Cooking with Jamie Oliver…mwah ha, not quite but the next best alternative – an evening out at Recipease..

A and her boyfriend, L, seemed for a while to be obsessed with Jamie Oliver – watching all his shows and cooking from his books (though neither of them is much of a recipe follower). They’re both great cooks and actually, I think L has influenced my cooking – I’m much more confident with using LOTS of aromatics now, so, where I may once have used a measly half bunch of coriander in something (for example), I’m not scared now to throw in a proper handful (and my hands are pretty big!). So, when thinking about what to give L for Christmas I thought why not take him to Recipease Notting Hill (which had reminded me, the first time I went there, of the Teaching Kitchen idea in Jamie’s American Food Revolution (which I absolutely loved) and where A, L and I had previously been for coffee) for a cookery class. In truth, I suspected that the classes might be a bit easy for L but, where food is concerned, he’s always up for trying things out so…why not.

I said that I’d go along too if L wanted (mwah ha ha – oh dear, my dastardly plot is out in the open) and between us we settled upon a class and a date. We picked Vietnamese street food because from the description it seemed as though we would cover a number of cooking methods and I certainly have never cooked Vietnamese food before.

Fast forward a few weeks to the night before the lesson and I thought I’d best text L to make sure he was remembering about the class – good job too as he was actually in Liverpool with A and had forgotten all about it! Tut.

I arrived first and was directed to my class which was at the back of the shop, on the ground floor, and once I’d collected my apron, deposited my personal effects in a locker and washed my hands, I sat down with my group stressing about whether L would arrive in time to join us (his train was delayed and he thought he would be a little late). We were all sat around a long high (breakfast bar height) table at the very back of the room, and most of the group were drinking beer or wine (I stuck to water – that is until the bad influence that is L arrived) a bottle or glass of which was included in the cost of the class.

L arrived just after our teacher, Chef (actually his name was Simon), had assembled us around one of the work stations to demonstrate the first dish, Scrumptious Vietnamese pork balls (the scrumptious is my addition to the recipe title as I think it gives it a real Jamie Oliver twang), that we would be cooking but before that, he went through a few housekeeping notes and, I must say, he was rather entertaining, not least because he bore more than a passing resemblance, voice and face, to Michael McIntyre.

Recipease pans at the ready

Ingredients and pans at the ready.

Chef sounded out our cooking levels and skills by asking lots of questions about ingredients and cooking methods and I think, pitched the class accordingly. I learnt something about chillies, namely, it is the white pith that the seeds are attached to and NOT the actual seeds that provides the majority of heat in a chilli. I was also surprised by the meat used, it was more of a very fine dice than a mince and I think that’s why, in part at least, the finished balls were spectacular – so moist, sweet and juicy.

Pork ball mixture

Pork ball mixture with beer in the background.

Once the dish had been demoed, we were assigned a cooking station and, in pairs, we all proceeded to get chopping, mixing and slow frying (to allow a rich and deep caramelisation to occur). L and I also proceeded to drink several more bottles of very tasty Camden Town Brewery, Camden Hells lager and Camden Pale Ale.

L crushing garlic

L smashing up some garlic (for his dipping sauce, though – I did get onioned and garlicked, was my fault), beer in the foreground.

While the pork balls were cooking, the other dishes, summer rolls and dipping sauce were demonstrated by Chef and recreated by us and the prep for the beef pho (the stock for which Chef had prepared earlier) was done.

Pork balls

Oh my, wish I were cooking some of those RIGHT NOW.

Roll roll roll

A pile of julienned veg and a wrapper, waiting to be turned into a summer roll, with my (sans garlic) dipping sauce in the background.

Once the pork balls were cooked, everything was plated up, Chef poured hot pho stock over our bowls of prepared veg and raw beef (the hot stock being enough to ‘cook’ the tender slices) and we all sat down with a drink to enjoy the meal we’d just prepared. There weren’t enough spaces for all of us around the long table so L and I sloped off to a counter in the window, by the entrance, which had been set up for us and chatted and watched the world go by as we ate.

L plating up

Not entirely sure what L is doing here, but I like an action shot.

