|Amazing street art|
Yesterday was awesome! I try to cram as much into a visit to London these days as I can, and yesterday was no exception. Sometimes those are the happiest days for me, the busy days, when I am so bone weary by the end of it by so happy and high on life.
Tom dropped me at the station on his way to work - as usual, I prioritised doing hair and make-up over eating breakfast so made do with this:
Those are bliss balls - a secret recipe from the 21 Days of Nourishing e-course but here's a similar recipe - with some raw almonds and pecans. I found this satisfied me well and was easier than taking a banana in my handbag which always ends up black and bruised before I get to it!! I really love those bliss balls.
Luckily I got a second breakfast when I got to my first destination for the day - TOTAL Greek Yoghurt cooking masterclass with chef Paul Merrett. After having such a great time at their last event, I knew I was in for a treat!
I also hadn't had proper yoghurt since I was in Australia six months ago. We've kept going with our little dairy detox we started at the end of the winter and have made porridge, eggs and things on toast the focus of our breakfasts. For the past few months I've had a "I can take it or leave it" mindset about yoghurt but when I found out this cooking class was on, all of a sudden it felt like Christmas! As I bounced along the streets from the train station to Cucina Caldesi all I could think was "OMG!! Yoghurt!!"
This was such a fun event. I savoured every creamy mouthful!
I was delighted to see some familiar faces from the last time I went to a TOTAL event.....but this time I didn't have speaker nerves and could stay to enjoy the food!
We got into small teams to prepare the three course lunch we were going to enjoy later - I was with three lovely ladies; Lynn, Heidi and May, who were all very skilled and knowledgeable, so I knew our dishes wouldn't turn out a disaster (as they might if I were in charge!)
We began with dessert, which was a gorgeous semolina sponge cake with almonds, hazelnuts and honey, served with Greek yoghurt of course! With four cakes baking and four saucepans simmering with orange and lemon syrup, the smell was heady and heavenly.
The starter, fresh and smoked salmon rillette, was made next and then refrigerated. Then we began the main course, which was probably my favourite dish of the day, spiced butternut squash tagine with toasted fennel seed yoghurt and cauliflower couscous. (I'll put the recipe up tomorrow if you'd like it!)
It was such fun cooking these dishes together - whoever was at the stove-top stirring would regularly bring a spoonful over for one of us to try, and then we would add more chilli, more paprika, more lemon....it was a really intimate and fun experience getting to know everyone. When you know everyone there loves food it's an instant bond, and you don't run out of things to talk about!
Also, dill stalks dipped into horseradish sauce? Surprisingly heavenly.
We eventually sat down to the meal as the test kitchen was transformed into a trattoria!
The meal was exquisite. The alternative vegetarian starter, which Clare and I had, was ginger beer battered broccoli tempura with mango yoghurt dip.....oh, so good! It was quite muggy by this point and with a glass of chilled sauv blanc to go with it, surrounded by new friends, I was in heaven!
The main was the stand-out dish of the day for me. There were so many delicious flavours and textures; heat from chilli and hot smoked paprika, nutty chickpeas, sweet butternut squash, richness from slowly stewed tomatoes, plump and juicy apricots and green olives.
Paul made a cauliflower couscous to go with it - if you have read Jane Kennedy's boombah books (Oz readers will know what I mean!) you will be familiar with her cauliflower rice and this is the same concept. The raw cauliflower florets are ground in a food processor to tiny grains, to resemble rice or couscous, and then briefly steamed. The similarity is astounding and if you're looking to cut carbs it's a clever way to do it!
I relished every mouthful:
And then finally, the cake! I only managed a few mouthfuls, I was stuffed!!
It was all over too quickly, I could have stayed all afternoon, lingering over cake and wine! It was such fun meeting old and new friends, and Paul was so lovely! I suggested a Masterchef-esque event where we would all don chefs whites and go and cook in his gastropub kitchen....so who knows!!
Loaded up with a TOTAL Greek goody bag, I walked to Bloomsbury in the muggy drizzle to meet an old friend for coffee.
She had the pasteis de nata.....I was too full for anything other than coffee!
I worked for a little while - I never come to London for the day without bringing my laptop and hard copy covered in big red marks! - and then walked to Covent Garden for Event #2, the launch of a new face masque by Montagne Jeunesse. It's a rather revolutionary face masque that is basically clay infused natural bamboo fabric which you "wear", it's so interesting! I'm really looking forward to giving it a go!
It was such a fun party and I wish it had started earlier so I could have stayed longer! There were amazing cocktails (I had a mock, as I was still a little tiddly from lunch! Well, I thought I was) made by a cocktail artist who juggled the bottles with alarming but enviable dexterity; a make-your-own face masque bar; and loads of other cool scientific beauty things, like magic berries that made sour things taste sweet!
I enjoyed talking to one of the Montagne Jeunesse scientists, Colin, who has his own beauty blog, about skincare and what goes into face masks. Everything at Montagne Jeunesse is natural, plant based and made in the UK with a minimum of processing or impact on the environment. Very impressive!
I'm a pretty low maintenance girl when it comes to beauty (well, I think I am!) - while I love being pampered, I tend to save it for special occasions. I really should try and do it more often. Well, I will now I have my own home-made face masque to play with! I mixed up a clay base with various ingredients, like aloe vera, crushed blueberries and raspberries, to make a "very berry" masque. It was incredible watching it all come together. It's now sitting in my fridge, waiting for pampering!
Finally, it was time for Event #3, a pre-launch or salon for Adrian Teal's forthcoming book from Unbound, The Gin Lane Gazette. I am fascinated by and in awe of Unbound, a crowd funding publishing company that gives the power of what makes it into print back to the authors and readers. The way it works is that the Unbound author pitches their book idea and people who like the idea and think "yes, I'd buy that if it got published" make a pledge to support it. Once a book is fully funded, a beautiful, limited edition hardback book (and ebook) is made. It's such a wonderful thing to be a part of if you love books! Every supporter gets acknowledged with their name printed in the book too. It is a chance to be a modern day patron, as it were! Ironically, as we learned last night, this is actually how publishing first got off the ground, certainly it was typical in the eighteenth century, which is when Adrian's book is set. It's been described as an eighteenth century Heat magazine, filled with caricatures and dazzling tales of scandal and gossip, all of which are true incidentally! I was both intrigued and horrified by the woman who claimed to have given birth to a litter of rabbits.
I really enjoyed the evening - we had a reading from the book (including the rabbit story!), entertainment from some Georgian ladies, and some gin punch! All in a member's club in Soho, where the room was lit with burning candles and scattered with high backed armchairs....it could almost have been the eighteenth century!
I had to borrow a fan....it was sweltering in there by the end. Summer has returned with a vengeance, not that I'm complaining :)
After taking my leave, I walked with my various bags (today I felt like I'd had a rather intense weights session! Very sore biceps!) across the city to catch my train home. Walking across London in the muggy heat, through the backstreets as the sun was setting, was quite magical. I rejoiced in the large, spacious carriages you usually get late on the trains at night (the sardine can ones are used at peak hour, I've noticed!) and then rolled home, weary but incredibly happy at the memory of delicious food, yummy-smelling masques and meeting like-minded and generous souls.
As days out go, this one was rather spectacular - busy but not a dull moment!! Thanks again TOTAL Greek, Montagne Jeunesse and Unbound for such fab events, for making me so welcome and for giving me an excuse to spend the whole day in my favourite city!
What did you do on your last day out? :)