what little i know about weddings

29 July 2015

our beautiful venue in the French Provence countryside!

I realise that wedding season has been in full swing for a good few weeks (or months) now, but I feel like I'm in the wedding season of my life, if you know what I mean! I'll be surprised if there's a year of no weddings for us before 2020, and every weekend my Facebook newsfeed is overflowing with photos of people getting married or being wedding guests. 

When we were planning our wedding, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The first one I attended as an adult was my own; none of my friends were yet married, and all I had was the internet. Not that the internet is a bad place to find help - in fact, I stumbled across many pieces of advice, planning tips, and general information whilst hunting around online. And the ones that I found most useful were not the comprehensive to-do lists or the "10 most likely things to go wrong on the big day" articles (seriously, are they just there to bum you out?). It was the personal accounts, the "everyone's different, but this is my opinion" tips on planning, and the unique afterthoughts of people who, with hindsight, knew what they would have told themselves pre-wedding.

We were extremely fortunate in that ours was exactly what we had hoped for it to be and more. I have no regrets or anything that I would change about that day even if I could - but like most, I do have a few funny anecdotes and memories that I will always be laughed at for, with my full permission! (a homemade program full of typos, a 3am argument over the Plan B seating plan chaperoned by one of my bridesmaids, to name a couple...)

This is really not an advice post, nor a post that is supposed to be intentionally helpful in any way - weddings are such personal things and I would never impose my ideas on others, but since these are the kinds of pointers that I found to be useful (and entertaining to read!) whilst planning, I thought I would throw them out there and perhaps they will be of interest to a few - I know that there are several blogging ladies who are planning weddings right now!

1 :: You can pick and choose your traditions.
E and I did not have the most traditional of weddings, although we did keep those that meant something to us. We wrote our own vows,  we didn't have a wedding cake (we had an incredible dessert buffet instead!), we didn't have a Best Man or Maid of Honour and had 4 groomsmen and 4 bridesmaids (all of whom gave speeches, each one as special and memorable as the next), I didn't throw my bouquet (not sure why, but I'm just not keen on that tradition?)... just to name a few. I was reminded by many sources in the early days of our engagement that you don't need to do anything for the sake of it. 

2 :: Savour your first look as much as possible. 
I feel like this is a silly one, because who wouldn't?! But having read accounts where they were both too nervous to take in each other's faces when they first saw each other, I made a note of making sure I was as present in that moment as I possibly could. We chose to do a "first look" before the ceremony, which turned out to be the most special, yet relaxed moment - my girls and I came outside where the boys were waiting, and E's groomsmen made him wait to turn around until I had come closer to him. I loved having our bridal party witness this moment, as well as feeling like it was more private - and as we followed this up with photos, it meant we could spend the reception with our guests, rather than MIA with the photographer. Whether you're doing a first look or taking the traditional route and seeing each other on the aisle for the first time (which I think is equally beautiful), capture it, savour it, remember it.

3 :: Make sure you get fed by your bridal party during the reception.
Not exactly a surprising one, considering our love for food! But honestly, we made sure to tell them to bring us canapés during this time - not only because they were amazing and we chose them ourselves (our caterers were phenomenal), but it's absolutely true what they say about not having time to eat. Had we not asked our friends to bring the food to us, we wouldn't have had a moment to get any or be served any, being so busy chatting away. Really though, this was the best advice we took. Oh, and we ate every morsel of our dinner, don't you worry.

4 :: Enjoy the time spent with the ladies in your life (or men, if you're the groom!).
Some of my favourite photos of the day are of the girls and the boys in their separate rooms, getting ready and having a laugh. My bridesmaids and I did our own make up and hair, we had such a great time dolling ourselves up and getting excited. Seeing the photos of the guys being silly was also hilarious, and I feel like we both enjoyed our time leading up to the guests' arrival just as much as we did the rest of the day.

