Saturday, 18 April 2015

A weekend in Paris - Part 2

After an afternoon at the Fondation Louis Vuitton and then a morning in Montparnasse, we were ready to pound the pavements of Paris once more and headed towards the Île de la Cité. But our destination was not Notre Dame. We visited Notre Dame when we last went to Paris and I found it horrendously touristy and Disneyfied with people and cameras everywhere and even those little machines that you put a coin into and it then gets squashed and imprinted with an image of the 'attraction'. We admired it from afar instead.

Our intended destination was possibly one of the most famous bookshops in the world and definitely one of the quirkiest - Shakespeare and Company.  It's an English-language bookshop which has been open since 1951. It has proven to be somewhat of a homing beacon for writers and intellectuals over the years. It's small-ish (and it's very popular so it feels even smaller) and the books are stacked high and spread through a number of smaller rooms. At each turn there are places to sit and read, to play music and even a teeny cubby hole complete with typewriter and lots of little notes left by visitors. It's a wonderful place. Do visit and go early when I imagine it's much quieter than by the time we got there in the early afternoon.

I may have come away with a small purchase. I just can't help myself in bookshops (especially when they do their own tote bags).

We headed back to our hotel for the evening via Rue Cler, a street full of market stalls, flower stalls and restaurants, on the way I picked up a butterfly/fairy/angel pastry because I just couldn't resist it - isn't it gorgeous? Almost too pretty to eat. Almost...

On Sunday we woke early and headed across Paris for the main reason for our visit to Paris - the Studio Ghibli Layout Designs Exhibition. Held at the Art Ludique museum it ran from October to March and we caught it on the last weekend.

Layout designs are sort of blueprints that are created as part of the Studio Ghibli animation process and if you're familiar with Spritied Away, you'll see from the below that they're very similar to the final version and so are amazingly detailed. One particular layout design from Laputa spread over three sheets and blew me away with its detail. They contain notes on movement of the camera and action and sometimes notes or comments from Miyazaki. 

The exhibition itself followed the films in chronological order through the rooms. However there are fewer layout designs still in existence from the earlier films (once we got to Spirited Away there were hundreds on display and I imagine they were only a selection), although at the end there was also a selection of layout designs from the really early TV work that Miyazaki did. 

One of my friends from university had been to the exhibition and had warned me that we should leave at least two hours to see everything and at the time I thought that it seemed like quite a long time but I was wrong, we were easily there for two hours looking at everything and I definitely could have spent longer or gone again to really feel like I took everything in. Unfortunately I can't see that it's coming to London (as I hoped it might, I still hope it will), but if it does, it's phenomenal and amazing for any fan of Studio Ghibli to see.

Even the little transition sections between rooms were all very well thought out and included an infinity version of Yubaba's corridor using double mirrors and a Totoro shadow thrown onto the wall.

The exhibition was only of layout designs, not concept art, but right near the end in the Ponyo section was a gorgeous display of the layout design version of the final credits image (one big long panoramic image) together with a full-colour painted version which was used. Just beautiful and  it was interesting to learn that the final credits were much more low-tech than I imagined.

At the end of the exhibition, a rather slow-moving queue had formed. From my friend who had visited, I knew what to expect and we joined the queue. Eventually we made our way to the front and into a small room with a bench and a green screen. I pressed the countdown button and sat down. Within a minute or two my photo had been taken and I had been emailed a copy of a photo of me on the train with Chihiro and No Face. Such a cool way to end the exhibition.

After our early start, the afternoon was mostly spent having a long lazy boozy lunch which ended with this amazing and huge creme brûlée. 

To walk off the creme brûlée we wandered through Paris, popping in and out of shops as we went. My favourite was Fleux, not just because I could have bought everything in there but also because they seemed to have a beautiful resident cat.

Our feet walked off, it was late afternoon when we checked out of the Hotel Relais Bosquet where we'd had another fantastic stay. We first visited Paris together back in 2010 and stayed at the Relais Bosquet. We enjoyed the location, our room and everything else and so a return visit was only natural. If you're looking for somewhere to stay in Paris, it's only a few minutes' walk from the Eiffel Tower and a whole host of restaurants, is reasonably priced and has lovely staff.

