Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Cat's Life #15

The nights are drawing in and so I am sitting on the sofa in our room full of lamplight and the smell of homemade chicken stock bubbling away on the stove wafts over in peels, reminding me that dinner is not far off.

This beautiful October Sunday inspired me to pick up where I had left off with the Cat's Life series, simply writing about where I've been lately as a kind of diary to myself and perhaps as inspiration for a Cafe Cat reader - where would you like to go? Where have you been?

At Home

The Cafe Cat at Home 
My favourite season is here and so I've been busy bringing the autumn indoors and foraging for herbs, dried flowers and nuts. I like the idea of having a seasonal still life on the mantle although I wonder what I'll do with it all when I have to light that fire.

Burger Monday is still going strong. What's Burger Monday? It's as easy as Burgers on Monday, inspired by different themes. That just gone was the Italian - with pesto beef burgers, sundried tomatoes, mozarella cheese and Proscuitto ham.

At our house, we feel like Mondays can be a bit of a drag and so burgers are just the ticket. Our catch phrase is 'Burger Mondays. Making Monday more bearable.'
The Italian

To Meet
Where do you like to meet people in London? I'm usually inclined towards cafes and living in Islington means there's no shortage here. Fink's Cafe is filled with natural light and everything looks and tastes wonderful, down to the last detail.
Cafes in Islington, London

Vagabond N7 is another great choice, in close proximity to Highbury and Islington station and boasts a small, bedraggled garden, if you feel like taking your coffee with the sound of rustling leaves.
Coffee at Vagabond N7 
For evenings, Fink's is also a choice spot for a reasonably priced glass of wine - just £3 for their house wine, sourced from small vineyards in Italy. You can also pick up a box to take home, too.Islington Wine Spots

However, if you're looking for something more central and sweeter, Gelupo is a fantastic gelato hot spot tucked just behind Piccadilly. I recommend the sour cherry and ricotta and, a little tip, be sure to take a tote bag with you as you're bound to stock up on Italian delicacies sold in the deli at the rear of the parlour.
Ice Cream in London  
To Play
Islington Farm London

It's not always easy to find things to do for free in London and so it's a pleasure to live not so far from Freightliner's Farm just off Holloway Road. You'd imagine I'd take pictures of the pigs, cow and goats but no, there's a really rather wonderful cat there and, what's more, they serve incredible soup in the cafe with the vegetables they grow on the premises.
Soup at the Cafe
To Eat

Having lived in Spain on and off in my twenties, I became rather fond of tapas. Londoners have been raving about Barrafina and it was recently rewarded a Michelin star. Leyla and I went to see what the fuss was all about and our highlights included the carabineros (really rather large prawns) and the flan. For astute and whimsically-written London restaurant reviews, be sure to visit her blog.
Tapas in London
London Tapas Adelaide Street

Knowing that I'm rather fond of ice cream, Zomato kindly sent me undercover at Fortnum and Mason's 'The Parlour' - I know, who knew Fortnum and Mason's had an ice cream parlour? A ruddy fantastic idea if you've got Christmas Hampers to build and need to restore your energy - the sundaes are really rather decadent, with some coming in at £35. I chose a modest 'Original Dusty Road' that came with a little coffee macaron and it was just lovely. If you're an ice cream lover, you ought to check it out.
London Ice Cream Parlours

To Read
I recently met with the sweet Izy from Top With Cinnamon and she told me all about her debut book, aptly named Top With Cinnamon. I ordered myself a copy and have been flipping through her fantastic pictures trying to decide what first - the pretzel cinnamon rolls or her best chocolate chip cookies. A collection of her favourite family recipes, it feels a bit like home in a book; full of nostalgic flavours.
A Book By Izy Hossack

To Travel

A small city or country girl at heart, it's always a relief to escape London and I recently whizzed up to Staffordshire to see the talented Stef from Forged in Fables.

We ate oatcakes, took to the hills for long walks and, the most exciting of all, took the Churnet Valley Steam Train through the countryside.
Staffordshire Steam Train

Things to do in Staffordshire

Have you ever been on a steam train? It's quite something, pulling through Staffordshire in cosy little compartments with the whistle and chug. We got to talking about begonias with the people sharing our carriage and, having made friends over garden maintenance, we all wished we had paid the extra fare to feast in the dining cart where you can get a three-course Sunday lunch.

