Tuesday, 29 January 2013

How To Choose The Right Travel Guide For You

As far back as I can remember my first real 'trip' aged 10 where I traveled around Greece with the rest of my Latin class (I'd been to France a lot before that, but I see France as more of a second home, rather than a holiday destination) I have absolutely loved to travel. There are so many European cities that I've been to that I'm just itching to go back to and explore a bit more in depth, and I have been absolutely relishing the opportunity to explore and enjoy everything Los Angeles has had to offer me over the last few months here. Now that I'm older, 'grown up' and a lot more independent  while I'm sure I'm still going to look forward to exploring new places with my parents, I've been thinking a lot more about where I would like to go off and see for myself now that the only thing holding me back from seeing the world is that I have to earn the money to do so for each trip first; and that brings be onto the topic of this blog post; travel guides. 
Image via Garry Pepper Vintage

As you can probably guess, I get most of my information on most topics these days from the internet or from various apps. When people ask me how on earth I find all the restaurants I feature, both in London and in Los Angeles I would have no idea how to list all of the various sources where I get tips, but whenever I'm going to head off to a new city or area, some of the go to travel sources that I always check is the Time Out website for my given destination (I do not know where I would be without Time Out, or their London food twitter feed) as I have got some great food and gallery recommendations from them in the past, the Urbanspoon website if they have one for my destination, as I've found a lot of my restaurants on there (they also have a great app which gives you restaurants nearby depending on your location at the time) and I take a gander at the lovely Petite Passport blog to find places that are a little off the beaten track to check out. But, while I have thousands of websites I can check for fashion or beauty related questions, as far as my travel concerns go, this small list is just about it. Which means I have to resort to traditional travel guide booklets.

When I decided to get a book to read up on some places I ought to visit in Los Angeles last Summer, it was the first time I'd ever purchased a travel guide. I remember taking the DK Travel book on Greece out for the school library when I was a kid before that trip, and we had picked up the same edition guide but for Brittany, the region of France we live in to keep in our French kitchen when we were first getting to know the area, but that was about it with my experience of travel guides. As I was familiar with them, and I'd found them really useful in the past, I had planned to get the same edition of the guide for Los Angeles, but they did not make one. So I was stuck for which guide I should use. It was only when I was standing in a travel bookshop in West Hollywood flipping through different London guides to see what they were recommending tourists should do in my city, I realised the key to choosing the right travel guide for you. 

Before I arrived in Los Angeles, I had chosen the Wallpaper City Guides Guide for LA, and while it had some interesting things to do and see, it did not really suit my tastes and needs in regards to what I like to do and see in a city. The reason I had not got the Time Out guide in the first place while I loved their websites, was because of their websites; I felt I could get everything I wanted for free, online. So, while I was flipping through London guides, I found some of them listed the sort of places I loved to eat at, and I used to frequent, as well as galleries and museums I loved, spots I kept on returning to, and some of them I don't think would have been much use to me if I had been armed with it on a trip to London for the first time. So, when you want to find the perfect travel guide for you for any given destination head to a bookshop, look through all the guides to a city you're really familiar with, pick the one that matches up how you like to spend your time the most, and the chances are very, very high that the guide to your destination from the same collection or series will be best suited to your needs - it is as easy as that, and I'm still kicking myself that I did not think of it before! (On a side note, I came upon this revelation while looking through the Luxe Guides for London and Los Angeles; I'd never seen them before, but if you are looking for something stylish, compact, humorous and with some really cool hangouts listed, I recommend you take a look!)

