+ What I Did in 2015


Yesterday the clocks went forward in the UK, marking the beginning of spring and it pains me to have waited so long to finish my draft post of what I did in 2015! To be fair, this year already has been massively hectic with a new job, a new workout plan and the constant headache of a new kitchen that's still not complete after two months weeks.

2015 brought me one failed flat purchase, one successful flat purchase, trips to Paris, Positano, Naples, California, Malta and Turkey, the passing away of a loved one, a friend's wedding, my first ever half-marathon and so much more. Hopefully 2016 will also be the year I started properly blogging again!

January

At the start of the year I had the biggest urge to fill up our days with things to do and places to go. Normally, take any weekend and you'll find Ned and I on the sofa doing not very much. But, as 2015 kicked off I planned to try something new and despite horrendous weather, I stuck to my guns and we set off on a Sunday stroll along the Parkland Walk, walking from Finsbury Park through woodland towards Highgate.
Parkland Walk

January was also the month of two work trips, one to Mountain View and one to Kitzbühel, Austria. I spent two weeks in Mountain View and I've never felt so homesick, as we'd only just got Chickpea in October and so it was my first time apart from her! Even so, I made sure I had fun while in Mountain View, thanks in part to some epic hostess skills from my colleague Ana in Noe Valley, SF :)

Noe valley supper
Amazing supper at my friend's in Noe Valley - brut rosé, blueberry chutney, burrata, yummy bread and ham

Towards the end of January, my colleagues and I stayed for a couple of nights in Best Western Premier in Kitzbühel, Austria. The highlight was a fantastic meat & cheese fondu accompanied by drunken singing at Steifalm restaurant. I also can't forget our very own tour guide who stopped traffic to play his bugle!

February

This was the month Ned and I celebrated our three year anniversary in Paris. Hands down the highlight of the trip was the Autour de Midi jazz club/restaurant. On the ground floor, we had the table next to the entire jazz band as we ate our traditional French cuisine. After dinner we headed down to the cellar where some of the best live jazz of my life was performed.

Highlights of trip included the view of the city from Bar La Vue on the 34th floor of the Hyatt Regency hotel, and we learnt a ridiculous amount during the Sandelman's Walking tour. Also, some friends were visiting Paris the same weekend, so we met up and dined at La Pharmacie followed by low-key drinks at Bespoke round the corner.

Long weekend in Paris

March

This was the month where I naughtily arranged a viewing for a flat I'd seen for sale on Zoopla. Ned and I went to view it and we put an offer in a day or two after. You only have to read this blog post to find out what mistakes I made and, on the flip side, what I learnt!

Ned and I made the mistake of following our heart and not our mind when it came to our first almost-house. It took SO much of our time, with planning meetings with mortgage advisors, moving money around and relentless scanning and filling out of documentation.

April

April 2015 - A day out at Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill before heading home via Gillespie Road

Clissold Arms Pub: On what was the first really hot day of 2015, we decided to walk to Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill. As we were both on a Fitbit obsession at the time, it killed two birds with one stone - exercise as well as discovering a new area (Crouch End up to Muswell Hill).

Gillespie park The first few minutes were… Underwhelming. Then, we came to a clearing and it started to become less 'abandoned alleyway' and more 'natural hidden gem'! Walking past the wind turbine, we came across a blue ecology house with a cafe and two ponds nearby.

The children in the park were having a delightful time spotting wildlife and running about through the small forest area. Other than the odd person, this city oasis is wonderfully quiet so is well worth going if you want a few minutes of solitude amid London life.

May

This was the start of many big changes in the stable, unchanging life I'd grown to love! My team went through a re-org, with various people running around like headless chickens in the fallout. My job changed (in title anyway) and so I flew to the Mountain View head office for an offsite to come up with a team action plan.

I had about 3 weeks' notice for the work trip and it looked like it was going to clash with one of my best friend Michelle's hen do's. Thankfully, I landed in the morning on Saturday and, after a quick wardrobe change, headed out. Although I missed the start of the hen do, I made it to Revolution in time for the cocktail making. Dreamboys was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience with memories I'll never forget 😵

Michelle's Hen do - Dreamboys, May 2015
Michelle's Hen Do

June

We kicked off June with one of the best holidays of my life so far: Positano, Italy. For my favourite eateries and things to do you can read my guide to Positano.

