Monday, 30 January 2012

Barcelona On My Mind

Booking a holiday always makes me a little giddy, but our April getaway has me especially excited because we're headed to Barcelona (and Marrakech)! The Barcelona bit is special because I lived there for about 9 months when studying abroad my junior year of college and unfortunately haven't been back since (although I've definitely wanted to). My experience there in many ways shaped who I am and what I want out of life. And if I hadn't done it, I might not have known that I wanted to work abroad again and maybe wouldn't be here in London today. 

I made so many incredible memories there with my sister Myriah, who I travelled around with before the semester started, with Jim who came over for a short but romantic trip, and with wonderful friends, many of whom I'm still very close with today. It was maybe my best decision in college, besides Jim of course!

When we jet down south in April, we'll definitely see some of the sites like Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila, shop on Passeig de Gracia, go out to some of my favourite clubs like Pacha, La Terrazza, Shoko, and of course stop by to see my old Brazilian roommate. Last but not least will be daily cafe con leches at my favourite coffee spot, El Fornet! One nice thing about going back is that we've already covered so many of the major sites that we won't feel the pressure to rush around the city. And my cousin Riley is studying there now, so I'm sure she'll be able to show us some fun hot spots we might not even know of yet. Photos to come in April!

[Images from top to bottom via Sunsurfer, Pinterest and ImageShack]

Monday, 23 January 2012

A Day in Oxford

Oxford has a certain charm that makes it incredibly adorable and obviously historic. It's also buzzing with university students so it feels alive but also reserved with its character well intact. We visited last Saturday for a quick day trip as it's only about an hour north west by train. Although it was a little crisp, there was blue sky, good food (and pints!) and plenty of sites to see all within a small space.
This is the gorgeous Randolph Hotel, a classy 5-star establishment with gorgeous architecture. It's also across from a small, but well put-together museum, the Ashmolean.
Shortly after arriving around mid-morning we stopped at The Fudge Kitchen, naturally. We picked up a slice chocolate marble fudge and watched them make a fresh batch of decadent toffee was delicious!
We more or less followed a simple walking tour of the city which took us past the main monuments, pubs and restaurants. Here's the Bridge of Sighs given its name because of its supposed similarity to the famous Bridge of Sighs in Venice.
Of course, we had to visit the University of Oxford and this is just one of the many colleges that make up the sprawling campus. I felt more academic just being there!
We popped in the Grand Cafe for lunch and had an incredible English breakfast. I don't eat red meat, but they surprisingly had a a vegetarian option and it was scrumptious. In case you're wondering, a traditional English breakfast includes scrambled eggs, English bacon, sausage, baked beans, toast and a grilled tomato.
Apparently, the Grand Cafe is the site of the first coffee house in England and an Oxford institution. The building itself feels very grand with marble pillars, gold-leafed ceilings and mirror-lined walls. 

This beautiful site is the Radcliffe Camera, a library part of the University of Oxford. Unfortunately visitors aren't allowed...students only!
Don't ask me why, but I just love the name Magpie and I couldn't resist snapping this photo!

Friday, 20 January 2012

French Chocolate Bark

Just because it's January doesn't mean we have to give up all sweets! With that in mind, I wanted to share this amazing chocolate bark recipe that I made for Christmas. It's so easy and definitely worth a try if you want a simple dessert to go with vanilla ice cream. The recipe is slightly adapted from Ina Garten's original, but feel free to change it up!

- 16 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup roasted chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a pencil, draw an 8 by 10-inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper placed on a sheet pan. Turn the parchment paper over so the pencil mark doesn't get into the chocolate. Place the pecans in 1 layer on another sheet pan and bake for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool and then chop roughly into large pieces.

Place 3/4 of the chocolate in a glass bowl and place it in the microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Stir with a rubber spatula. Put it back in the microwave for another 30 seconds and stir again. Immediately, add the remaining chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly into the drawn rectangle. Sprinkle the top evenly with the cooled pecans, the cherries and apricots. Set aside for at least 2 hours until firm, or refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Cut the bark in 16 pieces and serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Sloane Square Food Fair

On Saturday we spent the day shopping around Chelsea and stumbled across an outdoor food fair at Sloane Square with fabulous eats and fresh produce. That's one of my favourite things about being in a new place, you never know what you'll come across and love! Luckily we arrived just in time for lunch so grabbed a meal to go at the Rainforest Range, where we noshed on all-natural Caribbean-style wraps with hummus, lentils, slaw, avocado and a tangy chili sauce - so yummy! We topped it off with a sweet chocolate hazelnut cookie from a local bakery stand.

Looking forward to more food adventures in London....maybe starting with the Chelsea or Parsons Green Farmer's Market next weekend! Anyone have any good London food fair or farmers market suggestions to share?

Happy eating!

Monday, 9 January 2012

New Year, New Scent

I've been wanting the Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile perfume ever since I tried it on at Liberty a few months ago. And after Christmas I finally gave in and bought myself a bottle! The wait was so worth's a deliciously rich scent of vanilla, musk, woods, and floral blooms with the star of course being magnolia. This is definitely going to be my new scent this year, and I love that it will always remind me of London. Definitely recommend testing it out at Nordstrom or any other boutique that carries the line. Enjoy!

[Image via Liberty]

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Five Resolutions for 2012

Like many of you, each year I make new years resolutions, some achievable and some not so much. It's very therapeutic to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year with the future as a blank slate (as much as possible!). You can set out to achieve big milestones or keep it to smaller goals. Seeing as my last year was full of big changes, I've kept it on the smaller side with some (hopefully) achievable resolutions.

Drink lots and lots of water.

Stay in closer touch with my family and friends, especially since I live abroad.
Blog every week and document all my travels.

Do yoga every week for a healthier mind and body.

De-clutter my closet and keep it that way.

While I have every intention of maintaining each of these resolutions, I realise that it's going to be a challenge at times. But I also think that they're all attainable if I remind myself regularly, so here's to giving it my best shot in 2012!

[Images from top to bottom via Effortless Style Blog, Pinterest, Engageology, PinterestCupcakes and Cashmere]

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Winter Holiday in Paris

Paris during the holidays is definitely a sight to see...all of the lights, architecture and cafes are just incredibly gorgeous in the winter months. There were so many highlights from our trip last week, with my favourites being Versailles, shopping in Marais, the Musee D'Orsay and dining in Saint Michel (would definitely recommend visiting them all if you haven't before). And of course, the trip wouldn't be complete without over-indulging in cinnamon, sugar and butter crepes and countless chocolate croissants. 

We took the Eurostar train from London to Paris, which made travelling seem less stressful and more relaxed. Our hotel, Villa Beaumarchais, was right in the Marais district close to the Bastille metro stop and our room was small and charming with eclectic French decor. We got a great deal on which cut the price in half, otherwise it's a bit pricey in an already pricey city. 

Luckily we had nice weather most of the time, and even when it was foggy or raining, it's still Paris! Here are a few photos from our holiday...

First day walking around Saint Michel and visiting the Notre Dame
Day two at Versailles - it's breathtakingly grand and beautiful
Looking out over the Versailles gardens, albeit a little foggy
Marie Antoinette's the colours!
Near the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's favourite estate
An amazing sunset over the Eiffel Tower
Indulging in a lot of croissants, so buttery and delicious!
Our last lunch at Cafe de Flore, highly recommend for a traditional French meal

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