Where is your dream travel destination, or the next place you are going to be heading off to on your travels?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Places To Eat In Los Angeles: Joan's On Third, West Hollywood

The problem about not living in London this year, is that I really, really miss eating in and picking up little foodie treats to take home with me from Ottolengi's. However, I think I might have found a pretty fantastic Los Angeles alternative in Joan's on Third; the famous Italian inspired deli on West Hollywood's stretch of 3rd Street. I had a fantastic lunch there sitting at their big communal table, and gazed longingly at all the takeaway goodies in their class cabinets. I think I regret not sampling more of their luscious cakes!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Outfit Post: Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen & Win A Pair Of Designer Sunglasses From The Sunglasses Shop

While in England during Winter you sometimes need to don sunglasses for something like driving, for most of the year your favourite frames stay stowed away for most of the year waiting for the few days of true Summer sunshine was can enjoy each year. However, due to not just the weather, but due to the quality and the brightness of the light, here in Southern California I have found that sunglasses are a necessary accessory the whole year around, which means I can indulge in loads of different shapes and styles of designer sunglasses without feeling I'm going overboard! Also, I wish to note at the outset that the style and my outfit in these pictures may seem a little familiar; the wonderful Nicole Anderson was awesome enough to shoot this feature after we'd finished shooting the pictures for my Portraiteer interview. Didn't she do an amazing job?
The Alexander McQueen sunglasses featured in this post were a kind gift from online sunglasses retailer Sunglasses Shop and I have been wearing them absolutely everywhere. They are the perfect style for me; I love the tortoiseshell and the little design details and that they tint the Los Angeles clouds and sunsets a beautiful hue so that the world around me looks like a skyscape from a Renaissance painting, but with the edition of Southern Californian palm trees. Oversized sunglasses are a very LA thing, so they also help me blend in!
rachelphipps019 sunglasses2
Sunglasses: Alexander McQueen c/o Sunglasses Shop, Necklace: Hobbs, Trench Coat: United Colours Of Benetton c/o Zalando, Top: Boden, Skirt: Whistles

As well as gifting me these sunglasses, the guys at Sunglasses Shop want to offer one of my lucky readers the chance to win a pair of sunglasses from the Vogue collection. The giveaway is via Rafflecopter form as usual, but the giveaway is open Worldwide (I promised you there would be a giveaway that everyone could enter soon!) and all you have to do is be a follower of this blog via Bloglovin' or Google Friend Connect, like 'Rachel Phipps' on Facebook, and like 'Sunglasses Shop' on Facebook and leave a comment on the Sunglasses Shop Facebook wall with the words 'Enter Rachel Phipps' Vogue Giveaway included in your comment!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Where are your favourite pair of sunglasses from?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Style Inspiration: A New Year, A New Watch

It is still January, so I can still technically be writing New Year posts, right? I've already written about how I feel the new year calls for a new pair of shoes, but recently I've found myself looking at peoples wrists when I first meet them. We're all familiar with the now classic arm party by now, but I now have a new obsession to spy; beautiful chunky watches. I think the reason I'm so obsessed with other peoples wrist wear at the moment, is I know I won't ever wear a big chunky watch myself; I hate having something bulky weighing my wrists or hands down (I don't wear rings either, and the big bandage currently adorning my left index finger as the result of a rather interesting incident while I was out to brunch one Sunday morning is driving me up the wall!); I'm perfectly happy with my tiny Citizen dress watch thank you very much!
While fashion styles used to be in Vogue, now I think it is more about the very metallic, classic everyday but still chunky watch (you can get lots of designer styles on sites like this), as shown here on Brooklyn Blond. I love how her watch is an understated part of her look, by itself and not highlighted, but it perfectly balances out the bracelets she is wearing on her other wrist, and the shot just would not seem the same without it. Think styles by Chanel and Michael Kors (their iconic rose gold watch would be perfect to achieve this look with.)

Do you like to change up the styles and fashions with your watch, or are you a 'one and done type' of girl with your wrist wear? (Also, kudos to those of you who can tell me what hit ABC show I have lifted that expression from!) 

