Friday, 30 December 2016

Peckham's Tastiest Offerings

When I first moved to Peckham, I was intimidated by the absence of a Pret for a 'get-out-the-house-study-break-and-gingerbread-man' or a 40% off Pizza Express Monday night student deal. A couple of years on, I've barely thought about pizza because Peckham is full of wonderful, independent restaurants and an abundance of different cuisines. I cannot claim to be a Peckham eatery connoisseur, primarily because I've discovered two places that I absolutely love and I just want to go there again and again and again. 

Miss Tapas and Mr Bao are not just restaurant goals, but couple goals. Imagine being a total Peckham power couple, and having constant access to the best food in the area? I think that's the dream. 

I discovered Miss Tapas about 18 months ago, because I'm metaphysically drawn to anything resembling tapas. Or ham. I dragged Simon along - a man reluctant to try anything tapas-like because a hates sharing food - and even he was blown away. It became our regular, and we went through a phase of going pretty much once a month. Miss Tapas does teeny tiny restaurant perfectly. It's cosy without being cramped, and sociable without feeling like you're sharing your food with everyone else in the restaurant. The menu changes regularly enough to keep it interesting, but the old favourites remain. I'm not sure what I'd do if I turned up for tapas and there were no patatas bravas. At Miss Tapas you can eat pork that is like no pork you have ever eaten before, or gorge yourself on padron peppers. There's a generous sherry selection (I know nothing about sherry), which makes the perfect after-dinner tipple. I don't think I've ever had enough room for pudding, because we've always filled any remaining space with extra ham/pork/sardines on toast, but it always looks great. I've been to Barcelona, and I've been to Madrid, and I've been all over Mallorca and Menorca, and Miss Tapas is a billion times better than any tapas I've ever had in Spain. Hands down. 

So when Mr Bao opened it's doors, I was keen to go. I didn't know what Taiwanese food was, and baos were a total mystery to my eyes and mouth. And Christ alive, what a magical experience. The only way to describe a bao is a tasty little cloud that rains deliciousness in your mouth. So far we've sampled chicken baos, pork baos and Christmas turkey baos, but I have every intention of heading back and trying out the rest of the menu. There's something about spinach covered in satay sauce, or broccoli dipped in wasabi mayo that makes me wants to eat greens all day every day...and wonder why I ever eat them with any other accompaniment. I left Mr Bao the first time trying to work out how I could replicate all the dishes in my own kitchen, and am well on my way to perfecting my own version of a kind of pork-y, soy-y Asian style bolognese. I left Mr Bao, after a delicious birthday meal last week, full of smore bao (sorry dairy & gluten free diet) trying to work out if I could justifiably just move to Taiwan. 

If you're in Peckham, or South London, or actually just London more generally, head down to Miss Tapas and Mr Bao. They both do lunch and dinner services, so you could have the day of dreams and visit them both. With such delicious offerings on my doorstep, I feel like I'll never need to eat anywhere else...and I'm totally ok with that. 

P.s. this isn't the beginning of a food blogging career. My knowledge and interest in food does not go far beyond 'this tastes good in my mouth', and if I've got time to take fancy photos of my food, it's probably not that great. Just couldn't resist a cheeky mention of these two restaurants that make life in Peckham excellent. 

Monday, 26 December 2016

Coming Home for Christmas

I was quite literally counting down the seconds to go home for Christmas. It turns out that buying your Christmas tree in November means that you get excited for Christmas slightly too early (4 weeks too early), and thus spend every post-birthday second crawling towards the Christmas break. So as soon as the clock struck midday, I darted to the tube. I only had to wait 2 minutes for a Circle Line tube (the dream) and my Southern train was on time (an absolute miracle) and I was heading back to Sussex. Christmas had begun, and I was coming home for 5 days of rest, relaxation and turkey. 

Sometimes it isn't until you get home, and breathe the (less polluted) air, that you remember quite how spectacular it is. It's quiet, it's peaceful, and there's no one knocking you out with their suitcase, or licking houmous off the hand rails on the tube (that's a story for another day). And 3 days in, I am feeling spectacular. I've consumed more food in the last few days than I have in the last month, I've had some excellent early nights, and I've hung out with my family and won the Christmas quiz AND Articulate. So, on this Boxing Day evening, I have compiled a list of 10 wonderful things about coming home for Christmas. 

1. You don't have to think about, queue for, wait for the inevitable delays on, pay for, or squeeze between a thousand people on the tube. For 10 whole days. The thought of not having to wait 22 minutes for a Circle Line train which is supposedly operating with a good service for a week and a half fills me with absolute joy. The thought of not having to then get on a Southeastern train which smells of farts and may be delayed/cancelled/have been disrupted by a leaf is elation like you don't even know. 

