+ NEW Escocesa Restaurant - Stoke Newington

After a lazy weekend hibernating in the warmth of our flat, we decided to go on a little jaunt to Stoke Newington. We live five minutes' walk away but this was our first visit there in months. What remains the same is the pace at which new places open up there, and the brand new Escocesa restaurant caught our eye. We knew it was new but hadn't realised it was less than a month old! Many of the staff from Escocesa  (according to this Instagram post) are from Barrafina, one of the top 100 restaurants in ALL of London. We weren't disappointed!

The interior:

Rugged with exposed brickwork and uneven plaster on the walls, the restaurant is stripped of  too much fess with exposed lightbulbs and heavy industrial pendants above a showstopping diner-style bar. From here, you can watch the chefs hard at work, or you can sit at the benches in the mid-section of the restaurant, or make your way to the dining room at the back.

Escocesa bar seating area.
Escocesa bar seating area.
Escocesa dining room at the back of the restaurant
Escocesa dining room at the back of the restaurant

The Food:

The brunch menu had an amazing selection of meat dishes, egg plates and did I mention the specials?! I hope the rib-eye with potatoes and padron peppers  is available one night soon as it seemed a tad too OTT for my Sunday brunch choice.

Weekend Brunch Menu at Escocesa, Stoke Newington (click on image to see larger, zoomable version)
Weekend Brunch Menu at Escocesa, Stoke Newington (click on image to see larger, zoomable version)

To start, we decided to share the jamon croquetas. I loved the presentation of them, resembling little lollipops thanks to the cocktail sticks, accompanied by finely sliced chives. I've tried my fair share of croquettes at Spanish restaurants and these surpassed any I've tried before!

We shared the jamon croquetas to start
Jamon croquetas
butifarra with white beans - catalan sausage
Butifarra with white beans - catalan sausage

For the main, Ned and I shared two dishes together - the butifarra with white beans and ali oli (catalan sausage), and then the revuelto de gambas (scrambled eggs with prawns).

revuelto de gambas
Revuelto de gambas on toast

Each dish was better than I could have imagined, and the staff were all really friendly and conscientious. This far surpassed Sunday brunch at other local places like The Tea Rooms. My next plan is to try out Escocesa one evening when their main menu is on offer. I'm particularly keen to try out the fried aubergine with walnuts & honey and the beetroot and smoke salt cod salad.

New Eateries on Church Street

There's an explosion of new restaurants, coffee shops and cafés on Stoke Newington Church Street, all of which I'm eager to add to my London bucket list:

Good Egg - Walking past here today, there was a queue of about 8 people waiting. Their weekend brunch menu is to die for, featuring the breakfast burrito, an Iraqi aubergine pitta and challah french toast with date syrup.

Fox & Pie - The red Fox Reformed wine bar shut down earlier this year, but walking past today I saw the Fox & Pie sign proudly up on the window. Snooping their Instagram feed it's looking like a 3rd December opening! According to The Dalstonist, "The pub and pie restaurant will be a new iteration of the Newman Arms & Pie Room in Fitzrovia".

Foxlow - We've been once in their opening month, but it was a bit chaotic (although the food was nice) so I'd love to revisit and assess them now that they've been up and running for a while.

The Teahouse Stokey - I walked past the Daniel Defoe pub today and it was covered up with scaffolding. Imagine my surprise when after a quick Google I find out that it's actually going to be a Teahouse. Thankfully, their website says that they'll offer "craft cask ales, a large selection of booze, a fantastic walled garden and some secrets we’re not telling anyone about yet"...  can't wait!


+ 5 Reasons to Travel on the Green Tortoise Bus

five reasons to travel with the green tortoise across America

Ever wanted to explore the USA, meet new people and save money along the way?  Green Tortoise is probably your best option! In 2006 and 2007, I took the Northern Dream and Southern Crossing tours, scoring the hat trick in April 2014 with the Yosemite 2-Day Tour - each time trying out a new Green Tortoise bus.

