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Dancing in Transylvania: Electric Castle Festival, 12th-16th July


It has taken me four years to realise that to have fun; the real kind, not the ‘how can I make myself look like I’m having fun when really I’m just an anxiety attack waiting to happen’ kind of fun, I need to do two things.

Number 1 – Just Say No. The FOMO is real, people. But it doesn’t need to be. It took a 40 year old journalist I met recently to tell me that getting over FOMO was one of the best things he had ever done. “It takes time, but it will come”, he said to me as we departed a ski lift on the top of a mountain in Mayrhofen.

We were at Snowbombing festival and he was there to cover the festival for an online music magazine. He was having fun, not drinking, skiing loads every day, and most importantly left the festival with an average of 40 hours’ sleep during the week. I, on the other hand, drank my body weight in Jägermeister and beer, danced until 5am every night, skied probably more than I should have and averaged about 10 hours’ sleep during the week. I confided in him that I was absolutely having fun, but trying to ensure that I didn’t have a nervous breakdown in the process. He laughed and said that he would include it in his piece – sure enough he did. My mentality was identified as a nugget of information that would amuse his reader. And although I’m secretly totally down with that, I shall take his advice and probably increase my life expectancy in the process.

Number 2. Launch myself into situations without over thinking them. Now, the ‘doing’ bit is easy for an impulsive lady. And an impulsive lady I am. But the over thinking – woah, that’s going to be hard. Or is it?

A few weeks ago I received an email with information on a festival taking place in an old castle in Transylvania. Yes, I did just say Transylvania. You know, the place where those twins who look a bit like Dracula come from, one of whom had a sordid affair with a British MP in the naughties. Yes, those two.

Sadly, there will be no Cheeky Girls performance, or any cheesy pop for that matter. No, this festival is for the serious dance music heads out there. I opened the email, popped on across to the website and saw before my eyes a lineup like I haven’t seen… probably ever. Claptone, tick. Maceo Plex, tick. MJ Cole, tick. Moderat, tick. My fingers froze for a second in awe, but once thawed, typed an email to the PR so quickly that I think I could have got myself into the Guinness Book of World Records, if I had been recording.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, a few weeks ago I jumped back onto the website and saw the name of a band that not only have I not seen for around 4 years, but that completely changed the course of my existence back when I was a 17 year old at college in Nottingham. My friend Ross had dragged me along to the NME tour at Rock City and as if by magic, we walked into the venue at the same time Paul Thomson from Franz Ferdinand whacked his drumsticks to create a sound that will never leave me – the intro to ‘Shopping for Blood.’ I’m slightly gutted that Nick McCarthy won’t be there, swaying quickly from side to side and gracing us with his awesome rhythm guitar, synth and high-pitched vocals, but I’m bloody excited nonetheless.

So, as of now, I have booked our flights and posh camping for the festival, and my friend has booked us into a hotel for a couple of nights afterwards so we can explore Cluj-Napoca, what is billed as the region’s unofficial capital, packed with bohemian art & culture and a café where all the furniture is made out of cardboard.

If you like dance music, history and charming cultural European cities off the beaten track, I urge you to look into joining us this summer on our Electric Castle adventure.

For more information on the festival, visit the website here.

For more information on Cluj-Napoca, click here.

 

Craving Chicken? KERB Has the Answer

If you haven’t heard of KERB, you don’t deserve to be reading this. So if you haven’t, move along, please…


London’s Street Food Market pioneer, KERB has announced The Bucket List, a clucky two day chicken fest, which brings together London’s breast bird bosses under the same roof to give you all the chicken you need for a year. The bad news is that tickets have now sold out, however the GOOD NEWS is that you can join the waiting list and be in with a chance of WINNING one of three pairs of tickets.

