Walking for Wellbeing

Walking for Wellbeing

As I approach the end of my second year of training to become a counsellor I am really focussing on wellbeing within our society and what people can do in their every day life to look after their metal health. As part of this I have become a wellbeing champion at my place of work to help fight the stigma of mental health and promote general well being.

Today is the launch of the Get On Your Feet Britain campaign which encourages people to get up and get moving to increase both physical and mental health. I have taken this to work and started a team steps challenge where teams are encouraged to record their steps, the highest stepping team wins a fruit basket! Every little counts and I aim to get those who are already active to encourage their less active colleagues to contribute by taking the stairs, having a walking lunch break or arranging a team ramble.

Day 1 of the steps challenge I awake feeling groggy with a banging head ache!….Typical. Laying in bed I realised I had not yet figured out how to track my steps so I browsed the app store and chose Pacer which seemed to fit the bill and its free! I dragged myself up and opened the curtains to find the April showers were in full force, instead of heading back to the duvet I did a gentle 20 mins yoga practice to get my body moving and ease me into the day.

After brekkie I piled my bowl into the sink full of dirty dishes and went to get changed. You can tell its the end of the week as no clean jeans! Given the weather I dug out my winter waterproofs instead, the dog did not look impressed at the prospect of a wet walk but I wrapped up and we headed out.

Fresh air and a bit of rain never did anyone any harm, it certainly perked me up and even the dog had a good old run around once he was out. It wasn’t long before my head was clear and it felt good to start the day racking up some steps for the team.

In todays hectic world it doesn’t take long to find reasons not to exercise or get active. You can see from the highlighted words above the things I could have used as diversions to cut a walk short or not go out at all. So get up and get out there because chores can wait but your health shouldn’t.

Take Care xx

 

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Cake Diary: Flourish

Cake Diary: Flourish

One of the many joys of having an artisan baker as a friend is that she finds little bakery gems and invites me along to test them out. Purely market research you understand as we would not normally like to spend our days off chit chatting over cups of tea and enjoying freshly baked produce!……. It’s a tough life.

This week we discovered Flourish, a craft baker tucked away on an industrial estate in Watford. As the sat nav led us past tyre fitters and wholesalers I began to think we were in the wrong place (I don’t trust sat nav’s at the best of times) but then it emerged before us. In contrast to it’s run down industrial surroundings Flourish stands proud with grey painted brickwork and slick black signage; a clean and sleek oasis.

The building is huge with the bakery taking up the majority of it, they need the space as they supply several high end hotels in London as well as The Grove locally. Sitting proudly at the front is the cafe with rustic, warm decor of reclaimed wood panelling and worn leather seats, welcoming you in to the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Vintage pastry trays and pans line the walls while wooden crates display goods for sale, simple yet elegant. Above each table a low hanging pendant light keeping an intimate feel and your focus on the food before you.DSC_0112

The wood panelling is punctured with bright windows of white light showing you the inner workings of the bakery. Machines whirring and hands kneading, just a pane of glass between the creators and the client.

The breakfast and brunch menu is simply mouth watering, there are no greasy spoons here! Fresh, vibrant ingredients lovingly put together to satisfy your hunger, the difficulty is deciding what to have. Having tried and failed to cook the perfect poached egg more times that I care to admit I now leave this nemesis of mine to the experts. Clearly these guys knew what they were doing so I ordered the smashed avocado and poached eggs with halloumi, on sourdough.

I had prepared myself for the menu choices and I knew the selection of breads and bakes would be varied. I had not, however, expected there to be such an interesting tea selection. The brand stocked is Birchall’s, an eco-concious London tea company who have developed plantations around the world. They work closely with the communities they’re in, are rain forest alliance certified and fair trade. Amongst the more familiar blends I noticed one on the menu I had not heard of before, Virunga….I was intrigued.

Virunga tea is grown at high altitude in Rwanda, close to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga National Park. Not only does this park nurture exquisite tea plantations it is also home to endangered wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas. You can read more about Birchalls conservation work at their website where they also recommend a Netflix documentary called “Virunga” for an insight into the area. One for the watchlist me thinks. Large companies have such an obligation to the nations they work with, amazing produce can be grown whilst still caring for the environment and local communities.

In the bag Virunga is a fine black tea and in the cup it brews a warm russet colour. I found it a little strong to drink without milk – as my friend described it “It’s very Tea-ee”! I would have to agree. A strong and earnest brew it will appeal to those who like a DSC_0097“proper cuppa”. Slightly more refined around the edges that a builders brew but still packs a punch. Virunga also comes in earl grey and Chai blends which may be softer on the palate but I am yet to try.