If you live in the states or are visiting there very soon, I really would recommend taking a look at their options before spending $$$s on something similar. Obviously, this is by no means a replacement for your own special road trip, but there's a few pros particularly if you're travelling alone and/or can't drive or get insured.

You get to travel thousands of miles, take in some unique American gems and meet a wide array of people for a really reasonable price. For instance, the 14-day cross-country tours can cost ~$1100 but my weekend trip to Yosemite was under $200. See below for the five reasons I think you should seriously consider taking this tour.

1) It's a Great Way to Meet New & Interesting People: 
I've now been on three Green Tortoise tours, and on every single one there's been a great mix of teens, twenty-somethings, travellers, San Franciscan locals, Aussies, oldies and everything in between! Although I don't necessarily keep in touch with everyone, the fact that you get to spend up to 14 days with such a wide set of people is an experience in itself.

2) The Food is Healthy and Cheap
You pay a set amount for basic meals (barely anything) and for that money you get a wide array of meals that you and your fellow travellers cook in national parks most mornings/evenings. On my various trips the meals have included bean burgers, pancakes, tortilla pizzas such as this, pasta, and you also get

3) Inspirational Destinations
You can go east-west, west-east, via Burning Man and right on down to Central America. The sheer variety of tours and dates (through the year) means it's very likely you'll find something to fit your wishlist.

4) Fuss-Free - No Need to Plan
If you drive by yourself cross-country, you are responsible for planning ahead, paying for permits and are reliant on yourself to find the best camping spots. With Green Tortoise, the two drivers you share your trip with have years' worth of experience and Green Tortoise wisdom. It takes all the hassle out of planning the trip yourself, and guarantees that things will go smoothly.

5) You'll Tick So Many Things Off Your Bucket List
In my three Green Tortoise trips, I've been able to do the following:

- Cover myself with mud from the banks of the Mississippi river and let the current take me downstream

- Camped in a giant hole in South Dakotan prairies (the remains of some 20th-century Nuclear tests), surrounded by bison

- Ok, this wasn't actually part of the Green Tortoise tour, but when in New Orleans I ended up in a lapdance bar!


Here's some photos from my Northern Dream trip:
No photos

 

sig


+ My Maui Travel Blog Guide

D. T. Fleming Beach

I probably work abroad 3-4 times a year - this year I've flown to San Francisco three times already. Luckily for me, my boyfriend also got to fly to San Francisco for work around the same time!

We wanted to make the most of both getting flown thousands of miles for free, so the answer was to spend two weeks in Hawaii! Here's my Maui travel blog guide to get you started.

Why Maui?
From the online research and anecdotal feedback from Californian colleagues was that Big Island is too touristy, Kihei is too quiet and so we narrowed it down to Maui and Oahu.

Maui ticked the boxes with the variety of natural beauty, and was consistently described as 'good for couples' which I interpreted as idyllic, full of romantic restaurants and not too many all-inclusive Disney-type resorts!

Napili Bay

Where We Stayed
Initially AirBnB was the best bet, but after browsing Trip Advisor it was Napili Kai which converted us to an apartment-style resort. That way, we'd get the best of a community atmosphere, the hotel bar/restaurant and still have the flexibility of a kitchen to save money with basic meals.

The apartment itself was renovated, had a massive bathroom suite and a lanai (balcony) with an ocean view of Napili.

Napili Bay and Kapalua
If you end up staying in this area, beware that there's not much variety in terms of restaurants and only one bar by way of the Sea House Restaurant, on the hotel grounds.

- Rent a car! Ned and I left it last minute and the cost, combined with the threat of three hurricanes, forced to abandon this idea and rely on the Maui Bus for trips to the supermarket and Lahaina.

- Book a table at Cane & Canoe or Merriman's for a high-calibre meal overlooking the ocean. The meals we had at these two establishments were 100% the best meals we had during our whole time in Maui.

- Rent your snorkelling equipment from Water Works. Unlike nearby Snorkel Bob's, this place rented a full set for just $25 per person.

- Spend a day at Kapalua beach to get the best possible chance of seeing turtles come to shore to dine off the slimy rocks within the bay. We saw two during our stay!

