Why its sad to lose Friends

Sometimes, nostalgia comes out of nowhere and makes you feel older, that time has passed by.

Like this week’s news that it was ten years since Friends ended. It does not seem that long since a group of us were sitting on my bed, in halls of residents, watching the final episode.

Commemorative item for my teenage self-help fix

Commemorative item from my teenage self-help stage

I remember being emotional enough to email the university newspaper – to suggest a piece exploring why the show had been such a stand-out success. Why the first sitcom to focus on the ‘friends’ unit, rather than family, had been so popular because it reflected a wider social trend. How adorably earnest.

I didn’t write the piece – no one answered my email – but it did spur me on to join the newspaper the following year. I’m so glad I did that. It gave me something creative and tangible that stands out in my otherwise foggy university memories of drinking and deadlines.

But Friends was always personal for me. Some people found catharsis in mainlining Nirvana growing up. I liked the mainstream reassurance of a sitcom that was ‘always there’ for me. During those teenage years, when some of my own friends changed and started liking Slipknot and smoking, I would switch on Friends to be in a nicer, grown-up, but less serious world.

And then – after dropping out of university – I watched Friends when my ‘life was stuck in second gear’. It made me feel better, because it suggested things would get better, that there was value and comedy in making mistakes.

And things did get better. My second university worked out far more than I ever thought possible. A big part of this was because I made those close friendships that provide fun, back-up and security. It was those friendships that led me to London.

Although, according to some, that isn’t always healthy. I was unsettled when I watched Dr. Meg Jay’s Ted Talk warning about how ‘30 is not the new 20’ and how city friendship ‘huddles’ can be limiting, holding people back from discovering more and taking risks.

The slapstick, ‘my disastrous life is hilarious’ chaos of the 90s TV show all worked out in the end for the characters, their personal story-lines were wrapped up neatly with a bow. Only Joey was the one left single. Now he would be watching all his friends get married and having babies on Facebook. He’d be fine though.

For me one of the saddest things was hearing Matt Le Blanc on why the show had to end. “That show was about a finite period of time in life, after college and before your relationship and family starts and where your friends are your support system.”

So perhaps the younger me was wrong – perhaps there is no ‘social shift’- Friends just documented a ‘phase’ before real life starts. A phase I was in then, and am coming out of now. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that – I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready to say goodbye to my friends – both on TV and in real life.

10 reasons to love the Northcote road

One of my favourite places to spend a Saturday is the Northcote Road.

Most of South West London seems to agree with me, as the place is always packed with that diverse, yet stereotypical mix of people which sums up Clapham Junction. Families with kids strolling around the markets, set against groups of twenty-somethings starting all-day benders in superhero costumes, while the rest of us are having brunch, either with a smoothie…or with a wine. Anything goes.

I find a stroll down Northcote Road can affirm why I choose to live in London, and particularly, this corner of South West London.  Although sometimes I wonder if this is because it gives a false sense of lifestyle akin to starring in your own feel-good London film like  ‘Notting Hill’ or ‘Love Actually’…(which would be a worrying uncoupling from reality). ‘Oh HEY! Just buying some artisan bread on the Northcote road and bumping into my friend!’

It is an established fact that Northcote Road gets buzzier and more ‘high street’ (read skankier) the further you travel down towards Clapham Junction station. This is perhaps why a place with so many high-end baby shops can also be attacked by mass rioters

My favourite things about Northcote Road (in a classified order):

The Weekend Market

  1. The bread stall – It is nice to be able to buy sausage rolls and feel somehow that this is a sophisticated and authentic choice. You just don’t get the same buzz from going into Greggs.

Northcote Road bakery

2. The flower stall – Beautiful flowers and good options for buying plants if you can’t go to a garden centre. (Watch out for bees though. It is very awkward if you are buying a plant with a bee on it and you are afraid of bees).

Northcote road flower stall

Gift Stores

  1. TWO Oliver Bonas stores – I spend a disproportionate amount of my life buying greetings cards and gifts from Oliver Bonas. But its great fun browsing cookery books in there.

