com – in days of yore it was a sought-after position in the court as the Groom of the Stool was one of the only people in England who had 1 on 1 time with the King and could use that time to influence his decisions.

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There is an intricate chapel with balcony, remodelled by Queen Anne in 1710, which still holds services today.

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My own personal favourites though, were the kitchens and the tennis court. An avid cook, I was fascinated with the large, open kitchen and the considerable fireplace where meals for 800 could be produced daily by a kitchen staff of 200 for monarchs and their courts during the Tudor, Stuart and Georgian periods.

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Recipes of the Hampton Court kitchens included salmon & fig pies, mutton and beef stews, game dishes, peacock, apple fritters, french toast and Marzipan cake. Some of King Henry’s personal favourites were supposedly bone marrow tarts and ‘Maids of Honour’ – a butter puff pastry tart with a mildly sweet cheese curd filling.

Surrey bakery and tearooms ‘Newens’ boast the original secret ‘Maids of Honour’ recipe which they still keep under lock and key. So if all that history and walking gets you feeling peckish – you could always make a pit stop on the way home for a cuppa and a famous tart.

I was surprised to see the array of exotic herbs and spices which were used as far back as the Tudor times. Flavours of Rosemary, Coriander, Saffron, Basil, Cinnamon, Cloves, Mace, Ginger, Parsley, Salt and Sage to name a few were shipped from as far away as China, India and Africa. They sweetened their meals with sugar imported from Cyprus and enjoyed citrus fruit, almonds, artichokes and olive oil from the Mediterranean.

Period actors made sweets, turned spits in front of the fire and regaled us with tales of their lives in the 16th century. As it was a frosty January day, listening also seemed a great excuse to warm ourselves in front of the blazing fireplace.

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Of course a visit wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through the Great Hall, where the royal feasts would have been enjoyed at long tables under carved timber ceilings. When Henry married Anne Boleyn he had her coat of arms and their initials engraved in the overhang. After he ordered her execution he also ordered for these carvings to be removed but some of them were missed – see if you can spot them.

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My other highlight was the tennis court as it’s quite unique to Hampton Court as far as palaces go.

Hampton Court’s tennis court is the oldest in the world. There has been a court on the site since 1526 and Wolsley and Henry were both known to be good players. The tennis court as it stands today has one original wall and three which date to the 17th century during Charles the first’s reign.

Originally the balls were filled with clay, sand and powdered eggshell and could feel somewhat weaponized but since the 1500s balls were instead filled with more forgiving leather and animal hair.

The original game of tennis was more of a mix of tennis and squash and has changed significantly over the years into the game we know today.

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Image result for hampton court tennis court

While on our second visit we didn’t explore the gardens as much as on our first visit, we did stumble upon quite a few quiet courtyard gardens.

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And on a warm spring or summer day, many more hours could be enjoyed in the palace gardens…

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The palace has regular events, concerts and exhibitions so it’s worth having a look on their website to see what is up and coming:

Hampton Court Website

Regular admission is:
Adult – £22
Child – £10.90
Members – Free

The kitchen gardens can be explored for free without admission.

Overall it is definitely worth a visit, especially for any history buffs. The price is a bit steep but if you can take advantage of a discount offer it’s a pleasant way to spend a day in Surrey.

4/5 Maids of Honour

Have you visited Hampton Court? What would you most like to see or what was your favourite part?

Toodle pip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throwback Tuesday: London Photoshoot

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Tower Bridge

I honestly don’t know how the weeks, months and years escape me but they manage. So much has happened this past year; nearly all good things but one wonderful week seems to roll into the next and I find myself wondering where the time has gone.

I was thinking today about this lovely day in London – not last October but the one before it already. My favourite photographer in all the world Kaypea Photography happened to be travelling from the USA to London and snapped some beautiful photos for us to treasure always.

She really captured our love for each other and for this magical little island I’ve called home these past four years.

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Tower of London

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He makes me so happy ❤

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What you can’t tell from these photos is that it was a frigid October day with some rain (luckily I had my man to keep me warm!) so I had my yellow rain coat and flower patterned wellies on between locations; this matched very well with my pink skirt (not!).

One of the highlights was when we were near Westminster and a little girl pointed and said “Look mommy – a princess!” It was so sweet. All was worth it for the memories and the photos that now sit on our bedside table, in the home we share together.

What is your favourite London spot or spot you must see if you ever visit? x

The Best Mac & Cheese in London – Mac Factory

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Me and my other half are kind of Mac & Cheese fanatics – so much so that on a whim we bought a 16 foot food truck and planned to do it up & serve all different variations of the gooey goodness. Then we realized with two full-time jobs it probably wasn’t the best time just yet.