It was just after our trip to Italy that a few issues came to light with our almost-there house purchase. The two-bedroom flat actually was more like a one-bedroom flat as the works done to it were not legally approved. We just couldn't run the risk of these issues biting us in the future.

After a few bleak discussions we decided to pull out completely from the purchase. Our flat in Highbury was being viewed by other couples anyway, but we didn't realise how soon it would get snapped up. When we tried to put a halt on leaving the agency just said  "The new tenants will be moving in 4th July"... Our life was crumbling all around us 😔 You can read here the valuable lessons along the way during the house-buying process.

My string of bad luck (if you excuse the gorgeous perfection of our Positano trip) hadn't stopped there. My friend Mandy and I had booked a delightful gin cruise for our friend Aline's birthday,  and the whole thing turned into a bit of a scam as it didn't actually happen! After vacant promises of rebooking the cruise and complimentary gin, the guy who ran it went quiet to my pleads for money back. It took weeks to finally get him to man up and pay us what we were due. To add insult to injury, I left my Miu Miu sunnies in the toilet of Crate Brewery and when I went to claim them back two minutes later, they'd been taken.  The very next day was even more taxing, as Ned and I had to put the material manifestations of our happy little life into storage. They would eventually stay there for almost 8 weeks!

Thankfully, the month ended a lot better when our offer for another, larger, better located flat was accepted. Things were looking up :)

July

London enjoyed a heatwave of epic proportions at the beginning of July. My friends and I rented bikes from Richmond train station and had a lovely day cycling along the river and up into Richmond Park. We spent the rest of the Sunday afternoon drinking outside The Cricketers on Richmond Green, enjoying live music and watching a charity cricket tournament called The Green Cup.

Cycling in Richmond Park

Less than two months after my previous work trip, I went to California again for work. Memorable moments included sleeping through a Sunnyvale earthquake, going on a team outing to the beautiful Regale winery and visits to San Franciscan restaurants and bars.

July was also the month I got to see my beautiful friend Michelle wed Werner in an idyllic village church.

August

By now, Ned and I had been living in a colleague's spare bedroom for over a month. We desperately missed our old flat, having space to lounge about and I was pining for various clothes that were locked away in storage! August was a horrendously bittersweet month for Ned and I.

It was the month that we finally got the keys for our new flat by Clissold Park. Despite this massive step in our lives, summer 2015 dealt us and the family a horrible blow with Ned's dad Jim's fight against his brain tumour reaching its conclusion. When I first met Ned, his dad had only just been diagnosed and was given a mere few months to live. That was 2012, and I'm so grateful that I ended up having an extra two years in addition to that diagnosis to spend with time with Jim.

Throughout July and August, Ned and I would travel up to see Jim and Cathy in Arkesden as many weekends as we could. I'm grateful that at the very least we had our own flat for us both to come to terms with our loss, and in some ways it was a welcome distraction from reality thanks to the endless boxes in need of unpacking.

September

My journal entry for 1st September begins "So today was spent watching This Morning, Loose Women, ironing clothes, looking at kitchens and using the washing machine about 10 times! Oh, and also registering all our bloody appliances and tracking them in the Ned and Jeni tracker :)" On the surface this might seem super monotonous, but to me this was pure bliss. Ironing in my OWN flat, with my OWN iron and washing with my OWN washing machine!

In our first full weekend together in our flat, we let Chickpea out into the garden for the first time. It was really amazing to see her soak up all the newness of being outside and get to do what cats do! We also got our first CAD render of our new kitchen and for the first time ever I set my alarm to do a 10km run on a Sunday morning.

September was also the month I saw the play People, Places and Things, with a memorable performance from Denise Gough. Being in London, it's sad but sometimes I genuinely don't realise how lucky I am to have so many plays, musicals and attractions on my door step. Hopefully I'll make the most of it in 2016!

October


I took two trips abroad this month, the first being to Malta for a girly long weekend. It's been ages since I had a girly holiday and I really hope I get to do more in 2016. You can read my Malta travel trips here too :) Life's too short not to fly abroad for the weekend!

