27. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant

Number 27 from my 27 list and our first ever Michelin starred restaurant. I’m so excited to tell you this story as it was so special for so many reasons. Ben and I are both total foodies and love trying out nice restaurants. Usually for our birthdays and anniversaries we book a fancy meal somewhere, it’s just not usually this fancy.

Ben and I both turned 30 this year, Ben in June and me two months later in August. A group of friends pitched in together to get us both a voucher for Umu restaurant as a gift. I had been talking about going to a fancy Japanese restaurant for years, so they were right on point with this present.

Umu restaurant in Mayfair has two Michelin stars and is led by chef Yoshinori Ishii. It’s a pretty big deal, and way far and above anything Ben and I would usually be able to afford, so we knew we had to use the voucher to mark a special occasion. It just so happens that our 10 year anniversary also coincides with our birthdays so as soon as I got the voucher I emailed Umu to see if we could possibly get a table for that evening. I wasn’t holding my breath as places like this in London can sometimes be booked out 6 months in advance, but happily on this occasion we got in with just 3 weeks notice for Friday the 18th, the exact date of our big anniversary.ย  Wow!

Firstly, we had to look the part. With blazers and bling at the ready we walked through the streets of Mayfair..

Ben’s jacket is his 30th birthday present from me and my earings are Ben’s 10 year anniversary present to me. 20170818_192931We were greeted and seated with a sweet sparking sake aperitif. We had the choice of two brands and one happened to be Dewazakura, made in Tendo, Yamagata, the town where we lived in Northern Honshu, Japan. Yamagata is a rural area known for producing rice, fruit and other produce. I used to walk through rice fields daily to get to my schools and when Ben was living over there with me, he actually got a job driving from farm to farm picking up cherries that were packed daily and taking them to the export depot.

The region is known for producing one of the highest grade rice in Japan, Tsuyahime literally meaning ‘lustrous princess’ and high-grade rice means high-grade sake. We were both so excited to be able to make such an instant connection to the restaurant and it started us reminiscing about the amazing experiences we had living in Tendo. Sparkling sake is delicious too, it’s made like champagne and tasted crisp and sweet. I’m on the look out to buy some more.

As we perused the menu I tuned in to the Japanese business men sitting beside us. They were speaking ridiculously formally to each other and my waning Japanese skills were not up to the task of eavesdropping on that convo.ย  There were a few other Japanese families, too and also a few westerners. It was humming but not busy. As you can see from the pictures, the lights were low.20170818_195730Umu is famous for kaiseke, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal usually with a number of different cooking techniques used. It turns out we were eating on the last day of the summer menu here. I’m glad we did because it was beautiful and fresh.

We also opted to go all in and do an alcohol pairing, I did wine and Ben chose a sake pairing.

So let me talk you through the menu..

We started with fresh salmon sashimi, cucumber and the most generous mound of truffle I have ever experienced. Then followed by lotus root soup. Hiding under that lotus are great chunks of lobster. Yum! Oh and we had a different drink to go with each, both fresh and light like the food.

We then got beautiful trays of paper-thin white fish sashimi and the fish of the day selection. The fish of the day selection featured lobster again, this time raw as sashimi, I’ve never had it like that before but I definitely wish I could have had more than one piece as it was that good. Ben and I lingered over the tuna chunks, too. One lean and one fatty piece, both the most tender we had ever experienced. I think this was my favourite course of the whole meal.

Next was the vegetable course. This was presented like a garden with miso sesame soil to be sprinkled on and a watering can dressing. Ben got a little too excited over the tiny radishes, bear in mind we are four drinks in by this point.ย  I think this was about the time when Ben came back from the bathroom (which were very swanky) saying “How does the concierge know to open the door for me?” Ah… she hears you stomping up the stairs…. 20170818_215857Next drink for Ben is warm sake served in crockery handmade by the chef himself.ย  Ben definitely got the more interesting vessels from the pairing.

The next course is the meat, Ben’s favourite. This course gets paired with a red wine so I’m struggling as I’m not a fan of red. I definitely wished I knew more about wine while having this meal as the waiting staff were diligently explaining each specially selected wine to me before each pairing and I was just smiling and nodding at all the words and references I didn’t understand.

