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The Underground Cookery School

Half way along Old Street, hidden behind an unsuspecting doorway, down a flight of dusty stone stairs, is the secret kitchen of the Underground Cookery School. Prepped to educate even the most amateur of chefs in all things tasty, yummy and damn right delicious, the School invited myself and a group of other bloggers to a 'Light & Summery Cookery Lesson', where we were able to help make and then eat a three course meal. 

Welcomed with a glass of prosecco (which magically never seemed to be empty...), we were treated to some beautiful canapes including smoked salmon and the most incredible arancini balls I've ever had. I'm not sure if it's a good thing that I was practically stuffed by the time we actually started cooking, but I wasn't complaining!

We got right now to helping prep the dishes which included shelling broad beans and chopping herbs, before getting down to learning some more intricate kitchen skills. Now, if you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I love food - I take photos of everything I eat, and I try and challenge myself with new recipes as often as possible. So when I was told that we'd be learning how to butcher a chicken and fillet a seabass, I was genuinely excited! These are skills that it's hard to teach yourself, and even though I have roasted a chicken many a time, there's nothing to say that I've been cutting it up right. 

The main thing I learnt with both disciplines is that your hands are just as important as the knife - you often have to feel before you cut, something that a few of my fellow bloggers weren't happy with! There were a few squeamish faces, but everyone got involved, and most importantly, everyone had something to eat. The other important thing I learnt is that a sharp knife is essential. I can't imagine trying to do something as delicate as filleting a seabass with the crappy knives I own, I really need to invest in a new set.

We were also taught how to make a meringue roulade, something that looks extremely daunting but they made it looks surprisingly easy. With the help of a KitchenAid (top of my Christmas wish list this year!) and a baking sheet, I rolled the meringue with only minimal damage and risk of ruining everyone's pudding.

And so it came to serving time:

Fillet of sea bass with salad of pea and fresh mint, lemon dressing

Roast breast of chicken with broad beans, jersey royals and salsa verde

Strawberry meringue roulade

For more information and weekly recipes, visit the Underground Cookery School blog. A huge thank you to Anneliese and the guys at The Underground Cookery School for inviting me, I had a great evening!

Disclaimer: I was invited to attend this event for free, but all opinions are unbiased and truthful. All photos by me or Ashleigh-Jayne O'Connell at Writer's Block and Broken Lenses

Galleries, Bubbletea and The Breakfast Club

I'm wearing:
T-shirt - & Other Stories
Shorts: Kinki Gerlinki (Melbourne)
Plimsolls: Office

As much as I love being in the countryside or by the sea when the sun is out, there's something really special about London in Summer. It's like being on a city break; wandering around the landmarks, eating and drinking outdoors, lounging in the parks. Yes, it's hectic and busy and full of tourists who have no idea where they're going, but it's the time I feel most at home in London.

Two weekends ago I had one of these picture perfect days with one of my best friends. We had one intention for the day: go and get bubbletea, but aside from that, we completely played it by ear. We met in Covent Garden and decided to grab lunch on-the-go, and swung past the Jamaican Patty Company tucked down New Row. Being half Jamaican myself, I was pretty keen to give these a go and weigh them up against my mum's homemade ones! The shop is set out just like a Cornish Pasty shop you'd find in a train station and didn't really give off the friendly Caribbean vibe, but as we weren't staying in it was all about the food anyway. I had a curried goat patty and Claire went for jerk chicken, and they were pretty good, and perfect for eating whilst perched on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields church overlooking Trafalgar Square.

On a total whim (like most of the day!), we headed into the David Bailey 'Stardust' exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which was on its last day of being open. I am always fascinated by portrait photography, regardless of whether it's a celebrity or not. Every person looks so honest and real, there's nothing to hide behind, it's just a snapshot of the here-and-now. Bailey has shot some of the most famous people in the world and there were photos there that I didn't even realise were his, including some iconic ones of The Beatles. There was also a whole room dedicated to the photos of his wife, who has been his most inspirational muse. The photos were intimate and so full of love and included the birth of their children - a side to his photography that is definitely less well known.

We eventually made to our original destination of Bubbleology on Rupert Street to try their bubbletea. The traditional Taiwanese drink is essentially iced tea (either juice or milk based) with small balls of tapioca in the bottom that shoot up through your straw and allow you to eat your drink. It's a pretty bizarre concept, even more so when you add 'boba', small balls of juice that explode in your mouth! I went for cocoa tea with strawberry boba; a pretty safe bet as I figured it would just taste like chocolate milk and I wouldn't risk not liking it! It was delicious and surprisingly filling, I couldn't actually finish my whole drink. I also tasted Claire's which was lychee and strawberry and it really was just like an iced tea, very refreshing for the hot day. 