Downhill Biking & Sunrise Tour

Haleakala Sunrise

We went via the Viator website to book this two-in-one experience thanks to the great ratings on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

> Book this for be start of your Maui trip. With the three-hour time difference, it will hurt less to wake up for the 2am pickup!

> Take a neck pillow with you so you can get an extra two hours sleep throughout the ride up to Haleakala.

> When you get to the vista (normally about 30 minutes before official sunrise) you'll see a large railing. I stood to the left of it and so a few of my pics were concealed by other tourists. I'd recommend standing around the midway point to get the best view.

Lahaina

This town had been described to me as the busiest, most built-up part of Maui... It definitely exceeded my expectations as it was actually a beautiful seaside town with such a relaxed vibe about it.

The biggest memory from our day here was just how friendly and close-knit the community was! Every shop owner/gallery assistant was super friendly and were either recommending a place to see... Or that we should just move to Maui!!

Banyan Tree Park - Lahaina

if you go you should definitely see the large banyan tree park on Front Street as it's a crazy quirk of nature. Tree trunks and branches lean inwards towards each other, simultaneously fusing with a tree metres away. Quite the sight!

The Most Expensive Souvenir I've Ever Bought!

When I walked into Vintage European Posters I barely had an intention of buying a $25 poster, let alone an original print from the '60s!

However, after close to twenty minutes in the shop a love affair had begun between the two of and a gorgeous print called Hawaii by Charles Allen. We checked our bank accounts and then made the leap so we now own our first piece of legit collectors' art!

Hurricane Iselle
When we landed in Maui I had no idea that a few days into it I would be packing a precautionary overnight bag, googling nearby shelters and reading a government-provided emergency toolkit. Seeing as I'd never experienced a hurricane before, I wasn't sure if I was over or under-exaggerating the threat in my mind!

Our hotel weren't much help, saying to us, "truth is we don't know what will happen. We cannot provide any food or water for you so please go to the supermarket and stockpile your own essentials". That evening they also asked us to bring in or secure the balcony furniture and upon my texting my dad the news he advised me to "stay away from windows"... I was well and truly shitting myself.

We woke up on Friday to the briefest of rainstorms and a generally cloudy sky. I'm so grateful Iselle reined herself in and settled into a tropical storm, but it still had a big impact on the Big Island and people ended up without power for days :(

All in all, Maui was a paradise of unique animals, unrivalled sunsets (and sunrises!), world-class food and service and just a general chilled vibe. I have already promised myself I will visit again within the next few years, and next time I hope I'll get to go whale watching in Hana, stay at the beautiful Montage hotel, rent a car and (hopefully) avoid any hurricanes!


+ Copenhagen City Break

My boyfriend and I were desperate to go on a city break to help get us through the long, cold winter months here in England. We had a few options; Madrid, France, Denmark – being in London means you’re no more than 2-3 hours away from some vibrant and cultured cities in Europe.

Considering we spent five days in Copenhagen earlier this month, I should really know more about Denmark than I do! However, what I do know is that Copenhagen strives towards beauty, whether it’s the architecture, the people or the furniture and lighting sold in one of its many interior design shops. As well as that, I ate some of the best meals in my life while there.

Any self-respecting food lover has heard of NOMA, three-time winner of the Best Restaurant in the World accolade courtesy of Restaurant magazine. It’s well known that it’s almost impossible to get a reservation there, however we were able to book ourselves onto the NOMA shared table upstairs. The only difference is that you are at the mercy of a set menu and have to sit next to strangers, but this just made the experience more unforgettable really.

We went there for lunch, and the experience overall ended up taking us from 12.15pm right up to early evening. Everything we ate and drank was derived from the local region, with the exception of some Ethiopian coffee following the twenty-serving feast!