Brunch was nothing short of eggy perfection. The sourdough, toasted but still soft, had a delicious chewy crust, slathered with creamy, smashed avocado. The halloumi was pleasingly squeaky (I expect nothing less from squeaky cheese!) and not as salty as many supermarket brands. As I popped each egg the golden yolk flowed dressing the plate with sunshine. A gentle sprinkle of chilli & chives graced each fork full providing just a tingle of warmth. My plate was cleared and my tummy was full. So full I had to get my sweet treat to take away!

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The counter had plenty on offer, from huge slabs of carrot cake to delicate fruit tarts. It’s not often I go for a chocolate choice but I was enticed by the coconut brownie. A good few hours later that afternoon as the 4pm slump hit and the kettle was on I tucked in. Not as gooey as some brownies but I don’t think thats a bad thing. Sturdy enough to hold and bite in to, the desiccated coconut adding both texture and flavour to the bitter sweet chocolate. Deliciously satisfying and definitely worth the wait!

The vibe of Flourish is very much of an artisan bakery but their wealth of experience and expertise comes across in droves. There is little reason to visit this North Watford industrial estate but for the delicious food, welcoming service and artisan loaves that entice people back time and again. I doubt you’ll be passing but I highly recommend a detour.

Flourish, Unit 2 Garnett Close, Watford, WD24 7GL         TEL: 01923 630588

Hello 2018

Hello 2018

Firstly I’d like to apologise for my disappearance for the later part of 2017, how time flies when life takes over. I began an exciting new venture in September, attending college to train to become a counsellor. I have dabbled in psychology and wellbeing throughout my life and find human behaviour and the mind a fascinating subject.

I have alluded to my personal experience of anxiety in previous posts and a few years ago I was struggling so attended counselling to face the demons I was battling. It was a revelation and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed exploring me!! It’s a relatively selfish pass time in that you get to sit with another human being you know nothing about and talk solely about yourself. Your fears, thoughts, emotions and anger laid bare, such a daunting yet liberating experience.

After working on myself for nearly 2 years (and still to this day I hasten to add), I wanted to learn the theories behind the scenes and how to use my experience to help others. Working full time and studying in the evening means it will be a few years until I am fully qualified, however I am going to enjoy the journey as I continue to develop my self awareness along the way. Needless to say finding a place for study along with my current commitments has been a challenge, hence why Tea & Happiness took a back seat. So what does 2018 have in store?

I am not one for New Years resolutions, being a realist I refuse to set myself up to fail! The streets are dotted with regretful runners, the gym full of fledgling fitness freaks and supermarkets are selling out of kale & avocados faster than you can say “superfood”.

We all want to be better (whatever that may look like) and I believe it is important to set goals and try something new. But why do that in January?! It’s notoriously dark, cold and with the disappearance of Christmas sparkle, pretty darn miserable. I listened to a Radio show which discussed resolutions and one caller said he treated January like a 30 day free trial to try something out and see how it fits. Come the end of the month you can adapt it, drop it or just keep the bits that work for you. This seems like a healthier approach to the New Year, New Me farce.

So in light of that healthier attitude I am not going to berate myself for letting my blog slide. For 2018 I aim to combine my education with my creative expression as I have so much I want to share with you. Not just new teas I have discovered over the last few months but also insights into mental health and personal development. I’d love to hear what your goals and ambitions are so please share in the comments below and let’s see what the next 12 months has in store!

In the meantime I wish you all a happy & healthy 2018 🙂

7 Day Rebalance

7 Day Rebalance

It’s amazing how resilient the human body can be, as we go about our daily business our bodies are sorting and storing memories, fighting germs and regenerating cells. Meanwhile we keep marching on the treadmill of life as time just passes us by. I find myself constantly planning for the future; what to eat this week, when to see friends and family, upcoming work deadlines and saving for house/car/holiday/stuff. My brain is so full of the future I struggle to recall what I did this morning!

Some may say this is life and it’s best to suck it up and get on with it. That’s fine to a certain degree, I mean let’s face it if we didn’t plan for the future at all we could very easily find ourselves in difficulty. However there comes a point when we need a stopping cue. Stopping cues are something I learned about in a TED talk in relation to social media. It explained how without a natural stopping cue such as the end of a chapter in a book or an ad break in TV programme we can find ourselves mindless scrolling through pages of social media that has no end. If we’re honest that’s a bottomless pit we have all found ourselves in!!! We need a moment that makes us consider our options and what we want to do next.

So what about life? what are our stopping cues? I guess the sun sets and seasons change but this doesn’t always cause us to pause. With shift work and overtime, 24 hour bars and restaurants, movies and box sets at our fingertips, it’s all to easy to stay on the treadmill, in fact even our Gyms are open 24hrs if you want to make that analogy more literal!!……. just keep going, just keep going.