This is a featured post. To read my policy on featured posts, please click here.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Places To Eat In Los Angeles: Toast, West Hollywood

I think I have found my new favourite restaurant in Los Angeles. Before visiting I'd heard a lot about Toast on the West Hollywood stretch of the stylish 3rd Street; that the food was amazing, and that is was where all the 'cool' people and 'celebrities' hung out. However, it was when my friend Evie, a friend from London, visiting from the San Francisco sat down to peruse our menus, and could both smell all of the absolutely delicious food being delivered to the tables around us did we know that we were going to really, really enjoy our meal.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Weekly Love: Week 126

I have seen a awful lot of Los Angeles this week. This only half accounts for the super bumper edition of 'Weekly Love' this week! My friend Evie from London came to stay via San Francisco, so we've been out every day exploring and eating in so many of the amazing restaurants this fantastic city has to offer; look out for lots of food posts coming soon! I hope everyone back in England has been staying warm; I'm so glad I don't have to deal with all the snow this year! However, we did have about a week of uncharacteristically bitingly cold weather, but I'm sorry to say for all of you back home, the traditional LA sunshine is back in full force!
1. I love the amazing new Madewell store at The Grove in Beverly Hills. | 2. Wearing my J.Crew boots and favourite Whistles skirt, waiting outside The Sycamore Kitchen. | 3. Cold January days call for brightly coloured working lunches. | 4. Brunch at Toast in West Hollywood, my new favourite place to eat in Los Angeles: a full post about the restaurant to follow soon! | 5. Goodies from TLT, my favourite take away place in Westwood. I am munching on my leftovers from that massive dish of their amazing Steak Fries you can see in the picture as I type! | 6. Classic Los Angeles palm trees.

I spent a lot of time creating content, and working on post ideas for 2013 over Christmas, but after looking at the comments, Tweets and emails I got from a lot of you on my post about why I think bloggers should never take their blog for granted saying they really liked reading a bit more personal posts and I should do more of them, I have decided that I am going to take some time in posts to talk about bits of my life and my experiences - I certainly got a lot of feedback for my two part post I did for The High Tea Cast about my experience 'rushing' an American sorority! Something I seem to get loads of questions about, is what it was like to attend a boarding school, and I think now I've been out of school for about a year and a half, I can finally write about the experience of those 8 years of my childhood and teens subjectively  so if anyone has any questions, anything they'd like to know about boarding school life and my experiences feel free to comment on this post, sent me a Tweet or email me - I'm planning the post for the end of the month. 
This photo is from a photo shoot I did with the amazing Nicole Anderson after she interviewed me for a profile on her brand new blog; The Portraiteer where she profiles up and coming creatives, mostly based in LA but in other places too. I just want to take this moment to thank Nicole for featuring me, and for the amazing afternoon I spent with her working towards this feature. To see more photos from our afternoon, and read the interview with me, click here. Just an FYI, that afternoon I was wearing a Whistles skirt, Boden top, J.Crew boots, a trench coat from Benetton which was a gift from the guys at Zalando last Spring, and my bag and necklace are both from Hobbs - one of my go to outfits when I want to look a little glamourous! 
7. A California classic; the In-N-Out burger, a little treat for lunch before my first class of the year! | 8. I spend way too much of my time in Georgetown Cupcake inhaling their chocolate ganache cupcakes. | 9. Testing the American version of the Easter Classic; the Cadbury Creme Egg. My verdict? Way, way too sweet! | 10. My first Starbucks of 2013. | 11. Raspberry and Ginger Scones made from The Joy The Baker Cookbook.  | 12. Checking out the brand new Isabel Marant store on Melrose Place.

What have you been enjoying this week, and what do you have planned for the weekend? I'm heading down to Venice Beach tomorrow, and on Sunday I'm going to start work on my paper for my Milton class. Also, I'm really looking forward to the third episode of Mr Selfridge on Sunday night, it is amazing to see the story behind my favourite department store of all time!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

My 5 Favourite Los Angeles Shopping Destinations

As much as the next girl (and probably a little bit more) I love to shop. Even if I'm not spending any money, I can never get enough of window shopping. It is a great way to just step away from everything that is going on, and also to find ideas and inspiration for my blog. When I was living in London and I just wanted to get out of my flat, I always jumped on the Central Line an headed either East to Westfield Stratford City (I must be one of the few fashion orientated Londoners who actually prefers shopping in Stratford to White City) or West to Regents Street, Carnaby Street and my spiritual home; Selfridges. When I was at home in the countryside and I needed to get out, I always got in my car and drove to Canterbury. Now I've been living in Los Angeles for a good few months, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite places to either go and shop, or to window shop, that you can keep in mind if you're a shopaholic like me and ever visiting the city!
The Farmers Market