I’m a Jamie Oliver fan and I’ll not hear a word said against him…mwah ha, having said that – I do think that there should be space for everyone to sit and eat together if that’s the general vibe, we felt a bit like scolded little school children, banished to the naughty step (which, in L’s case would have been appropriate – though I don’t think Chef noticed him throwing our lime repeatedly in the air, higher and higher each time, while waiting for the pork balls to cook, he did, however, notice L’s rather brilliant knife skills).

Recipease final dishes

The view from the naughty step ain’t too shabby.

All in all, I’d say if you’re already a pretty competent and confident cook these classes probably won’t teach you much, they are only two or three hours long afterall and I don’t think that’s their aim, (though there’s nothing to stop you asking lots of questions) but for a fun outing and an interesting way of cooking lunch/supper I would highly recommend them. And, if you’re not great at cooking, if you’re friendlier with a microwave than a sauce/griddle/frying pan etc…get thee down there! You will learn something, you’ll enjoy it and you’ll get a delicious meal to boot.

After the course you’re emailed the recipes for the dishes that were demoed on the night and, as I write this, I realise that I learnt something else – don’t be afraid (in other words stop being so lazy) of a long list of ingredients, what appears like an essay on the page is often little more than a bit of organisation and a lot of chop chop chopping. I mean, when I was doing the cooking, I didn’t think I was working with lots of ingredients, it all felt very simple but when I now look at the recipes I know that ingredient lists that long would make me turn the page, swiftly.

A Crouch End weekend for my dad and me.

Last weekend saw me heading into Crouch End on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s visit was a last minute decision as, when checking out the Sunday timings for the NEW CINEMA IN CROUCH END, ArtHouse Crouch End (@arthousen8), I noticed that they had a matinée showing on the Saturday and I just love the idea of sloping off to the cinema of an afternoon (though I’ve not much done it). The film in question was ‘Lift to the scaffold‘, a beautiful and stylish French film noir-esque offering, directed by Louis Malle and starring (a stupidly stunningly sensuous and pouty) Jeanne Moureau. With an incredible soundtrack by Miles Davis, it was a perfect choice for an afternoon of self indulgence.

I can’t express how excited I am to have a cinema in Crouch End and it’s a delight, there’s a café area serving the best lattes I’ve had in an age as well as tasty looking (can hardly say tasty as I’ve not tasted them!) cakes with a licensed bar that doubles as the box office. Simply decorated and elegant, this is a place I can see myself returning to time and time again. There will be a live venue too (which may or may not double up as the second screen). Gosh I love this place.

ArtHouse N8 exterior

The view from the road.

ArtHouse bar and box office ArtHouse coffee and cake

Box office, coffee shop and bar, all rolled into one.

ArtHouse natas

The obligatory (for North London, at least) natas….and thank goodness for that. Actually, come to think of it I have tried one as I bought one from the ArtHouse deli across the road.

ArtHouse tulip floor and step

A single tulip on my table. Though it’s the flooring that I was attracted to.

ArtHouse cafe seating

A sneak little peak of things to come..

And the cinema itself?…. Love love LOVE it. It is pretty tiny and it feels as though you’re at a really cute private screening but…it’s definitely a cinema. Good sound, good picture. Some seats are better than others space wise (it’s allocated seating) and, if I were you I’d stay away from the outer/wall seats.

On Sunday I took my dad out for lunch and chose Earl Haig Hall, known as The Social, as I’ve been meaning to go for a while and, as my dad doesn’t get out and about that much, I think that it’s nice for us to go to new places when we go out for lunch (also, it’s so close to the ArtHouse).

Earl Haig Hall exterior

As the board says…ALL WELCOME

The Hall is part of the Antic group of pubs but it really does feel more like a social club, they’ve kept lots of the original fixtures and fittings -  and their website says they’re open to ideas for events/community projects. When we were there there was a great mix of people and ages, it felt really cool (as in, sweet and relaxed and friendly) and my dad felt completely comfortable. There was only one ale on but my dad said it was a good’un and, the lunch was absolutely GORGEOUS. I had the belly of pork and my dad had the beef. I must say, I’m loving the way all roasts come with a yorkshire pudding these days – so there’s no need for me to bother myself with roast beef (not my favourite).

Daddy pulling his surprised look

Daddy pulling his ‘quizzical’ face. Too cute.

Earl Haig roast belly pork

Yum yum yum for my tum. Lots of perfectly cooked vegetables and a good balance of sweet and salty. Will definitely be eating there again.

