8 October 2015

The Hidden Café: A Story

As we walk towards the restaurant, a couple sat outside on wooden terrace chairs grin at us - a plethora of food laid out in front of them on the tiny table.  I sense there is a hidden message somehow and I feel a sense of kinship with them; they seem to be urging us to take a chance on this tiny, hidden 'Petiscos' café tucked down a backstreet in Porto.  Despite this feeling of somehow being invited in, they are the only ones at the restaurant, and I am unsure. As we approach the front door, I tug on Tom's sleeve and say quietly, "Should we go somewhere else?" I glance inside nervously - small, square tables line the wall, with folding chairs surrounding them, and what looks like a cheese counter is nestled away at the back of the small, dimly lit café.

I have a fear of empty restaurants - all eyes on you, a bored waitress blurring the line between attentive and intrusive.  But Tom pushes me in, and suddenly we are inside.  Immediately a man greets us, warmly.  He is tall and walks with a slight stoop; clearly not quite comfortable with his height.  He has a floppy fringe, which he brushes away from his eyes, extending an arm towards a table - "Come in, come in!"  From behind the fringe, he smiles shyly, and ushers us towards a table. As we sit, he explains that the restaurant is as much a deli and a gourmet foods shop as it a place to eat, and that the menu is centred around the foods you can buy from the shop.  The walls are lined with stacked wooden crates; full of breads, preserves, wines, olives - all manner of different foods and drinks, all displayed beautifully in vintage boxes that towered up towards the ceiling.

>> img credit: oportocool.wordpress.com {the café by day}

He hands us both menus - the choice was limited to platters of meats and cheeses, or some sandwiches. We were eager to recreate the spread the couple had on the table outside, so we ordered a cured meats platter, a cheese platter and a bread basket, with a glass of white wine for me, and a red wine for Tom.  The waiter noted down our choices carefully in pencil on his pad, stooped over our table with a reflective expression and furrowed brow; as if he was considering every one of our choices; mulling them over in his head.

He walked away, then, as if remembering something, he turned back.  Nervously he stammered - "If you don't mind.... I hope it's okay, but I wondered, if you would like to try a glass of the Port wine first? The white Port wine will cleanse your palate and make the cheeses taste even better."  He tilted his head inquisitively, but took a step back, as if to relieve any pressure we might feel to agree to his suggestion.  "Of course," I said.  "That sounds great."

Moments later, he carefully placed two glasses of Port wine in front of us.  Because of the alcohol content of Port, it creates 'tears of wine' - a ring of clear liquid which droplets form from.  I sipped it slowly, watching the wine collect at the top of the glass as I tip it towards me, and then roll back into the body of wine.  It is sweet, but strong - I expect to dislike it but it immediately warms and relaxes me.  The man returns, smiles, lights a candle with a match, and disappears out to the back of the shop. The smell of sulphur lingers a little.  "This was a good choice," says Tom, thoughtfully.

At the back of the shop, I watch as a lady takes blocks of cheeses from the counter, and delicately slices them.  She is a small lady, with a maroon scarf woven around  her head, a long, gilded dress and a look of intense concentration.  As the man re-enters the restaurant, he places a protective hand on her shoulder as he brushes past her.  Nothing is said.

"I was thinking," he begins, as he approaches our table.  "I was thinking that... I have a freshly baked chestnut loaf that would go wonderfully with your cheese.... if you would like it?" He rubs his hands together, waiting for an answer.  I imagine him in the kitchen at the back, kneading the dough, pushing fists into the soft, warm, floured mass, chopping chestnuts, sprinkling salt.  I wonder if he saves a slice for himself - slathered with jam, or perhaps served simply with a few slices of cheese. We answer yes, and he smiles gratefully and walks away.  In his smile I sense a touch of excitement, a spring in his step as he realises we will acquiesce to all of his suggestions, and that we are keen to try his lovingly made wares.

He returns with the cheese board.  Slices of cheese are laid out in rows, like toppled dominoes.  He places the board so softly and sensitively on the table that it doesn't make a sound.  He pauses to take in the lay of the board, as an artist might step away from a canvas.  He re-centres it, and smiles at me, a little embarrassed at his labour of love.  He then lays another dish next to it - the chestnut bread. As he places it, I watch as the butter oozes from its lightly toasted crust, flecks of flour dusting the outer surfaces and creating patterns on the ceramic plate.  He passes us our wine and lays the white wine in the centre and the red wine to the side.  "The white wine... much better with cheese," he explains.  "It will help the flavours come out.  Red wine is too..." he pauses, struggling for the word.  "My English is... not always so good... Overpowering! Red wine is too overpowering."  He smiles at the victory of pulling this word from his memory.  "Your English is great," I say, "Much better than my Portuguese!" He laughs at this. "Portuguese is very complicated though!" "Oh, one more thing - my wife will come and tell you what all of the different cheeses are and talk you through where they come from." We glance at the lady at the counter and she smiles - a big, warm, friendly smile - and nods in affirmation.

