These Recent Things (Frost, Thoughts & Things)

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It’s been a month full of ups and downs. (Yes, I fell over again, this time into my own car, punching the doorframe as I went.)

I turned down a trip to Italy. I said yes to an exciting exhibition opportunity with the University of Cambridge. I held back a car, that had been left without it’s handbrake on, while a boy-man got a wheelie bin to use as a stopper. (I left a note on the windscreen incase they moved the bin and got run over by their own car, like that chap from East 17 who ate too many jacket potatoes.)

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I ate lunch at a pub called the Dabbling Duck with Rachel. The location was lovely, but I wasn’t best pleased with the plum crumble. Who deconstructs a crumble?! After complaining that it had nuts hidden in it, I exclaimed ‘Feel the wrath of Karen!’ and weakly attempted to tip the table over and steal the books off their shelves.

The chickens came to live in the conservatory, inside their new house from Omlet. It’s wheely, we can wheel it around, it reminds me of a gypsy caravan and they love it. (Well, Patty Slipper isn’t sure about it, but the others think it’s fab.)

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Last month I ate a weird pudding made of sea buckthorn berry and carrots, and this month my friend Andrea from Liv gave me this lovely sea buckthorn and orange soap, which was much better because I didn’t have to eat it out of politeness.

After our trip to Amsterdam I wrote  ‘How Making the Most of Work Trips can be Good for Your Health and Career’ for the Huffington Post, and then also for Surf 4 – it reached 600,000 people in less than 10 days! You say what?! I know, I don’t think that everything I have ever done in my entire life has reached that many people!

I took some photographs of my friend Jac for her to use in her London Fashion Week promotion. She’s the designer behind Park and James and the ‘flat shoe revolution’. We ate cake and got thrown out of a hotel.

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We had to say goodbye to our dear old furry man cat friend MoJo. We miss him. There’s an echo in the house. Where sound used to be absorbed into his soft food filled body, it now bounces lonelily from wall to wall. This is not the time or the place for this sadness, I’m not good with sympathy or loss.

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I kept my head down, got on with some serious business, and then I wrote this: 6 Valentine’s Gifts You Can Give For Free. I’m not a fan of Valentine’s day, but I used it as an excuse to drink tea from under the duvet.

Lady Hens on Lockdown / Bird Flu – What To Do

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I love my chickens, you might already know that. I want them to be well and happy, and safe. Normally they run free and forage in the garden (and when Sandra was around she would run free down the road, tapping on doors and visiting neighbours for snacks) but since the beginning of December, after an outbreak of bird flu in the UK and the DEFRA instruction to keep all poultry housed and separate from wild birds, the girls have been on high security lockdown in their back garden prison, Cell Block H style. They didn’t seem too bothered at first, patrolling their wire fenced yard, occasionally fighting over a scrap of gruel, but as the winter weather took it’s toll their conditions got less and less ideal.

Enter the New Eglu Cube from Omlet. Ta da! Wooooooo, and thank you very much you dear, kind, clever people. This is the house of the Beverley Hills chicken, the chicken who has everything, the Gucci girl chicken. I mean, it’s not swarovski crystal encrusted, but it could be if they wanted. Fully insulated walls, a special nesting box area, brilliant easy-clean sleeping quarters, safely attached mesh run, and you can pick it up and wheel it around – so we did… straight into the conservatory!

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The other day there was a knock at the back door, it was a parcel delivery, Gemma the courier is terrified of birds, I normally have to meet her at the gate or throw some food in the grass to keep the hens busy while she rushes in and out. They’d never hurt her, but she doesn’t know that, they think the package in her hand is a big tasty sandwich and they just want to share it with her.

Gemma seemed quite pleased to see them all penned up behind glass and bars, ‘This looks nice!’ she said, nodding towards them. It was only then that I realised it might look a bit weird to be keeping chickens in the house, so I was quick to try and explain. Gemma was cool with it, her friend used to bring a Shetland pony called Peanut round for sleepovers, they’d give it a bath and then blow dry it’s hair in front of the tele.

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I’ve heard all sorts of theories on why, or why not, we should be keeping our hens in – there seems to have been a lot of uncertainty about what to do, and I thought I might be able to help a little, with a few ideas, from my perspective.