5 :: If in doubt, go natural.
When you're doing your own make up, you can feel under a lot of pressure to make sure you look especially good on the day. I did so much research for it, but in the end, I just did what I usually do (with a few more luxury products). I love seeing the photos of brides who stylise their make up with a stunning red lip or the trends of a certain era, but I knew that wouldn't suit me so I kept it very simple. It actually felt very calming to "do my face" as I always do, and I knew that E would want that, too. Unless you have a specific idea of a look you want to rock (which you should go for if you do!), keeping it natural is the safest bet, in my humble opinion.

Although this is probably not the first time you're reading similar thoughts if you're a bride-to-be, I think that those things are at the top of my list of "glad I listened to that advise", as they all came from elsewhere when I needed them. 

Since our wedding, I've been to three, and I have this year and next year of being a bridesmaid - a role I'm yet to experience, so I'll be learning on the job. It's such an exciting and happy time, and I'm so lucky to be sharing these special milestones with my friends - trust me, I'll be wearing lots of waterproof mascara. 

barrafina (and a special "E cooks" dessert)

27 July 2015

To celebrate our two year (civil ceremony) anniversary, E took me to a place that had been hanging around at the top of my restaurant wish-list for too long - Barrafina. Having heard that you pretty much need to go before they open to avoid queuing, we turned up well before 5pm, first in line being the keenest of beans, but a couple of minutes later we weren't the only ones waiting. The couple behind us told us that the wait was well worth it, and it'll be even more delicious than we've been told it is - talk about building up expectations!

No doubt all food-loving Londoners have at least heard of Barrafina, but they are a Spanish tapas place (with 2 established branches and one newly opened) with only counter seats. Although E was initially worried that counter seats wouldn't be romantic enough for an anniversary dinner (you can't cure the romance in a Frenchman), he also immediately loved the ambience and setting of the place (we went to the Adelaide St. branch), and we were happily sat with a friendly waiter in charge of us. 

Even as we perused the menu, there were too many things we wanted to try and were already vowing to come back for more... and that's a definite, now that we've actually tried the food and absolutely loved it! Every dish we took, we were impressed by - but let me give you a little breakdown of our picks:

Pan con Tomate - classic, and a must at a good tapas restaurant in my opinion. E said, "yep, no way these tomatoes come from Tesco". Such fresh ingredients and perfectly seasoned.

Jamón de Bellota 5 Jotas - another obligatory dish, and we loved every slice of that ham.

Crab Croquettas - crab croquettes, and the best I've ever tried. They seriously don't skimp on the crab, and I could wax lyrical about these all day.

Salt Cod Fritters - probably the least favourite dish of ours, just because the batter to fish ratio wasn't great, but it was still delicious.

Artichokes, Aioli - fried artichoke, who knew it was so good? And the aioli was spot on.

Tortilla Morcilla and Piquillo Peppers - classic Spanish tortilla, with black pudding and peppers. This was possibly the best tortilla I've ever had, and the black pudding is a great touch.

Arroz de Marisco - hands down, our favourite dish of the night. Incredible seafood risotto, I would pop in to Barrafina to have this for lunch! Amazing, a must-order.

Milk Fed Lamb's Kidneys - I'm not big on kidneys, but we were told this was a fantastic dish so we had to try it. It came on a coal grill, and I have to admit that I liked it. Maybe not enough to order it again, but that's personal taste.

Iberian Pork Ribs - This came last, and by then I was pretty stuffed and only managed a bite or two - but E cleaned it up! It was superb, and I just wish I had left more room for it.

There is a reason why we didn't have dessert at Barrafina, although I'm not sure that I could have managed any without a little break...

Which is why it was good that dessert was waiting for us at home! After digesting for a while, we popped open some pink bubbly, and E presented us with the special tarts that he had made. I can't deny it, I was thoroughly impressed.

These are Pear & Chocolate Tarts, and I just think that they look so fancy and beautiful! And taste-wise, it's one of my favourite desserts that E has ever made (and that's saying something). He really outdid himself, and I felt very spoilt. 

Back to Barrafina for a moment - we will most definitely be back, and their other branches have different menus, too, which means we're just going to have to the hard job of trying them all, aren't we?

As for the dessert, E's set a high bar for himself as we're only two year into marriage... let's see how extravagant they get each year...!