Earl Haig stage

Can totes see me enjoying an evening of ‘local’ (dunno what that is, just tripped off the tongue) theatre whilst supping a pint or two.

Earl Haig pinball

 

We rounded off our afternoon out with my second trip to the ArtHouse to FINALLY see 12 Years a Slave which was as harrowing, astonishing and brilliant as I was expecting it to be. Everything about this film is stunning and, if you haven’t seen it yet – yeh right!- I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Towards the end, I thought that someone was chuckling away but it transpired that they were howling and crying so much they were snorting. I don’t think that there was a dry eye there.

All things considered, Crouch End delivered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GrrrrOWLLL…..make mine a burger, a Burger Bear!

Oh. My. Days!

Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom (when did nom become the word, anyway!?). Or rather, mmmm mmmmmm mmmmmm mmmmmm mmm.

I think I’ve found my perfect burger and, I wasn’t even looking for it. Tucked away on Old Street, across the road from the Holiday Inn Hotel is the rather wonderful BURGER BEAR (the caps are me shouting, rather than their font preference). Now, I’ve been meaning to try out their burger for a while but for various reasons I’ve not managed to. I almost tried one a week ago last Friday but I was with H, and we were going to have to queue, and I still had memories of the last time I’d queued for food and, being as I was in a bit of a hurry too, I thought, nah…I’ll come back some other time, when I’m on my own. So instead I went and had my first Byron burger (and of course, perversely, the whole thing took WAY longer than if I’d just waited at Burger Bear).

Fast forward a week, to last Friday, and I found myself alone, wandering the streets of EC1 with the sweet smell of bacon jam atop plump, juicy patties of perfectly cooked beef luring me eastward across the Old Street roundabout (in other words I’d taken the opportunity to slope out of the office on my own with the idea of heading straight to Burger Bear).

Burger Bear front

So pissed I wasn’t feeling the photo taking because the print on that t-shirt (just shown, as they say) is of a mega burger and crispy salad leaves! Loved it.

N from work has had burgers from here before but he goes for their ultimate meat lover’s burger the ‘Greedy Bear’ and I knew there was no way I could tackle that double patty monster (odd really as I’m SO greedy). Instead I plumped for the ‘Grizzly Bear’ which was topped with oak smoked bacon, cheese and bacon jam. I’ve heard much about bacon jam and in fact, until I’d had a Burger Bear burger (at which point I had to run back to my office so that I could add my ten cents worth to their already funded project) my only experience of Kickstarter funding was Eat Like a Girl’s Project Bacon which surely includes bacon jam!

Update – 20.03.14 – In the interests of fairness and attributing recognition where it’s due….I ought to say that N from work did actually introduce me to Burger Bear, now I come to think of it. Oops.

Anyway, you place your order and then sit back, stand to the side, dance to the disco – whatever really, while you wait for your burger to be cooked. It’s quite theatrical really…

Burger Tom sprinkling herbs

Burger production line.

Above you see the secret (well, I didn’t actually ask what they were) herb mixture being sprinkled onto the burgers (ahem, actually, I think it’s salt and pepper) as well as three burgers with their cheese, probably bacon jam, and doughy bread tops, patiently waiting for their turn to be steamed (helped along by the odd squirt of water) under the cloche lid.

Burger Tom steaming the burgers

Tom about to lift the lid to check on progress.

Burger bun bottoms in waiting

A row of bun bottoms waiting for their toppings – think mine’s second from the end as I can’t spy any onions.

Burger Bear NO ONION

One of the things I’ve noticed about Street Food is that it’s much easier to find out what exactly is in the food and to ask for things to be left out, if necessary. I also asked for my burger to be medium as I like a pink not red burger.

And…here she is (she!?)….in a really doesn’t do the burger justice shot…

Burger Bear Grizzly Bear

Oozy, juicy, salty, sweet, smokey, cheesy, chunky, FRESH, plump(y), meaty goodness.

I loved this place, I’ll definitely be back for more…in fact, I may go back this Friday. And, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with their two Kickstarter funded shipping containers.

These guys are serious about making good food and they’ve created some seriously good food, they’re friendly and engaging and full of fun. Follow them on Twitter, find out where they are and…go visit.

To Walthamstow…and beyond

Fair warning….this is a LONG post. I’m trying to write shorter posts, break things up into manageable (for the less than truly dedicated reader) chunks but, that’s not what I’ve done here!