Avian Flu is not airborne (I’m sure there’s a bad joke in there somewhere) but aside from being carried by wild birds it can be carried on people, other animals and on things that have come into contact with the virus. The disease spreads from direct contact between birds, and from contamination through bodily fluids and faeces. Nice.

Currently (at the date of publication) there’s a legal requirement in the UK to keep all poultry housed, or as far away from wild birds as possible.

I’ve heard of chickens seeking respite in sheds and greenhouses, lean-tos, caravans and even an indoor bathroom, and while none of the solutions might seem ideal it’s got to be better than not doing anything at all.

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If you can’t bring your chickens indoors then keep them covered, you need to keep wild birds away from your chickens water, food, and living space.

Cover their house and run so that no water or anything else can fall in, you don’t want wild birds hanging around or dropping a dropping in on their way by. Cover any sides or gaps that are open to stop small wild birds getting through, and do what you can to control vermin.

Do you remember when it was lucky to be poo’ed on by a bird? Those were the days. I remember walking down the road one sunny afternoon having just collected my GCSE certificates from school. I reached inside the brown paper envelope and pulled out the glorious documents, as soon as they saw daylight they got a huge seal of approval from a passing bird. Magical.

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Keep your chickens water clean and fresh, and keep the food tidy (with extra grit if they’re not able to scrap about for their own).

Keep chickens busy with toys and distractions. Our hens will spend hours working away on a slice of watermelon or pecking at anything shiny or reflective. I’m going to get them a swing for their pen next!

Don’t move your birds around – in the garden, or further afield. It’s also important to reduce the movement of people to and from your chicken run, and disinfect shoes at the point of entry if you go inside your hens home.

It’s serious, and you could be prosecuted for not keeping your birds in.

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I often turn to my friend Ruth for advice on all things chicken, she breeds, and keeps, rare native breeds (our Marsh Daisy came from her, we named it Baby Ruth Sultana in her honour) and she’ll always tell me if I am being daft, overthinking things, or not doing enough. When I asked Ruth (the human) for her thoughts she told me,

“It is up to each and every poultry keeper, no matter how large or small their flocks, to play their part in protecting everyones’ birds. Personally, I would be devastated to lose any of my birds, most of them being rare breed status and representing many years of careful breeding. We also have to consider the potential impact on the commercial poultry industry which could be extremely costly.”

Ruth keeps a close eye on DEFRA and APHA and uses her common sense and imagination when it comes to looking after her birds. We could all take a leaf out of her book and be just a little bit more vigilant.

If you don’t keep birds but know someone who does, please take the opportunity to share this with them. There are bird keepers out there who might have missed the news, or might not know where to look for support, and between us we might be able to make a bit of a difference.

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Need to know more?

Latest update from DEFRA on Winter 2016/2017 Avian Flu.

Read this DEFRA factsheet on how to keep your birds safe.

Sign up to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Alerts Service to keep up to date with the latest news on exotic notifiable animal disease outbreaks in Great Britain.

For advice and guidance on what to do if you keep poultry, or to report suspicion of disease in animals, call the DEFRA Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301

Members of the public are encouraged to report dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), or other dead wild birds such as gulls or birds of prey, to the DEFRA helpline on 03459 33 55 77

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Thank you to the awesome chaps at Omlet for helping me and my lady hens out in their time of need by providing them with a safe new home. As always,  my opinions are my own, I say what I think, share what I like, and I do all my own chicken chasing. Hooray! This is not a sponsored post. This post may contain PR samples and affiliate links.

These Recent Things (Tea, Travels & The Midwinter Movement)

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I entered 2017 smelling of bonfire, with a fractured rib and liquid nitrogen burns. None of these things are related.

December was full on. I can’t even remember it. 2016 who? Where did all those mince pies go?

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Early in the month I was invited to  speak at Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam and spent three wonderful nights in the city. We stayed at the stunning Conservatorium hotel, and then moved on to the quietly luxurious Waldorf Astoria.

To balance out my incredible luck I ate an overdressed purple potato with bits of prune and some clay.

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Amsterdam is a beautiful city; the people are friendly, the architecture is stunning, and the stroopwaffles are one of the best inventions known to man (them and the internal combustion engine). I definitely plan to go back soon, probably with a small army of pancake loving pals.