10 Adelaide St.
Covent Garden
{no reservations}

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on going against the grain

23 July 2015

Thank you so much for the wonderful response to my post on positivity a couple of weeks ago (a follow up post for which will be up soon!) - I loved each and every comment (whether online or in person), and it has definitely given me a little more courage to open up around here a bit more.

I'm always fascinated by the ebb and flow of life, how things can be so intensely on your mind for a few weeks, then settle back down in the depths of your mind and lie dormant for a while, as other things come to the forefront. And what is so great about having a creative outlet, is that you can just follow those waves and write about mull over whatever it is that is currently constant in your thoughts.

Although I consider my life to be an extremely fortunate one by any standard, at the end of the day, it's all relative (for better or for worse). Like everyone else, it's been full of ups and downs, but my most difficult experience so far was not exactly a "down" moment. I consider my lowest moments to be those times that I felt truly negative and could not dig myself out of the hole I put myself in, but that wasn't the most difficult. 

The hardest thing in my nearly 28 years of life, was when I had to forge a path for myself which the people I loved most in the world could not support. 

Now, I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty details for various reasons, including the fact that it's pretty personal (although not one I'm ashamed to share), but also because the point(s) I want to make are not necessarily specific to my own personal experience or situation. It's simply about those moments in life when you have to go against the grain - whether the "grain" is society, peer pressure, parental expectations or cultural traditions.

I hesitate to format this into some kind of advise column, because I really have no words of wisdom to share aside from what I've learnt along the way. And it's different for everyone, so I hope that no one takes my word for gospel, but it's just something that I think about often and felt that I wanted to share. 

It is the hardest, most heart-breaking thing, to feel like you are letting loved ones and those who care about you down, by going against their expectations or ideals. No doubt we've all had times when we've caved in and let others dictate our next moves for us, or gone against them and regretted it, because they ended up being right all along. And needless to say, this is a completely different ball game from when you are a teenager, to when you are a full grown adult who has the right to make all their own decisions.

Through the times that I felt close to giving up what I truly believed in in order to appease others, I told myself this one simple thing - you are responsible for your own actions. If I let others decide what is best for me and I give in to that despite feeling otherwise, I have no one but myself to blame if it ends up being the wrong choice. I can't then say, "but it's their fault, because they made me do it." - because they didn't, actually. I let it happen. On the other hand, if my own choice also ended up being the wrong one in the end, I would also only have myself to blame. But at least I would have the mistake on my own terms. 

This is the one thing that I kept telling myself as I struggled to keep ahold of what I knew was the best path for me. And the faith that one day, things would take its natural course and time would heal the heartache that comes from having to turn your back on the most important people.

As I said, this comes up in all shapes and sizes, in so many guises, in everyday situations and major crossroads. Do you sacrifice your own idea of a dream wedding for your parents' ideas? Do you worry about having to find a partner because society says that's the norm? Do you drink alcohol even though you don't like it, because you're worried of other people's opinions if you don't? Do you have ambitions that don't include going to university, but feel you should anyway because you're expected to? Are you in a relationship that is discouraged by family and friends even though you're happy in it? Do you have a reliable 9-5 job and are dreaming of changing direction, but feel you'd be judged for it?

So many things, all the time. And whilst many of them probably have perfectly justifiable pros and cons, and those who love you mean well and simply want the best for you, I still believe that this is the one thing to remember. You are responsible for your own actions, and therefore your own, unique happiness. 

a litte lusciousness :: popup dinner

20 July 2015

I think it's a fantastic thing that supper clubs and popups are increasingly popular amongst food lovers. It offers a slightly different dining experience to the standard restaurant, and it also allows you to support small and local businesses which I think is so important.

Ever since Rosie of A Little Lusciousness and I started reading each other's blogs sometime last year, and having been to a couple of events where we'd had some good chats, I've wanted to attend one of her popup dinners. She is the top featured chef on Grub Club, her events are always sold out, and being based in West London where I also live, I knew I had to give it a shot as soon as possible.

Well, you know how life is - after being unable to make it to date after date, E and I finally managed to go a couple of weeks ago. It was slightly different to her usual popups, as they're normally held at her house, but ours was at Urban Villa, a modern hotel. It was set up beautifully, and it was a great place to host something like this.