You have to ask yourself what toll this takes on our body, not just physically but mentally. Personally I find myself getting tired, no matter how much sleep I get. I recently came down with cold, in the middle of August, so I knew something was up. My concentration lapses and my temper can fray, the longer I trudge away on the treadmill the weaker I become.

The great thing is that this is all reversible and the more regularly we tend to this fatigue the less time it takes to recover. So this week I have booked myself a rebalance week. Time out of the office where I can tend to myself. The “staycation” is not a new concept but I’m not filling my time with day trips or house renovations. I am allowing myself space to iron out the kinks that have formed over the last 6 months or so, slow the treadmill down a few notches and catch my breath.

There are 4 main ways I will be doing this:

  1. Sustenance
    Often when life gets manic my meal plans and balanced diet are the first things to go. I reach for quick and easy meals which don’t fuel me efficiently and, if I’m honest, don’t taste that great. I aim to bring the joy back to cooking, try some new recipes, lower the meat content and increase my fruit and veg intake, simple stuff but we all need reminding occasionally.
  2. Movement
    When you are feeling run down it’s hard to motivate yourself to exercise and before you know it days are spent at a desk and evenings sat in front of Netflix. I was shocked by a recent BBC news report which found 41% of adults in England (aged 40-60yrs) do not manage a 10 minute walk per month!! Despite my recent sedentary lifestyle I am being kind to myself (guilt and punishment have never produced the best results in me). I aim to practice yoga and take the dog for a nice long walk each day and as the endorphins reintroduce themselves to my system my fitness regime will kick back in.
  3. Create
    Let’s face it there’s a ton of stuff we’d rather be doing than work; writing blogs, taking photos, drinking tea etc. etc. So I will be carving out some time to reconnect with what makes me smile, looking through the lens and finding inspiration. There are numerous studies linking creativity to improved mental health so don’t be shy – go write, paint, sing, dance or invent your way to happiness.
  4. Connect
    Human beings are not lone creatures, we are designed to connect with each other. You may spend your work life “connecting” but how much of it do you enjoy? I will be catching up with friends and family whether face to face, phone or Skype, it’s time to listen and reconnect in a more meaningful way.

So it seems I will be pretty busy after all, but it will all be at my own pace. Schedules and appointments are not the way to rebalance! I’ll be taking a leisurely stroll through the week, acknowledging my progress and any hurdles with gentle kindness.

I’m lucky enough to have a week to do this, which I understand is a complete luxury. As I said before the more we make rebalance part of our routine the less time it takes. So think about scheduling yourself some time and prioritise what you could address to feel more balanced. It’s as easy as A,B,C……..

Allow yourself time and space
Be present
Care for yourself

I’d love to hear how you rebalance, please share in the comments below and follow my week on Instagram #7dayrebalance

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Todays venture into cake lead me out of Hertfordshire to the small town of Ampthill in neighbouring Bedfordshire. With a quaint village like feel and a fascinating history Ampthill is littered with boutique shops, antique stores and pretty tea rooms, one of which being Cakestand & Crumb. I was first introduced to this hidden gem pre-blog so I simply had to return and share it with you.

Tucked away through an archway this vintage tea room catches your eye with it’s pastel frontage and multicoloured outdoor furniture. As it is away from the main road it can be pleasant to sit outside in the fresh air as to say it’s cosy within is an understatement. With just half a dozen tables it is an intimate affair, natural light floods through the gorgeous bay window preventing a claustrophobic sensation. As if welcomed into someones own dining room vintage dressers display old books and crockery and a record player fills the space with the unmistakable crackle of vinyl.

We had reserved a table, which I highly recommend doing, and ordered the full afternoon tea. We were running late but the staff were very accommodating and welcoming as we arrived. Our table laid out beautifully with classic vintage crockery and cutlery, linen table clothes soften the rustic wooden furniture and there is no holding back on doilies; chintz with all the trimmings. The glass display counter imprisons delicious cake creations including gluten free lemon, chocolate fudge, white chocolate and raspberry and a selection of cup cakes. Their slices are not for the faint-hearted, triple tiered, laden with thick buttercream icing and topped with the fresh fruit or thick chocolate drizzle. Choose wisely as there will be no room for seconds!

I was pleasantly surprised that the afternoon tea is brought to the table in courses. As divine as the tiered stands look they can also be intimidating; foothills of sandwiches to wander through before clambering up to the boulder like scones then the final push to the sugary sponge summit. Instead a delicate selection of sandwiches was placed before us, delicious triangles of ham & mustard, egg & cress and cheese & chutney. The bread was fresh and soft, each mouthful met with a flavoursome filling. With no time pressures upon us we were free to graze and top up our teas.