It was with heavy hearts that we headed back to Gare du Nord, where we boarded the Eurostar and I promptly fell asleep for most of the journey, tired out by a wonderful weekend in Paris. I did come away with some excellent souvenirs though.

A photo posted by Lisa (@notquiteenough) on

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Caveat blogger

I remember dial-up internet, I remember the noise of the modem as it connected (a noise which still brings back all sorts of nostalgia for Neopets and an internet that existed before the time-sucks of Facebook and Twitter), I remember having to disconnect every now and again so that my mum could use the phone or check whether anyone had called. I also remember a time when the use of the internet was always accompanied by heavy warnings not to ever meet anyone from the internet because of course, they're probably a rapist or a murderer. Of course they aren't and in fact when I went to university I ended up meeting up with a guy that I'd been chatting to online and we ended up in a relationship, but, warnings ever present, I took a friend and we met in public.

Now things have changed. Social media has changed things. Now people don't hide behind forum names, they have profiles and photos and a constant monologue published on Twitter. There's interaction and glimpses at their lives. High profile Youtubers like Zoella make us feel like we know the people who post online because we see them and they are who they purport to be.

Of course there are also regular blogger meet-ups. Most involve meeting up in a restaurant or an event or even a public space. They might be free or they might mean paying for a meal or afternoon tea. Generally that means paying on the day, sometimes it means a small deposit to secure a place, occasionally I suppose it's possible it might mean paying in full (although I have never attended a meet-up like that they must happen sometimes to avoid drop-outs). Normally the sums involved are fairly small (an afternoon tea for example might be £30) and whilst not pocket change, handing over that amount of money is a measured risk that you might want to take, especially when the person in charge has a good track record of organising events.

I spent several years working in criminal defence doing fraud work and so, probably as a result, have become generally quite wary about who I deal with when it comes to money and my personal details but I know that not everyone is as jaded and suspicious as I am.

In the past few weeks and increasingly over the past few days, I've noticed a lot of commotion on Twitter about a trip that is being planned, not to a local event or venue, but abroad. So we aren't talking about pocket change anymore. Now I am certainly not suggesting that this was or is any kind of fraud, I don't know the details or the ins and outs. However, when I see people on Twitter talking about handing over money for something, not to a company but to an individual, I feel very uncomfortable. I've seen a lot of people getting caught up in a Twitter storm. I am not here to suggest anything about that trip in particular nor to become involved in a fight with anyone, merely to set out some thoughts that are hopefully of general application when dealing with this sort of thing:

Not everyone on the internet is necessarily who they say they are

Have you seen Catfish? If so, then you'll know what I mean, it's possible to think you know everything about someone else, even to fall in love with them and yet it turns out they are someone completely different to the person you thought you were chatting with. If not, watch it!

Laura from six out of ten summed it up well:

If you are going to meet people you don't know online, be safe and remember the basics - meet somewhere public, tell someone where you're going and don't go home with them or give away too many personal details about yourself until you're sure they are who they say they are. Most people on the internet are lovely, a few ruin it for everyone.

Can you afford to risk whatever it is you're paying over?

If you pay the money across to someone, are you willing to risk that you won't get anything in return or a refund if whatever it is does't go ahead? If it's a cinema ticket, probably, but if it's more, maybe not.

Unlike when you book something through a company, you have little recourse if you hand money over to someone and it all goes wrong. If an event doesn't go ahead and you don't get a refund, you might be able to make a claim through the Small Claims Court but apart from the costs and time involved in doing so, the person that you are making a claim against needs to actually be worth suing. If they have no money then your chances of getting anything back are slim to none.

Unlike with flights and holidays and travel agents, people aren't regulated or protected by things like ATOL and ABTA. Don't believe that because you're paying through Paypal that you'll be protected (check their policy here for reimbursement, which is in their sole discretion, here).

Do your research

Who is it you're dealing with? Do you know their last name or anything more about them than their Twitter handle? Have they organised events before? Did they go well?

Do as much research as you can.

