Monday, September 30, 2013

London Guide: Brunch at Mestizo

Yesterday, sporting a bit of a hangover from a Saturday night out in London, K, a friend and I did something that has been on my London to-do list for a long time - we had brunch at Mestizo.

I posted about a tequila tasting that K and I had attended at Mestizo back in May, and I firmly stand by my claim that Mestizo is the best Mexican restaurant in London (by a long way).  Every Sunday, Mestizo has an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet from noon to 4pm (£19.99 for adults, kids under a metre tall eat for free), and it did not disappoint.

Mestizo typically has a more upscale feel, but the atmosphere at brunch was very warm and relaxed.  With a small selection of servers, seating for around 35 people (reservations are a must) and groups of families and friends, brunch at Mestizo feels like going to a relatives house for a family event.

The buffet was set up with traditional Mexican dishes (ribs, chicken, beef, mole, cilantro potatoes), stews and soups and tamales, with tacos, quesadillas and egg dishes to order.

I got a bit excited and started with some traditional Mexican mains, including chicken, a spicy chicken soup, cilantro potatoes, black beans and chips and guacamole.  Everything was very good, even if I wasn't 100% sure what everything was.  I was really surprised by the cilantro potatoes, given that I do not particularly like cilantro (UK read: coriander) unless its only a very subtle part of a salsa or other complex Mexican or Indian dish.  They tasted very fresh, and there was definitely some garlic drawing away the soapy taste that I personally think cilantro tends to take on.

I had an order of huevos rancheros but got so excited about them that I forgot to take a photo - they were too good for pausing.  Made up of a flour tortilla, two fried eggs, red salsa, salsa verde, black beans and rice, this is generally one of my favourite breakfasts and this dish at Mesitzo did not disappoint.  Each of the salsas was very good.

I then just about managed to have some chicken mole, a tamale and two tacos.  The rajas con crema taco, made up of poblano pepper cooked with sweet corn and onion in a cream sauce, was very good and felt like something made lovingly by a grandmother.  The pastor taco, with marinated pork and pineapple, was really great - the sweet citrus of the pineapple wasn't too strong to overtake the spicy marinated pork and the flavours went really well together.  The tamale tasted fantastic, although it had been subject to the buffet downfall of being slightly dry after having stood in the steamer too long.  The chicken mole was amazing!  Mestizo's annual Mole Festival begins on 26 October, in the run up to Dia de los Muertos, and I would highly recommend going.

This is the full brunch menu accessible on the Mestizo website, but the buffet on the day contains a number of Mexican mains that are not on this list:

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4)

Food: 9
Atmosphere: 9
Service: 9
Price: £
Overall experience: 9

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall Fashion: Windowpane

This trend has been emerging for some time, but now seems to have hit its peak.  You can buy a windowpane piece almost anywhere - as subtle or as loud as you like.

J.Crew Collection cafe capri pant in tattersall
Dorothy Perkins black and white check top
Whistles Lucia check jacquard knit
Gap slim cropped print pants
Dorothy Perkins black and white check snood
Gap windowpane pullover
Theory Sorcha top
Kate Spade Saturday fantastic elastic wallet
Cinti and Parker meets Patternity window-pane check sweater
French Connection paint checked Richie dress
J.W. Anderson window pane check sweater
Joseph New Queen cropped checked twill pants
Free People ivory black femme wool coat
Kate Spade Saturday shirttaile skirt
alice + oliva Jolie leather side dress

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cook This: Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Stilton Galette

As much as I hate saying goodbye to summer and the imminent threat of winter, I do love fall.  One of the things that I love the most about it is the return of comfort food and a renewed spirit to spend time in the kitchen.

This past weekend, I thought I would finally try my hand at making a galette, after pinning numerous recipes for them on Pinterest (and finding myself daydreaming about eating them).

Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Stilton Galette

  • 1 block of Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry (if you're feeling eager, by all means make your own)
  • Neck of one large butternut squash (or as much as you need to cover the pastry once rolled), cut into in half-circle slices
  • One shallot
  • Handful of mushrooms
  • Stilton (or any other blue cheese)
  • 1/3 cup of ricotta cheese (or as much as you need to spread a thin layer on the pastry bottom)
  • Handful of sliced/flaked almonds (walnuts or pinenuts would work, as well)
  • 2 spoonfuls of butter
  • Mixed herbs (fresh, if possible), like thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flour for dusting/rolling out the pastry

1. Preheat the oven to 180C or 350F.

2. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface (I had no flour so had to roll it onto a bare counter and it worked fine) into a large circle about 1/4 inch thick

3. Move pastry circle to a baking tray covered with parchment/baking paper (again, I didn't have any in the house and used foil - also fine but more risk of sticking to the bottom once cooked)

4. Cut the neck off the squash and set the rest aside for other uses (like soup or risotto), peel it and cut into thin, half-circle slices.

5. Dice the shallot.

6. Add shallot and squash into a bowl and add herbs, salt and pepper to taste.

7. In a sauce pan large enough for the squash and shallots, melt two big spoonfuls of butter and a glug of olive oil, then add squash and shallots.  Cook on a low-to-medium heat until the squash is nearly tender.

8. Slice mushrooms and add to the pan.  Cook until the squash is tender and the mushrooms are cooked to the point where a large majority of the water has come out.

9. Spread the 1/3 cup of ricotta onto the pastry, leaving an inch to an inch-and-a-half ring around the outside that is bare (like putting sauce on a pizza).  You can mix an egg into the ricotta first, but I see this as optional.

10. Lay the squash, mushrooms and shallots out onto the ricotta. I think you can be as organised about this as you want to.  Slop it all on there or lay it out into neat, layered slices (this may say a little about your personality).

11. Bake for 25-30 minutes until pastry is golden brown.

12. Cool for around 5 minutes, then cut and serve.


Monday, September 23, 2013

London Guide: Free Art - The Nationals

I am currently doing a bit of work around Trafalgar Square that requires me to walk through this London tourist trap on an almost-daily basis.  While this has had some slight negatives (i.e. every working Londoner's nightmare is being surrounded by tourists when one is trying to get somewhere), it has provided some very nice opportunities to be in Trafalgar Square early in the morning and late in the evening, when everything seems calm - and this is a rare sight in this part of London.

(An Instagram snap at 7:30am on the way to work)

I am also presently studying for the Life in the UK test as part of my settlement visa application (a whole other bag of worms).  The test contains a LOT of British history and British art (dawn of time to present day), which I've actually really enjoyed learning.

Both of these things (while giving you a glimpse into my terribly boring incredibly exciting life) have reminded me of two of my favourite places to visit in London - which are completely FREE - the National Gallery (pictured above) and the National Portrait Gallery.

The National Gallery, with its grand facade facing the Square, is home to masterpieces that everyone is familiar with - and some which I was stunned to see in person for the first time (and every time after that, really) - with famous pieces by Manet, Monet, van Gogh, da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and Degas. 

The collection also holds pieces that are really significant but that I hadn't been familiar with until I took a "Masterpieces in London" class during my semester abroad with Syracuse.  Pieces like Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, Seurat's Bathers, van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait and Botticelli's Venus and Mars have become favourites of mine that I return to every time that I visit the Gallery.

The National Gallery is a place you can spend hours on a rainy afternoon and really lose yourself. I would recommend walking around with the audio guide.  After taking a class on some of the pieces in the museum, I am grateful for a deeper understanding of the story behind the paintings and the allegory and symbolism within.

The National Portrait Gallery, located just around the corner on St Martin's Place, contains a collection of portraits of historically and culturally important people (chiefly Brittons). The paintings and photographs here, unlike most galleries, are chosen for the importance of the subject, not the artist.

 Many of the portraits are unfamiliar, but a quick read of the accompanying panel becomes an engaging history lesson. Some of the portraits ate very familiar - the famous depictions of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Shakespeare and Kate Moss, Cecil Beaton's photographs of Queen Elizabeth II, portraits of the Windsors as children, and the recent first official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge.

The exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery are often fantastic and usually engage a more current subject or interest. Past exhibitions have included Lucien Freud portraits, Hollywood portrait photographs, Beatles to
Bowie: the 60s Exposed, Vanity Fair portraits and Pop Art portraits.