The next trip was to Istanbul for work which was coincidentally on my birthday, but to make it better Ned came out to meet me. We went on a Walks of Turkey tour (write-up here) on a wet, cold and windy day. My colleagues who had been before said Istanbul in summer is on a whole other level, so I hope I get to see Istanbul ablaze with sunshine one day.

When I wasn't jetsetting abroad, I was preparing for my first ever Royal Parks half-marathon. I'm beyond proud of myself for my 1:54 time despite a pretty laid-back training schedule. Roll on 2016's Hackney Half!

Ned and I held our annual Halloween Housewarming at our flat; we've now held something similar three years in a row. I decided to glam it up as Mia Wallace, coaxing Ned to be Vincent Vega. Unfortunately we didn't manage a Mia & Vincent pic, partly because Ned refused to keep his "itchy and embarrassing" wig on!

About 60 people came overall, and while I really enjoyed spooking up the house (police tape across the staircase, spiderwebs draped over paintings and the bathub, creating a witches' brew) I don't think we'll hold such a big party next year thanks to the epic clean-up job required!

 

November

This was the month one of my closest friends Mandy told us she was going to be a mum! We were having brunch as a belated treat for my 29th birthday, when she turned to Aline and I and said 'so... you're going to be aunties next June!" I think I burst into tears with happiness for her. Mandy and Tom are such a fab couple and I cannot wait to meet little miss Turner Owen next June!

Later that day, we then went to Ronnie Scott's for a Sunday Jazz Lunch session. It was a really special day, hearing Mandy's news and then sipping wine listening to live jazz :)

We also went on one of our many walks outside of London, heading to Box Hill for a Sunday stroll followed by pub lunch. One of the highlights of this walk is the Stepping Stones Walk. We followed the route but the river was at high tide so we saw sweet FA! I also learnt a valuable lesson on this walk, and that is stop assuming Dr Marten's can double up as hiking boots.

A cultural highlight was going to the Ai Wei Wei exhibition at the Natural History Museum. The majority of his works appropriate material that has been broken apart: "For most of his work, the destruction has already been done by others, either by authorities who have condemned Qing Dynasty temples or, in one case, by a devastating earthquake" (SMH). His showpiece, Straight, involves him straightening out thousands of rods that failed to support a school in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, exacerbated by corrupt officials siphoning off some of the building funds for their own purposes.

Straight - Ai Wei Wei

The exhibition, CAU, features a replica of Ai's son Lao's pushchair. This was hand-carved from expensive marble, sourced from the Fangshan imperial quarries. Ai Wei Wei's marble artefacts are just as useless as these extravagant pieces which served Imperial China and it's no coincidence that Mao Tse Tung's mausoleum contains marble from the same quarry.

CAU by Ai Wei Wei
CAU by Ai Wei Wei

December

In December, I was still working on the Google Play merchandising team, and this month was hectic thanks to the onslaught of on-store promotions in the run-up to Christmas and New Year's Eve. To get into the Christmas spirit, some friends and I went to the Enchanted Woodland in Syon Park near Richmond, and attended a few drunken Christmas parties with friends too.

For New Year's Eve, Ned and I played scrabble, drank Nyetimber champagne (my favourite!) and ate crudités before heading to our local pub for a cheeky drink pre-2016. I also found these amazing printable New Year's Eve cards via Pinterest. It was actually quite fun going through our key moments of the year and asking ourselves what made us laugh the hardest?

New Year's Eve Champagne, Scrabble and Snacks

2015 was a mixed bag for me, but overall I've come out of it with a new job, a new flat and 2016 shows no signs of the fun stopping with plans to visit at least 10 countries over 2016!


+ A Guide to Angel: Interior Shops on Cross Street

Cross Street - Angel
I've lived around Angel on and off now for 4 years and I've never paid too much attention to what's on offer in Cross Street, although Get Stuffed, a quirky taxidermy shop at the junction to Essex Road, piqued my attention on many a bus journey!

Fast forward a few years to when I have a flat in need of a few home improvements, and I've lost count of the number of trips I've made to this little street. The main reason for my visits is Funktional Kitchens, the kitchen supplier we've decided to go with (due Feb 2016)! See below for a quick rundown of places worth a visit:

Funktional Kitchens - 42 Cross St

Before ending up here we had tried a couple of kitchen showrooms in Essex Road, but their designer Andrew was so warm and friendly and really helped us in his walkthrough of what each step in the process involves.