The Bucket List:

Mother Clucker – Tea-brined, twice buttermilk soaked Cajun chicken strips with hot sauce

Other Side Fried Cocoa chilli and maple fillets with coriander mayo

Only Jerkin – Ginger beer battered jerk or mango nuggets with jerk gravy

Bill or Beak – Szechuan miso tenders with fermented green chilli hot sauce

Daja Chicken – Double coated & double fried Asian tenders with modern flavours from the Far East  *GF

Killa Dilla ‘KDFC’ in chipotle salt and crushed Chilli Heatwave tortilla chips

Mother Flipper – Korean spicy wings

Petare – Masa fried pieces with guava glaze and habanero mayo

Rules:

Every ticket receives a portion of fried chicken from each Bucket List trader,  plus a complimentary drink of choice.

When you’ve tried it all, vote for your favourite at the Bucket List Wall of Fame

Extra sides, extra chicken creations and extra sauces can be bought throughout the event.

Kids under 12 can enter for free during the Saturday lunch session, but does not include food.

Extras:

Cheese fries, hot waffles, pickled slaw, street corn with fermented pineapple hot sauce, Bill or Beak’s off-bucket-list soy brined fried chicken Rancher burger with hot cheese sauce, jerk cauli-wings, feta topped fried cassava sticks, and look out for South East Cakery‘s special Sundaes.

Drinks:

KERB’s Bucket List bar serving classics from over the years, Bacardi‘s Mojito bar and Beavertown London craft beer.

Live Music:

Live band, Mariachi El Pinche Gringo, plus KERB resident house-party DJ’s carrying the party on ’til late.

Games:

Robo-chicken racing. What?!

Friday 5th May (Evening Session)
6pm – 11pm
Saturday 6th May (Lunch Session)
12pm – 5pm
Saturday 6th May (Evening Session)
6pm – 11pm

Location:

West Handyside Canopy, King’s Cross, N1C

Decaf Delights

What was becoming a seemingly endless quest in my life, may now finally be drawing to an end and it looks like there may in fact be light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rare to come across a decaffeinated coffee that is so rich in flavour and still gives you that same satisfying feeling as when you are indulging in a fresh, steamy hot cup of coffee. As the name already says, Decadent Decaf is the height of luxury when it comes to the magical black been that has been energizing man-kind for the past thousand years. This one without the caffeine of course, but don’t let that lead you into thinking it will be flavourless and and sans body. Quite the opposite, times are changing and decafs are entering the 21st century with a bang.  As many others, I was of the belief that the decaffeination process sucked all the life out of coffee beans and left a kind of dirty coloured undrinkable matter. Guy Wilmot, Co Founder of Decadent Decaf, explains otherwise, telling me that this is no longer the case and the process has improved considerably in recent years. Guy is a coffee-lover to the bone and founded the company in 2013 with a group of like-minded coffee enthusiasts. I spoke to him briefly on the phone and his passion poured through the speaker as he confessed his love for the industry and excitement for what the future holds.

Guy was kind enough to send me a few samples to get an idea of the different flavours available to his customers. The first thing that struck me was the packaging – it had a very rich look and feel to it with wonderfully designed logos for each different coffee. I’ve listed all the flavours below, however here are some of my favourites. The Indonesian Sumatra was definitely up there, with a brown sugar body, smooth cocoa finish and intense aroma for those who like a strong cup of decaf coffee. The Costa Rican Strictly Hard Bean was also a delight with a little bit of everything; a crisp and clean aromatic cup, a balanced body with subtle chocolate and nutty tones. I particularly liked the Kenyan AA which almost left me forgetting that I was drinking non-regular coffee. Here are all the coffees:

Colombia Medellin Swiss Water Decaf Decaffeinated Coffee Beans & Ground 227g net weight

Costa Rica Strictly Hard Bean Swiss Water Decaf Decaffeinated Coffee Beans & Ground 227g net weight

Ethiopia Sidamo Swiss Water Decaf Decaffeinated Coffee Beans & Ground 227g net weight

Indonesia Sumatra Mandheling Swiss Water Decaf Decaffeinated Coffee Beans & Ground 227g net weight

Kenya AA Swiss Water Decaf Decaffeinated Coffee Beans & Ground 227g net weight

Signature Espresso Blend Swiss Water Decaf Decaffeinated Coffee Beans & Ground 227g net weight

Overall I was really impressed by this product and would definitely recommend it to anyone needing a break from caffeinated drinks. You will not be disappointed.