There was a respectable list of loose teas to choose from that included all the favourites but one in particular caught my eye, “Lost Malawi”. I believe the blend is from the Rare Tea Company who source the leaves from one of the oldest tea farms in Malawi called Satemwa. This is essentially a black tea, similar to english breakfast, but the fact it is hand crafted in small batches with such care taken over the harvest each cup fills with a rich smooth flavour you can’t find in a high street bag. We also ordered a pot of Assam so we could both try and compare each brew. As expected the Assam was malty and soft, slightly creamier than the Malawi leaf but equally enjoyable.

As we talked and topped up our second course arrived, traditional fruit scones with jam and clotted cream. In contrast to my recent scone encounter I was presented with two mini scones, delightful morsels on which I balanced cream and jam (I have now decided I am firmly in the Devonshire camp…….subject to change!). Four bites was just enough to bridge the gap from savoury to sweet.

With empty pots we decided to change our brew for the final course. Each with the lasting sensation of clotted cream on our palates we opted for a cleansing pot of lemon verbena. Served in modern glass pots the leaves swirled before our eyes as the tea brewed. A light golden green in colour it tasted as fresh as it looked. The perfect accompaniment for the sweet and sticky course that followed.

 

Our final plate consisted of bite size chocolate brownies with a sticky layer of fruit jam running through the centre. Mini lemon and mascarpone tarts, encased in buttery, crumbly pastry aside a gooey meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit. Each bite was delicate in texture but heavy in flavour, sweet, soft, crunchy, zesty, rich and fruity, the summit had it all. I was beaten by the time I reached the meringue so it was kindly boxed up for me to take home. Unfortunately I was a little careless as I got in the car and the box tumbled from my hand, bouncing off the car to land face down on the pavement!!!!…..oh well, now I have eaton mess!!

This bijou bakery has a world of passion within and every drop is poured into it’s bakes and although there is a compromise with space there is no such compromise when it comes to flavour. Enjoy a monstrous slab of indulgence or a platter of miniature delights, either way you wont be disappointed as you devour every morsel from Cake-stand to crumb.Cake Diary

Cakestand and Crumb, 7 Kings Arms Yard, Ampthill, MK45 2PJ        TEL: 07843 574379 

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Having a cheeky weekday off work can mean only one thing, time for tea and cake. With my other half and our four legged friend in tow we heading up to the Ashridge estate. I have been visiting this national trust site since I was a child. Memories of school trips to go pond dipping and collect soil samples, climbing trees and getting lost away from the beaten track. No matter the weather I have enjoyed long walks around the acres of forest, secluded meadows and rolling hills.

We parked up near the Bridgewater Monument, named after a historic Ashridge resident, the third Duke of Bridgewater. The imposing granite column towers above the surrounding ancient trees allowing stunning 360 degree views from the top, thats if you can handle the 172 steps to get there!

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We stayed at ground level venturing deep into the forest, soon the groups of ramblers, horse riders and young families were far behind us. The dog ran free, picking up sticks far to large but his perseverance meant they were dragged for several meters. The spring canopy was filling up with new green leaves and a carpet of bluebells softened the forest floor. With wildlife all around us we walked and talked, building up an appetite for lunch.

Brownlow’s cafe is situated between the monument and the Ashridge visitors centre where you can pick up walking maps, books and gifts. All the seating is outside so opening times vary between the seasons but large umbrellas protect you from the worst of the elements if required. Dogs are welcome and lay strewn between tables or looking hopefully at their owners plates, wide eyed and waggy tailed.

On offer is locally sourced produced on a varied menu of hot and cold dishes. An all day breakfast, or a jacket spud laden with tuna or cheese, baguettes and panini’s, fresh chilli con carne with crusty bread or home made quiche and salad. The portion sizes give exceptional value for money but you have to leave room for cake!

Slabs of the classics such as lemon drizzle and carrot cake are on offer alongside chocolate brownies and muffins with plenty of tea to wash it down. Hearty brews to warm up walkers rather than dainty cups and saucers. I saw several people opt for the hot chocolate which comes pilled high with mini marsh mallows. I chose a cup of english breakfast to go with the locally renowned scone with jam and clotted cream, which didn’t disappoint. To say it was giant is an understatement, it was a scone on steroids!! Huge and fruit filled it bulged with enough cream to feed a hoard of ramblers. I felt the ratio of cream to jam was a little unbalanced and as they are preprepared you cant personalise the toppings. Never the less it was light, creamy, fruity and delicious! Despite the miles we had walked the scone beat me, but having polished off his more reserved slice of brownie my other half stepped up to assist.

All the fresh air, exercise and cake made for a sleepy trio heading home. The dog, free from human chores, snored as preparations were made to head back to work tomorrow. In fact he still snores as I type…….it’s a dogs life!!!!