They predominantly offer German or Spanish kitchens, such as the Häcker range. I particularly love the wooden worktop range they supply from Spekva, which is what we plan to install in our kitchen.

The first step is sending a basic floorplan and some photos to Andy, who will then mockup his ideas for the space in a digital render. The tools they use allow him to make large changes (colour of units, chimney hood, switching out appliances) in a matter of seconds.

Once you're happy with this free consultation, you put down a deposit of £500 and that's when he comes to your flat to take accurate measurements of the space. You can find out more in my blog post here.

Tribe Rugs - 52 Cross St

Tribe Rugs - Cross Street, Islington, London
Ned and I had promised each other we'd hold off on too many home accessories until after the kitchen's done. But, after leaving Funktional, we took a detour to Tribe London. They source rugs from as far afield as Turkey, Iran and Nepal, and our eyes wandered to a multi-coloured Afghan rug.

After seeing us ooh and aah over it, the friendly owner said 'you can take it home and try it for free if you like?' No deposit needed - he trusted us with our name, address and phone number!

Needless to say his approach works, as days later to transferred the cost of the rug. He then popped over to our flat to supply the complimentary non-slip mat for underneath the rug.

Fired Earth - 34 Cross St

Obviously these guys are the créme de la créme of tiles, although customer service is rather lacklustre. Anyway, I'm particularly in love with their Shelter Island range and we plan to have these Harbour View herringbone marble tiles as our splashback in our new kitchen.

Tiles Etc - 4 Shillingford Street

OK, so technically it's just off of Cross Street, but it counts! Tiles Etc have stiff competition from the established and well-known Fired Earth, but their range of tiles is second to none. The range that particular caught our eye is the Italian Ca'Pietra and we've now settled on their slate Shepton flagstones.

Tiles etc. and the nearby Farrow & Ball shop (image courtesy of Google Maps)
Tiles etc. and the nearby Farrow & Ball shop (image courtesy of Google Maps)

Farrow & Ball - 38 Cross Street

Wow this place is heaving at weekends! So far we've purchased some beautiful sample colours for our living, including the exotic wildcard Brinjal and the soothing Stiffkey Blue. Staff here are super friendly, with one member of staff sharing with us a great tip of painting a large sample piece of wallpaper to trial colour. This is better than just lobbing different colour swatches on the same wall as it ensures you're not tricked by contrasts between the swatches themselves.

LivingSpace - 36 Cross Street

So our budget doesn't quite stretch to getting our house improved via these guys, but regardless we had a look around their showroom. LivingSpace UK not only supplies designer furniture (mostly from Italy) but they also manage small to full-scale interior design projects. They are my dream designers for whenever Ned and I get round to doing our bathroom!

Living Space UK - Bathroom Design featuring the Lago transparent Depth Basin
Living Space UK - Bathroom Design featuring the Lago transparent depth basin

Pret a Vivre - 69 Cross Street

This elegant showroom hosts only the very best fabrics (exclusive to them), offering custom-made blinds as well as installation for a fee. We've recently ordered some beautiful mango roman blinds for our spare bedroom as well as some wooden venetian blinds in time for our new kitchen, I cannot wait to see how they turn out!

Wooden venetian blinds from Pret a Vivre

And if that's not enough, Cross Street's neighbours Upper Street and Essex Road have SO much to offer. Except more in a future blog post!


+ 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!


+ All I Want Is... A Copper Kitchen Rail

Copper kitchen rail inspiration
From top-left: Ballingslovs Bistro | Wildlandia |Elizabeth Kane Bottom two: My Haus | Copper & Solder

This week we paid 35% deposit for our new kitchen appliances and units, so all that's left is to start fantasising about the finishing touches! We've also just placed an order for Jim Lawrence's Barbican Triple Pendant in brass above the kitchen island/peninsula, so I'm desperate to add a few more accents in bronze or copper. I can just picture my future kitchen with a gorgeous copper kitchen rail, hopefully accessorized with some new pots, pans and utensils!