So if you find yourself in London with a bit of time to spare or it's rainy or you just want to spend some time with aome art, I highly recommend the Nationals. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Burberry Prorsum RTW at LFW

London Fashion Week came to an end yesterday, but the Burberry Prorsum's ready to wear SS14 collection that showed on Monday caught my eye.  According to, this collection is Christopher Bailey's celebration of the English Rose and the Nottingham, which used to be the centre of the world's lace production.

Once again, I'm not going to pretend that I know what I'm talking about, but I loved the colours in this collection, and I think this is the first time that I've seen casual lace that I actually want to wear.  The lace-created patterns and bejewelled garments are pretty great, as well.

(See the full collection here.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Travel Notes: Two Weeks Stateside

(...And then work got in the way again.  Sorry for the delay - I'm still adjusting to post-holiday life.)

Given that I spent a large part of the last two weeks staying at my parents' house just south of Rochester, New York, I'm not really sure how much travel advice I can offer, but I will share a few notes from the trip.

K and I kicked off the trip with breakfast (English-style but not an English breakfast) at the airport, which we try to do every time we fly if we've left enough time.  There's something about a sausage sarnie (sandwich) and a pint that really puts you in the right mood to fly off on vacation.

Seven-and-a-half hours later (and then another couple of hours in the customs line, baggage claim and cab), we were in Manhattan.  We caught up with friends, had Korean BBQ and brunch, and then found ourselves with a gorgeous Sunday to take advantage of.  We had initially wanted to visit Ellis Island, particularly as the Italian side of my family arrived in America at this port, but it is still closed following Hurricane Sandy.  Instead, we opted for Coney Island, where neither of us had been before.

I was pleasantly surprised.  I had pictured a run-down, seedy place where childhood nightmares begin.  Instead, the boardwalk was a small, clean strip along the beach (which was not so clean), filled with New York sun-seekers.  

We obviously had lunch at Nathan's, because I'm not sure what else you eat when you go to Coney Island.  We both had hotdogs and K even went for the clam order (i.e. deep fried clams).  It was the only best hotdog that I've had in a long time, and I appreciated that they had deli mustard and not just yellow.

The situation with the rides was a bit pricey, unless you actually wanted to spend a lot of time there riding all of them ($25 for 4 hours, each).  We opted for a quick ride on the bumper cars which, let's face it, was what we were really there for anyway.  Fun, but since when do they make you drive only one way around the track on the bumper cars? Kids these days...

Overall, I would recommend going to Coney Island if you're in the mood for a bit of old-fashioned fun and find yourself with a free day in New York.  However, I wouldn't put it on my list of top 20 things to do in NYC.

After a couple of days in New York, we made the six-hour drive to the western Finger Lakes region to my tiny hometown.  K was quite surprised at first at what he perceived to be quite a large town in comparison to where he grew up in Wales, but as he spent more time there came to realise that this was just an American small town (i.e. just like his hometown but with fast food and wide roads).

We spent a lot of time with family.  I am blessed to have a large portion of my extended family living in the same area, but this really makes for a busy trip.  I always feel there are so many people to see and then feel guilty when I don't get to spend very much time with any one person. 

Mid-week, K and I took a mini road trip (2 hours) to Niagara Falls, a place that (oddly) K had visited before but that I never had.  The Falls were pretty beautiful and awe-inspiring and surprised me in a few ways - I was somehow both expected them to be bigger, or maybe closer to the vantage points, and was really struck by how powerful they are.

We got a great last-minute deal on a hotel at (a website I definitely recommend for booking hotels, both in the US and in Britain), so we sprung for a fancy hotel room.  We got a room with a view of both the US side and Canadian side of the Falls, a king-size bed and huge jacuzzi bathtub for $170, including tax at Hilton Hotel and Suits Niagara Falls/Fallsview.

(The view from our bed!)