Our day took us wandering deeper into Soho and we emerged by Beyond Retro for some vintage perusing and onwards to Carnaby Street where I introduced Claire to the joys of Monki. Needless to say she's a definite fan and picked up a good few items to take with her when she moves to Abu Dhabi (we don't mention this though as I'm not happy about her going!). It's then that we realised it was 5pm and that all the food shops would be closed by the time we got home, practically FORCING us to have dinner out and about. We grabbed a table at The Breakfast Club and settled down with proper mugs of tea and massive stacks of pancakes with maple syrup and bacon and a big side helping of gossip and catching up. 

I love those unplanned days; the ones where you discover new things and let the day take you on a different curse to the one you'd planned. It's only really possible when the sun is out though, but it really makes London seems shiny and new again, and reminds me why I love living here.

British Comedy: Keeping it in the Family

With the recent untimely death of Rik Mayall occurring on the same day that I went to a Spaced themed pub quiz, last week involved many conversations about British comedy, and for me that included talking about the cultural significance it's had on my life. Growing up, I was surrounded by a healthy diet of homegrown comedy, filtering its way into my everyday vernacular and inciting fits of giggles at many an inappropriate moment. 

Three of our team of five - we came third in the Spaced pub quiz!
My stepdad influenced my sense of humour through a steady introduction to all things funny. I have clear memories as a child in the car with him, listening to Alan Partridge cassette tapes (it was that or ABBA Gold in my mum's car - either work for me!), and his constant reference to Dingly Dell, the mystical pixie land referred to in one obscure Monty Python sketch. We couldn't (and still can't) watch Mastermind without referring to Ronnie Corbett, or University Challenge without reminding ourselves of The Young Ones. And let's try to forget the time he imitated Eric Morecombe's sneaky drinking sketch with a full bottle of Jack Daniels at my little sister's 18th birthday party! British comedy has infiltrated it's way into the very fabric of our family, with quotes and lines being bandied around without a second thought. They never need a proper reference; we all know exactly what show it's been lifted from. 

And that's just how it all started. Since I was a teenager, comedians have been like rock stars for me; I've waited outside gigs to meet them and been to DVD signings and Q&As. I still adore the older comedies that my stepdad introduced me to, but there are a few shows that summarise my young adult years; shows that me and my friends would watch entire series of in one sitting, or be able to recite word for word. These are the shows that I can always go back to and never get tired of them, and Channel 4 dominate their creation. Brilliant and ascerbicly witty comedies like Black Books and Green Wing; shows that commented on the real world like Brass Eye; and timeless observational genius like Spaced. Even comedy dramas like Teachers continue to strike a chord with me, and they play a huge part in my life even now. 

For a long time there wasn't a comedy that touched these, all of which came out between the mid 90s and early 00s. Panel shows took over on TV, and cracking American comedies like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia were smashing away at the UK's feable attempts. There does seem to be a resurgence to some extent, although I don't watch much TV anymore so I'm not really up to date. I do know that the fantastic Friday Night Dinner is returning, and I fully welcome a comedy that doesn't just involve teenagers doing gross things or humiliating members of the public. 

Comedy is so inherently British; we are well known for our unique style of humour - those dry, sarcastic, surreal laughs that baffle parts of the world but reduces me to a quivering wreck in search of the nearest loo. Long may we continue not mentioning the war, kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse and drinking plenty of Bolly, sweetie darling!

Uncomfortable News

Last night I read something on Facebook that made me indescribably angry. In a poorly thought out status, a mutual acquaintance posted the following:

I re-read the post what seemed like 100 times. I was completely stunned, but thought I'd give this guy the chance to redeem himself. Maybe he was just inarticulately stating that reading about rape is a really horrific thing and if it didn't happen then we wouldn't have it in the news so often. His response (which, along with the whole status and all my comments, has now been deleted) said that yes, he agrees that it's an awful thing, but that having it in the news all the time is unnecessary and 'getting on his nerves'.

Now let's make this clear. This guy is not endorsing rape, and he is not an evil misogynist who thinks that a short skirt is 'asking for it'. He genuinely just believes that it's not necessary to report this subject so frequently in the news. He is so wrong. Along with all the other disgusting things that happen in this world like murder and famine, it is absolutely essential that the media covers these topics for so many reasons. In the case of rape, we must continue to talk about it so that women of all ages are aware of the dangers posed to them, wherever they live, however old they are, whatever time of day it is. We must make sure that our children grow up to know that this is an evil act and that it is wrong to do it, encourage it, or ignore the fact that it's happened. We must make sure that communities support rape victims and that foreign countries know that the world will not tolerate it being used as a weapon or a punishment.