Oh, what a good weekend that was (last weekend). The weekend started properly on Friday evening (which, I believe, is often the case) with H, D and I heading to the Southwark Playhouse to watch Superior Donuts. I’d not even heard of the theatre before H suggested that we go and it turns out to be a real gem of a place (though, I do prefer allocated seating) with a couple of performance spaces (The Large and The Little) and ample seating for early-comers to sit and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. If Superior Donuts is anything to go by, and from a quick browse of their programme for the season, the Southwark Playhouse is somewhere that I’ll be returning to.

H being amazed by the doughnuts

Rather than ice-cream they were serving DOUGHNUTS!!! during the interval. These Glazed and Confused goodies were in gorgeous flavours, mine was sticky toffee and H’s was lemon meringue. Ahh…take a look at their Facebook page – YUM.

Saturday saw me heading to Walthamstow (which I can’t stop calling Awesomestow), stopping first to buy a bunch of flowers from Flowers and Gifts which is a relatively new shop on Stroud Green Road. The tied bouquets were just lovely and the bouquet that the shop keeper (who was an absolute sweetie) made up for me was just right (though my photo of it doesn’t do it justice – as per) and the flowers are absolutely not too costly. It was all that I could do not to buy a bunch for myself too!

Stroud Green flowers Stroud Green bouquets Mothers Hub bouquet

A delightful springtime bouquet for A.

I was heading east to check out  Mothers Hub, a brilliant new ‘concept’ shop (sorry, but it kind of is – it looks more like an art gallery than a shop selling clothes and toys for children, plus, the idea is that A is giving a platform to local makers – a place to sell their wares that works for them (aka, she isn’t greedy) and as a result the stock is a really interesting edit of beautiful little collections) on Wood Street, E17. Less than a year ago I met up with the gorgeous and supremely talented A for coffee and a picnic in the park and she told me about this idea that she’d had for a shop that would be more than a shop, it would be a space for parents and children to come and do activities (and she has more plans afoot) as well as a creative outlet for her (she is a photographer). Mothers Hub is already (and only) in its fourth month (A doesn’t hang about) and seems to be going strong, it’s a beautiful shop and it feels so welcoming (which is no less than I’d expect from an A project). It’ll be my go to shop for gifts for children from now own. And…there’s something for everyone with a brilliant collection of alphabet cards, designed by A’s husband S, that is totally cross-generational.

Wood Street map

Shame I didn’t notice this map before I went off in the wrong direction for a time!

Exterior of Mothers Hub

Ooooo…exciting, my first sighting of Mothers Hub.

Toys and books A playing shopkeeper

A playing shopkeeper. Actually, I think she was attending to my purchase.

Mothers Hub tote

As a little thanks for visiting, I got one of their lovely canvas totes thrown in – normal price £5 (bargainous).

Walthamstow is interesting, there’s such a mix of people there and it’s honestly bustling and vibrant and the council seems to be really encouraging start-ups that have some sort of community involvement/benefit. I love it. I didn’t manage to make it to the main market this time (which is no bad thing as I had on my mind to buy more fabric but I’ve got loads and loads in my stash with seemingly no time to make it into anything….although, I am determined to join in with Me-Made-May this year, if it’s running – that links to last year’s MMM, so…I’d best get on with it) but heading to Wood Street showed me a side of Walthamstow that I’ve not seen before.

Quaint Walthamstow village

How amazing is this? A gorgeous little village, slap bang in the middle of E17.

I didn’t get a chance to really explore Wood Street and the indoor market but I did stay long enough to….oh dear, buy a few things – a little taster (literally) of what’s on offer….mmm mmm mmm.

Scrumptious in a box A cutting the cakes Passion fruit meringue pieUp close with the stunningly gorgeous passion fruit curd meringue tart – Oh My. And that dark slice at the top? That’s a Guinness and pear cake which was out of this world delicious.

These Aura Rosa cakes were faultless, my only gripe was with myself – that I was silly enough to buy an Oreo cupcake (can never resist them though) when so many other cakes and patisserie were on offer.  I’m sure I saw somewhere that they offer cookery lessons!!…I’m after finding out how to make that devilishly good Guinness cake.