Our hotel also connected to a casino through a glass walkway.  K and I were all ready for some black jack, but spent around 30 minutes walking through the huge casino (nothing by Vegas standards, I'm told, but large for this part of the world) feeling perplexed.  There were a lot of card tables with games we had never heard of before, the lowest black jack minimum bet was $10 and the slot machines are just confusing.  As neither of us are big gamblers (just don't get it) and I have never played black jack at a casino before (read: was at risk of losing a great deal of money very quickly), we got out of there pretty fast.

The little town in Niagara Falls is like an amusement park that has not changed since 1985, complete with Ripley's exhibits, rides, arcades and wax museums.  It was like going back in time (in a nice, nostalgic way).  The area was a lot less ritzy than I was expecting, but I definitely still enjoyed it for what it was.  

The only part that I did not enjoy was the serious lack of restaurants that weren't either American chains (Applebees, Outback Steakhouse, etc) or really overpriced and still not very good hotel restaurants.  For me, food is one of the most important parts of travel, and this really let me down.

Back in Upstate New York, we did a little wine touring - another Upstate New York pleasure that I had never experienced.  The Finger Lakes region, similar in growing climate to the Rhine region in Germany, consists of a series of deep glacial lakes, often surrounded by (small) mountains, that look like the fingers on a hand spreading across the western part of the State.

The best way to go wine touring in the Finger Lakes is to pick a lake (with Keuka and Seneca being the most popular), renting a limo (so no one has to drive) and going from winery to winery around the lake. 

We went for Keuka - the closest of the big wine lakes to my hometown - and did tastings at Hunt Country Vineyards, Dr Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Heron Hill Winery and Bully Hill Vineyards.  The tastings were surprisingly really cheap, ranging from free at Dr Frank to $5 at Heron Hill and Bully Hill.  Finger Lakes wine tends to be very sweet, due to the cold climate, so I found very few at some vineyards that I would actually want to drink again.  However, I was really surprised at the quality of the Pinot Noir at Dr Frank and liked several of the wines that I tasted both there and at Heron Hill. I won't go on like I'm a sommelier (or like I really know anything about wine beyond whether I like it or not), but I would highly recommend wine touring in the Finger Lakes after this day out. It was a lot of fun and some quality time with the family.

About 6 dozen donuts later...

The last weekend of our trip, we drove down to the Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania for a very close friend's wedding.  The setting and the weather were gorgeous.  The rehearsal, ceremony and reception were held at Mountain Springs Lake Resort in Reeders, PA, a woodland cabin resort surrounding a small lake, which my friend happened to find on Google.

The wedding was gorgeous and included so many personal, DIY details that looked very professional.  I won't share any other photos without my friend's permission, but the reception included burlap table runners, wheatgrass centerpieces (homegrown and in amazing wooden boxes made by the bride's father) and a few candles, and the favour was home-brewed pale ale with a label designed and printed by the bride that could have been sold in any store.  It was very simple and very beautiful. 

Well, with that little self-indulgence out of the way, I'll get back to my normal posting (in a timely fashion, I promise!).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Resuming Normal Service

Hello, again.  I am now back from my two-week vacation Stateside and will resume posting normally.  I apologise that I've been completely absent during my vacation, but I seem to have forgotten just how busy and hectic a trip to my hometown is (I think this is largely due to the blessing of having 80% of my extended family very close by).

It was a really great couple of weeks, even if it wasn't the kind of vacation where I got to lay around and read the whole (or any of the) time.  I am in the process of going through my photos and will fill you in on my trip tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'd like to leave you with an article from The New York Times on the reverse culture shock experienced by Sarah Lyall, author of The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British, who returned to the US after living in London for 18 years.  While I have only lived in Britain for five years, and so have not experienced the changes in American and British culture over the same extended period of time, I recognise the changes that Lyall mentions and empathise with her.

(Click on the link above to read the article)

"Britons are not automatically impressed by what I always thought 
were attractive American qualities — straightforwardness, openness, can-doism, 
for starters — and they suspect that our surface friendly optimism 
might possibly be fake. (I suspect that sometimes they might possibly be right.)"

"The pursuit of happiness may be too garish a goal, it turns out, 
in the land of the pursuit of not-miserableness. After enough Britons respond 
with “I can’t complain” when you ask them how they are, you begin to feel nostalgic 
about all those psyched Americans you left behind."

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