Restaurants

  1. So many brunch/lunch places – Byron (which I have waxed lyrical on before), Brew (which is amazing for brunch) and loads of Italian restaurants – my favourite of which is Franco Manca

Shops

  1. TK Maxx – FULL of bargains (and, as you may have guessed is towards the ‘station side of town’). I have spent way too many rainy Saturdays in TK Maxx getting overexcited about reduced price Le Cruset for someone of my age
  2. Space NK – No explanation needed. Always fun. Always makes you feel glamorous

Gourmet food shopping

  1. Jamie Oliver’s Recipease – you can get cookery lessons there AND buy a ‘ready to roast” lamb. But I haven’t been able to justify this (yet)
  2. The kitchen shop (La Cuisiniere) – I like going in there as it makes me feel like a grown up, as I want all the things. That is until I realise I can’t really afford anything and need to leave
  3. The two butchers – there is nothing like buying freshly hacked meat to feel truly human and middle class.  I was once shamed by a butcher in Dove & Sons for buying meat in supermarkets, which did teach me a lot

Bars

  1. Northcote Records this is really a list of things I like to do in the DAY but NSR is a great bar and has fantastic live music. You just probably can’t go at 11am.

Things I would change about the Northcote Road:

  1. The kids – without wanting to sound like King Herod, there are a lot of children. Perhaps too many on little scooters to watch out for. Don’t get me wrong, I think kids are lovely and all…but they make me feel old and trip me up.
  2. The outfits men wear – why does every man on the Northcoat Road have to wear brightly coloured trousers and boating shoes. You can only pull this off in ‘The talented Mr Ripley’ in my opinion.
  3. Why isn’t there a Zara? Why isn’t there a H&M?? There is a New Look, there is a Clarks, there is a Debenhams, there is even a Jack Wills for Chrissakes…

The best cupcakes start in Wandsworth

Recently, I wanted to send some cupcakes as a birthday surprise to my friend. On a Saturday, to her house, as I couldn’t make her party.

But as I sometimes tend to find, the road from ‘nice altruistic thought’ to ‘happy reality’ can take a detour via scenes of frustration, annoyance and quite honestly, ultimate resentment. By the time I  spent longer than I thought I would/should on the internet researching cupcake companies and prices, finding last-minute hurdles at the check-out with fees, timings and restrictions etc. I would have happily popped a row of 12 cupcakes like crack (in case you are concerned I’ve never genuinely dabbled in crack).

Wow I sound sour don’t I? Stay with me, this is a happy ending.

Basically (I think) I found the best place to order cupcakes from in London. And it happens to have a branch in WANDSWORTH (so biased). It is called Crumbs and Doillies (I mean you have probably all heard of this but it was news to me).

mixed_cupcakes

Cupcake quivering beauty (from the Crumbs and Doilies online gallery) – my friend has not yet sent me a picture of the ones I bought her – smacks of ‘I ate them all’

I looked into lots of other companies – those which might immediately roll off the tongue when thinking of London bakeries. But Christ they were expensive when you add on the average £25 courier fee?! (I’m not about to name/slag off these companies on the internet, just because they aren’t to my taste, as my blog isn’t really about being a bitch about cupcake companies – I mean come on).

But that said – I have never really ‘got’ this very American cupcake trend that landed in the UK years ago. Quite frankly the frosting levels are too excessive for me. I’ve never understood how you are supposed to eat them. Do you dive your face into 3cm of cochenille butter icing as if you are troughing for truffles? Or lick the frosting off with the tip of your tongue  in an awkward/sexy way? I guess you just get a fork…But I am just a bit too British and would rather nibble on a fairy cake with some traditional white sugar icing and sprinkles, like they did at fetes. In the fifties.

But  anyway…Crumbs and Doilies do cupcakes in pretty much every flavour imaginable (some of which you definitely won’t have imagined). Its all very exciting in a ‘Willy Wonker’ type of way –  from ‘buttered popcorn’ or ‘malteser’ to ‘mexican hot chocolate’ and ‘maple and bacon’ flavour (yes MAPLE AND BACON). So I was totally converted. Particularly because – crucially – you can buy the ‘mini’ size, which answers all of my practical questions on etiquette. So I bought two dozen mini cupcakes for £24 which I didn’t think was too bad.

