That Time I Brunched at Home with Friends

The heatwave has arrived in London, so I’ve been making the most of the weather, with ice-cool drinks, random visits to pretty cafes, relaxing in the park and meeting up with friends now that we all have a little free time.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed the popular rise of Brunching – it’s fashionable, instagrammable and usually healthier than a standard fry-up.

When I go out with friends, we usually opt for brunch – it’s sometimes cheaper than lunch, looks more photogenic and we usually feel pretty satisfied with a decent meal. Having said that, I can see that these days it is easy to get caught up in the brunching/afternoon-tea-ing/girl-about-town lifestyle, which means spending a bucket-load of money to feel like you had an ‘experience’ worth showing off to others.

A friend and I were talking about how it is easy to have this lifestyle and mentality become normalised – there is nothing wrong with going out with friends to eat, but it can be easy to spend more than you intend to, or indulge in too much unhealthy food because of the whole ‘FOMO’ fear behind the ‘Instagrammable’ life. So we decided to opt for the best of both worlds – pretty, photogenic food but the comfort of our home, with healthy(ish) food which didn’t cost much – below you can see the results!

I’m not sure we’ll always be able to manage brunch (or afternoon teas, gourmet dinners and so on) at home, especially with the busy lives we lead. Not to mention the fact that sometimes it can cost the same to buy all the pretty food we want, even if we’re just going to have it at home! Having said that, it’s nice to have something cosy at home, with lots of banter and gossip, and a chance to kick off your shoes and relax : )

A Chocolatey Time at Choccywoccydoodah

Whenever I tell people about Choccywoccydoodah, some of them accuse me of making the name up. I’m not of course, it’s an amazing chocolate-and-cake shop off Carnarby Street, in Central London, and definitely somewhere to go if you love eye candy and mouth-watering treats.

My best friend and I decided to reward ourselves by taking a visit there, we’d never been and decided to live up to our chocoholic natures and indulge for the day. It took us a while to get in (there was a 40 minutes queue on a busy Saturday afternoon) but this just gave us an opportunity to browse cakes, chocolate slabs and basically have a good look at the store below, while we waited to get into the eaterie on the first floor.

I’ll let you feast your eyes on the pictures, they’ll do a  better job of showing the amazing talent at Choccywoccydoodah and the beautiful (and edible!) things we saw than I can decribe. The theme at the moment is spring and florals, we were going to go a few months ago during the winter months, and look at the Halloween themed cakes, but I’m glad we didn’t now becaues the floral theme was so beautifully done.

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On the first floor is a cafe, where an afternoon tea is available, there’s a huge selection of cakes, treats, drinks and beautiful decorations, and there’s a very bohemian, arty feel for the whole place which is a delight to sit in.

We ordered a slice of cake with drinks (I had a pink lemonade, naturally), with me choosing chocolate praline cake and my friend going for a chocolate gateux. Each cake slice was huge, with about five layers of icing, buttercream, sponge and cream, encased in solid chocolate and drizzled in three different sauces. Sadly to say, it was an amazing slice but neither of ours barely managed to finish, which put a stop to us asking for a second slice.

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Harlequin Pics www.harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

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There’s plenty of beautiful decorations all over the store and the cafe, paper hearts cut out and hung on walls, embellished mirrors and crown motifs, and greenery everywhere. The seating area is just as electic and mixed, but goes with the decor and huge cake decor brilliantly.

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I loved the style and luxury of Choccywoccydoodah, there’s beautiful creations everywhere you look, complete with plush armchairs, belljars with cake, handpainted signs and some seriously beautiful edible stuff – when gonig up the stairs I even saw a chocolate snail hidden in a crack in a wall! I loved the attention to detail, and the cafe itself was surprisingly reasonable priced. The cakes on display (which are the main focus of the tv show Choccywoccydoodah) are probably a different matter, and I can imagine seeing one of these beauties at a wedding (I remember saying to my friend that it would have been amazing to have a towering six-layered floral cake like this for mine!).

For anyone in the area, I’d definitely recommend a visit, even if it’s just to browse and look at the beautiful cakes and chocolate creations on display.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Tea at The W Hotel

I had the wonderful luck if being spoiled by a few good friends this weekend, who made plans to have ‘Rock Tea’ at the beautiful W Hotel in Soho, London – made even more lovely because of the fact that I hadn’t seen these friends for some time. The hotel was beautiful and the experience even more, particularly as it provided a venue for an enjoyable experience with friends.

Being the typical snap-happy amateur photographer that I am, I took hundreds of pictures, so here are the ones I liked the most. It was a very ‘English’ tea, with about fifty billion (okay, I exaggerate, about 10) different types of tea to start off with, and several yummy goodies which were brought out bit by bit so we could savour them properly : )

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Surprisingly, the sandwiches were a mix of vegetarian, fish and halal chicken, and were honestly the best sandwiches I’ve had at a tea place yet – I could even say I almost enjoyed them more than the cake and nibbles (and I’m a real cake freak!). I also loved the fact that the service was impeccable – the waiters and staff were discreet, friendly and very non-invasive, which made our tea-experience that much more giggly and silly.