I could have ignored this post on Facebook (and as a result I have deleted the guy and will no longer be associating with him as his follow-up comments were just as ignorant). I'm all for free speech, but this isn't just an opinion, this is inherently wrong. If a well-educated, seemingly decent human being who has been brought up in a vibrant and tolerant society (and, ironically, has been published in national newspapers on unrelated subjects) can post this kind of status, where does that leave us? Is this a case of a man just purely misunderstanding the threatening position a woman can end up at any point? It must be hard to realise that women must always be alert; that they walk down every street and get onto every tube and look around them to scope out who is sat next to them or who is walking behind them. It's not always walking down a dodgy alleyway or coming home late at night that triggers this instinct - it's knowing that rape is still so prevalent in all walks of society, and that predominantly it happens to women.

We must continue to talk about this subject in the media and maybe one day, rape will actually stop happening. That would be really nice.

Nine Inch Nails: A Ten Year Love Affair

 It's been a week since the good people of the UK enjoyed their last Bank Holiday until August. I chose to spend mine in a slightly less conventional way, sat on concrete floors outside two of the UK's biggest concert venues for seven hours, waiting to be one of the first to get inside for this year's Nine Inch Nails tour. This was my 11th and 12th times of seeing Nine Inch Nails live, the first being in 2005 when I was 16. A now ex-boyfriend had introduced me to them and I knew straight away that they were something special. I had passed my obsessive stage with Blink 182 that had been with me from the age of about 12, and had space in my heart for something new, something different.

Nine Inch Nails are not what you would call 'happy' music, but they make me happier than I can express. Trent Reznor's music has developed in so many ways even just in the ten years I've been a fan, but even more so since his first album, Pretty Hate Machine, came out in 1989 (that's just a year after I was born!). From electronic synths to insane drum machines, through to beautiful melodies on piano (Reznor is a classically trained pianist), searing guitars and the angriest of vocals - it's hard to pinpoint what NIN do exactly, especially when they do everything so well. I say 'they', but really Trent Reznor is the only constant in the band, putting together a team of awesome musicians to play live. Every NIN release is called a Halo, and I've joined the other obsessives in collecting them all. Sat in my mum's house is my full collection, all stunning to look at, which sums up Reznor's vision. Everything is does is art; from tour productions, CD sleeves and merchandise - he controls it all and ensures that it fits in with his aesthetic. 

My collection has expanded to include rare foreign releases, plectrums and set lists from gigs, a tambourine I once caught at a 2007 Brixton performance, and signed CDs from when I met the man himself at a meet and greet in Nottigham, also in 2007. I was a member of the short-lived fan club The Spiral, have sold my soul to get tickets to last year's infamous show at London's Scala, and met countless other fans at meet-ups and gigs around the country. And so many people are baffled by this. They find it amusing and quirky that I would take a day off to queue in the cold to be on a barrier at the front of a gig, to then be squashed by up to 5000 strangers for about three hours, just so I can get the best view of the band.

But it's not really hard to understand. Seeing, listening, experiencing the band is just something that I really enjoy! They don't tour very often and when they do I have so much fun. When a new album comes out I get excited because it's something new from a band that rarely disappoints (and generally signals a new tour could be on the cards too). My life doesn't centre around the band, but they are a little piece of beauty that I love to indulge in when I can. This tour tired me out; I was covered in bruises, I was hoarse and I was dirty, but it was worth it. And I can't wait to do it next time, whenever 'next time' is!

All photos by me unless otherwise stated. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Photo courtesy of Dani Muehlbacher on Instagram @dani_mue

Life: May 2014

May has been a surprisingly fun month. I've made the most of wandering around wonderful London, eaten far too much, and spent time with fabulous friends. A happy social life balances out a stressful work life, keeping me from being too grumpy!

I made my first chess cake and it worked out OK!
I bought the beautiful Humans of New York book, based on the famous Facebook page
Wandering around Neal's Yard in Covent Garden
Our European food feast for our Eurovision party
Strolling through Shoreditch and photographing awesome street art
Drinking Moosehead lager in The Maple Leaf Canadian pub
Polaroid pics with the besties
Eating more food than physically possible at Il Bordello in Wapping

Geeking out at Comics Unmasked at the British Library
On the barrier for Nine Inch Nails' gig at The O2
Watching La Traviata being screened live in Trafalgar Square
Completely guilty of enjoying these bad boys from Iceland
As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review