This is the rice course, definitely needed to soak up the alcohol. You can see we’re quite squiffy by now. That’s Ben’s “act sober” gaze.

Dessert! I was so excited about my cherry shaved ice that I have only managed to snap a picture of the empty bowl. Oh and the amuse bouche! I was on a desert wine for this one and Ben is back on the sweet, sparkling sake. We have forgotten the flavours of the sweets now but I remember the chocolate being my favourite.

Last thing to do was to finish off all the drinks I had backed up and settle the bill. We were one of the last parties to leave at around 11.30pm. We spilled out into the night and sensibly made our way to the bus stop, the 390 bus was the only option home after that splurge.

A once in a lifetime experience to mark our 10 years together. Worth it in every way. Thank you to our lovely friends for making it happen and thank you to Ben for 10 awesome years together. Here’s to many more!

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26. Print a photo book

20170129_photo_book_0003For something so easy, that I really wanted to do, it’s taken me an awful long time to finally tick this off my 27 List. I think what held me back was the sheer volume of photos we take. It was hard to know where to start, so I didn’t.

Lately I have been thinking about how we document our lives. I take so many photos and save so many memory trinkets (hello every single ticket stub ever..oh and birthday cards, letters and travel brouchures… just me?). It kind of makes me ask what is the point? Why am I taking photos I never look at? Why am I keeping all these ticket stubs? Are they eventually destined for the bin anyway?

I have recently been inspired by some really cool projects – this blog post, using movie ticket stubs as art and a Kickstarter project I came across randomly. The Kickstarter project is a guy creating a photobook from a collection of notes his mother has left his father over the years. They are notes about what is in the fridge for dinner and when she will be home and they’re all handwritten on paper scraps. The project caught my attention in its celebration of the mundane. It shows how those little unsung parts of life can tell a really interesting story. I have funded the book and can’t wait to flick through the pages and delve into the story.

I’m mulling over similar ideas for my collection of ticket stubs so watch this space. But what I could make a start on is our photos, so in the last few months I have taken some action. I have created my first, of what I hope is many, photobooks and I have also started a gallery wall of some selected prints and photos.20170129_photo_book_0017Probably some of my favourite photos of our travels are the ones we took in Jordan. I really love the light and colours in Jordan. It helped that the country is packed with amazing sights too. So my first photo book is of Jordan.

I used Photobox for printing and I’m really happy with it, good price, good quality and something that we’ll keep forever. I hope to have a whole collection of these albums one day. I think my next one will be Egypt.

Speaking of Egypt, one of the few pictures we have up on our gallery wall so far, isof Ben and I fiding camels to the pyramids in Egypt. That was a total pinch myself moment so it’s nice to be reminded daily. 20170128_photo_gallery_0002I do want to have a few more actual photos in it, but I’m very happy for it to grow organically as and when I have the time and inclination. It makes me really happy to see it.

The newest edition is the cross-stitch mix tape my friend made me for my birthday. It’s so new it’s not even in some of these pics. The little fox is called Huckle, I bought it off my friend who illustrates prints and cards to sell, you can get your own Huckle, too. Find @mbmillustrations on Instagram.

My sisters and I are up the top, this is my favourite picture of us together and of course, images and trinkets from my favourite placeses New Zealand, Japan and Italy feature too.

What do you have on your walls? And what do you do with all the little keepsakes from travels and life?

6. Host friends for a grown up dinner party

20161119_195309Winner, winner, chicken (curry) dinner!

It has taken me a while to tick this item off my 27 List, after setting the goal in 2014, but last month I finally took the opportunity to make it happen. I chose a date, put out a Facebook invite to my netball mates and luckily some were free.

I cook dinner for friends quite often, and have done so many times in between 2014 and now but for this to feature on my goal list I decided it had to be planned, at a table and at least two courses.

I made three courses in the end, one main and two desserts! Desserts is always the easy part for me and as it was around Thanks Giving time I made two American desserts, Banoffee Pie which is possible my second favourite dessert (Pavlova is always first) and homemade peanut butter cups. I didn’t manage to take a pic of these, but they were so sweet and delicious.