A Moment of Panic and a new PB

Everything is starting to fall into place in relation to one special date in my calendar this year. The trouble is, I had a realisation today that cast itself over my head like a horrible gray rainy mist that wouldn’t clear. Ok, so maybe I’m over exaggerating a little, but when I started wondering what I would be working towards after 23rd April and what my life will look like post London Marathon, six months after I started a ‘loose but dedicated’ training regime, I panicked slightly.

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What did I do? I took to Whatsapp to message my friend Pippa, who ran the London Marathon in her early 20s. She said something that I hadn’t even suspected, but rings so true. “It’s like getting married – all of your effort is put into that one day… and then it’s all over so quickly.” Ok, so I wouldn’t know if it was like getting married or not, but I can empathise with that feeling.

I really shouldn’t be thinking about that just yet – I still have 9 weeks to go until the big day. And I’m feeling more and more prepared every time I run. Take today for example, I popped along to the Hampton Court Half Marathon, situated in, you guessed it, Hampton Court (actually, Thames Ditton), and ran my little heart out to secure a half marathon PB – 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Those who know me will know that the three half marathons I have completed in the past were not trained for, so even though in the back of my head I expected to run faster than ever, I was still nervous. What I hadn’t expected is that I would run a whole 10 minutes faster. It just goes to show that training can pay off.

Today was pretty spectacular. I started off at quite a fast pace, which isn’t unusual for me. But when I hit 10k and realised that it was on a par with the PB that I hit during a 10k race a couple of weeks ago, I thought I might have scuppered myself. That isn’t even half way and I had pretty much given all I had up to that point. I heard Pippa’s voice in my head saying, “You can’t sprint a half marathon, Sarah.” But I didn’t really slow down and mile after mile I glanced at my watch and to my surprise, never went over the 5:05m/km pace.

I had heard that the Hampton Court Half Marathon is the perfect race to smash a PB, due to it being so flat. And it was such a lovely course… along the river and past Hampton Court Palace towards the end. Tim from City Runners was there to cheer us all along and as he shouted “Go on Sarah, you’re looking strong” at the 11 mile mark, the rest of the surrounding crowd joined in and I felt euphoric.

I sit here now at home and I feel great. I’m proud of what I have achieved, but it is far from over. As well as another 9 weeks of potentially grueling training, I also now need to fully turn my attention to raising £2,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust. Not an easy feat.

I would welcome any ideas that any of you may have – runner or not. I am already in the process of planning a pub quiz, a sweepstake and an office Olympics game. I have also had suggestions to write a song and sell it and I have asked my friend Seth if he wants to put on a gig – I can then tie it in with my lifelong dream to perform!

Thank you to all who have donated already – if you would like to donate to a great cause and help children with cancer, please head to my Virgin Money Giving page and donate now.

Training for a Marathon is Hard

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A few weeks ago, I promised that I would update you with stories of my running progress while training for the London Marathon. I seem to have failed miserably so far, despite having every intention to sit down and do it each week. Instead, I reverted back to the good old pen and paper tactic, using a David Shrigley notebook, whose bright white empty sheets had been staring out at me for a while.

It started as a log of time, distance and pace, and over the last couple of weeks increasingly become more of a diary than a page of stats, which makes me realise that I am perhaps ready to write again.

So. My progress. That’s what you want to know, right? The good news is that I had two weeks of following the plan, almost to the letter. Then I quickly realised that if I wanted to ensure I did stick to a rigid training plan, I would need to fit it in around my lifestyle.

It hasn’t been an easy process so far. My London life over the last (almost) 12 years has been lived in distinct stages. If I were to try and describe that to you, I would say I am on my fifth life in this incredibly diverse city, which would probably allow me 100 different lives.

Three years ago, I was working full time and heavily socialising in my spare time. Six years ago, I was working full time and either cooking every night, or eating out at a three to four different new restaurants each week. Weekends have been spent hungover in their entirety in one stage; another stage spent escaping London in search of more cultural pursuits.