2. Early nights. On my first night at home, my entire family were in bed by 9.15pm. I had 10 hours sleep, and still woke up in line with my body clock shortly after 7am. For the first time in a while, I woke up feeling properly refreshed - made even better by the fact it was a beautiful morning, and I could see the sunrise from the comfort of my cosy duvet rather than a station platform. I'm pretty sure this is the routine of the elderly everywhere, and my god I envy them. I am all about the early night. 

3. I ensure that the kitchen cupboards in our flat are always pretty full. We are never without peanut butter, coffee or gluten free oatcakes. But that's nothing compared to the pre-Christmas home supplies. There are more cupboards, with more stuff in them. There are 2 fridges, full to bursting, and one is at least 3 times the size of mine. There's food that I can't afford, or possibly entertain eating all by myself. There's gin, and prosecco, and prosecco crisps, and gin chocolates and turkey and ham and pigs in blankets a plenty! There is never any reason to go hungry, or be peckish, or be anything other than uncomfortably full. 

4. There are places in London to go for a leisurely stroll, like Hyde Park or Peckham Rye Common - but they're not quite like a wander to the village pond. There are places to walk in London which really test your stamina, like the steps at Covent Garden or Oxford Street in the Christmas period - but it's not the same as walking against the wind on Brighton beach. The main thing I really wanted to do when I came home was to go for walks, to be outside, to get loads of fresh air, and to do things that didn't involve sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day. And it's so good. I feel fresher, and more energised and I heard that each step makes room for another stuffing ball. 

5. Having a tall boyfriend is great to reach stuff for you. It's less great when they have to lay diagonally across a bed, and thus spend far too much time on your side of the bed. I woke up almost every night last week to find myself half hanging out of the bed, being snugged too hard by a very leggy man (Simon, not just any man). This week I have a whole double bed to myself. When I get too hot, there's a cold side of the bed. There's no one wriggling, or snuffling or getting up for a wee in the night. Having said that, there's no one to wake up when you have a nightmare. You can't win them all.

6. Childhood nostalgia. There's something about Christmas that gets you talking about every other Christmas, and all of the memories you have as a family. Whether it's finding out that Father Christmas wasn't real because you saw your presents in the boot of your mum's car 3 weeks previously, or being offered a festive cigarette by your grandad aged 10, the memories I have of Christmas times are some of those that I hold closest (or are the most bizarre and make the best stories). Even though Christmas as an adult doesn't hold the same magic as it did as a child, it does hold hot water bottles, and sewing kits and the contents of Hotel Chocolat. 

7. Cooking Christmas lunch (and every subsequent meal which is a variation of Christmas lunch in leftover form) with my mum, and sales shopping. Partaking in my brother's Christmas quiz, and competing for the Favourite Child 2k16 award. Board games, country walks, catching up on life, comparing new year's resolutions: time spent with family over Christmas is the best. 

8. Christmas films. I saw Elf for the first time this year, and it was magical. The Santa Clause Movie not so much. I've caught snippets of The Grinch, Miracle on 34th Street and the Snowman. I've got big plans for Love Actually by the end of the week. I love the warm fuzzy feeling of a festive film, and being relaxed and attentive enough to actually sit all the way through a whole film. 

9. When you come home, you remember what it's like to be looked after. To have your washing done, your food cooked, your stuff tidied - and not to have to think about the Tesco delivery, or your alarm, or work, or real grown up life. It doesn't matter if you're 3 or 13 or 23, having someone look after you and do all the boring grown up things for you, is the best thing ever. I don't want to adult again. 

10. The break. The break from work, the break from early mornings, the break from work-related nightmares, the break from desk breakfasts and pitta bread lunches, the break from darkness, London, the indoors and the constant underlying tiredness. Getting away, and going somewhere different, and being surrounded by people who are also having a break from their day-to-day lives and jobs and commitments. The relaxation is contagious. 

Happy Boxing Day! 
I hope your Christmas breaks are as spectacular as mine. X


Thursday, 15 December 2016

a VERY happy birthday

December has always been my favourite month of the year. Despite the cold and the dark and the chill blains, it's festive, cosy, and I have my birthday AND Christmas to look forward to. I'm all about double celebrations, and if you try hard enough, it is possible to drag your birthday out all the way up to Christmas. 