I feel as if finally, the pace of life is picking up again after years of being quite unsettled.
With Christmas so near, I'm excited to make what I hope will be our home for a time to come feel festive, to meet more people and discover great places to visit in London and beyond.

 Where have you been lately, how have you been feeling and what are you excited about?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Sawyer & Gray Cafe | Islington | London

Sawyer and Gray Exterior
I don't often take the underground in London - I venture on foot or, if it's a touch too far, on the bus. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (great book), the author makes an excellent insight into the idea that if you're travelling by car, you're a passive observer; the window framing the world as if it were a show.

The beauty of journeying by foot (or in the instance of the book, by motorcycle) is that everything is tangible and, for me, I wouldn't come across half of the things I do if I were boxed in on the underground, watching a black wall and whizzing underneath such an amazing city.

I've been keeping an eye on Sawyer & Gray on St. Paul's road for what seems like a year now, trying to see behind the washed out windows and, with a stroke of luck on my day off, it opened tentatively to the public today with intentions to bring more food and treats to the table in the coming weeks.
Flat White in Islington 
Pushing open the door, chirping hello and elatedly ordering myself a flat white, I pulled up a stool in the window that looks out onto the street and set to chatting with the wonderfully friendly staff who eagerly told me that, in time, the cafe might open late into the evening with food and wine. This was music to my ears in a city where I struggle to find the relaxed cafe culture I so loved in Barcelona close enough to my house and office.
Brunch in Islington 
Looking around the premises, it's clear to see this cafe making a success of itself - being at once as spacious as it is cosy, with stairs that wind down to the open kitchen with inviting nooks if you care to be clandestine while eating your eggs on a hazy Sunday morning.
Interior at a London Cafe

 Brunch promises to be modern with all the popular choices and, of course, there will be cake. I nibbled a piece of brownie that was possibly the best I've had in a long while - crispy on the outside but soft on the inside with the occasional nutty crunch.
Best Places for Cake Islington
 Ideally situated close to Highbury and Islington station, this corner of where Upper Street meets St. Paul's road seems set to become a destination of sorts for cafe lovers - with Maison D'etre, Sawyer and Gray and a Turkish Tea House reputed to be on the way. 

This ought to keep footfall satiated and entice others to the area, establishing a pocket of that so sought cafe culture I've been dreaming of - if only the road weren't so busy, I'd like to see these places spilling out on the pavement.

For me and for now, it's the perfect spot to pick up coffee before heading to Daylight Music at the Union Chapel on Saturdays.

If the food is as good as the service and the coffee, it's another win as a top recommendation on my Islington list, along with Ez & Moss.

You can find Sawyer and Gray at 290 St. Paul's Road, Islington, N12LH

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Walk in Barcelona #3

Barcelona Cafe Design
Who's changed? You or I?

Of course, it's both of us - my skeleton as usual, your frame, the same but of truly ourselves? The light and shadows fall between us the same way it always did and yet I have forgotten the emotion of this city and it has forgotten mine.

I can't quite get my head in any place - here, home, elsewhere. My feet pound, feeling every step, every heart beat and they burn - an indication I've walked too far and with nowhere in mind.  

And so I seek shade and take a snapshot of who I once was, in a place I once lived.

A flickering flashback.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Walk in Barcelona #2

Traditional Churros in Barcelona
Even if I lived in Barcelona for the rest of my life, I'd spend those days revered as a guiri; a tourist. Prejudice sticks to me like fair hair plastered on my rosied, balmy face.

And so a tourist was exactly who I was. I picked up my iphone  camera and calmly lingered in doorways, hovered in reflections and slipped away with the swell.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Walk in Barcelona #1

Old Fashioned Barcelona Hat Shop
When I arrived in Barcelona, I was greeted by an almighty twilight thunderstorm.

I had forgotten how very loud you were - from the deafening roar of the weather, to the calls and cries of the small night streets - a clattering din in the dark.

I gave up trying to sleep and, peeling myself from the bed, took to the city, falling quietly into a step at once as familiar as it was strange.

Warm lights-lit glared golden in the windows of shops with overcast and gauzy reflections. 