  • You can make your own like Elizabeth Kane (bottom image in the collage above). She picked up copper tubing and flanges at Home Depot and made them into a pot rail, adding S-hooks from IKEA, as revealed in here.
  • Nicole from Wildlandia also headed to her closest hardware store cut down a piece of piping to make sure the rail fitted her kitchen wall.
  • Made in Staffordshire by founder Katie, the Copper and Solder shop on Folksy creates beautiful made-to-order rails. I've just placed an order, saving 20% with discount code 'iwantcopper'.
  • Not a fan of DIY? The copper rail with grid from My Haus comes in a standard size, but you can extend the trend to your worktops with their beautiful copper fruit basket.

More Copper Inspiration

Copper Sink: WOW.. Olif's Alveus Monarch Line 20 Copper inset sink is divine. I am considering calling up my kitchen designer and starting it all from scratch!

'Apple Cider' Kitchenaid: This is more of a work of art than a mere appliance. Get yours at John Lewis for just shy of £400!

Dualit Kettle & Toaster Range: The study, well-known Stainless steel appliances are complimented with sprayed copper panels.

Copper Worktops: Lovely Imperfection has a mesmerising post on her cousin's copper worktops - lots of shiny pictures to swoon over!


+ Half Marathon Training Tips

Half Marathon Training Tips
I've always enjoyed running and used to love competing at high school, but post-school most of my running has been for the bus! Earlier this year, my friend Mandy encouraged me to sign up to Royal Parks Half Marathon along with her. We had three choices:

- Enter the ballot for free
- Enter the ballot and pay £50 to increase your chances (or get a hoodie as a consolation prize)
- Try and get a charity place

As I paid the fee I managed to secure a place, yay. But my friend didn't :( So training was 100% down to me and the ability to motivate myself... In the months leading up to the day my half marathon training was almost non-existent, but I've learnt a LOT that might actually help other first-time runners:

Months leading up to the race:
- Run regularly, even if you don't have a clear target. Just get used to your body being pushed even if its no more than 25 minutes at weekends.
- Start tracking your runs in an app like Runkeeper or Nike+ Running. Being able to track any incremental improvements is key to staying motivated.
- Unless you run regularly anyway, you'll need other forms of motivation. Mine came in treating myself to new running gear. Check out my picks at the bottom of this post!
-Training is not just about running. In order to maintain the stamina of keeping yourself moving forward into your second hour of running, your body needs strong core muscles. I did this by keeping a (semi) regular session of Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred which involves cardio, stretching and weight training.
- Practise running with some lucozade beforehand as this is usually what you get on race day.

The days before:
- Carb loading! About 5 days prior to the race I was all about the pasta.
- I did a final 5km mid-week before the race which helped me feel more prepared.
- Two days before the race I got hammered as I went to do a PJ Harvey gig. I really regret doing this as I bet I could have shaved off a minute or two if so!

The night before:
- Take it easy
- Try to go to sleep early (for a 5am wake-up, try to be in bed at least 8 hours before at 9pm)
- Go for a carb-heavy meal that you're used to eating. I cooked a mean spaghetti bolognese for an early evening meal.
- Plan your exact outfit (this should be something you've already trained in so you know its comfy)

The morning of the race:
- My race started at 9am so I woke up at 5am to give me enough time to digest my breakfast. The key is to get that meal in early–three to four hours pre-race to be exact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (via Runner's World)

- I also ate a banana about half an hour before the race to help keep me energised through the race.

- bring some sweets with you. I haven't bothered with the gels that the pros favour but might practice with them before my next half marathon in May 2016.

During the race:
- so my plan was to use Runkeeper to keep pace and not over-exert myself but the adrenaline (by-product of nerves and the thrill of overtaking other runners!) got the better of me. I instead just ran as fast as I could comfortably could and only experienced major issues in Jr last 4km when my legs wanted to give up.

Post-race
- Don't make the mistake I did and ignore the foam rolling sessions near the finish line. I wish I'd done that straight after the race rather than several hours later (after a Lebanese meal and a pint!)
- Take it slowly. It is a bloody mission to walk after a race (that's my experience anyway) so make sure your schedule a few days post-race is relatively empty.
- Take a long bath when you get home. I bought some Radox muscle therapy bubble bath but my massage therapist said it doesn't actually help your muscles, its mostly to mimic a relaxing bath with the scent and bubbles.  Instead, get your hands on some epsom bath salts (Magnesium Sulphate).

Run in Style