I’m most proud of the curry I made for dinner though. It’s a recipe from Rick Stein’s India Cookbook. My friend bought this for me for Christmas one year when we were planning an epic trip to India* and it is one of my most used cookbooks. This is saying something because as you know, my baking books get a fair bit of use.

I made butter chicken with rice, naan and coriander, there was supposed to be beans too, but I forgot them. It got a thumbs up all round and filled us so completely we struggled to get a buzz on to go out dancing afterwards.

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20161119_210425Of course though, enough gin and prosecco will get you there eventually. We danced all night at Monarch in Camden. Saturday nights is ‘Songs from the movies’ themed so we were in our cheesy element.

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20161120_012110^^^ dancing to the Frozen anthem.. Let it go… Let it go…………………… !

Was a great night, thanks for joining me girls xx

*Note: We never went to India, it’s still on the travel wishlist… maybe one day.

Hiking The White Cliffs of Dover

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0001I have a stock standard screensaver on my laptop, it’s called United Kingdom and it cycles through images of the UK in all its glory; Stonehenge, Tower Bridge, the Giant’s Causeway etc.

They’re all pretty inspiring images, but the one that always makes me pause and go ‘Wow!’ is the image of the White Cliffs of Dover. Sparkly white and rising majestically out of the churning sea, I knew I had to see them for myself while in England.

They didn’t disappoint! A wander along this coastline really is a top experience in England.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0043Here is a little guide with an olfactory twist for this month’s travel link up challenge. I’m using smell as my cue to take you with me.

The White Cliffs path is maintained by The National Trust and you will pay a small fee to use the carpark at the start of the walk.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0083Unfortunately your first smell with be industrial. Diesel fumes waft from the busy port of Dover. But don’t worry you will soon leave that behind.

Although don’t forget to look back as you hurry on. The views of Dover Castle from here are pretty special.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0250_StylizedSigns of wildlife reach your nose as you walk through the headlands and we soon found the culprits. British native Exmoor ponies! So cute! They’re shy though, we didn’t see many on our journey.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0015Fresh coastal winds blowing the city funk away. It was so nice to be in the bracing fresh air.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0039I’d love to say we caught the scent of cheese and baguettes as we meandered so close to the lands of France, but although we could see it, the coastal wind wasn’t bringing us any olfactory treasures today.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0082Ben didn’t mind, he was head over heels to be out in the fresh air.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0072We passed perfumed gardens on our way around to St Margarets Bay. Spring buds are just coming through and they smelled so sweet.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0096We rounded a corner into the bay and were hit with the salty sea breeze. A storm was brewing and the sea churned at the cliffs. This is the launching beach for many a Channel swim, but it did not look inviting today.

We found a sheltered spot to crack open the Thermos for a piping hot brew. 20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0229_B&WThe earthy smell of English Breakfast will make you feel at home wherever you are. We snuck some Easter Chocolate into our back backs too which totally hit the spot on our little tea break.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0231I climbed the banks of the bay to explore the war time caves along the shore. It was a hands and knees scramble down though and the chalky smell lingered on my hands for the walk home.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0243The winds were so strong by then we were walking like drunkards fighting to stay upright. It’s ok though, we had each other for support.

20160325_Easter_In_Dover_Day2_0246Before we knew it, we were back at the National Trust restaurant for sweet smelling scones and decadent hot chocolate. Oops, gone before we even snapped a pic…

Have you hiked the White Cliffs? How was the weather? I hope you were treated to the famous British weather as we were ๐Ÿ˜‰

What other walks should I attempt while living in England?

I hope you liked the pics in this post, Ben kindly edited them for me. For more of our travels follow Ben and I on Instagram @andieinspired @benjamin_e_parry

 

 

 

 

22. See a netball match

20160122_Eng_vs_Aus_Netball_London5981Netball is not very popular in England, well at least not as popular as I’m used to it being in NZ. It just doesn’t get the media coverage here. The international series’ are not shown on free TV and the mainstream newspapers just don’t pick it up.