I need a coffee, I thought.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

A Cat's Life #14

Kitchen Still Life
After such skies and rain, there was little else to do but cook for the hoard that stormed into our house over the weekend and sit for hours at the table musing.
Celia's Saucer
During brief moments of sunshine, I nipped out for ingredients or fleeting coffee meetings - discovering new places and people when I hadn't expected to.
Holloway Road Fishmongers

Indonesian Cooking with Celia's Saucer
I tried my hand at Indonesian cuisine - whipping up this Gado Gado, which is full of simple flavours but takes patience to co-ordinate when hungry mouths are waiting to eat.

I also resorted to an old favourite, Sweetcorn Chowder - such an easy recipe that I picked up from the lovely ladies at Ez and Moss cafe on Holloway Road. 
Soup Recipes from Celia's Saucer
Of course, all visitors are subjected to a stroll to Ruby Violet for ice cream (it saves me the hassle of having to make pud!)  - I especially enjoyed the English Lavender and mused that rose might make a nice, light flavour.
Lavender Ice Cream
The Cafe Cat Photography
Tufnell Park Ice Cream Parlour
What do you think might make a lovely late summer ice cream?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Summer Drinks Festival

A long, hot summer makes for thirsty work and where cheaper to stock up on premium spirits than at the airport where top branded bottles come duty free? After the holidays and now that we're moving late into the season, there's no better reason than ever to bring a taste of summer inspiration home with you.

World Duty Free has teamed up with leading mixologist, Charlie McCarthy, to create and blend some of the season's best flavours in a month-long campaign that has seen some of my favourite bloggers recreating their very own.

Below you'll find the line up and I'm sure you'll stick around to tell me which one tickles your fancy?
I've a good mind to try them all.

First up, we have the Queen's Blush from Tom at Daydream in Blue with vodka, strawberry and basil making an appearance... A sweet and sour sip, I'm sure.

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Vodka

The charming, Fifi McGee, tried her hand at a Hendrick's Floradora to warm her new home with friends... She confesses that she can't remember much except for loving the rose petal and raspberry hues.

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Gin

 While Laura at Heroine in Heels took to the park with friends to get her shake on with a Pink 76...

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Vodka & Cointreau

The lovely Erica got a shakin' at home in her kitchen with pals -expertly mixing cointreau with champagne, Belvedere vodka and pomegranate juice.

Selena from Selena the Places went on a long walk to the heath with her loved one and basked in the sunshine, suitably supping an English Garden cocktail complete with gin, apple juice and a touch of elderflower.

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Gin and Elderflower

Monica, aka The Travel Hack, threw a big party for her Australian pal and put all hands on deck to recreate the Old Cuban and a classic mojito. Apparently there were many more pictures throughout the night - I think she ought to do an outtake post, don't you?

Certainly the most intriguing of the Summer Drinks Festival has to be La Tomatina, lovingly crafted by Lucy at Supergolden Bakes. Inspired by a festival where a hoard of Spaniards lob tomatoes at one another, it shouts SUMMER! and sunkissed flavours in a glass and is, I imagine, the perfect Sunday brunch aperitif (read 'hair of the dog').

World Duty Free Summer Drinks Festival - Tomato
Of course, Samantha from Thoroughly English took to the rooftop of her South London pad to take in the views now she lives in the capital and chose the Peachy Keen - sweet, fruity flavours with the warm undercurrent kiss of Southern Comfort to complement the Turner-esque summer skies. 
World Duty Free Summer Drinks Festival - Southern Comfort
Helen at the Crazy Kitchen found herself hot and flustered baking back in July and so squirreled away to a peaceful corner of her garden to enjoy the taste of an Aperol Spritz in the fading light of the evening- just as she might during an Italian sunset where this cocktail is very popular.
Summer Drinks Festival
I even found myself getting in on the action with a bottle of aged golden Bacardi and a cocktail shaker. I'd forgotten how enjoyable cocktails can be as part of a long Sunday lunch with my mother and sister, who kept stealing my masterpiece before I could get a good pic! I'm also lucky enough to cultivate a huge hierba buena (spearmint) plant in my garden, which is vital for an authentic rum cocktail and speaks of warmer climes. 
Summer Drinks Festival - Rum
It's been a tough decision but next time, I'll be trying my hand at La Tomatina cocktail, closely following the You Tube cocktail tutorial playlist expertly provided by World Duty Free below. For me, the earthy taste of sun-ripened tomatoes perfectly captures a balmy British summer - just perfect in the rain and shine. 

What about you? Which of the above would be your summer poison?

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