The delivery fee is also very competitive. It depends on where you live in London and ranges from £4-£14. But you can pay extra for a set delivery time. And you get preferential treatment for living in Wandsworth. As you always really should….

London cocktail party sausages

In my mind, its not a party until the mini sausages arrive. I really do believe that I am the holder of one of the best recipes going for cocktail sausages. (As an aside – I know I do sound a little arrogant in my recipe posts, the brownies being a case in point,  but you have to back yourself in life, right? And the three good recipes I have in the locker are almost up soon anyway…).

The recipe’s beauty lies in its simplicity. Basically you just cook chipolatas in the oven and smear honey and mustard sauce over them.

So how to make the sauce? Its basically about 3 tbsps of wholegrain mustard, blended with 4 tbps of honey, mixed together and then drizzled over the top of uncooked chipolata sausages.

Honey and mustard sausagesPut them in the oven in a tray or oven-proof dish on at 180 until the sauce bubbles and the sausages turn golden brown and are cooked all the way through – usually takes 30-35 minutes depending on the quantity. And of course the size. I would normally go for mini-chipolatas, but there were non-available when I went food shopping, so instead I used these larger sausages and chopped them in half. That’s what I would do when serving at a party. But obviously, I’m not having a party, I just wanted some of these for dinner….

Nom nom nom x

Where to get your nails done in Wandsworth and Chester

I come from a family of women who religiously get their nails done. Not in a ‘lazy bitch’ kind of way, but in a stoical, 1950s attitude to beauty – ‘I will always be presentable to the outside’ kind of way. Having unpainted fingernails is always noted as the worrying, silent symptom of emotional breakdown.

I am by far the worst at getting my nails done (read into that what you will about my mental state).  Manicures for me happen rarely, but recently I have been getting better and they have been happening more frequently.

I wrote about the benefits of shellac in my wedding survival guide. I discovered shellac a couple of years ago (referred on by my female relatives of course). Shellac has been on the ‘beauty block’ for a while now, but in case it is new to you, it is very hard-wearing, gel-based nail-varnish that  is dried completely in-salon (using UV lighting). Its a great option if, like me, you are  completely incompetent and smudge your manicure the moment you leave the salon (and are then too embarrassed to go back in and ask them to touch it up again…).

Picture of my feet (sorry) with nude manipedi

Nude manipedi selfie

With two weddings and a birthday party in May I decided I needed to pull in the big guns and get a shellac manicure. And to sum up how equally split my affections are between the North West and the South West I got my hands done in Wandsworth and my feet done in Chester…I know…it would have been so much cheaper and less hassle to get both done in one go (there basically wasn’t time).

For a mani-pedi in Wandsworth there is no beating Jo Partridge – the Wandsworth common branch do a really high-quality shellac manipedi for £35 – which I think is really great value.

I got at manicure there right at the start of May (for £25) and my nails are still going strong. As you can see I went for a very nude colour – but that is just because I am pretty bad at taking shellac off when it chips, and nude is less noticeable.

Nailista is a nail salon I discovered in Chester over Christmas, that specialises in manicures, pedicures and eyebrow waxing. Its very friendly, fun and lovely-looking, but also reasonably priced. I got a pedicure there a couple of weeks ago (again in nude to match my fingers) and that was £25. Nailista always tend to be able to fit you in too, which is handy, but you can get a discount booking online, which I really like.

Image of Nailista salon

Nailista is very bright and colourful inside – this image is taken from its website, but I think it actually features the Manchester branch

By the way – as many of my friends have asked me this – to take off shellac you need to wrap your nails in cotton wool soaked in an acetone based nail polish remover and then cover them in tinfoil for about 10 minutes – very space cadet. After that you basically scrape it off with something metal ( fairly distressing).  Once you take shellac off its a good idea to use a treatment oil (I like OPI Nail Envy) and to have a break from shellac for a few weeks to let your nails breathe and repair, to prevent any damage.