For £35, we had a four course meal and a welcome drink - ours was champagne, and generously topped up as we chatted away before dinner! - and although the popups at her home are BYOB, the wines here were very reasonably priced and we had a nice white wine to go with our meal. 

But let's get on to the food! Having talked to Rosie herself about her passion for homemade, wholesome food, created with local and sustainable ingredients, I had high hopes for her dishes. For starter, I chose the steak tartare with quail's egg, and E went for the pea and broad bean mousse with goat's curd, both served with fig bread. I absolutely loved my pick - it was possibly my favourite of the evening, but I actually also liked E's dish just as much. He was also impressed with the mousse, and it was seasoned perfectly. 

As there were close to 30 guests for this dinner, there were some staff helping with the serving, and our main course was served family-style and by a waiter. I'm always a little afraid to order salmon at restaurants as overcooked salmon is one of my absolute pet peeves, but I needn't have worried. The whole dish was so fresh and wonderfully summery, with samphire, beans and courgettes, with a few mussels for good measure. The potato salad with homemade mayonnaise was fantastic - nothing beats a good homemade mayo! 

There was plenty of food on the table and we all had seconds, so we were definitely full and satisfied, but we were only half way through....

For dessert, we had nectarine tarte tatin with salted caramel cream. Yes, as good as it sounds. I liked that the tart wasn't too sweet, and the nectarine is a nice twist on the standard apple - E enjoyed it too, and he knows his tarte tatin!

Now, I really proved myself as the champion eater of us both, since E was too full to eat much cheese, but I did my best to try a little of everything! I would advise you to try and save some room for the cheese course, because it's not just a few bits of cheese - it's 4 different types of cheese, homemade crackers (amazing), pickled strawberries (I could eat those everyday), figs, roasted tomatoes, and nuts and honey. I mean, that could be a meal on its own. I'm such a huge cheese fan and I tried to make a dent in the very generous plateful that I was served by Rosie's boyfriend - I should have asked for a doggy bag!

Needless to say, I rolled myself home very full and very happy. It was great to see Rosie in between courses and she was a truly lovely hostess - I definitely plan on going again, at her own home next time for the "original" experience! I have so much respect for anyone who follows their passion alongside a full time job (yes, she has a completely unrelated full time job, and still manages to do popups and catering gigs) - it just shows how much they love what they do.

I would highly recommend grabbing yourself seats for one of her future events, and perhaps I will see you there!

blogger spotlight :: miranda's notebook

17 July 2015

I am so excited to introduce you to the charming world of Miranda's Notebook, if you don't already follow this lovely blog! Not only is Miranda's blog aesthetically gorgeous, it's also thoughtful, engaging, and features wonderful ideas and places to explore London. Miranda herself strikes me as a timeless, classic lady, and I've been a big fan of her writing and photography for quite a while. I'll let her take it away!


1 :: How would you describe your blog, and what was the inspiration that got you started?

Miranda’s Notebook is a lifestyle blog, in which I predominately write about things food, fashion and London related. I’ve always been the sort of person who has to share what they love, and that was the main motivation behind the start of the blog. I think of my blog as a love letter to London, as it’s my favourite city in the world, and I adore writing about it.

2 :: Although I have yet to meet you (hopefully one day very soon!), through your blog, you seem like a positive, driven, and hard-working lady. How do you motivate yourself to get things done, and to pick yourself up when you need to?

I’d love to meet up! Getting to know other bloggers is always so fun. I don’t find it too hard to motivate myself because I really love writing my blog and taking pictures. If I didn’t enjoy it, there’s no way I could force myself to post as much as I do! I’ve always been a hard-worker though. I grew up wanting to be a ballerina and going to dance classes for 2-3 hours almost every day. There’s nothing like ballet training to teach you the value of focused hard work and discipline.

3 :: I love your Miracle Morning Challenge post! And I have to say, I am very impressed with your voluntary 5am wake up calls. What would be your advice for someone who is trying to become a morning person?