If it sounds too good to be true - it probably is

I use this policy when it comes to anything and everything. Whatever it is might sound like the best thing in the world and when there's a lot of Twitter buzz it's easy to get swept up in the excitement and with everyone else, but step back and think about it. If it sounds like a great deal and there's no particular reason why, exercise caution. If you're considering handing over any sum of money, consider whether you'd be paying that money ordinarily. This comes down to research too. If you need a sense check, ask friends and relatives what they think. They can't say whether or not something will be ok but they might be a good reality check.

I don't want to patronise anyone and I hope I haven't. Stay safe online bloggers. We're a lovely community and there are some great meet-ups and events to be had. I just hate it when anyone feels hard done by or shortchanged by anyone. Caveat emptor.

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Getting crafty and learning to make icing roses

There was a chat on Twitter earlier this week when there were discussions about being 'real' on your blog and showing the real you. I've always liked to hope that the me that you read about here is the real me. I've taken this past week off work, ostensibly to write three essays for my postgraduate course but also partly because I was starting to run out of steam a bit (having not really felt like I've stopped to just had some time for me since around May last year). Despite the fact that I've spent most of the week sat on my lounge floor surrounded by journal articles and textbooks trying to cobble three essays together, it's been really good for me and I've started to feel a bit closer to who I am when I am me, the me I am when I'm not work me or part of my relationship me, just me at my core when I'm left alone to do as I please. I've had a little bit of time in the kitchen to cook and if I hadn't had these essays to do I know I would have started a project, because at my heart, I'm a little bit crafty. I like creating things. I suppose that's partly why I started blogging, so I had a bit of a creative outlet.

As a child I was encouraged to be creative and crafty and from a young age always did things like cross-stitch. In fact, one of my favourite ever presents was two big plastic storage boxes full of smaller tubs containing all sorts of craft stuff - googly eyes, pipe-cleaners, pom-poms etc. It was amazing and frequently delved into. There were also occasional trips to the mecca of craft supplies, Hobbycraft. In case you aren't as familiar as I am, they're an arts and crafts retailer with a network of shops across the UK, our nearest was Nottingham and as it wasn't in the centre of town it always felt like a real treat to go there and spend time picking out beautiful peacock-coloured skeins of Anchor thread or a little packet of beads. I still visit when I go home every Christmas to load up on craft supplies for wreaths and decorations.

In addition to craft ranges, they also have a selection of homeware and decor items and a kitchen range. I was invited to try something from Hobbycraft's range and chose the above book - Compendium of Cake Decorating Techniques. I'm always keen to 'upskill' and after getting my hands on a piping bag at Konditor and Cook,  I was keen to learn more about different kinds of techniques. Promising hundreds of tips and techniques, I was excited to try something from the book out and decided to learn how to make icing roses. Luckily it starts out with the basics!

I whipped up a batch of fairy cakes using this Be-Ro recipe that I've used forever and always just works. Instead of using fairy cake cases I used bigger cupcake/muffin cases leaving room for icing as a topping, once I'd sliced off the top of the cakes to level them (eating the sliced off tops, of course). 

I normally add swirls of buttercream to cupcakes but decided to do something a bit different this time and so levelled them off with royal icing.

I decided to try and follow the step by step pictorial instructions for icing roses. There were two; an easy one and a more difficult one. The easy one involved rolling icing and fanning it out into a rose, unfortunately several attempts only produced sausages under my clumsy fingers, so I went for the more difficult one.

There are no photos of me actually making the icing roses because I really did have my hands full, but this is the final result:

Chunkier and less elegant than those pictured in the book, but, in my eyes, a passable attempt at a rose, maybe. Certainly not too horrendous for a first attempt. Plus, it was a great excuse to take photos on my new crockery, which still makes me smile whenever I use it.

I think I need some more practice and being able to make fat icing roses is not in the same league as nunchuck skills but I'm definitely keen to try out more from the book, maybe that ombre cake. 

You can buy Compendium of Cake Decorating Techniques from the Hobbycraft website.

The book was provided on a complimentary basis but the views expressed here are my own unbiased opinions. Thanks Hobbycraft for sending it to me!