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The tea area itself is beautiful, with hundreds of decorative plates lining a huge shelf which partitioned it off from the bar and club area – the plates being printed with various celebrity portraits, icons and art. Perhaps it was the time of day, but the tea area was also pretty quiet, which created a really peaceful atmosphere and also gave us a chance to relax.

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All in all, a lovely day was had (we also didn’t have any pressure to leave after a certain period the way some places only allot you around 90 minutes or two hours before they hustle you to get off their premises!) I’ve been ooh-ing and aahh-ing at the lovely pictures because of how beautiful the set up was, and it’s made me want to go to tea again soon. I’m hoping to try a new place soon – *fingers crossed that someone (heck, anyone) takes the hint and takes me to the Ritz*

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Tea and Cake (and a bottle of Coke) at Caffe Concerto

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a tea-place of any kind, so it was nice to catch with with friends recently while nibbling cake and sipping on tea (or coca-cola in my case,  I’m the only person I know from all of my friends who don’t drink tea. I’m also the only one who doesn’t think that’s weird!)

My friends and I went to the lovley Caffe Concerto, which consisted of some afternoon delight of scones with jam, lots of chocolate cake and some creamy tea (plus a bottle of coke for me). The place itself is beautiful and reassuringly quiet, we were in the middle of a busy shopping centre yet it didn’t feel like it because of how subdued it was inside. So here’s a few pictures of what we ate (I wanted to take more pictures of the surroundings but didn’t get a chance to!) – it’s nice to savour some cake and catch up with friends every now and then, I’m hoping that I get to do it more often!

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Cold Lakes and Sunny Skies

It may be sunny, but don’t be deceived by those bright yellow rays – it’s nearly 4 degrees outside and we’re all shivering away. Didn’t stop a bunch of students ‘studying’ out on the grass, which I thought made an interesting view (across the small canal that I was on the other side of).

It’s unlikely I’ll be seeing much greenery in the next few weeks, nor will I be visiting any parks any time soon, so here’s something to capture the very last of autumny-summer, especially now winter is really setting in!

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Carnaby Street & Ice Creamcs

A few snapshots of a walk through Carnaby Street yesterday with friends, which ended up in some delicious chocolate pudding and some bana and cookie (I know, what??) ice-cream. Best of all is the pretty lit-up sign, all through the street in signs, hanging lights and shimmery sequins hangings all over the place.

If you haven’t been before, you should visit!

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“Physician steal thyself” – A Doctor Disappears

Richard T. Kelly’s ‘The Possessions of Doctor Forrest‘ implies, at first, a straightforwardly ordinary, although puzzling tale. The novel’s central character is a Scottish cosmetic surgeon, who, from its very opening, has gone missing – much to the concern of two of his closest friends. And the clues he has left behind are sparse, leaving not much insight into his lifestyle, the people he loved, or the possible reasons for his disappearance. But this is a horror story, and one which creeps up on you slowly, and Kelly creates a eerie atmosphere which leaves both the readers and the doctor’s friends unsure about what has happened, but very aware that something is very wrong. drforrest

Always throughout this nove, is some form of reference to an Other, a supernatural influence in the story, which the grounded best friends are unable to accept with their sceptical minds, yet they are unable to ignore that fact there are surreal acts at play which cannot simply be explained away. As they begin to delve into their old friend Doctor Forrest’s life, they begin to realise how his personality is but a mere mask for his real feelings and intentions, and hides a persona they never knew.

And of course, as with these revelations come the Faustian motif – as life, youth and eternity which are constantly being examined are valued, so is emphasised the price that needs to be paid – a theme of life and death which are always inevitably coupled. Doctor Forrest’s secrets and his thirst for more in life are slowly unravelled, layers of which lie with the various encounters he has with people and with relationships he has with not only them, but with the journeys he takes to reach his ambitions.

And of course, as with these revelations come the Faustian motif – as life, youth and eternity which are constantly being examined are valued, so is emphasised the price that needs to be paid – a theme of life and death which are always inevitably coupled. Doctor Forrest’s secrets and his thirst for more in life are slowly unravelled, layers of which lie with the various encounters he has with people and with relationships he has with not only them, but with the journeys he takes to reach his ambitions.

Without giving too much away, suffice to say that Doctor Forrest and his companions are slowly drawn into the world of mystique, darkness and the supernatural. And just as the disappearance of the doctor is not explained away simply, nor is his descent into his final destination any less complex. There are familiar gothic literary devices peppered throughout, the use of landscape to create an eerie atmosphere, the symbolism of blood, the theme of isolation throughout the novel, and so on.

The Possessions of Doctor Forrest is not a novel which rushes, it builds up tension gradually, reflected through the prisms of each narrator’s concerns, as family-men, career-men and as spiritualists. While the settings are of a modern landscape, that of present-day Scotland and London, the behaviours of the characters and the feelings which are emanated feel classic and timeless – that of the idea of sin, of wanting to live forever, of love and of what it means to be man. This novel harks back to the styles of classic novels, that of Dorian Gray, Dracula and Frankenstein, where the quest to be something greater is bound up with not only the spooky supernatural, but the premise of man’s fallacy and the inevitability of choices which must be made.