Mother's Ruin blackboard The Mother The ruins

Didn’t manage to walk away empty handed from this cute unit. Well, who could resist a tiny little bottle of Mother’s Bitter Helper, a bitters tincture made in tiny batches, to bring out the oomph in any cocktail – particularly good with citrus drinks I suspect.

I definitely need to go back to Wood Street and to the market, not least to buy more Mother’s Ruin concoctions, I’m after the sloe and damson gins, but also, to rifle through the vintage shops and to find out more about Significant Seams which is a really interesting community enterprise in the unit next to Mothers Hub.

Waving a sad goodbye to A and her beautiful family and armed my lovely new tote,  I started back home, via the rather excellent butcher by Crouch Hill station, for an evening of cooking and TV watching.

I began by making Mimi Thorisson from Manger’s milky chicken with butternut squash pancakes, I found that I needed to add a little more liquid than stated for the pancakes (as I did with her galette recipe) but apart from that….heaven! Mimi’s blog is SO beautiful so, check out the recipe in her own words and then…make it. Do save the poaching broth, then you too can make a disgusting looking but lovely tasting soup by caramelising sliced onion and leek to which you could add any mixture of ingredients, I put the leftover butternut squash, carrots, potatoes and a chicken stock cube and ended up with a souped up leek and potato soup..

Milk poached chicken stock soup

Simple, nutritious, filling and a hundred leagues more tasty than it is beautiful.

After our simple but splendid supper, D and I sat down to our Saturday night (for the past month or so) ritual of a double bill of the brilliant Salamander, a Belgian political thriller. The last two episodes aired last night but if you do come across it, it’s definitely worth a watch (as I write, all twelve episodes are available on the BBC iplayer but not for long). I got drawn in by the language, the show is set in and around Brussels and is spoken in a mixture of Dutch (technically Flemish, I think) and French and, by Jove, Dutch is such an odd language, there were often times when I’d realise (subtitles essential) that what had just been said was almost exactly the same as if it had been said in English or French and yet, without the subtitles, I’d have not understood anything.

Sunday morning began with a mid-morning brunch of butternut squash pancakes (waste not want not, and all that) with bacon and a fried egg – such a beautiful combination of sweet and salty topped off with the depth and richness of a half set yolk.

Butternut squash bacon brunch

In the evening D and I headed out, but not before I’d whipped up a batch of Mary Berry Lemon Drizzle slices, to watch Ángel Múñoz who was performing at Sadler’s Wells as part of their annual Flamenco Festival. D and I know nothing about flamenco but we’re both trying to get out and about, to see and do more things and, in previous years I’ve been interested in going but never got off my bum and gone. I chose Ángel because he is part of the new generation of flamenco dancers and I thought that it might be more powerful and edgy. I think I was hoping for a Strictly Ballroom moment but it was quite different to that. Ángel was the only dancer but he had on stage with him, at various times, a couple of singers and three musicians (one of whom played three or four wind instruments including my favourite – the oboe). Although there were costume changes, interesting use of shadows, arms that moved in ways it felt they oughtn’t to and an aural feast, by about half way through I was starting to feel that whilst the dancing had been impressive, I’d probably seen enough. But, by the end of the performance I realised that I’d really loved the show and, I wasn’t the only one as there was an incredibly long standing ovation. It did leave me wanting to check out other performers (online) as, with nothing to compare him to, I don’t think that I appreciated just how good Ángel Múñoz was.

Lemon drizzle squares

Beautifully tangy and moist little squares of goodness ready for a post performance snack.

THUMPERS are go!!!!

So, this time last week, I was at The Lexington to watch the rather excellent THUMPERS. Before the show I’d gone for supper upstairs at The Driver, with my sister (which was a lovely surprise as I hadn’t realised she was coming out with us) and J and S. I ordered a burger and it was a tad on the bloody side for my liking (that’s the second time in recent months that that’s happened, the other time was at Hawker House (go there, it’s blinkin scrumptious City, bloody burgers included) – grr). I always think that if I ask for meat to be cooked to medium in England I’ll get something that’s almost totally dried out but nowadays I think that we’re closer in thinking to the French so I could get away with medium or, my favourite, “à point” which, I believe, means perfectly cooked. Ha! I love it…imagine saying that over here…

“And how would you like your lamb cooked” says the waiter

“Perfectly” says I

“I see” says the waiter

Mwah ha ha ha.