Monday, 14 January 2013

Places To Eat In Los Angeles: The Sycamore Kitchen

On Thursday afternoon I agreed to meet photographer Nicole Anderson so she could profile me for her new project; The Portraiteer, a lovely blog profiling bloggers and their creative stories and inspirations, accompanied by some of Nicoles beautiful portraits of their meeting. I had a wonderful afternoon shooting with Nicole, but more on that later. For now, I want to talk about the place we met. She let me choose the location for our meeting, and as I'd seen a couple of delicious dishes popping up in my Instagram feed all tagged as being taken at 'The Sycamore Kitchen', I agreed to meet Nicole at this lovely sounding and very photogenic eatery in La Brea for a bite to eat and a chat before we headed out to take photos.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Recipe: Perfectly Creamy Mustard Mashed Potatoes

I think it was on Christmas Eve I was brainstorming what I was going to have with the steak I cooked for my Christmas dinner, and after gazing at my open fridge door for about 15 minutes, I decided to have a bash at making some mashed potatoes; while I usually opt for meals that are all in one, rather than with separate meat/ veg components, as it was Christmas I think I ought to make an effort. Now, anyone who, like me who went to a British Boarding School will tell you about mashed potatoes. Unless the food at their school was particularly good (at my second school it was fantastic, but at my first it was merely average), we will tell you that we don't like mashed potato. It was always dry, lacked flavour and if you left it a bit too long on the plate it made for an excellent sculpture medium, as many of us discovered to our delight. 
As with many of the things I'd been fed at school (none of my boarding schools compare to the school I attended until the age of 10, if it were not for my mother cooking me a fantastic breakfast and dinner every day before and after school I think I might have been rather malnourished!), I decided I did not like them, without really trying them. For years, I adamantly told my mother I hated mashed potato. However, when she finally coaxed me into trying hers they became one of my favourite incarnations of the humble potato; rich, creamy and decidedly more-ish. This version of mashed potatoes are a hybrid between my mothers mash, and the base of what I use to make homemade fishcakes; the wholegrain mustard gives the fluffy potatoes a decided kick which makes them a feature of the meal, rather than just a side dish. Serves 4, easily halved or doubled. 

  • 2 Large Baking Potatoes
  • 2 tsp Wholegrain French Mustard 
  • 2 tbsp Milk or Single Cream (Heavy Cream)
  • 50g Unsalted Butter
  • 2-3 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
  • Freshly Ground Salt & Pepper 

Peel the potatoes and cut into medium chunks. Put in a large saucepan of salted cold water, and put on the heat until the water is boiling. Add the rosemary sprigs to the water, and cook for about 20-25 minutes until all the potato pieces are cooked through and you can stick a knife through them with ease.   Drain the potatoes, making sure you remove all the stray pieces of rosemary and discarding them. Break the potatoes down with a hand held potato masher, and add the milk and half the butter. Mash well until the potatoes have a smooth and creamy texture. Add a little bit more milk if you think they could be smoother. Mash in the rest of the butter along with a good couple of grinds of salt and pepper. Add the mustard and mix well before serving, topped with another knob of butter and some fresh thyme or chopped chives if you're setting them out in a warm dish to serve, rather than dishing it up onto everyones plates for an informal meal. 

While they go really well with anything pork and beef (what you'd usually serve mustard with), I really enjoy these potatoes serve with sausage meatballs (remove the sausage meat from the sausage, divide and roll into meatballs, brown and seal the meat in a pan of hot oil, then bake in an oven the usual amount of time you'd cook the sausage) and onion gravy. This is the fate that the bowl of mash in the photograph met!