My advice would be to start small. Maybe don’t aim for a 5am rise at first – try just setting your alarm ½ an hour earlier than your usual wake up time. Also, be strict with yourself about getting to bed at a reasonable time the night before. Switch off your technology and read a book for half an hour before going to sleep – it really helps to get a good night’s rest.

4 :: As I grew up in Wimbledon myself, and spend a lot of time in Richmond, Putney and other SW areas, I love your posts highlighting the wonderful places dotted around in South West London. If someone was visiting for a day in London (those local areas and beyond), what kind of itinerary would you draw up for them, to showcase your favourite spots?

Within my area, I would definitely recommend visits to Kew Gardens, Ham House and Petersham Nurseries, with a stop at The Dysart Petersham (my favourite local restaurant) for lunch or dinner. I also recently took a trip by boat from Kingston to Hampton Court, which was so much fun and gave such wonderful views of the river, so I’d recommend that too!

5 :: You have a full time job, as well as investing so much time and effort into your amazing blog. How do you manage your time so well, and does it ever become stressful?

It is a challenge to juggle working almost full-time, as well as publishing 7 posts (and now a mini podcast!) every week. My early morning routine is what enables me to get everything done, and since starting it I’ve been able to do more and feel less stressed which is wonderful! Now I’m working on developing a great evening routine too, as there is still so much more I want to fit into my day!

6 :: You always look so stylish and well put-together! How would you describe your style, and which are your favourite shops to browse for clothes?

Thanks so much! I always describe my style as a mix of American Preppy, English Rose and French Chic – a reflection of all the countries I’ve lived in! I spend far too much time browsing in the Bentall Centre in Kingston – it’s so tempting! My favourite area in London to shop is Marylebone High Street as it’s filled with so many of my favourite shops.

7 :: I love how creative you get in the kitchen! Your recent Honey & Vanilla Fro-yo recipe looks fantastic. Could you link to 3 of your favourite recipes that you have on Miranda's Notebook, and tell us a little about each one?

Hmm, it’s hard to narrow it down to 3 as I love my food! My Homemade Vanilla Extract is definitely a favourite though, as it’s so easy to do but makes such a lovely gift to bring along to a dinner party.  Ideal for a birthday party (or Mother’s Day treat!) is this StrawberryMilkshake Cake – I just love how pretty it is! Finally, a typical weeknight meal for me would be this Sea Bass with Mustard and Capers dish.

8 :: I always enjoy your Lovely Links posts. Which websites (not necessarily blogs) do you visit most regularly, and why would you recommend them?

I’m not actually very good at spending time reading blogs and websites as regularly as I’d like. This is definitely something I’d like to spend more time doing! Interesting articles do often catch my eye though. I follow numerous art galleries, museums, blogs, etc on Facebook or via email, so there always seems to be something engaging that pops up in my email or newsfeed that I can’t resist reading.

9 :: What do you find are the most challenging aspects of blogging? And if others feel similarly, what would you suggest to try and overcome them?
Getting everything done that I want to get done is definitely the most challenging! There always seems to be more I could do. Learning when to be firm with myself and just switch off is a hard lesson to master – one I’m still struggling with! I just try to step away from myself and think ‘what kind of person do I want to be? The girl who can’t stop looking at her phone, or the one who spends time having an engaged conversation with a friend or family member?’ Switching off from social media can be very difficult, especially when it often feels like the work of a blogger is never done, but keeping a balance is so important.

10 :: To finish with, I'd love some book recommendations from you! I loved your post on Swallows & Amazons (those books were my absolute favourites when I was younger!), and as it's summertime and everyone needs a few good novels to enjoy, which 3 would be your picks?

Well, right now I’m reading Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, which is the perfect light summer read. It’s a true-life story about an American in London, who meets the love of her life and moves to Paris to be with him. It’s filled with little recipes that reflect each stage in their blossoming relationship and is really charming.

My Family and Other Animals is another brilliant read for the summer, as it's set in sunny Corfu and is hilariously funny!

If you haven’t read I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, then that’s always a great one to add to your reading pile too. 


Thank you so much to Miranda for her Q&A answers - please hop on over and say hello!

Miranda's links :: blog // bloglovin' // facebook // twitter // instagram // pinterest

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