Or, as one blogger summed up:

 “The Possessions of Doctor Forrest” wears its learning lightly, and creates something dark, modern and terrifying from it. Brilliant.”

Cinderella’s Tulips, Ugly Artists and Changeling Imps

“Do you love me because I am beautiful, or am I beautiful because you love me?” – Cinderella

From the author of the rich world of witches, animal rights and politics in Wicked comes another re-working of a famous fairy tale – ‘Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister’. Though initially the novel sounds like a comic version of a famous fairy tale and something more gossipy like ‘chick-lit’, the story is surprisingly sober; one of the complexities of art, the burdens of beauty, ugliness, and wealth among many things, and the heartbreak of betrayal and disillusion.

Set in the backdrop of Holland during the tulip mania in the 1600s, where Dutch businessmen speculated on tulip bulbs and invested in their profits in buying more tulips, we are introduced to the Fisher family: mother Margarethe and her two daughters, “lumpy ox” Ruth and unfortunate, ugly Iris. Struggling to put food in their mouths, they arrive at the cautious, reserved Dutch town and are given shelter by an artist they call Master, who introduces them, particularly the sharp-eyed Iris, to the world of Art, beauty and seeing colour. It is not long though, before they come into connection with the beautiful, ethereal, and rich Clara, a lonely and sheltered girl. It’s easy to guess the rest of the story, but the story is told with realistic attention to the characters, no one is blameless and each character has their own part to play, though the journey to the ‘happily ever after’ scene is not as straightforward as it appears, and nor is it so ‘happy’.

There are twin themes which are always spiralling through the novel, when there is attention on one facet; it is inevitable that the opposite is highlighted too. There is a continuous emphasis on Clara’s beauty and Iris’ ugliness, mirroring each other throughout the novel. But with each comes the character’s own insecurities and burdens, with Clara feeling trapped by her beauty and how she is viewed by men, and Iris feeling trapped by her ordinariness because of the lack of opportunities it gives. Clara is constantly dogged by her belief that she is a ‘changeling’, an Other being who does not belong to the real world, and this serves to prevent her from really engaging with he outside world and with other people in society – much like effects of her beauty.

And yet, beauty and ugliness manifests itself in various forms – while traditionally the ugly characters are the ‘bad’ ones in fairy tales, it is much more ambiguous in this tale. Beauty is not given its place of pride, constantly undermined by others jealousy, scorn and disapproval – which is no accident seeing as beauty itself has been repealed by the Calvinistic society. Beauty and goodness is turned on its head – as Margarethe declares, “charity is real beauty”, while physical manifestations cannot always be trusted.

Similarly, the weaving of the role of Art and reality throughout the novel show, much like religion and its various interpretations, showing its role in how people are perceived and how the girls are manipulated. Art is revered and yet similarly restricted, it captures and immortalises both beauty and ugliness, but it also traps the subject on the canvas, manipulating them to be viewed and admired by others. It is not accident that alongside this is the depiction of religious figures, and the rejection of Catholic values as Calvinism and austerity is practiced in the town.

As well as these themes, the idea of commodity is also carried through – of art, of beauty, of women, of Clara herself, of status, of value of tulips and even of identity. They are reflected in everything, the painters capture them, the men desire them, and even the women struggle to have their own share – yet with tragic consequences. The story of Cinderella becomes, then, a voice for more than one character, the desperation, sacrifices and greed of the Stepmother, the marginalisation of the two sisters, and the objectification of Clara, on the edge of womanhood and yet unable to step outside her own home because of how she is viewed by various groups. And there is, of course the men who affect their lives, the painters and the rich businessmen, obsessively lusting after tulips while the women struggle to keep their places in the household.

At its heart, it could be said that this is a feminist novel, albeit a discouraging one – the focal characters are all women, and it is they who are continually struggling to make their identity amongst the male-dominated society. And yet, there is also a positive message too, women are objectified, painted, compared and employed, yet they still managed to take control and use this to their advantage. Margarethe makes ‘deals’ to save her daughters, Clara uses her beauty to change her life, and even plain Iris uses her brain and her artistic mind to lift herself out from obscurity. While we all know how this fairy tale goes, the path to the pretty ball gown and pumpkin coach is a difficult one, and by the end of it, we can’t help questioning who it is that ultimately lives happily ever after. I’ll let you read the book and decide that one.

Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an ugly stepsister (Headline Review, St Ives: 2008) pp.398 £7.99

Weekend Pretty…Crystal Sheep

This is something from a while back which brings back several memories for myself and a close friend of mine. It’s a Swarovski crystal ornament in the shape of the sheep (doesn’t explain the big ears, but it adds character!), which I gave to my friend on her birthday, and which was nicknamed ‘Baa’ (or ‘Bart’ as misheard by myself’)

So here’s Baa the Sheep, hoping you have a good weekend 🙂