Brownlow Cafe, Moneybury Hill, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire HP4 1LX 

Tel: 01442 851670 

Tea Diary: Real Remedies

Tea Diary: Real Remedies

There are some events you see advertised and they call out to you, almost as if it had been handpicked for you. On this occasion it was a journey through the chakras with a locally blended tea to compliment each, could it be more perfect? The evening was hosted by Real Remedies at the Tiki Cafe in Hemel Hempstead. The cafe itself is a stylish, independent coffee shop which holds a variety of events including open mic nights. They have an event room upstairs which is where our tea tasting would take place. Decked out with vintage furniture and retro art work it was an open yet chilled out space.

Our hosts for the evening were James & Vanessa Jacoby, the co-founders of Real Remedies, the passion they have for their business shone through from the outset. Friendly and welcoming with a wealth of knowledge to assist those less familiar with the chakras and their qualities. From my yoga practice I have a basic understanding of where the chakras are but knew little else. I was in for an educational evening as we began our journey through the chakras, one cup at a time.

We have seven principle chakras running up the centre of our bodies, each a unique centre of spiritual power. Linked to emotional and physical well being, blockages in these centres can have a negative impact on the way we feel. If our chakras are unblocked energy can flow freely around our body ensuring good health. With each chakra having its own distinct identity each tea in turn has it’s own distinct flavour to support and relieve the energy flow within us. Let’s make it clear that no medical promises can be made here but the ingredients for each tea are hand picked for their benefits in alleviating issues associated with each body part and aiding over all well being.

We started at our base, the root chakra. This is at the base of your spine, grounding you to the earth and giving you a sense of safety and security. In the jar the fragrance was light and fruity, like summer strawberries. Once brewed it became deep aubergine in colour with a more spicy, cinnamon scent. I enjoyed the fruitiness from the strawberry and elderberry, and the cinnamon gave the grounding warmth. A comforting cup which could easily settle you if anxious, offering vitality when fatigued and perhaps bringing you back to earth when all seems a little out of control.

Next up is the sacral chakra just below the belly button. Our centre of strength it inspires creativity and energy. In contrast to the first this tea was earthy with a hint of citrus, light brown in colour it gave a much sharper flavour. At fist sip I was not convinced, it felt like a pallet cleanser dominant with orange peel and nettle. As my palate adjusted to the tartness of this brew I grew to enjoy it. Although still fruity the citrus edge really gives this one a more stimulating feel, if you were low on energy or perhaps had a project to focus on this would certainly pep you up.

I was already pleasantly surprise that I could easily identify the teas different personalities. The blends are complex but truly tune into different sensations.

We continued on to the Solar Chakra. This is just above the naval and we have moved up to the centre of confidence and will power. It had similar citrus tones to the last but lighter and fresher. An underlying warmth from cinnamon gave it a peppery edge. The lightest in colour of the teas so far it appeared golden in the cup. It felt like powerful brew, packing a punch and awakening the senses. This would be great after an over indulgence as the blend of flavours perked me up yet calmed and settled my stomach. It’s feisty flavour may help inspire you to regain control and take action where its needed.

Half way up we reach our heart chakra, unsurprisingly at our heart. It is central to us feeling balanced and content. Finding peace here can open us up to love and compassion whilst quietening our self critic. Fairly bright in colour it was yellow with a hint of green in the cup. The jar gave a light floral fragrance with a hint of mint. I found it very soft on the palate, gently warming as the fennel and spearmint complimented each other in perfect balance. This was an easy one to drink, smooth and soft it brought about a sense of peace. A cup would give you a window of stillness in the busiest of days, time to compose yourself and persevere.

Next we reach the chakra that represents expression and authenticity, the Throat Chakra. This is one I have an affinity with as if I am struggling to communicate something or my creative expression is stifled I often feel it in my throat. I was interested to experience this tea and how it may alleviate blockages here. Speckled with powder blue corn flowers the blend is aromatic with liquorice and cloves. The flavour not as strong as the scent which was a pleasant surprise. The light catches a slight blue tone in the brew, smooth across the tongue it almost caresses your throat on the way down, perfect if you’re feeling any tension or a sore throat. This soft brew felt very smooth to drink, relaxing and enabling you to express yourself with authenticity.

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Throat Chakra Tea

Our penultimate chakra is the 3rd eye, placed on your forehead just between the brows. As we rise up through the chakras we also rise up from the earth. Away from the more grounding centres to the place of intuition and wisdom. This blend is light with a purple edge to it, breathing in a more heady and aromatic scent. Caraway, marshmallow root and star anise work in harmony along with fruity notes that lift your attention up and beyond the 3rd eye. This cup is one to enjoy if you’re lacking concentration and need to reconnect the mind and body.

So finally we reach the heights of the Crown Chakra, right on the top of the head. There is really no limit to this energy centre as it connects you with all that is beyond. The brew is floral with rose petals, rosemary and lavender combining to relax and unite you. The scent is uplifting and the flavour warm with nutmeg. This is a cup to make space for, enjoy it as it swirls around your senses and be as ease.

