Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bank Holiday Bounty

Next weekend sees the start of another Bank Holiday break in England. Where better to spend it than in the sunshine (we can all hope) on the banks of the River Thames, at beauteous Hampton Court Palace.  Arrive by boat from Kingston or Richmond (it's a serenely scenic journey), take an extended walk along the towpath or just do the one minute hop from Hampton Court station (on SouthWest Trains, from Waterloo).

You can choose to visit the Palace (see the magnificent artworks and learn fascinating facts about the court of Henry VIII); otherwise simply enjoy the splendours of the magnificent gardens - with a picnic of your own making - or opt for a convenient pitstop at one of the cafés.

If you enjoy exploring new ingredients, or upgrading your cookery skills, and you're a fan of renowned chefs (including Gary Lee from The Ivy, Giancarlo Caldesi, Paul Merrett and Jun Tanaka), treat yourself to a ticket to the Foodies Festival.  When you book online, or call 0871 230 5571, and quote foodies 241, you'll get two tickets for the price of one.  See you there!

Pic shows the glorious golden gates outside Hampton Court Palace's beautiful Privy Gardens. © amethyst

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer Thoughts from Abroad

The promise of sultry summer (yay!) temperatures, forecast for the next few days in London, brings to mind thoughts of delicious, crunchy fresh salads and tantalising, sweet berry treats.

Deep, dark radicchio, crunchy flavoursome fennel and treasured fraise des bois, photographed on a late summer's saturday morning, at Catania's vibrant and bustling street market.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mixed Blessings

How was your week?  Mine was one of mixed fortunes.  Busy, busy, but - fortunately - with time for three energetic sessions with my new love, at the gym, to keep me going.  After working on Saturday morning, I ventured off to the Old Town Hall in Kings Road, to investigate Irish designer Orla Kiely's wares at a warehouse sale.  I love her bright, bold, distinctively cheerful designs, with a modern-retro edge, but they come at a price.  The sale wasn't too crowded so, thankfully, it didn't have the feel of a jumble sale or bunfight.  In spite of decent stock levels, I didn't find the one bag that was yelling my name, at a price I was prepared to pay in these restrained times.  But...I was tempted by a pretty little silk summer dress and succumbed (priced at £75 rather than £295).

It was only after I had paid and was on my way out, that I realised I had left my sunglasses - on a ledge -in the makeshift changing room.  I went straight back but - you've guessed it - some charmer had already swiped them.  I was just happy that, although I liked them, (and they were good ones!) they weren't my all-time favourites.

I continued my wanderings down Kings Road, until I came to the Duke Of York's arcade, and was delighted to chance upon the European-influenced Farmers' Market, just about to close.  How did you guess that chocolate made its presence felt in my life, again? (No, really, I'm not a chocaholic).  I had a great time talking with the owner/producer of chocolate organiko who had come over, from his atelier in Madrid, to promote his 'babies'.  I liked the quirkiness, quality and passion of the brand and especially adored the very unusual anise-flavoured dark chocolate - stunningly good!

One my way out of the market, I encountered industrious David Arkin, working at his fresh and vibrant arancini stall.  His diminutive risotto balls were delicious, prepared to order and wonderfully un-greasy.  I was impressed by the healthy, energetic ethos of his company and the tell-it-like-it-is name: the arancini brothers.  He and his business partner took their inspiration from the strong Italian influence in their home town of Melbourne, Australia, and decided that it was an opportune time to unleash the savoury deliciousness on the residents of London.  They offer their goodies for sale at several Farmers' markets, in London, at exhibitions and have a private catering business where they tailor their rice-y goodness to clients palates.
Of course, the whole week was overshadowed by the looming presence of the UK Elections.  I didn't get to cast my vote until 7.30pm, on Thursday.  Although there was a small queue at the school, that was my polling station, all went smoothly and, to the best of my knowledge, everyone was able to vote in my locality.  I admit that the result was no shock to me - I had predicted the outcome for a while - but I was shocked and horrified to discover that many had not been able to vote in the UK, in spite of repeated attempts to get access to their ballot sheets and voting booths.  The set-up remains rather antiquated here, with stubby pencils - attached to string - used to mark one's cross, on a ballot paper. (And the count is manual, with Glenda Jackson (in Hampstead and Kilburn) having to endure a recount before discovering that she had won through by a mere 42 votes). It's no great wonder that we're in political limbo - with the combination of voting chaos,  those who abandon their voting privilege and tactical voting.  'Interesting' times...

The major dominant factor in my week has been waiting for the outcome of my father's third spinal surgery - in three years succession.  Although in his seventies, he's always been super-fit - playing tennis to a high standard throughout his life. Until recently, when he has struggled to walk further than a few yards at a time.  Fortunately, it seems that this op' went smoothly (although very early days, yet).  I just hope it will be third-time-lucky and that he'll be able to enjoy pain-free walking in the months to come.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Unexpected Love Encounter at the Gym

Readers, last week I fell in the gym!  My lovely personal trainer, Ellie, introduced us.  The object of my affections is dark, solidly-built, well-formed, responsive and a fast mover.  You'd be wrong in imagining that it's a muscle-bound hunk I fell for, though... No, my enthusiasm and passion is directed towards a Nautilus Treadclimber.

It's super-invigorating to use.  You step on and select your workout - I opt for the highest setting of max on the treadles and 6.4km speed. To work-out, you simply keep striding and enjoy the energising experience.  It's intended to be akin to trekking.  The calorie burn - for someone petite - is around 650 per hour.  It makes a good change from my previous fave - the elliptical (cross trainer).  Have you fallen under the spell of the Treadclimber yet? Or do you have another machine that you swear by, or at!?   

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In the Pink

On my wanderings, today, I was entranced by this beautiful display, in a garden close to London's Richmond Park.  A beauteous duo of pink blooms - so lovely that I returned later for another look and to take a pic (no trespassing was involved...).