Some other highlights from our time at NOMA:

    • The water we drank was actually obtained from “birch tapping”, a method of collecting birch sap and using that to create mineral water.
    • Each member of staff there REALLY knows their shit. You can ask them anything about the ingredients in each dish, how it was made, the context of each ingredient, and you can be sure they know the answer!
    • Samphire is probably the best find of the trip! Not just served in NOMA, this salty sea vegetable is one of the tastiest greens I’ve ever eaten, shame it’s £14.99 by the kilo at my local market :(
    • Be careful if you are offered a ‘Nordic coconut’. It’s actually a hollowed-out turnip, which the staff at NOMA kindly fill up with a hot, steamy broth.

Aside from NOMA, here’s some recommendations if you’re thinking of heading to Copenhagen anytime soon:


Nyhavn

We stayed within five minutes’ walk of this area, and it quickly became out destination of choice when we had run out of ideas for where to go for dinner. You’ll find a great restaurant called Barock. It’s not cheap (where in Copenhagen is?!) but this place offered me one of the best rib-eye steaks I’ve ever tasted. The waiter was also really, really helpful and friendly and suggested some places to go as well as going into detail about the samphire vegetable served alongside our mains.

Further down the terrace of restaurants and bars, you come to McJoys, a dependable Irish pub that has friendly staff and usually offers live music for its punters. Ned and I ended up there for a round or two more than once!

Strøget
Although it’s not ideal to go shopping in Copenhagen thanks to the strength of the Danish Krone, this street is where to go should you need to pick anything up while away. Illums Bolighus is a department store that, for me, is unrivalled in style and its vast array of designer furnishings. We spent nearly an hour wandering around the store and basking in the beauty of its wares!

Canal Tours
Going on a canal tour is an experience not to be missed, as it really helps to solidify in your mind the beauty of the city. The city reminded me of Amsterdam, which isn’t a coincidence as we learnt via our canal tour that King Christian V deliberately used Amsterdam as a model of what he wanted Copenhagen to look and function like.

Freetown Christiania
During our time in Copenhagen we were also able to ‘leave’ the EU by heading to the self-proclaimed Green Light district, a place which aims to be a self-governed commune. In fact there’s only three ‘rules’: Have fun, don’t run and no photos.

Most of the housing is ramshackled and slightly devoid of sanitation (we walked past a garden with some discarded bits of toilet roll lying about, not so nice!), however it does seem to be a place where most people just want to live and let live and there’s an undeniably optimistic vibe pervading the district.. or that might just have been weed!

I’d definitely recommend going, although I’d stay in a nicer hotel next time round – the one we were in had two cheapo mattresses squidged together, paperthin walls and reception staff who seemed to know very little about either the hotel or the city!

More photos from Copenhagen:

sig

**Republish of a previous post thanks to a small site breakdown!**


+ 'Upstream Color': A Movie by Shane Carruth

More often than not, I find myself greeting film credits with statements such as ‘well that was a waste of time’ or ‘I guess it could have been worse’. Upstream Color by Simon Carruth broke that predictable routine by sending my brain into a flurry of curiosity and a yearning to decode the scenes long after I’d watched it.

What Does It All Mean?
This is not a film that can fit neatly into one simple interpretation – the director himself has elaborated on what he sought to evoke in the film, telling io9:

It’s meant to be universally about all of these things that are not able to be spoken about clearly that we suspect are affecting us—whether that’s people’s religious beliefs or cosmic beliefs or even hidden biological processes. Just all of the things that make you suspect the reasoning for, ‘Why did I do that?’ Or, ‘Why am I doing this tomorrow?’ ‘Why does someone else think this way?’ It’s all of that.

Echoing Carruth, the actor who plays the sampler/pig farmer, Andrew Sensenig, says in an interview via Stand By for Mind Control:

Some think it deals with fate, some with addiction. The fact that it can draw so many interpretations and make people talk is what makes it so powerful. That’s the effect Shane wanted to create.

That’s the crux of it. It’s not a clear-cut plot, and doesn’t give the viewer an easy ride. I’m grateful for the Googling I did after the film to help guide me through the narrative. What I found most disturbing about the film was the idea that something/someone could supplant your own freedom of choice, forcing you into a routine of dull and nonsensical tasks, as well as not having a grip on the reasons for your behaviour. For example, when the piglets in the film are drowned, Kris and Jeff feel an intense sense of anger and loss, but don’t fully understand why.