Until then we just sample as much of the stuff as we can because a great mac & cheese is street food nirvana. And the best bowl we’ve had so far was in the hub of Old Blighty: London.

Camden Market is famous for its street food and if you don’t mind being crushed in a sea of people it is so worth it for the myriad of flavours on offer. You can sample everything from Persian to Greek and everywhere in between – its the perfect place to make food you’ve never heard of into food you can’t live without.

All day and into the evening sweaty chefs in 5×5 foot stalls sling out the most tempting bites to hungry mobs but for me, it was all about the mac.

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Mac Factory is one such stall squeezed between a Venezuelan and an Indian kitchen. Their mac positively oozes; noodles bathe in a saporous, creamy three-cheese sauce with all the heavenly flavour and gooey texture one expects of an extraordinary mac & cheese.

And it gets cheddar and cheddar. How you ask? How could noodles smothered in a lip-smacking cheese sauce get any better? With toppings says I!

Now, I’ll be honest; when I visited I was a recently (mostly) converted vegetarian and I was much more enticed by toppings like pancetta and beef chilli but I unconvincingly opted for the “La Med Babe” (£7) which was topped with sundried tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil pesto – all things I love but on a mac & cheese? I just couldn’t see it coming together.

But I’m happy to report that I was super duper wrong (just don’t tell my husband). Who knew pesto, tomato and mozzarella were a top-notch pairing with mac & cheese? It was seriously delicious – so delicious I had to fend off my one-and-only as “one bite” turned into “how many bites can I get away with?”

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Me holding (fending) my La Med Babe Mac

But if you’re not convinced that a Caprese Mac & Cheese is the best thing in the world you can always opt for one of their other delicious options:

Nostalgic – classic 3 cheese mac (£6)
Super Mario – Sauteed mushrooms, garlic & truffle oil (£7)
Posh Spice – Spicy chorizo, harissa & caramelised onion (£7)
Hey Mac-arena – Beef chilli, tortilla chips, sour cream & jalapeno (£8)
Mambo Italiano – Smoked pancetta, mushroom & garlic (£8)

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Posh Spice Mac & Cheese

If you’re ever in London definitely plan a stop at Camden Market and don’t forget to say “cheese!”

5/5 spoons licked clean

 

The Quirkiest Restaurant in London – Sarastro

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I’m always on the lookout for the quirkiest and most delicious places to eat so when I read about Sarastro in the heart of London’s theatre district it shot straight to the top of my list.

Perhaps the most unorthodox joint in town it has been kitted out with glittering theatre boxes and West End props and as if that isn’t enough musicians and opera singers serenade you as you eat. Imagine Aladdin’s cave sneezed all over Harry Potter’s Night Bus and that’s pretty much Sarastro.

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We happened to be in London on my birthday and as I had been dying to go for months we made a last-minute reservation. They generally take reservations for around 7:30pm as they want you to be able to experience the live performances which take place Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings starting around 8pm.

We arrived a bit early and were seated comfortably in what felt like a fireplace.

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The food is ‘broadly Mediterranean’ with a Turkish flair and can be ordered from a set menu or the regular menu. We chose to order from the regular menu which has everything from mezze to steak – having never had Borek (£6.49) but loving both flaky phyllo pastry and cheese we started with these and were not one bit disappointed with these stars of the show. Where have they been all my life?

My only complaint was that I could have eaten a dozen of them. Before we could snap a picture we’d inhaled the warm parcels and hollowed out every drop of the tahini-yogurt dip which accompanied them.

The wine we chose was also a perfect fit – not at all bitter and with a sweet note left on the tongue. We’d order the same next time (£31/bottle).

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As I’m a hopeful vegetarian (I do sneak a bite in here and there) I ordered the tortellini in a creamy basil sauce (£14.95) plus a Mediterranean salad (£5.95) and my other half ordered the Mediterranean chicken skewers (£18.45).

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I was feeling a bit hesitant about my choice to order what seemed an Italian-inspired dish in a Turkish restaurant but was very pleasantly surprised. The sauce was full of creamy, zesty flavour and the pasta cooked perfectly. It really was delectable.

While my man’s main didn’t look like much when it arrived he said it was the best kebab he’s ever had. The chicken was expertly tender and flavourful, served with a side of potatoes gratin and Mediterranean salad. Personally I think it could do with a sauce but my OH had no complaints.

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For dessert I ordered the Pumpkin Mousse but would have traded it in for the blissful Apple Tarte Tatin (£9.95) which my man chose.