Each of the blends is a joy to the eye, colourfully speckled with dried fruit and flowers. Flavours that I would not have normally tried where combined in a unique way. I enjoyed the experience of being talked through the chakras and how the ingredients were hand picked to compliment each energy centre. Of course you can enjoy these teas for what they are, naturally delicious, but tuning into your body and sensations of each brew added a new eye opening level to enjoying a cuppa.

Real Remedies also offer tinctures and tonics of their blends to harness the power of nature to aide the body, mind and soul. Put the kettle on and enjoy a different kind of brew, with an inquisitive mind and an open heart you may find the perfect brew for you.

You can learn more about other events and workshops or buy on line at Real Remedies website.

Tiki Cafe, 208 The Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP1 1BH TEL: 01442 240108

Cake Diary: Three Wise Monkeys

Cake Diary: Three Wise Monkeys

Last Friday I celebrated my Thirty *Ah-Hem* birthday. Having the day off work was the perfect opportunity to visit a little place that had caught my eye. Each day my journey into work takes me down a narrow country lane on which I often get stuck in slow traffic. Although the lack of speed can be frustrating it does allow you time to notice things that often pass you by. Just the other week a sign caught my eye for “Three Wise Monkeys, Vintage Emporium”. The first thing that springs to mind is that we don’t have enough emporiums these days. Imagine a world of food emporiums, shoe emporiums, wine emporiums! Sounds like a wonderful place doesn’t it?
I am aware of a chain of opticians called the Eye Emporium which conjures up such amazing images of glass cabinets, weird and wonderful trinkets and drawers full of eye balls (FYI it’s your standard opticians but one can imagine!). This was not a sign I could turn a blind eye to.

Off we went down rain soaked lanes to seek out the emporium. It’s hard to spot at first as its part of a large Osprey outlet center and the Three Wise Monkeys sign was not obvious from the road. Tucked around the back of the high end barn conversions is a treasure trove of all things vintage. Welcomed by a small tea room your eye is immediately caught by the bespoke furniture and shelves of antique crockery. Chunky wooden tables surrounded by beautifully upholstered farmhouse chairs. The stools at the breakfast bar are converted tractor seats, stark and metallic against the natural wood and kitsch finishes. A door in each direction beckons you to explore but which way first?

Being a converted barn everything is charmingly wonky, exposed beams and wooden floors. Every nook and cranny is filled with treasures from bygone eras. Each room is divided up into sections for individual stall holders, all with their own unique style. From Old street signs and gardening equipment, glassware and pottery, clothing and handbags, up cycled tables and chairs, artwork and lighting, jewelry and gifts. My eyes couldn’t rest, flitting from one to the next, down low, up high, every inch another discovery. After perusing we took a rest for lunch and cake before going back for more.

The cafe is beautiful and all the furniture is up for sale so if your chair is comfy you can take it home! The menu was comforting, just what we needed on a chilly damp day. A cheese toasty each and a huge sausage roll to share, delicious buttery pastry encased flavorsome pork and chili filling. You can have it served with salad and coleslaw which would be a meal in itself but we had to save room for a slice of cake, it’s my birthday after all! It was disappointing that the cakes aren’t homemade but the site has a trade only license so doesn’t have the facility to cook things from scratch. The brought in selection was vast including coffee and walnut, raspberry and white chocolate slice, chocolate brownie and an array of muffins.

My partner in cake beat me to the raspberry and coconut slice which had caught my eye, so I opted for a slab of the orange and poppy seed sponge. The slice had a firm layer of pastry and ample raspberry jam topped with a coconut sponge, desiccated crumbs tumbled with every bite, it was a joyful mess to eat.

The orange sponge was flecked with poppy seeds giving each mouthful added texture. The freshness of orange was a welcome twist on the familiar combo of citrus and seed. The sponge was heavy but flavorful, mildly complimented by thin layer of zingy icing which could have been so much more indulgent; caterers are perhaps a little stingier with their stock than home bakers! Never the less the serving was substantial and gave me the energy I needed to get back out there and shop!

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The question you have to ask yourself is, when was the last time you visited an emporium? If it’s not been recently, or at all, you must venture out to Three Wise Monkeys, my only advice is to cover your eyes if you don’t want to be tempted by the beautiful antiques on offer, cover your ears if you don’t want hear the stories behind the unique pieces of art and cover your mouth if you want to resist the delicious tea room!

Be sure to check out their WordPress blog or Facebook pages to find out what they have going on.

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Three Wise Monkeys, The Saddlery, Woodcock Hill, St Albans, AL4 9HJ 

Tel: 07886 977420

 

 

 

 

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

I stumbled across The Kitchen via a Facebook advert (thank you cookies!) and after perusing their website I was keen to know more as there seemed to be a lot going on. Celebration cakes to order, baking lessons and afternoon tea to mention just a few.