This mirrors the film’s somewhat disorienting effect on the viewer – you avidly follow the scenes and yet don’t fully grasp the significance of each millisecond of what’s captured on the screen. I love the fact that the film compelled me to research other people’s views and theories.

The Influence of ‘Walden’
Thoreau’s book pervades the entire film, and while it originally wasn’t an intentional thematic device (the main reason Carruth wanted it to be the book that the victims transcribe under suggestion was because it is peaceful and would presumably not wake you from a trance), it is quite possibly the most fitting book he could have found. Carruth says that in terms of film visuals, “blue was our suggestion of control. Yellow at the end was going to be [...] an awakening of some kind..”. Only after this was decided did he notice the following quote in Walden, “it may be simply the result of the prevailing blue mixed with the yellow of the sand”. This to me is almost pure poetry – his aim for the film was to make people question ‘why did I do that?’ and in fact, in the filmmaking process itself he finds himself in a similar position.

Haven’t seen it yet?
Overview:

The basic plot centres around a parasite/lifeform which is transferred from worms to humans to pigs, and then back to orchids, from which a special neurotoxin can be taken from. The first scenes depict an unnamed man (‘The Thief’ as identified in the credits) who procures the neurotoxin and uses it to drug a young woman called Kris.

As well as this, we watch the thief force a small ringworm into her throat. In a form of hypnosis, her mind becomes a slave to the thief – the first instance of this is seen when he convinces her that she will not feel hunger or fatigue while drinking ice-cold water.

From there on, we watch her dazed and agreeing to a multitude of nonsensical tasks, such as transcribing Henry David Thoreau’s entire book Walden onto paper and then creating a long paper chain from each sheet. Meanwhile, the worm inside her body is growing and once she becomes fully conscious of it inside her, she cuts away at herself with a knife in the hope of releasing it.

We then meet ‘The Sampler’ who, via a blood transfusion, deworms Kris and transfers it to a pig. Via these pigs, the sampler can ‘see’ and perceive the world that their human counterpart/transfusion buddy is living through. After she returns to her normal life, she is sacked due to the unexplained absence and is now suffering from severe amnesia (she can’t recall withdrawing all the money that’s now in the thief’s possession).

Slate.com’s enormously helpful FAQ says, “The transfer of the worm establishes a connection between the victim and the pig, and the Sampler can then use the pigs to “sample” the victims’ experiences—each time he approaches a victim’s pig, he can see what’s going in that victim’s life. The Sampler is then inspired by these experiences to record music, which he sells through his record company, Quinoa Valley Rec. Co.”

As mentioned above, the pig’s pregnancy has a profound effect on Kris and her partner Jeff (another victim of the thief who she inexplicably felt a connection to, and who she ends up marrying). She is sure she’s pregnant, however this turns out not to be true. The sampler doesn’t like the way the pregnant pig gets defensive and protective of her piglets, and so he rounds them up into a canvas sack and drowns them in the nearby river.

Their deaths result in two consequences:
1) Kris and Jeff feel this mystifying sense of anger and loss, and become violent while at work. That evening they end up barricading themselves into their bathroom, clearly believing (without knowing why) the outside world is a threat to their survival. 2) The decaying process of the piglets releases the parasite/neurotoxin that has passed into them from their mother, and this then flows back into the river and absorbed by the orchids. The white orchids are now blue, and we’re back to the beginning of the cycle, as it is from the orchids that the neurotoxin is obtained.

The sampler continues to broadcast his music outwards from his pig farm, and this eventually draws Kris and Jeff to the farm itself. The crucial part here is that she feels compelled to shoot the sampler. Following that, Jeff and Kris uncover documentation of each of the thief’s victims, and send each victim a copy of Walden to help them uncover their own place in the wider narrative.

Understanding the plot is really just the first step to appreciating the film, but if you need more guidance, definitely take a read of IndieWire’s ‘Upstream Color’ Cheat Sheet.