I digress. My burger was too rare for my liking and turned out to be not the best pre-show meal as it was a bit, ahem, indigestion inducing but if I’d ordered properly it would have been a perfectly tasty (if still a little burpilicious) burger.

S C and J at THUMPERSC, J and I, just before the gig started.

We arrived minutes before THUMPERS took to the stage, with just enough time to get a drink in, and the place was pretty full (I believe it was a sold out show). It’s been a while since I’ve seen them play and certainly this was the biggest headline show I’ve seen them do. And…I was really pleased, I really enjoyed the set – there were a couple of songs that I was less keen on but in the main I loved it with their current single ‘Galore’ proving impossible to stand still to (not that standing still was a requirement). I think it’s a really good testament to a gig when you go away singing the songs and a week later you’re still singing them (not sure what I do could be called singing, it’s more like murdering). But THUMPERS’ music is really rich, the more that you listen to it, the more that you hear so it’s definitely worth checking them out – if you want to try before you buy, they’re on Spotify etc.

Marcus tuning guitar Marcus John Ollie John playing drums

They’ve got a new recruit since I last saw them play who provides backing vocals and plays the trumpet. I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this show and I wasn’t really feeling the photo taking (once again at a gig, I found myself poorly placed for actually seeing anything) so I kept putting my phone in my bag and each time I finally put the phone away she would start playing the trumpet and then by the time I’d get out the phone she’d have stopped again!!..Gah.

Anyway, I’ll be seeing them when they play at The Scala on 22nd May and I’ll be sure to be at the front (maybe with a new camera) and before that…I just might use them as an excuse to take a little trip to Berlin, a place that I’ve heard so many good things about but have never been to, where they’re playing on the 2nd April.

THUMPERS are about to head out to the US, and boy am I bummed that I’m not going too, and then they’re playing a bunch of shows across Europe. Definitely look them up if they’re passing your neighbourhood.

Disclaimer: I am, as I’ve said before, friends with the band members though I don’t think that necessarily means that I can’t espouse the marvellousness that is Marcus and John et al but, I do like all things to be above board.

Ooo Ooo Ooo…brilliant birthday bresents (yes, I know it’s presents but that would have ruined my alliteration).

Oh…was it your birthday recently Susie? Mwah ha. Yes, yes, I know, enough of the birthday already.

Well…not quite enough as I want to show you what I got from D and the children because I’m SUPER happy with their choices:

Christmas and birthday books

As They Were was a Christmas present in place of Maiden Voyage (which had been mentioned in the stupendously brilliant, exciting and inspirational ‘Love with a Chance of Drowning‘) but then D managed to get hold of a copy in time for my birthday. I can’t wait to get started on it but I’ve to finish As They Were first.

Knife close up Birthday knives

Mmmm…I’ve used the larger of these knives so far, to dice onions and carrots and it cut like a dream, it was like slicing through butter.

Wüsthof is a German company that was founded in 1814, their knives are amongst the best (apparently) European (ie non Japanese) made knives available.

Birthday book

A and J gave me this brilliant tome. I’ve wanted this for a while so was really pleased to receive it as a gift from my lovely children and I’m looking forward to making lots of recipes from it. I’m already amazed to read that the dressing for the celeriac salad I love so much and always buy when I’m in France has so few ingredients. I make my own version and I’m very happy with it but it’s interesting to learn how it should be made.

They also cooked an exceptionally scrumptious Sunday lunch for us and my mum and sister of roast beef, perfect yorkshires, caramelised roast carrots and shallots, roast potatoes (bien sur), and more. YUM. Thank you.

Deep electric blue shoe

These shoes, from Evans, are a deep electric blue – not my usual style at all but part of my mission (see previous post) to start looking like I’ve made a modicum of an effort.  I love the heel and, though I’ve only worn them round the house so far, they seem quite comfy.

And a little bonus, given to me yesterday as I sat at my desk (not strictly speaking a birthday present, in fact, I’m not really sure why I had the honour) by a couple of the researchers in my lab. I think they were feeling sorry for me because my knee was playing up and I was hobbling about. How utterly sweet and touching though. They NEARLY made me cry, I had to not talk and stay hidden in my room for a little while.

Birthday flowers

I absolutely love gerberas.