What are your favourite potato or vegetable side dishes? 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Blogger Talk: Why You Should Never Take Your Blog For Granted

Every few days here in Los Angeles, usually when I'm paying for something in a store, someone takes a double take at my accent, and after I have explained that yes, I am British, that I come from the home of Kate Middleton, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey they ask me if I am here on holiday. I reply no, and that I live here. They ask me what for, and I'm momentarily stumped. There are a few seconds when I have no idea how to answer them, then I rattle off the most acceptable and quickly explainable answer for my presence in one of the most famous cities in the world; I'm here to study. I'm enrolled at UCLA. I say this because it is the truth; UCLA is the official reason I decided to move half way around the world, and it is the reason I managed to get a student visa that made it possible. However, the reason I pause, that I have that little moment of indecision is because in my head, while I do attend classes, and for the most part enjoy them, school is not the main or biggest reason I decided to spend the year living in Los Angeles. 
Blogging from inspiration found in some of my favourite French fashion magazines sitting on my bed at my parents French house in 2011. I think there was a plate of macarons somewhere out of shot. Sharing my life in France and connecting with French readers the same way I'd done with readers living in the countryside like me, and I would later do with readers in London and Los Angeles made me realised that I could do whatever I wanted with blogging.

There are other, more personal reasons I could give for deciding to essentially put my life in Kent and in London on hold for 10 months, but for me the main reason why I chose Los Angeles as my destination (and decided to apply to study in America in the first place), was for my blog (because honestly, how awesome was a years worth of LA based content going to be? It is a simple truth of my life that now whenever I think of a holiday destination the very first thing I think about is how easy it will be to blog about!) It's funny, from something I started while I was supposed to be doing my homework in my dormitory at boarding school almost 4 years ago to channel my excess creativity (anyone who has ever taken GCSE Art can tell you that the exam is enough to stamp out most of your creative spark!) my blog has turned into my biggest and most enjoyable project; it has really become part of me, and part of my identity; experiences I've had, lessons learnt and opportunities I've gained through blogging have shaped the person I am growing up to be. Looking back over the last few years and realising this, as well as finally getting some idea of what I would like to do with the rest of my life and knowing I would never have discovered something I am so passionate about without my blog to help me along, makes me realise that us bloggers, be we the people who just write the odd post at weekends around their job as a creative outlet, or work hard like me to try and realise the dream of blogging full time for their career; none of us should ever take our blogs for granted. Blogging is an ever changing, ever evolving field, and looks totally different to how it did when I first started. Pouring all of your love and passion into your blog and not taking it for granted guarantees you'll be able to reap benefits that have not even been thought of yet.
So, aside from simply sharing this rather reflective post slash inspirational message, why am I choosing to write this now? Well, some of you may have heard of The Blogcademy, a two day traveling blogging workshop run by Gala Darling, Kat Williams (you might know her as the pink haired face behind Rock 'N' Roll Bride) and Shauna Haider (who is better known as Nubby Twiglet) which has already taken New York City by storm, and will be heading to London pretty soon. Now, while I'm usually a Londoner, they've just announced dates for Blogcademy in Portland and in Los Angeles, and I will still be residing in this amazing city when they arrive here, and obviously I want to attend one of their workshops - I've wanted to learn from these three bloggers who I've been reading (and admiring their business skills) for years since I heard about the first New York workshop. Unfortunately as a student I can't really afford the classes (like I'm glad the IFB Conference has always been in New York in the past, as I don't have to care too much that I can't afford the price of the ticket!), but lucky for some, Blogcademy offers a scholarship for each weekend so one lucky student can attend. I think you can all see where this is going now; this blog post doubles as my Blogcademy scholarship piece! Some people for past scholarship entries have made videos, or collages, but while it may seem pretty basic and simple I decided to just write; because before anything and everything else I am a writer. (Okay, I'm also a cook, but in my LA apartment I don't have the equipment to make a Blogcademy inspired layer cake or cupcake tower!)