One of my first memories is of my 4th birthday party, in a leisure centre, with a strong focus on the Spice Girls (I wanted to be Scary Spice but I never quite had the 'look'). I always really looked forward to birthdays, and birthday parties, and was never one of those kids that cried and hated being the centre of attention. In fact, that was the best thing about birthdays (alongside party bags). Over the years I've had puppetry parties, disco parties, pantomime parties, sleepover parties, pottery parties, eat your body weight in Greek food parties, surprise parties, laser quest parties, Rocky Horror parties and, now, roller skating parties. The nature of the party hasn't really matured...except that there's less cake and more gin cocktails...but the motivation has. My 10th disco party was born out of the very simple question 'how can I get away with having a birthday party where I can invite everyone I know and thus get the maximum number of presents?' whilst my 23rd was more of a 'I know loads of really nice people who I don't see often enough, and it would be great to spend an evening with them all'. And actually, this time round, I still ended up with loads of presents (just slightly more unexpectedly) and had a really great evening with lots of really great people.

Since my birthday is at the time of year when lots of people are busy (with Christmas parties, and family events, and work, and life, and can't face the train strikes) or ill, in recent years, no matter how hard I've or anyone else has tried, it ends up being a teensy bit disappointing. Whether it's people bailing on you at the last minute, or storms destroying all the trees so your house is virtually unreachable, it's not ideal, and it's made me a bit sad. So when it came to organising something for my birthday this year, I decided I was going to be 100% chill about it. I was going to invite the people I wanted to see (and not the people I felt obliged to invite), I was going to let everyone make their own arrangements, and I was just going to wait and see who turned up and have a bloody spectacular time with those who did. And, you know, it was great. I feel like I'm turning 23, the biggest non-age since turning 14, surrounded by wonderful friends, a brand new elephant mug, and a reinforced confidence that becoming a pro roller skater is not my calling. 

So even though today I had to get up at 6.45am and go to work, I think my 23rd is one of my best birthdays yet. I had SUCH a nice weekend, I'm transporting a lot of lemon drizzle cake to work, and I'm coming home to an evening of presents and pyjamas and chicken nuggets. It's a VERY happy birthday. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Talking trains...and time

4 months ago I was house hunting: following estate agents around tiny weeny flats with crazy rental price tags - but my main concern was 'how long is it going to take me to get to work?' Preparing myself for the long working days to come, I knew that I wanted to minimise my commute as much as possible, whilst still living somewhere affordable and cosy and well located. And so that's where we found ourselves, in a lovely little flat, a half an hour cycle (for Simon) or a 45 minute train/tube journey for me. Do-able. Absolutely. 

Part of me wishes I'd written this last Wednesday, when the Circle line broke, and I felt like punching everyone who budged me on the tube, or didn't have their Oyster card ready for the barriers. Or the Wednesday before, when the cancelled sign at Victoria caused me to just burst into tears. That day it had taken me an hour longer than it should have done to get into work - and only because I was small enough to slot just below one man's armpit, and almost squeezed between another lady's boobs. I stood, in this claustrophobic mess, convinced that the air I was breathing was 90% sweat and 10% germs, for the longest 15 minutes of my life. So when, at 7pm, you're greeted with delayed, followed by lol, it's actually cancelled and so is the next one, I cried. Lame, I know, but I am not about 4 hours commuting a day to travel a grand total of 12 miles. 

And you know what? I wouldn't even mind if it was a one off. Sometimes trains break down, and sometimes there's a signal fault, or a streaker on the line, but last week, not one single train I have taken ran on time. And that's not unusual. We all hear the angry passengers on the news talking about how much their season tickets cost; but, for me, it's not really about the money (even though I can think of so many things I'd rather spend £124 a month on). It's about two things:

1. The embarrassment. 
When you've got up extra early, allowed an hour and 20 minutes for your 45 minute commute, and you're still late and have to awkwardly walk into your meeting full of apologies, it's embarrassing. There's sympathy, and other people understand the struggles, but there's only so many times it can happen before you start to look flaky and unreliable (when in fact Southeastern are, not you). 

2. The time.
I spend 50 hours a week at work, and should spend an additional maximum of 10 hours a week commuting. So when your 60 hour week threatens to become a 70 hour one, it's beyond crap. When you leave Victoria and know that it's less than 12 hours until you're back; when you get in late, and by the time you've showered and eaten, it's already gone 9pm and you're knackered anyway; and when you get to Friday night and you can't remember doing anything that week that wasn't work, or standing on a station platform...And, of course, I am not the only one. Last week I sat next to a lovely man on a train that had been delayed by 45 minutes, and he'd downloaded a children's book on to his iPad so he could read it to his daughter down the phone. Whether you're missing out on quality family time, or sleep, or watching 24 Hours in A&E, it's all still important - and it's time you need, and deserve, and makes you more than just a weekday machine. 

So although I am now the proud owner of a sorry we're rubbish and ruin your morning and your evening nearly every day gift, in the form of a Southeastern canvas bag, it feels like a small price to pay for all the time, discomfort and money I, and every other commuter, suffers and continues to suffer. Public transport is the first thing I have to deal with in the morning and one of the last things in the evening, and it ruins my day (week/year/life). Seriously. 
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