My half hour with Emma of Back of the Wardrobe

You probably wouldn’t know it from looking at me but, I’m trying to spruce up my look, trying to look more ‘put together’, more grown up and more stylish. At the moment though, most of this trying is in my head only so, as a birthday treat to myself, I snapped up one of the Stylist Package tickets to a recent The Stylist’s Rail held at The Hoxton Hotel.

The Stylist’s Rail is a sale of clothes and accessories and the stall holders are, in the main, stylists. The event promised designer bargains, a touch of vintage and some cool new brands as well as music and cocktails and, it didn’t disappoint. Seriously, there were some gorgeous and massively knocked down pieces and if any of them would have fitted me, I’d be a damn site poorer (because of how much I’d have bought, not how much stuff cost) now.

I’d normally avoid this kind of thing (anything to do with confronting my dire body image) but I’m trying to be more yes and a lot less no. Whilst I absolutely was intrigued by the idea of seeing a stylist, and I liked the look of Emma of Back of the Wardrobe and liked her ethos of trying to use what you already own to make up a killer wardrobe, it was the goodie bag that sold it for me. I’ve been wanting to check out the dance classes at FRAME for ages now and the goodie bag included THREE class vouchers – it was a no brainer!

The Stylists Package goodie bag

The full goodie bag (actually minus the Proper Popcorn, which got eaten before I got a chance to take a photo, and the Bloom ready mixed gin and tonic, which I gave to H).

Sugar Style necklace

Looking forward to trying out this Cheeky  Chat Me Up nail paint in Soots You and the necklace from Sugar + Style is absolutely the kind of thing I wear (and I have already worn it).

Love conditioner

How the hello did the goodie bag know that I have harsh and frizzy hair?

The goodie bag also included, amongst other things, a cute pair of Dinny Hall earrings, lots of Lush products and a lovely smelling (Lemongrass & Neroli) Wick and Tallow candle.

Prior to the event, Plum (the woman behind The Stylist’s Rail and also an absolute pleasure to deal with) sent through a questionnaire for me to answer to give Emma a sense of what I wanted to achieve in my half hour as well as a more general overview of my attitude to clothing and style.

The event which was held at the back of the hotel in a series of interconnecting rooms with a series of smaller side rooms, felt like a brilliant bazaar taking place in a little warren and reminded me a bit of my absolute favourite shop, Liberty.

I was met on arrival by Plum who ushered me to a comfy chair, via the bar and a mega gin and tonic, to wait for Emma. Once Emma was ready for me, Plum showed me through to one of the side rooms where Emma was waiting with a smile on her face and a really genuine warmth that put me straight at ease (sounds corny I know, but I really did feel comfortable, happy and looked after). Emma had taken a look at my Pinterest boards and had made up a board with ideas to suit my shape (and size). She told me, more or less, what I already knew – I’m not made for that gorgeous slouchy luxe casual look that I so adore, nor the Parisian chic that both my sister and I love, no, I’m more of a vintage glamour girl all nipped in waists, fitted tops and pencil skirts. We talked jewellery, fabrics, cut, underwear, hair and more AND we went and had a look at the rails of clothes with Emma pulling out colours and textures that she thought would suit me. Emma managed to pack in A LOT in a short half hour (actually, I guess it was the same length of half hour that a half hour is) and I felt as though she had really taken the time to think about me and how I could boost my outfit confidence (my confidence full stop).

I would THOROUGHLY recommend Emma and Back of the Wardrobe and I believe she’s running a discount until the end of February for a three hour wardrobe visit. I may have slight Girl Crush, oh dear. Take a look at her site for more information.

Bloom G and T at The Stylists Rail

You can’t tell from this, but this was more like a BUCKET of gin and tonic. Still, it made me feel all fancy pants – until I tried to peruse the rails whilst carrying it plus my coat and bag plus my mega goodie bag!

DJ at The Stylists Rail 2

This makes it look all gritty and seedy and Real but in reality it’s just another example of my shocking photo taking skills.

ImageMe with the gorgeous Emma – she’s actually channelling a look that’s tailor made for me there.

Once H and I had had a proper look round, we headed back into the hotel for a drink and a bite to eat.

Porn Star Martini at The Hoxton Hotel

Enjoying a Porn Star Martini in the restaurant before diving into a rack of sticky ribs and a gloriously gooey American style macaroni cheese with bacon and jalapenos.