I have fond memories of eating apple blossoms at fall fairs in Canada (on the years I could get one before they sold out) and this had all the same sweet cinnamon flavours and the perfect pairings of warm, velvety apple and crisp, airy pastry. As two people who live to eat my man declared it the best thing he’s ever eaten and I have to say it is up there for me as well.

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And the dessert on top of the dessert was the music. I’m not usually one for classical but the musicians were so engaging and funny and their music absolutely suited the place. Once they’d finished we were serenaded by two opera singers and the whole evening was unusual in the most magical of ways.

Music at Sarastro – Youtube

The art choices in the bathrooms also offered an interesting talking point – make sure to visit the loo before you go. No wonder my husband kept visiting the little boys room!

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It is a rare thing for the food to live up to a place with such an atmosphere but Sarastro had it all – for an unforgettable experience in London take a stroll up Drury Lane and book yourself a box at “the show after the show.”

5/5 final curtains

*Be aware that a gratuity charge of 12.5% is automatically added to your bill.

What’s your favourite place to grab grub in London?

Expat Life Lately: RHS Chelsea Flower Show

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May All Your Weeds Be Wildflowers
-Anonymous

Last week my husband came home from work and said that he’d been asked to help with the 75th Anniversary D-Day Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. As is often the case in the army my man happened to mention he likes gardening (he did help me plant that tomato plant that one time right?) and before he knew it it had become common knowledge that he is some master landscaper and floral designer extraordinaire. After a week of calling him Mr. Titchmarsh and giggling it came to pass that a couple extra hands were needed to strip out the D-Day Garden and a free pass was up for grabs. He did not have to twist my arm.

A free pass and all I have to do to earn it is gardening? Which I love? Win-win!

I watched BBC coverage of the show in anticipation all week surprising myself with my knowledge of flower species as I’m mostly a veggie-growing girl.

When the day finally came we visited the pavillion which housed regal lupins, pastel foxgloves, towering delphiniums and velvety peonies. There were roses blushing in every shade and a real buzz – although that could have been a combination of the bees and the sneezing. So much sneezing.

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We visited the plethora of gardens I’d seen on the TV. The Moroccan garden, the Yorkshire garden, Duchess Kate’s Back to Nature Garden and many others. Inspiration for our yard and our wedding were propagating like bluebells in my mind.

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But the highlight for me wasn’t the flowers – gorgeous as they were. The highlight for me was that I had the opportunity to speak to so many interesting people about so many interesting things and that I got to play a small part in helping with the D-Day Garden which will be transported to France for a permanent home in Arromanches, overlooking Gold Beach.

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The D-Day veterans (the youngest of which was 93) told me about their younger years during the war; why they joined and how wonderful it was when people thanked them for their service. One of them echoed back a thought I have had so many times – that we never learn. They told me of the wives they came to meet after the war and of visits to Canada and gave me tried and true words of wisdom: “Life goes by too fast – don’t waste one second of it.”

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I also spoke with the designer -John- and his family about building the garden and they told me of how washers (which the soldiers are made of) had taken over their entire home – being found in pockets and in shoes and on windowsills. They explained that sea thrift was the last flower the soldiers would have seen as they left Portsmouth and the first they would have seen during the D-Day landings.

I also fangirled a little bit when I asked if he’d met any of the royals in the week and he told me he’d met the Duchess of Cambridgeshire herself who I adore, and also Princess Beatrice. He said Kate carried herself very well and he was struck by just how tall she was.

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As we separated plastic pots and plopped sea thrift back into their containers I came to find that another lady who helped with the garden was an archaeologist which is every child’s dream job and I wanted to know everything. It turns out she’d been on Time Team which is one of my favourite shows and her most valued find was a 9th century comb made of bone in perfect condition all but for one prong.

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All in all it was a day filled to the brim and what’s the Chelsea Flower Show without trying to squeeze tall plants in tiny cars?

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We carried home an armful of flowers and good advice and reminisced on a wonderful day that went by just as fast as the old veterans said. Now I’m off to the garden as I can hardly think of a better way to enjoy every second.

 

 

Expat Life Lately: Pumpkins & Autumn Recipes

Now it’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas I thought it would be a perfect time to say farewell to those spectacular fall days and to recap some of our best memories from a magical autumn which has been spent playing boardgames, snuggling, cooking, exploring and of course, drinking cups of tea.

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As we’re now living in Kent with good train links to London we’ve been making up for lost time with my favourite city and it has been glorious this autumn.

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We caught a country music concert at Borderline, meeting one of my idols Cassadee Pope and happened to also catch the changing of the guards.