So, why should Gala, Kat and Shauna, the Blogcademy 'headmistresses' pick my entry to win a Blogcademy scholarship to attend in April? Well, I think the first and main reason (aside from the ones I've already mentioned, blogging being part of my identity etc.) is that I can't really see myself doing anything else with my life than blogging, and working on other creative projects that all stem from my blog. I've always loved writing and photography, and discovering the world of blogging where I could combine both of those things into posts that I could share for other people to enjoy is simply the most amazing thing, and since I worked out how to make a little money from it, I kept wanting to make my blog bigger, better and of a higher quality every single week yes, to make more money, but so I could have something to show from the hours I spend hunched over my Mac Book that I am really proud of. I used to paint and draw, and while I remember always feeling that little kick of self accomplishment whenever I finished a piece, it was nothing to how I felt when I was putting together my Retrospective on 2012 post and I looked back over my recipe posts for the year and saw how much through hard work and practice my food photography had improved. It really made me want to do better. 
Ironic I'm illustrating this with a photo that does not show my face, but blogging outfit posts helped me get over my adamant assertion that I am not at all photogenic, and stopped me hiding from being in photographs. Blogging also made me brave enough to experiment with wearing bright colours and prints, but thats another story!

Next, I need to learn new skills. Like as a kid I always felt I could learn more with my schoolwork (actually I still think that, I'm taking Milton yet again this quarter to try and drag yet more out of Paradise Lost!), I know that I will never stop learning important lessons from blogging that I can apply to my life and other projects. While I learn something new every day, be it about social media, or the technical side of blogging through my experiences every day, the thing I love the most about the world of blogging is that it is a community; we're always learning from each other. This is my roundabout way of saying I'd love to benefit from learning from other bloggers who have proven themselves to be successful  as well as from other Blogcademy students, as there is always more to learn. Back home working doing the PR and Marketing at Pilgrims Nook, people ask me where I learnt to do all the PR and social media for the company without ever having a formal job or training in social media. The answer? I learnt everything I apply to the business from experiences I've had blogging. It would have cost us a lot to get the online and media presence for our family business established if I had not been a blogger. With only 16 months left until I graduate and get thrown head first into the world of work, where I'll have my own rent to pay, aside from the worries of feeding myself etc., now is the time I really have to think about focusing and expanding my blogging and related skills in order to be able to keep on doing what I love. 

My third and final reason I would love to attend the upcoming LA edition of Blogcademy (kudos to everyone who is not my mother for still being with me at this point, apologies that this post has come to be a little bit longer than some of my usual wordy posts!) is I have plans. Big, blog related plans that while I'd love to share with you all, I can't yet, but I've been working on all Christmas and I will continue to work on throughout the New Year. You'll just have to trust me on this one. They're food related, and everything food related is worth waiting for, right? Anyway, these plans for the blog and for the real world as much as I'd love to make them a success, I know the headmistress have the skills I need to implement them, so I'd love the opportunity to pick their brains. Okay, so now I feel really cruel for leaving you hanging, so here is a recipe I found for Salted Caramel Stuffed Chocolate Crinkle Cookies instead, to say sorry! 

So on a parting note, if I do win the scholarship and get to attend Blogcademy in April, I promise I'll take lots of notes and share them all with you! Also, though I hate to ask at the end of such a long post, I would also really really appreciate it if you could show your support for my entry by either Tweeting Blogcademy or mentioning to them on Facebook that you'd love for me to be able to attend and take notes for your all!

Monday, 7 January 2013

10 London Restaurants and Cafes I Can't Wait To Eat At

During one of our fortnightly Skype hangouts a few weeks ago, I pointed out to Sherin and Kathryn that when I move back to London at the end of next Summer we are going to have to eat out, a lot, because while I usually fill my list of places to go and eat at to feature in my 'Places To Eat In London' column faster than I cross them off, now I'm out the country it is growing rapidly, and now encompasses over 40 London eateries. As they're sitting there not doing anything (at least for now), I thought I'd put the list to use and share with you some of the places I'm the most excited about sampling when I return to the city, so you can get in there first and let me know what you think of them! I'd love to hear some of your new favourite London dining spots! 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Weekly Love: Week 125