This is part of a much bigger issue, the lack of coverage for women in the sports media in general. It’s an issue I feel passionately about, particularly as someone who plays and values watching a sport that the main stream media largely ignores. Hello Sports Media, share the love already! According to the Women in Sport Foundation only 7% of UK sports media coverage features women. 7%?!? Seriously! That is sad. I’m starting to think I need to go big on this issue and do more than just tweet my disapproval from the comfort of my couch. Any ideas on this, please let me know.

Ok, rant over.12625640_10156427487925291_1021224486_nWhat this all adds up to is that I have to be a very engaged netball fan over here, if I want to know what’s going on. So, one rainy afternoon, frustrated at not being able to see any Netball World Cup matches on TV, I frantically loaded up my social network feeds with all things netball to keep up with the results. Eventually I did beg a Sky subscription off a friend, but even then didn’t see much due to the odd times they were telivised. Sigh!

But as a bonus, all my social feeds now keep me informed about upcoming tournaments and news on all things netball. It’s brilliant! In amongst my Instagram staples of food porn and travel pics I get ANZ championship results and netball action shots. Check these Instagram accounts if you’re interested: @england.netball; @silverfernsnz; @irenevandyk; @anzchampionship;ย @mariatutaia

After disappointment in learning that the Silver Ferns are not touring England or anywhere near, any time soon, I jumped at the chance to see Australia play England in London instead. After all, if I can’t see the best, I will happily settle for second best (<– teehee Aussie dig).

A few of my lovely team mates joined me and we settled in for some sweet as international netball. This was the second match in the series and England were coming off a close loss in the first meet up. I was excited to see a tight match between the teams. 12647599_10156427487860291_218327071_n^^ International match bonus – national anthems! I always love a bit of pomp and ceremony to start off my sports matches, even if it’s not God Defend New Zealand. 20160122_Eng_vs_Aus_Netball_London5991Both teams started strong, we were barely able to keep up. I kept trying to concentrate on the defence players, as that is where I play for my team and I wanted to pick up some sweet skills. The pace was so fast though, I felt like I was following the ball in a tennis match at times. The girls carried it from one end to the other at lightning speed. 20160122_Eng_vs_Aus_Netball_London5964In the end though Australia’s slight upper hand in the first two quarters turned into domination in the second two as the English team battled to sink goals and feed the ball into their shooters. I did say to my English and Australian friends on either side of me that I was impartial and didn’t care who won either way. But in truth I think I was rooting for England, the underdogs. Iย definitely wanted to see them put up more of a fight than they managed to. In the end Australia took the win 60 -44.12637031_10156427486105291_1596579185_oThis is one of the fourth netball matches I’ve managed to see in the UK, although I am yet to support the Silver Ferns over here. My day will come though as NZ, England, Australia and South Africa have just announced a new international competition between the four nations. It begins this year in Australia and NZ and will be hosted by England and South Africa in 2017. Hopefully that means a few more netball games in my future.

 

Resolutions 2016 + Some Stolen Ones

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In some ways I feel like I am in a completely different place than I was when I wrote resolutions last year, in others ways it feels exactly the same.

My resolutions last year were simple and I feel pretty good about all of them.

2015 Resolutions

  • Continue working through my 27 List and on this blog.

You can see the archive here. I have completed over half and I am still intending to do more this year and probably in coming years.

  • Save to buy a house sometime in the future.

We made significant headway with our savings this year and it feels good. We live pretty frugally and have relatively low rental overheads (for London) so we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and remembering to save first and then forget about it.

  • Print photos and display them somehow.

I mentioned my personalised calendar gifts for my family – these were pretty popular and I’m really glad I made them. My next step is to create a photo book and populate an album that we have had empty on our bookshelf for years. Going slowly with this one but always have it in mind.

So what am I aiming for this year?

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2016 Resolutions

  • No More Snoozing! I want to wake up and get up in 2016.

Because really, what do I gain by staying in bed an extra 10 (or 30) minutes?

  • Complete 10 full press-ups.

I can currently do none so this will be a big deal for me. I have started by doing them leaning against the stairs – top tip from a colleague of mine.