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We’ve had a few new recipes keeping us cozy this autumn season. Among some of our favourites were Squash, Beetroot & Halloumi salad and Tortellini Soup. Delish!

Fall on a plate… Squash, Beetroot & Halloumi Salad Recipe

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Tortellini soup. Total heaven! If you love Italian flavours you will fall in love. I omit the meatballs and add a potato and 2-3 carrots and a good bunch of fresh parsley chopped. Best Tortellini Soup Recipe

Oh how I’ve missed going to the Pick-Your-Own pumpkin farms back in Canada but this year we found a gem just down the road. My better half said he’d never seen anything like it. The autumn spirit is strong down here in Kent!

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And when I was told that our road gets hundreds of trick or treaters I just had to go all-out with a DIY Harry Potter inspired haunted house. We must have had well over 200 children and ran out of sweets 3 times!

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I also finally got a Gryffindor robe. Can’t wait to wear it everywhere!

After such a colourful, snuggly and magical autumn I can’t wait to see what this festive Christmas season has in store! Time to replace my window of pumpkins for some Christmas garlands 🙂

What is your favourite recipe for cold nights?

x

 

The Maple Leaf, London

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When I heard that there was a Canadian pub in the heart of London I knew it was something I just couldn’t pass up. The Maple Leaf is located in the Covent Garden area  one door down from the oldest restaurant in London (Rules Restaurant).

It is bedecked with stereotypical Canadian things: hockey jerseys, baseball memorabilia and of course, maple leaves. You can also always find a Canadian or two with a brew in hand (that is a beer in Cannuck speak, not a tea).

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They serve your typical North American pub grub: burgers, steaks, hot dogs, ribs and wings but I had my heart set one one thing. Poutine! Glorious chips with cheese curds smothered in gravy.

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The poutine was good and reminded me of home. Poutine fanatics will be pleased to know they use the traditional cheese curd and not just shredded cheese. My only complaint was that I could have eaten two bowls. To be fair the portion in the photo below is half eaten as I inhaled half before I thought to stop and take a photo.

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It’s £6.49 for a bowl of classic Poutine, but you can change things up by ordering one of their more unorthodox combinations such as the “Hot & Spicy” (topped with chilli beef and hot chilli sauce) or their “British Poutine” (topped with chicken and pulled pork in a BBQ and peppercorn sauce) among others. (£7.99)

My man  had the hot & spicy poutine with a starter of wings (£4.99) which were good but haven’t knocked our favourite Florida wing spot out of first place. Overall, I would definitely go back for the friendly atmosphere and a bowl of cheesy gooiness.

4/5 maple leaves.

Weekend in London and New Job :)

My new job as a full-time reception teacher isn’t actually that new anymore; it’s been keeping me busy for the past 6 weeks or so. The day I did my interview my man and I decided we would have a celebratory pizza night whether I got it or not, to celebrate doing my best. That’s all anyone can do at the end of the day. Luckily for me, my two full days of planning and prepping resources paid off!

I’m also very lucky that they are a lovely bunch (I’ll never take this for granted after some hellish days supplying!) and I can’t say my day is ever dull! Last week and this week have given me my weekends back as we’ve been doing lots of rehearsals for the Christmas concert and lots of fun things (I’m loving less planning for now). This week we baked and decorated cookies, made calendars, made Christmas cards, made pinecone Christmas ornaments, saw a pantomime and had a party. I still feel strange saying I’m a teacher as I feel so young still and keep reminding myself I’m not that young (twenty six). When did that happen?

Just before I officially started this job my wonderful man and I spent a weekend in London so that we could see the Tottenham Hotspur game I bought him tickets for for his birthday. I finally got to see Paddington!

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Paddington Station…

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We met up with some high school friends of my man who were absolutely lovely. We grabbed food and walked around London and checked out the Maple Leaf pub. It was full of Canadians! I had to have a poutine while we were there. YUM 🙂 I only wish there was more of it!

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My lucky number 🙂

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I inhaled half of it before I stopped to take a picture… now I’m craving poutine again.

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We had an early night (yes, we’re getting old) and the next day headed off to Wembley arena to see the spurs.

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They won!

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In food news (we are both major food lovers) we have recently discovered two new favourite dishes. I was seriously missing my Canadian Greek takeaways since I moved over but I’ve learned how to make their AMAZING greek potatoes and I pair it with the same sort of rice and salad and douse it in Ranch sauce and feta cheese. It’s heaven.