Both Jo Patridge and Nailista offer loyalty card schemes – and I am definitely proving myself to be loyal to both in a polygomy kind of way.

Recreating NYC in SW London

I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I ended up in the life phase where a ‘mental’ night, means hosting a dinner party for ten.

I have started to set myself masochistic cooking challenges, live and exposed to an audience of my closest friends. This year’s Challenge Anneka was to (attempt) to recreate a life-changing seven course meal meal I had at New York’s  The Stanton Social. And to seat ten guests around my six-seater kitchen table…

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The Stanton Social’s famous chicken n’ waffles – mine looked absolutely nothing like this FYI (picture taken from its online gallery)

Seven of us all went to New York together last year. But most of the group arrived a night after me, sadly missing out on one of the greatest restaurant experiences I’ve ever had (gutted for them).

Maybe it was the quantity of the food – a constant flow of  ‘small plates’ of American inspired dishes from a fabulous set menu of all my favourite foods (basically posh fast food). Or the ambiance – think mood lighting, floor to ceiling wine and a restaurant full of *real life NYC hipsters*. Or maybe it was because it was my first night in the city (and isn’t the first meal after you touch-down the best, whether it is simply steak frites in a random cafe in Nice or fresh ravioli in a square in Florence?). I was also jet-lagged and on a come down from dropping diazapam at some point over the Atlantic (I’m a crazy flyer).

Whatever happened, that meal at the Stanton, that night, was legendary. I so bummed out my friends who missed it regaling the experience, that it seemed only right to have a reunion where I would recreate that menu.

Oh the things you dream, in New York, with a face full of martini. Of course, back in London and working full time,  it turned out to be harder in practice, than in theory. Firstly, the Stanton’s menu from that night last year had changed. And its not like they publish the idiots guide to their recipes online either, so I had to think back and google….

What we had:

  • Starter: Cheese and Guacamole QuesadillasJamie Oliver’s recipe helped me out here. I think I had ‘hand pulled Chicken Arepas’ at the Stanton, but frankly, it was just too hard to contemplate working out even what they were. Never mind, the quesadillas were a hit and something I’d gladly make again. I also didn’t attempt to make the Stanton’s signature French onion soup dumplings, which go down in my memory as some of the most thrilling appetisers on earth. But thankfully there are other bloggers out there more adventurous than me posting great recipes for this online.
Picture of quaesadillas before cooking - cheese, corriander, sour cream, pepper and guacamola

Inside a quesadilla

  • First Course:’Old school meatballs’ on a bed of rigatoni (I stopped short of making basil and ricotta manicotti as per the Stanton’s menu. I mean, come on). To level with you I just bought the meatballs prepared from Ocado.  But I did make a homemade tomato sauce, (another Jamie Oliver recipe). I was sooooo smug making this ahead on Tuesday, but fate had the last laugh when the dish flew at my head out of the fridge an hour before everyone arrived, almost knocking me out and spraying the walls of the kitchen as if there had been some kind of pomodora massacre
  • Second course:
  • 1. Flash fry steak with herb-dusted french fries. Pretty straight-forward. I made a slapdash marinade of red-wine vinegar, an old can of fosters beer and BBQ sauce (classy is as classy does…), with a healthy dose of celery salt on the fries (the secret ingredient to great fries I discovered after asking a waitress at TGI Fridays). The plan was to also make a chimichurri sauce, but I didn’t get that far. (But I did have all the right intentions with a great recipe lined up from the mother of American cooking Martha Stewart if you are so inclined).
  • 2. Chicken n cheesy waffles.This was the ‘challenger’ and even required the purchase of a specialist waffle maker from Argos. My detective work led me to a recipe for balsamic chicken, to mimic the Stanton’s ‘balsamic spiked maple syrup’, along with Martha Stewart’s cheesy waffles.  My chicken n waffles looked nothing like the Stanton’s version pictured at the top of this post, but I have definitely discovered a wonderful BBQ blackened chicken recipe for the summer.
  • I also served sides of spinach and ginger and orange glazed carrots from the NY Times food section.
Picture of two boxes of krispy Kremes

I have never before given myself permission to buy a box of krispy kremes. It was a great moment.