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Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Zomato dinner at Gaylord restaurant

My new go-to app when I'm out and about and looking for somewhere to eat is the Zomato app. Favoured by London foodies and bloggers, the app is fantastic for not only checking reviews and restaurants generally but, more important for me, the 'nearby' function allows you to find great places near to where you are for when you're on the go and haven't already made plans. My favourite thing is that it also comes with the ability to filter out chain restaurants and those with a less than 3.5/5 rating. Perfect. It's because of the app that I've discovered some great places that I've previously walked by and never thought about going in. Earlier this year they acquired Urbanspoon so you can definitely expect to hear much more about them in the coming months and years. It sounds like they'll be taking some of the best features of Urbanspoon and incorporating them onto Zomato so I'm very excited (if only my Mac wouldn't keep correcting Zomato to Tomato). Oh and if you're on there, follow me using this link to my Zomato profile page.

I first heard about Zomato through fellow bloggers and it was not long after I registered on there that Yusuf from Zomato got in touch and we went for breakfast to chat and learn more about Zomato. We spent some time discussing restaurants and he told me about a restaurant, Gaylord, which he said was one of his favourites and did really authentic food.

Fastforward to a few months later and an invitation landed in my inbox for a Zomato dinner to be held at Gaylord in the West End and just minutes from Oxford Street. Although leaving Whitechapel for an Indian seems nonsensical, I was excited about not only a lovely dinner but also an evening spent with fellow food loving bloggers.

Luckily for us, Gaylord had organised a veritable feast for us. I really did lose count of how many tempting dishes were placed in front of us. Things started off gently as were were welcomed with a Sharabi Saffron Thandal, a drink which reminded us a lot of a twist on Baileys.

Various canapés swiftly followed, including golgappa shots. These are savoury shots which you pour into a round hollow puri and then popping the whole thing in your mouth. Unfortunately my puri had a little hole in and so it did leak out a tad so I was forced to improvise by having the puri and then a quick slug of the flavoured water. It was a really interesting flavour combination and something I'd never tried before.

Other street food style canapés quickly followed, arriving in a constant stream at our table.

I think my favourites were the Mumbai BhelPuri cones, filled with, amongst other things, onion and crispy puffed rice.

Beautifully succulent marinated chicken was followed by a variety of starters, including (but not limited to) Tiger Prawns, Baby Idli, Crab Cakes Dakshini, Andhra Scallops and two different types of taco served in a colourful little car. We were told that Gaylord were trying some new dishes in an attempt to reach new customers (not because they aren't popular but because they also want to attract younger customers who might not have thought to visit before). I think we all agreed that the best of the dishes were the really authentic ones that stayed true to their longstanding history as a restaurant (they were established in 1966).

I was very lucky with my dining companions for the evening, on my table were Miho (who I had met before at the Konditor and Cook cake decorating class), Angela and Thorne. We were definitely the most fun table (there were a few) and they were great company. We even managed to instigate a blogger-style Mexican wave of cameras and phones.

For our mains, there was a choice of two set menus but we did have a bit of everything as we ended up with food from the table next to us too! We had been told that their Butter Chicken was amazing, but we were also able to tuck into Fish Tak-a-Tak, Lamb Shank accompanied by Dal Bukhara, fluffy rice and an assortment of bread from the charcoal oven.

We ate until we were stuffed, everything was so good and the butter chicken was, as we were assured, delicious. But we weren't finished there, we still had three desserts to sample. Gajar Halwa was a hot carrot pudding served in a beautifully ornate dish, Rasmalai (a soft cheesecake in cardomom scented sweetened milk) was a contrast, both in terms of taste and presentation in a kilner jar.

The most exciting dish though was a Gulab Jamun flambeed with dark spiced rum. Each shot of rum was set alight before being poured over the milk solids dessert.

We were able to spend some time after the meal chatting with the manager who told us about the  long history of the restaurant before we were sent off home to sleep off the wonderful night of food and wine.

The dinner was provided on a complimentary basis but the views expressed here are my own unbiased opinions. Thanks Zomato for inviting me and Gaylord for hosting us!

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