Croxley Green is just outside of Watford and Rickmansworth, and it is here town and country sit in juxtaposition. Winding narrow lanes take you past large houses and riding schools, circling to the rear of the Grove Hotel, renowned for it’s famous clientele. Entering Croxley via the green itself all appears unchanged since the 1800’s when a lot of the beautiful houses were built. Folk out walking their dogs and taking in the (almost) spring like air, both pubs on the green brimming with Sunday roast diners, but it was the cake we were here for.

The village-esque feel subsides a little as you approach the main run of shops and the terraces of modern housing beyond. The Kitchen stands understated just meters from the quaint and historic railway station. Part of the Metropolitan underground line it means that within just 30mins you can be transported from the shires to the heart of the city.

The Kitchen differs from other venues I have visited in that everything is simple and paired back. There is no getting away from the fact it is a modern building, there are no original features or open fire places to coo over. In fact it used to be a blockbuster video store!! Now that brings back some memories; spending Friday evenings pursuing the isles, debating which movie to rent and for how many nights! Leaving the house for such a menial task seems very old fashioned now a days. What the building lacks in personality is certainly made up for by the staff. Linda greeted us the second we walked through the door, looking up from the colouring in book she was assisting a young customer with, she smiled and welcomed us in. It was clear from the outset that customers of all ages are a priority here.

The seating area is relatively small, although on this occasion most of the tables were reserved for a Birthday party and a Hen party due in later. Both were having a full afternoon tea so the tables were laid beautifully with vintage crockery and traditional linen table clothes. It may be wise to book to avoid disappointment if there is a group of you.

The cake making talent is clear when you view the amazing sugar work on display, stunning celebration cakes made to order and created in the on site studio. I loved the fact the “studio” was not hidden away, surrounded by glass allowing you to see all the handy work going on behind the scenes. It was like getting a sneaky peak at Santas workshop!

We sat in the window on a sofa reminiscent of the Central Perk couch in Friends, but just for two. It enveloped us into it’s cushions and we were settled. Unfortunately the view is not as stunning as the surrounding country side but you can watch the world go by along and “there’s nowt as interesting as folk” as they say.

Various coffees are on offer from one of those fancy machines I don’t understand, and a lovely selection of Pukka & Fairtrade tea bags. No loose tea here but that feels right for this venue, it’s not about fancy leaves for far flung lands but a simple selection of quality bags and beans. After recently discovering Rooibos and its amazing health benefits (lowering blood pressure, improved complexion, relieves insomnia to mention just a few) I opted for the Rooibos and Honeybush by Pukka. My partner in cake today went for the Peppermint and Green Tea Blend.

Rooibos, pronounced Roy-Boss, really is the boss! It is grown in South Africa and was originally marketed in the UK as Redbush tea, which may ring a bell with some of you. I assume that now we are all about the Quinoa, Kale and Flaxseed tea companies felt we were able to handle the native name. My brew was blended with Honeybush, also South African, it adds a little natural sweetness to the cup. I let mine brew for about 3 minutes until a gorgeous copper, red tone – no milk required. The flavour is subtle and smooth on the pallet, the honey coming through in taste but not smell. It was a very easy blend to drink so I was grateful for the extra mini jug of hot water so I could top up myself.

The cake display was a little light when we arrived but Sunday afternoons can be like that, establishments will rarely over bake, especially if they are closed on the Monday. It was an easy decision to make, we selected a slice of the prettiest Victoria sponge I have ever seen and a slab of lemon drizzle, which I always find hard to resist. Our hearts broke a little when we went to pay the bill and saw they had topped up with Coffee & walnut and some amazing looking brownies!!! But it seems no matter what you choose you wont be disappointed.

As we were having a lazy Sunday we had enjoyed a late breakfast before heading out for cake, boy was that a wise decision. The portion sizes are eye popping and belly filling which put a smile on both our faces. This would be the perfect pitstop after a lovely long dog walk or cycle round the country lanes (we did neither of those things by the way #guiltyface) but that didn’t stop us from polishing off the lot!.

Both sponges were fantastically light and not overly sweet. The Victoria sponge let its thick butter cream coat the palate only to be cut through by the delicious fruity jam adding a sugar hit. It reminded me of a perfectly balanced afternoon scone.

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The lemon drizzle let the fruit do the talking, the sponge being a steady base for the sharp lemon syrup which seeped through every inch, a crunchy sugar topping finished with a little fresh zest. Both light to the touch but packing a punch with flavour.