Desert:At the Stanton we had just baked cookies and donuts with chocolate dipping sauce. One of my deepest life regrets was having jet lag so bad I had to take myself back to the Waldorf  and missed out on ever eating them. So I took the cheats way out and bought two boxes of Krispy Kremes for my guests, which went down well.

Picture of assorted krispy creme donuts

Glazed donuts are the best lipgloss out there

Obviously I had to also try out cookies – although I’m still on the look out for a perfect cookie recipe – it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, my cookies always rise up like bad scones….I even followed a recipe from Peyton and Byrne where you freeze the mixture and defrost on the evening. Oh well I’ll have to keep trying, how devastating.

Picture of cookies fresh from the oven

My mission for a fail-safe cookie recipe continues…

I had so much fun recreating this meal for my friends. But if I had been making this on ‘Come dine with me’ that sarcastic narrator would have had a field day with my lack of organisation, quality of cooking and making my guests sit on outdoor chairs with spiderwebs underneath and a covered laundry basket….But thankfully I was being judged by some of my favourite people, who even gave me a round of applause (perhaps that’s what I subconsciously do these things for?! Let’s not analyse that…).

We ended the night as every ‘mental’ dinner party should, drinking all of the Prosecco available in my fridge (which tends to be a concerning amount) and playing rounds of my favourite game ever  Heads Up.

I don’t think my meal was even close to The Stanton’s, which means, perhaps, one day, we will have to go back….

Cheshire charm farm food

The thing about bank holidays is that while we crave them like sugar, once they arrive, it is often hard to decide what to do. You want to make the most of precious time off, but you also have to balance this with the wish to chill out and not end up doing something totally random and out of character, like visiting a castle.

I was spending the day with family in the North West, and had already flitted away most of the morning getting a pedicure (crucial use of time). There were rumblings of visiting IKEA or a garden centre (not appealing), so then I had a brainwave. The Hollies Farm Shop in Little Budworth. A place I discovered last summer and have had a soft spot for since.

Picutre of a happy cow outside the Hollies Farm Shop in Little Budworth

The Hollies Farmshop is lots of fun

Now this place is proper Cheshire Life –  I would shop here every day in my dream life. But in reality its once in a blue moon. Largely because I live about 200 miles away, but also because this is proper luxury food porn, and I can’t justify 17 types of jam (yet).

Picture of variety of Cheshire jams and chutneys

Having all of these condiments in my cupboards would make me feel complete as a woman

The farm shop is rammed full of lovely locally sourced products and niche ingredients you read about in great cookbooks but can never find in Sainsbury’s local. They have a fantastic way of presenting things so even the rice looks exciting.

Pictures of Cheshire cheeses

Cheshire cheese – my favourite and not just because this is my home county

The fresh ingredient sections are fantastic – particularly the cheese counter and butchery section. You can’t see in the picture below but they stock lovely chicken dishes marinaded in sauces like mango and white wine. If only more supermarkets in London would stock this type of thing, food shopping would be way more exciting…

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Summer strawbs

Now just to finish off the middle aged theme to this post, there is also a garden centre and a craft store which are both very charming, and fun to walk around. They leave you thinking, yes I really should have more Magnolia plants and witty/inspirational wall signs in my life.

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Sadly, (or perhaps with the mercy of Christ), I managed to resist buying everything at the Hollies (although we did leave with a gorgeous lemon sponge and an AMAZING pre-prepared korma dish.Plus you can buy giant chocolate slabs at half the price of Hotel Chocolate).

It is probably very easy to get carried away in the Hollies. But the place is great for special occasions, times when you’d like to feel like living like a Made in Chelsea heir…or just gifts.

Indeed they do some fantastic hampers with real personality.I once bought the Cheshire Hamper for a schoolfriend. It was lovely to be able to import a a touch of the Cheshire farm shop magic to London. Yes we have Harrods food hall, Partridges and Fortnum & Masons, but this place is a real champion of local suppliers and feels much more welcoming.

That hamper was bought was genuinely the most exciting thing that has ever been delivered to me at work, so I am kind of tempted to buy one for myself…