Right now, they are spent mostly in Bermondsey, buying fresh vegetables and posh coffee from my local market on a Saturday, running, and cooking for the week ahead on a Sunday. This time last year I was travelling around Asia, on my way back to London after more than a year in Melbourne – working three jobs at once and drinking my body weight (which was more back then) in red wine.

My life now is a far cry from what it once was and it is taking some getting used to. Add training for a distance which I had never imagined I would even consider thinking about, let alone train for, is a difficult process. I recently attempted to explain to someone why I am running the London Marathon. The best way I could describe it was that I have never successfully managed to train for anything in my life. Exams weren’t revised for, piano and saxophone weren’t practiced, I didn’t train outside my weekly county netball sessions and I have run three half marathons and not trained for a single one. If I successfully manage to train for four months for the London Marathon and complete it, I will never have felt so proud of myself in my entire life, as I will hopefully be able to attribute the dedication to other aspects of my life.

Running doesn’t come without its problems though, especially when training for a marathon. A couple of weeks ago I started to feel pain on my left shin. It gradually got worse and after a session with the physio, was told that I had shin splints. That’s not all – last year I had an MRI scan on my right knee, which shows that I have an IT band issue. Both common running injuries. So I had to take the hard decision last week to have a week off. Right now, I haven’t run for a whole week, or done any exercise for that matter. This evening I’ll be going back to the amazing running club that I joined in the summer last year. I’m nervous that I’ll be slower than I was last week and that it will feel much harder than it did – moving backwards a few steps.

What’s more, my positive mental attitude to training is waning and I’m having to have a quiet word with myself every hour on the hour to make sure that the importance doesn’t slip out of my little head.

Another thing I have noticed over the last week is that my anxiety levels have increased. Last Saturday, my mum visited me in London and I took her to the market. The social anxiety I experienced was almost crippling. I thought about it more afterwards and realised that I hadn’t had an episode quite like it since I started training. I know it might not be the case, but I have a strong suspicion that this might be linked to the lack of exercise.

I’m excited to get back to it tonight, as since starting the training plan I have become much fitter, a lot stronger, healthier and happier. Long may it continue!

Lastly, and this is the part that I’m not great at, I’m still in need of donations from my wonderful friends and family. As I have said before, every £ donated will make this process a whole lot easier. Please head to my Virgin Money page – anything you can spare will be appreciated more than you can imagine.

Love and miles. xxx

When hearts and bellies meet

What

Pasta’n’Goulsh http://www.pasta-n-goulash.co.uk

What A ‘Hungarian-Italian fusion’ winter pop-up bar and kitchen, right in the heart of Holborn (for now)

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Where

Temporarily homed in The Plot Twist in Russel Square

Experience

While Hungarian and Italian might not sound like the most naturally complimentary cuisines, they are united by one crucial characteristic that we all crave at this time of year – stodge.

Pasta’n’Goulash is the brain child of partners in business and in life, Agata and Tamas, and comes to the bellies of Londoners at a time when we need it most (because nothing trumps winter quite like potatoes served in bread).

On arrival, we were greeted by the aforementioned couple who, I think it’s safe to say, were no less than the most charming hosts I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I am a sucker for schmaltz so fell hook, line and sinker for their tale of love at first sight. Originally from Parma and Budapest respectively, the pair met in London and ‘from that moment decided to share life together’, uniting their native cuisines in the process. Beautiful stuff.

The seasonal menu – as the name suggests – focuses on goulash and pasta dishes. With total disregard for our waistlines, we of course tried one of each. The traditional goulash soup served in a bread bowl (bowl perhaps doesn’t do its size justice, it was more of a bread sink…), while not something I would usually go for, was really quite scrumptious. Rich, tender and perfectly seasoned, it was just the thing on a cold winter’s day.

The pasta Tubetti was next up. Made with potatoes (you can never have too many…) and sausage, I would strongly advise sporting your roomiest attire if going for this dish. However, for the visual spectacle of it being made before your eyes in a flaming wheel of parmigiano cheese, this sartorial trade-off is a small price to pay.