  • Make cards and use a bit more of the paper scraps that I am always collecting (hoarding).

This is my recycled wrapping paper and parcel bag collection, and my magazines in case I need to find pictures and all my craft supplies.. arg! I need to stop.

  • Say Yes! more and be an available and willing friend in 2016.

I want to do more and hang out more and say yes when someone makes the effort to invite me somewhere.

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2016 Stolen Resolutions

Some of my mates have some pretty cool resolutions, too. Like when I heard them I was like “oooh I wanna do that too! I’ll totally join you on that!” and so I have forced my way into their 2016.. Sneaky!

T is my number one muso soulmate in London and she is planning on going to more gigs this year – always keen for that.

My colleague J wants to eat out less but when she does, she wants quality. So I’m hoping that will mean trying out some new restaurants in my future.

My boyf wants to draw more and I’m eager to support.Nude modelling? Jks.

E has started a blog on brunches in London. She’s aiming to do 33 this year and I’m aiming to share as much avocado on toast with her as I can. Yum!

Anyone else got any resolutions they want me to help them with? I’m always willing to support.

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Oh I nearly forgot, I did kinda set myself a photography challenge too….

 

2016 Travel Plans

My plans for travel in 2016 are much more structured than they ever have been. It’s the start of the year and we actually have a travel plan! This is a first and I’m really excited about what different opportunities this might give us in our trips. We have tended to travel if not quite last minute, then second to last minute, booking trips based on what friends are doing, events we have managed to get tickets to and generally going with the flow in terms of travel. When we have the time and money available we take advantage and when we don’t, we stay put.

It’s been a good system so far, although somewhat hectic and usually over our very uninformed budget, we have managed to pull off some epic trips. In 2015 alone I saw Malaysia while Ben was living there, Paris, Croatia, Denmark, Jordan and Egypt. Closer to home I spent Easter in Bristol, a few rugby weekends in Newcastle and Cardiff and we got out to Wales twice to visit Ben’s grandfather and extended family, too. All in all, a pretty good year!

Weโ€™re changing our travel style this year for a few reasons though. One, (and it’s a biggy) is that I need to renew my visa this year. It’s up in August and to save money we have decided that I will send my passport away this time rather than booking a same day appointment which nearly doubles the already expensive cost. It means that my passport wonโ€™t be with me for up to two month this summer so it’s a London summer for me.

02-03 2014 New Zealand Holiday 264

The second reason that we have to be organised is that we’re planning to go to New Zealand for Christmas in 2016. I couldn’t be more excited! It will have been 2 and a half years since I’ve been home by the time we get there. But as it is the other side of the world and at Christmas time, it’s going to be pricey and so we need to Save! Save! Save! for the tickets ASAP. We also want to make the most of going that far, which means conserving leave for this period.

Hutt River, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Both reasons mean that we need to be organised and budget and be much more realistic about our travel chances this year. But of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any!

We’re headed to Italy for our fourth time in May. We will be meeting Ben’s brother and girlfriend to road trip along the Amalfi Coast for a week. We’re thinking tents, sun, swimming and oh so many gelato cones!

Positano, Amalfi Coast Italy

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Originally planned for summer 2015, we will try again this year to stay at what is reputedly the best campsite in England, Eweleaze Farm in Weymouth. We tempetd fate and booked for the August bank holiday last year and were unsurprisingly rained out. So bonus – this one is already paid for! I can’t wait for these stunning views >>

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I still have a couple of trips I want to tick off on the 27 List, namely seeing the White Cliffs of Dover and climbing Mt. Snowdon which will help me see a bit more of England.

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Lastly, a friend and I are aiming to spend some time up at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. I have wanted to do this since I learned about it and can’t wait to see who will be performing.

So that will be my 2016 and I can’t wait to get it started! I think the restrictions on my 2016 travel and the fact that I’m being more organised is increasing the anticipation and excitement for my adventures.

What are your travel plans for the coming year? Are you going with the flow or have you already given your boss a list of leave requests? Whatever they are I hope daydreaming about them is giving you as much joy as I’m getting.

Here’s to 2016!