Satisfied (and ready for a nap) we wended our way back home in the comforting realisation that you don’t always need all the bells and whistles to enjoy an afternoon slice. The kitchen doesn’t hide behind gimmicks, it’s a community hub where children can come to learn how to bake on a Saturday morning, Grown up’s can enjoy comedy & live music evenings, or simply catch up with friends over a tasty brew and a generous slice of cake. To me the Kitchen feels part of something that isn’t about global brands and nameless baristas, it’s about community and a personal touch. So no matter where you are see what’s on offer right on your door step as these are the businesses that deserve our custom.

The Kitchen, 198 Watford Road, Croxley Green, WD3 3DB      TEL: 01923 805896

 

Tea Diary: Kanuka

Tea Diary: Kanuka

I spy with my little eye something beginning with……….TEA!!!

With my journey into the world of loose tea gathering momentum I thought it was high time I visited a tea house local to me with more than your average cuppa to offer. The city of St Albans is awash with cafes and coffee shops but standing proud amongst them is “Kanuka”. This is reflected in its name which is Mauri for a hardy tree Native to New Zealand, it grows tall and fast, withstanding all weathers to flourish.

The decor is sophisticated with not a scrap of chintz or a vintage tea set in sight. Sleek wooden furniture and window seats maximise the space, all stylishly co-ordinated with mustard yellow furnishings in geometric prints. This look is echoed in their packaging; minimalistic grey pouches and polished silver urns contain the array of loose leaves on offer. The ambience is set off nicely by the acoustic chart music being played in the background.

As you enter you are faced with a sensory wall of teas housed in a bespoke dark wooden shelving unit. An apothecary of tea with each displayed exquisitely in its own down lit cubby hole. The prepackaged product is regimentally lined up ready for purchase and below each an open jar of leaves for you smell before you try. An information sheet tells you all you need to know and more about each leaf; where it was picked, caffeine content, flavour and how to brew it to bring out its best. For a budding tea geek like myself I was in heaven and could have spent all morning sniffing, reading and tasting the varieties on offer.

Being faced with this much choice is daunting but thankfully the teas are split into sections to help guide you. You can choose from the more traditional black teas, try something less common in the green or white tea section or perhaps one of their wellbeing blends would be your preference. The staff are very knowledgeable and were on hand to assist.

So many of the teas smelt amazing I found it hard to narrow it down. Finally deciding on two teas that come under the green tea umbrella, partly because the smell was divine but also the leaves themselves looked so interesting. Cleverly each tea is served in an insulating glass cup so I had plenty of time to enjoy both brews warm.

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Firstly I chose the Jade Oolong, not a tea I had heard of before but you have to admit it sounds pretty amazing. This tea originates from Taiwan & Vietnam and the leaves were twisted into “nuggets”, the info sheet describes how the heat from the water slowly unravels each nugget as it infuses. Unfortunately when you buy a cup you don’t get to witness this process but I was intrigued buy the look of this tea.

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Jade Oolong 

The leaves had quite a deep, intense floral smell. Quite earthy so I expected a relatively strong brew. When it was served I was surprised with how light in colour it was, like smooth honey. In contrast to the strong scent the flavour was light and the floral notes not over powering. Transporting me to somewhere humid and tropical where your senses are brought alive. The info sheet described it as being “buttery” which I initially found confusing but half a cup in I got that smoothness on the pallet which lingered with each sip.

My second choice originated from China and was slightly more familiar to me in flavour but not in leaf; Jasmine Pearls. The indisputable scent of summer, floral and light. The leaves were indeed pearls of flavour, wound tightly into little balls. As with the Oolong I imagine they look stunning as they brew but this step it only witnessed by staff when you order a cup.

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Jasmine Pearls 

I wondered if the brew may be too heavily perfumed but was pleasantly surprised. Even lighter in colour that the Oolong, the palest of yellow kissed the steaming water as the light shone through the glass mug. Much more floral on the pallet than the Oolong but what it lacked in smoothness it made up for in freshness. If I closed my eyes I could almost feel the sun on my skin and the grass beneath my feet.

Perhaps the most shocking part of this experience is that I didn’t feel the need to partner these brews with any cake! Believe me no one is more surprised than me. There was a selection of sweet and savoury treats on offer but the emphasis is on the tea. I personally didn’t feel a slice of cake would have enhanced my experience and looking around the busy store it was obvious others felt the same. This is the place to tantalise your tastebuds with a brew from a far flung destination, push your boundaries and open your senses up to a new adventure. It’s easy to be intimidated by fancy names that you cant pronounce and leaves that resemble pot pourri but this is not a pretentious establishment that will look down their nose at you when you mispronounce Lapsang Souchon. This is the place to learn something new and try something new, but if you prefer you can order a coffee or their Proper Builders Brew! As the guy who started Kanuka was originally a builder by trade I imagine you cant go wrong with that.

Kanuka, 3b Christopher Place, St Albans, AL3 5DQ            TEL: 01727 898358