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and I hope the very beginning of 2013 has been treating you well! I had a pretty quiet New Years Eve, spending some time on Skype with my best friend after she got in from her celebrations, eating chocolate cookies and watching Fresh Meat and Harry Potter and the Order Of The Phoenix (it is my favourite Harry Potter book, but I'm not sure what my favourite Harry Potter film is). I watched the ball drop live online in New York with still a few hours to go in Los Angeles, then I rung in the New Year watching the London fireworks from earlier in the day at midnight. Somehow I felt it would not be a New Year without hearing it rung in by Big Ben! (The fireworks were amazing, right?!)
1. The quickest way to my heart is always via a box of champagne truffles. | 2. The adorable picture advent calendar my parents sent me to open every day in December. | 3. Usually I open my stocking on the end of my parents bed, but this year as I was in Los Angeles for Christmas I opened my stocking box sitting on by bed over Skype video chat with my parents on Christmas day! | 4. Leftovers from my steak Christmas dinner cooked up with pasta and some leftover tomatos on Boxing Day. | 5. Snape, Snape, Severus Snape, my absolute favourite Harry Potter character. Though as a child I had a scary amount in common with Hermione Granger, I've always held a soft spot for the bat of the dungeons, even before we all knew he was not actually evil. While I'm watching the films or reading the books I try and remain in the parallel universe in my head where he survived Nagini's bite. Killing off Severus Snape, and allowing Hermione to marry someone as dim witted as Ron are two things I'll never quite forgive J.K.Rowling for! | 6. I adore mint Aero, so I especially love December when they come in Christmas tree shapes!

This month the second half of my column detailing the 'rush' process to join an American Sorority I went through at the beginning of the year is online over as my Project LA column at The High Tea Cast this month, as well as if I actually ended up joining a sorority or not, which a lot of you have been asking me!
7. Cooking in my new Cath Kidston apron, a Christmas gift from my parents - I've wanted one for ages! | 8. Cinnamon breakfast pancakes with lashings of maple syrup. | 9. Rereading Look Back In Anger in preparation for my class on post war British drama that starts on Monday.

What have you been enjoying this week, and what have you got planned for the weekend? I start classes again on Monday (excited to be starting classes in modern British drama, Comparative Politics and Milton) so I'm going to spend the weekend getting myself sorted for the new quarter and getting ahead on some of my reading!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Recipe: Chunky Minestrone Soup

So, for my first recipe post of 2013 I thought I would not share with you one of the new recipes for the New Year I've been working on (though there are a lot to come, I promise you!), but something I worked a lot on, and ate several vats of in one incarnation of another throughout the entire month of December. While I feel its flavours and general structure are more suited to the month of January anyway; my Chunky Minestrone Soup. My mother makes a lovely minestrone soup, and because she has far superior knife skills to me, everything is cut up really tiny. I adore her soup, but I wanted to create one that was better suited to my personal skill set. I also wanted one that paid more attention to pasta. You can never have enough pasta. 
How many this recipe serves is really up to you and your personal preferences; I get about three of these big bowls out of a pot, or four small bowls. It also freezes surprisingly well. Before we move onto the ingredients and the instructions, a little more on the pasta. In minestrones soup, traditionally the pasta pieces are miniatures of traditional soups, but as I can never get enough of them in my soup, that is why I used regular pasta, but of course feel free to use the little shapes if you prefer. If you don't want to use full sized shapes, but don't want to go through the hassle of buying any, broken spagetti works really well. 

  • 1 White Onion
  • 2 Celery Sticks
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
  • 1 tbsp Tomato Puree
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Fresh Thyme Sprigs
  • 2 Courgettes (Zucchini) 
  • 1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes 
  • 1/2 Vegetable Stock Cube, in 6 Cups Water
  • 100g Pasta Shapes
  • Freshly Ground Salt & Pepper

Finely chop the onion, celery and carrot and gently fry in the olive oil in a very large saucepan for about 5 minutes until the vegetables have softened, but not browned. Cut the courgettes into quarters lengthways  then chop and add to the pan with the thyme (leave it on the sprig), the bay leaf, the sugar , the crushed garlic and the tomato puree. Stir well so the puree coats all the vegetables and cook for a few minutres until the courgette has softened slightly. Add the stock and the chopped tomatoes and season really well with the salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat. Allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered. Add the pasta, cover and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Season again, then serve with the addition of torn basil leaves over the top of each bowl if you wish and with crusty bread. 

Let me know what you think, and if you're hunting for any more soup recipes to chase out the January blues, check out my Basic Chicken Soup. I make it even more than I have been making this Minestrone!