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My man loves sweet potatoes and healthy food so I tried out this recipe for loaded sweet potatoes (loaded with roasted chick peas, dill/hummus/lemon/garlic sauce and parsley/tomato topping) and they are sooo good. I can’t believe something vegan can taste this good! We now make them about once a week 🙂

http://willowbirdbaking.com/2015/04/13/mediterranean-baked-sweet-potatoes/

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I’m now searching for our next favourite recipe!

What’s your favourite recipe at the minute?

Take care all and have a very Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Expat Life Lately: Gardening and Buckingham Palace

We’ve had a really great couple of weekends spent together from hot sunny days spent at garden centres and planting in our garden, to me actually attempting to run with my other half, to bouncing off the walls with friends at a trampoline park, to drives down delightful, meandering country roads, to visiting London.

We’ve added a few new pops of colour to the garden along with some rustic baskets.

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Our favourite new addition however is the stunning violet rhododendron we found and planted last weekend that really brightens up the yard.

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And of course I had to get a sunflower as they are my favourite flower in the world. Unfortunately the garden snails have decided it’s also their favourite flower in the world… to snack on.

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I transferred my vegetable plants outside and they are growing by the day. So far I’ve raised carrots, lettuce, courgettes, and lots of tomato plants from seed. Tomato varieties include cherry, sweet million, moneymaker and first in the field.

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And just today I went outside to find that my plants have sprouted teeny, tiny yellow and green zucchini’s!

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Last weekend we also took a last-minute train journey to London to visit one of my man’s cousins who recently moved there, and spent a lovely sunny day walking about. We had to stop by Buckingham Palace to say happy birthday to the queen of course! And had a purse-lightening shop at the Buckingham Palace gift shop for presents to send home to Canada.

It was extra special as this is the first time we’ve been back to Buckingham Palace together since my first visit to England over 2 years ago. I had no idea then that in a couple years time I’d be living here. Crazy where life takes us 🙂 It was a much nicer day than the first time we were here!

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(Throwback to 2 years ago)

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It was the first time I’ve ever seen MI-5 (the world’s most non-secret, secret organization) made famous in the Bond films.

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I also saw this dude. Captain James Cook, explorer, navigator and cartographer who was the first European to make contact with New Zealand. Lively chappie.

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Strolled past the National Art Gallery.

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And of course, finished off a British pub.

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I could honestly spend days just wandering aimlessly around London; there are so many intricate nooks and crannies steeped in history. From timeworn, cozy pubs and posh tea houses to vast, limestone museums coveting some of the world’s most precious artefacts.

Unfortunately this past week and weekend I’ve been battling a sinus infection, horrendously painful ear infection, cough, fever, chills and tummy bug which has made me absolutely miserable. It’s times like this I really miss mum and dad. Luckily I’ve had my man here to look after me this weekend and today I finally feel well enough to come out of my bed slash hobbit hole.

I hate to be a downer and it doesn’t make for an interesting read, so I don’t normally mention it but I have been sick with a sinus infection which has triggered various other side effects (including a relentless cough) for the past 7 months without a break; something I’ve struggled with all my life. I’m that person that people constantly say “how are you sick AGAIN?” But this week I’ve finally been referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist and am holding out hope that I won’t have to continue living life being sick more often than well. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

What is your favourite flower or thing to grow in the garden?

Toodle lou!

Tea and Wellies

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What could be more British than tea and wellies? Let’s start off with tea. I am an avid tea enthusiast and regularly have upwards of 20 teas in the cupboard. I adore a fragrant cuppa of anything fruity, flowery or Earl Grey. Though I always have some PG Tips for those traditional Brits!

Recently my man and I picked up English Tea Shop’s blueberry and elderflower white tea at HomeSense and have become addicted. We drank the whole box in two days, went back and bought 3 more boxes.

White tea can be very delicate but this tea is full of subtle flavours and smells wonderfully of sweet blueberries and spring flowers. You don’t need any sugar in this fresh, nectarous brew; it is spring in a cup.

teanboots
I don’t actually drink tea out of my wellies… or do I?

As it is now spring in Britannia I thought it wise to purchase my first pair of wellies! It was sunny when I bought them but by the time I caught the bus home broad raindrops were rapping at the glass of the double decker; windshield wipers swatting them away.

Normally I’d spend my walk home puddle dodging but I had a lovely walk home splashing through all the biggest puddles as the sky continued to cry with laughter.

I feel just a little bit more cultured now that I officially own a pair of Wellington’s, as if it is a kind of right-of-passage to being English. Of course I still love my Canadian traditions, but there’s something awfully charming about this little island.

What is your favourite type of tea?