Petiscos Bar Porto

It might not surprise you to know that the cheeses are utterly delectable.  They are served with a ginger and ale dipping sauce which is similarly heavenly, and we try each one in turn, groaning and nodding in appreciation.  The white wine is wonderful and complements the cheese perfectly.  Even without looking, I know he is hiding just out of view in the kitchen area, watching for our enjoyment.  "This was a good choice." Tom says again, through a mouthful of warm chestnut bread.

>> A little story about our visit to Dama Pé De Cabra in Porto

6 October 2015

Making the house cosy for Autumn

One of my little idiosyncracies is that I'm a bit of a social media addict (always that person who asks for your wifi code when I come to stay), who has tried - and failed - a digital detox on many occasions, and is rarely far away from one of my gadgets, be it my phone, iPad or laptop.  And yet somehow, the idea of hiding out in a log cabin in the woods, with nothing but a roaring fire, cosy blanket, stack of books and notebooks and a method for brewing tea, appeals.  In the Autumn I tend to go into a bit of a nesting mode - scattering blankets around the house, cranking up the fire, and spending Sundays burrowed underneath a huge duvet with a good book.

I was recently offered the opportunity to snap up a few items from the latest George Homewares section, and the idea of stocking up on some new bits to cosy-fy our house definitely appealed.  I was not prepared for just how awesome their new ranges are - I'm not just saying this, I want everything. There are eight new ranges, which have taken inspiration from world travels, and different trends from around the globe.  I was asked to pick one and write about why I chose it, and it was HARD.  I was extremely tempted by Luna - all coppers and metallics, with smoky greys and charcoal.  It's basically my interiors Pinterest board but in a ridiculously reasonably priced homewares range.  I mean - a globe lamp for £15? I have seen them for £50 in trendy design shops!

In the end though, my heart was won by the Tundra range.  I mean - even the name just conjures up images of moose galloping by your window as you relax in front of an open fire, swaddled in a (faux) fur blanket, with candles burning away in the background.  It makes me feel cosy just thinking about it.

Tundra | Asda George | Homewares

The next challenge of course was narrowing it down to a few items to welcome into our home (confession: I've since bought more!) A new lamp for Tom's bedside table was a must - a beautiful ceramic base with a copper stand won me over immediately (and £35? Hello!) Some new comfy bedsheets were a given, this tufted, textured arrow cushion looks much more expensive than its £15 pricetag, and a new tray and mugs makes chai lattés in bed on a rainy Sunday morning much more fun.

Tundra | Asda George | Homewares Tundra | Asda George | Homewares
bear mugs: £4
bear tray: £5

I'm a total sucker for quilt cover that has a different colour on the other side (mainly so I can fold the corner over and take photos like you see in interiors magazines.... yep).  This geo duvet cover is an instant favourite of my mine - putting the new sheets on on Sunday and then climbing underneath with Kinfolk magazine was probably the highlight of my week!  The only thing better than clean sheets, is new sheets.

Tundra | Asda George | HomewaresTundra | Asda George | Homewares

Tundra | Asda George | Homewares

Tom is mega chuffed with his new lamp ("I get to control the light!") - I have a Lumie light on my bedside table which I set to sunset mode and it slowly dims until it's lights out.  Tom can frequently be found yelling "the sun's going down too quick!" when he's reading a book or magazine, so it's a novelty for him to no longer finish reading something mid-sentence.

The Tundra range is inspired by the Great Plains of Canada - which is somewhere I'd definitely love to visit.  I love living in the New Forest and being able to see the trees and wildlife change through the seasons.  Whilst we don't look out of our window and see elk grazing outside like we might if we lived in the Rockies in Canada, I've still loved being able to bring a touch of the Great Plains to our house with the George Home A/W range.  

Do you like to make your house cosy for Autumn? Have you had a nose at the George A/W range yet? (If not, you might want to do it now before I buy it all....)