I am ashamed to say that I was not looking forward to my owner-recommended desert before it arrived. Perhaps it was naïve but, for me, the concept of cottage cheese covered in chocolate is simply not that appealing. But God loves a trier and try I did. Thank heavens and praise the lord, etc, because it was spectacular. Known as Turo Rudi, what we were presented with was a very pretty, delicate plate of chocolate fingers that were seriously moreish and resulted in a licked-clean plate. Hungary’s most popular chocolate desert for good reason.

Carb-loading wasn’t the only one of Londoners’ favourite pastimes they had on offer though, oh no. It seems that the Hungarians and Italians do booze very well indeed. With a wide range of traditional wines from both countries available, as well as more than ten award winning craft beers from Hungary, the drinks list was a pleasure to behold – as was evidenced by our stumbling and slurring on exiting the building.

While the ephemeral nature of the pop-up experience is inherent to its charm, it does have its draw backs. In the case of Pasta’n’Goulash, it is the location that has suffered somewhat. Aside from the fact that Tamas and Agata’s brand of open-arms service and hearty cuisine would sit better in, say, Highbury, than suited and booted Holborn, the venue itself leaves one a little cold… both literally and figuratively speaking. It is not, as my companion wryly commented, somewhere you would choose to impress a first date, but it’s nothing that a few nice lamps wouldn’t fix.

If you’re in Holborn and in the mood for a winter warmer, you could do a lot worse than Pasta’n’Goulash. This is not fine-dining, that’s for sure, but it’s tasty, wholesome cooking that makes a pleasant change from the usual London restaurant roster. And with more beige food than you could shake a stick at, I will almost certainly be going back for more.

Cost

Approximately £30 per person for a three course meal with wine

Address

51 Red Lion St, WC1R 4PF London

Sunday lunch with the Jones Family

Where

Jones Family Project

http://jonesfamilyproject.co.uk/

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What

A comfortable, chic bar in Shoreditch with a passion for wine, cocktails and delicious locally sourced food

Experience

Situated in the heart of bustling Shoreditch and within strolling distance of Old Street station is The Jones Family Project, which I discovered is a gem of two parts this Sunday. As you enter, you walk into a welcoming bar in a setting that is comparable with a chic New York loft mixed with a 1970s lounge and obviously one hell of a good bar. There are booths, high tables, coffee areas and my personal favourite were the drawers built into the bar to give the illusion of a tea tray. Downstairs is a beautiful restaurant, again with an expansive bar and dining room with fairy lit trees and dim lighting. It’s honestly beautiful.

We were greeted by Alejandro, who is the assistant general manager and a massive food and wine enthusiast. He is friendly, informed and really passionate about The Jones Family Project. He recommended we tried the squid to start, a newbie to their autumnal menu; a deliciously light, crispy

Salt and Pepper Squid with Spiced watermelon, rocket and crackling. For our main course, we both ordered the roast beef, as A; it was Sunday and B; we saw several going out and knew if we hadn’t we would have missed out. The roast is a beautiful tower of roast root vegetables, lightly buttered greens and a giant Yorkshire resting on creamed mash potato partnering perfectly cooked, locally sourced beef, oh and of course their homemade creamed horseradish. It was delightful and paired beautifully with the wines highlighted on their November wine list. They pick four a month, which on top of their already chosen thirty means you really need to ask for a recommendation. I have the +Ritme, an earthy white from the Priorat region in Spain and Lizzie, more in line with what you should have with roast beef had a red, a Chihon Cuvee Terrior from the Loire region in France. Both delightful. After politely declining a desert for two minutes, we decided to cave on any ideas of Sunday dieting and shared a brownie, which is not just any brownie, I believe it is somewhat of a labour of love of Anna’s, one of the owners. It was a perfectly gooey brownie, with salted caramel sauce and coconut ice- cream. It was absolutely delicious, every part of it, and when I go back again, I am going to have the good sense, not to share! The food is lovely here, the staff are warm and helpful, I imagine you can tell from my review, but I really like the Jones Family Project, you get a real sense of family and passion coupled with amazing food. Go at any time of day, on any day and I am positive, you will not be disappointed!

Cost

Sunday Menu 12pm -4.30pm – One course £9.95, two courses £14.50, three courses £17.50

Address

78 Great Eastern Street London EC2A 3JL