4 October 2015

Thirty things I did on Sunday

As some of you might know, I'm currently pretty much house-bound with a stomach infection. Not nice.  I've been really having to force myself to rest, which I'm not very good at, as the Doctor told me that that's the main thing that will help me get over it.  So I thought I'd document my very lazy Sunday...

img credit: laurenconrad.com

001. Made a mug of green tea - the way I always start my day (currently into Twinings Cherry Bakewell Green Tea).
002. Waved goodbye to Tom as he went off to go on a narrowboat for the day with his family - I was so looking forward to going but this stupid illness had other plans.
003. Reorganised my Pinterest boards - we put in an offer on a flat on Saturday (we haven't heard anything - it's so tense!) and so I've been adding lots of things to my home boards. I've now split my boards into different rooms as the 'H O M E' board was getting too full!
004. Read a bit of Heat magazine on the sofa whilst having some Bodhi cuddles. I don't often read trashy mags but Tom bought me a stack as a bit of a get well soon present.
005. Listened to the 'How to be amazing' podcast (interview with Chris Hardwick) whilst catching up on some blog reading.
006. Re-organised the vitamins and supplements cupboard and located my missing teapot behind a lot of mugs.
007. Re-organised the medicine cabinet - it was overflowing and a big mess and I couldn't find anything!
008. Put the (electric) fire on, lit some candles and drank another mug of green tea sitting by the fire.
009. Baked a croissant - Iceland do a bake your own croissant pack and they are amazing.  I had it with confiture du lait bought the last time we were in France (it's like caramel sauce... too good!)
010. Bought some new headphones from Amazon - I fancied getting some bluetooth headphones for walking and running (if they stay on!) so I grabbed this pair as they had some pretty good reviews. And they come in gold.
011. Hunted for a vintage, sherpa lined Levis denim jacket on eBay.  No luck yet.
012. Hung a load of clothes up that had been taking up space on the bed-drobe in the spare room.
013. Ran a bath and put in some of my 'get well soon Rosie' treat to myself - Neal's Yard Seaweed and Arnica Foaming Bath.
014. Put on a face mask - Lush's Mask of Magnamity.
015. Washed my hair - The Body Shop Banana Shampoo and a Keratin Mask - my hair already feels so much healthier since my new colour and cut.
016. Listened to Sarah Starrs' Punk Rock Personal Development Podcast (interview with Nicole Harlow) whilst soaking in the tub - a very inspiring listen!
017. Read about my 'personal portrait' on Astro.com (a recommendation from the podcast). Totally fascinating stuff. Saved it to read again later.  Sent it to my Mum!
018. Took my Milk Kefir out of the airing cupboard and put my milk in the fridge ready for adding to smoothies! I'm trying to heal my poorly gut and do some good things for my tummy so I'm trying a few different fermented foods at the moment.
019. Watched the latest episode of Hunted on Channel 4 catchup.  Thought a lot about what I would do if I was being hunted!
020. Made a (very basic) smoothie out of my milk kefir, adding a bit of cinnamon, agave nectar and a little bit of brown sugar.  It was really nice!
021. Made a toastie with some gluten free bread, parma ham and some cheese from the cheese festival we went to. Yum.
022. Did some colouring in my Mindfulness Colouring Book.  It's definitely therapeutic!
023. Fell asleep on the bed with the dog for about two hours.  I just don't seem to have any energy since I've been poorly.
024. Took the dog for a walk around the field near our house. Tried to collect some conkers but failed...
025. Researched half-marathons as I really want to do one either the end of this year or early 2016. Wondered if I could run a half-marathon that doesn't allow you to wear headphones (surely that's a recipe for boredom!)
026. Cooked a pulled chicken and refried bean fajita type thing for dinner, also very yummy (today has been a good food day).  I made a big batch of the chicken in the slow cooker the other day so this was a good way to use it up.
027. Read more Heat magazine on the sofa and set up some TV programmes to record this week - really looking forward to the second episode of You, Me and The Apocalypse - has anyone else watched the pilot? I loved it!
028. 7pm - X Factor time! Spent my evening watching X Factor and texting my Mum about whether we liked the contestants or not!
029. Tom came in and made me watch the Craigswitch Engage video after hearing it on the Daniel P Carter show on Radio One (fun fact - met Daniel P Carter at Reading Festival and he seemed really nice).
030. Almost time for bed - I always go to bed early on a Sunday night and read in bed until lights out time.  I also have a 'Nuit Calme' before bed - a sleepy tea mix that Tom's parents brought me back from France for my birthday.  The one with honey is especially nice.

Night night everyone - did you have a lazy Sunday?