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Returning from Amsterdam I travelled up to Cheshire and spent a couple of nights with my friends at Willington Hall. I will keep saying it, but it’s one of my favourite places in the UK, a real home from home. Natalie had helped organise a flower arranging event for over 100 ladies (and two men) to raise money for the premature baby unit at the local hospital, so instead of catching up on my emails (like I said I would when I justified the trip to myself) I hung about and took pictures of ornamental cabbages, which was nice.

The house was dressed for Christmas, all cosy and calm. We took afternoon tea in the study and watched the sun set across the fields.

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Back home the chickens have been on high security lockdown. They don’t really seem to mind, we’ve been giving them extra snacks. It’s a small sacrifice to make in comparison to the possibility of contributing to the spread of avian flu and causing thousands of birds to have to be killed. Also, I’ve not stood in chicken poo for a whole month now.

We celebrated 11 years of MoJo living with us, making him about 18 in human years now, and over 90 in the cat equivalent. Rocky came to stay and pulled his tooth out. That wasn’t part of his birthday surprise!

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We had a lovely Danish Christmas dinner with Martin, Gitte and Oliver; we walked in Greenwich Park and saw a big man fox and a bunch of deer. Then we had a pleasant and peaceful Christmas at home. Adam was in charge of the dinner, he’s the King of the roast.

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I mentioned before that we planned to embrace the Midwinter Movement, and we did just that.

Sara shared the hashtag in her monthly Me & Orla newsletter and (I’ve just checked) almost 3000 images have been tagged #themidwintermovement over on instagram, have a look. It’s been quite interesting to see how other people respond to an idea that I hold so strong. It’s personal to me, but they’ve made it their own. I’ve initiated them into my cult and they don’t even know!

For me the Midwinter Movement is about finding ways to add light and joy to the season, embracing the darkness and filling it with light, decorating for the winter, making wreaths and bringing greenery into the house, lighting fires and candles, good dinners, sharing the simple things, backing off from the consumerist Christmas crap – it’s not British hygge or a fad, its just how I think life should be.

And, it means you can keep your sparkly lights up for as long as you like. No twelfth night misery for us, no decoration withdrawal symptoms, we’re keeping our fairy lights up until the evenings draw out and we no longer need their warm glow.

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Over on Shutter Hub we shared our Year in Review. Cor blimey, it’s been a corker! I’d really love you to pop over and have a read of our 2016 highlights, I’m proud to be able to share them with you.

Also, thank you. Thank you for all your voting in the UK Blog Awards. Obviously the three of you could only do so much, so the this old Peas blog didn’t make it, but Shutter Hub is through to the finals  in the Best Photography Blog category. Thank you.

And, the grand finale of 2016… I fell over on the ice and my bobble hat flew off into a dog poo!

 

A Night at The Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam

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Arriving at the Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam, we looked up at the beautiful buildings, wrapped with a  sparkling festive bow, and were won over immediately.

First admiring the marble floor, incredibly detailed ceilings and beautiful sweeping staircase, we were lead to our room to check in. The welcome was so warm and friendly I felt quite at home (although of course at home I don’t have a personal concierge, choice of rooms scents, or a mini bar, but, you know!)

Our room was light and bright with beautiful white embroidered bed linens. Classical music whispered gently in the background.

From the large windows we had full view of the city’s grandest canal, Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal), which was built in the Golden Age and is now a UNESCO heritage site.

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On a table next to a vase of almost-open tulips, atop a glass stand, sat a chocolate dome – hand decorated with a row of marzipan canal houses in front of a frosty night sky. Underneath this fabulous cloche of cacao freshly baked cookies sat neatly on a paper doily. Doesn’t it sound decadent? You should have seen me modelling that chocolate masterpiece as a very fetching (and melty) hat. So decadent.

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The fruit bowl was brimming with berries, beside it cotton napkins and a finger bowl decorated with petals. The mini bar was stocked to the gunnels with all the best bits, and the bathroom had everything you could possibly need.

But, the carpets. You know how I love a good hotel carpet!  The carpets were fabulous – designed especially for the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam to reflect the calm waters of the canals outside, with a little nod to the palette of Vermeer too.

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It was hard to leave the room when it was so comfortable and relaxing, but there was a whole hotel to explore, and then some more of the city – which included the fabulous Botanical Gardens, and the not so fabulous purple-potato dinner ( all of which you can read about over here).

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I couldn’t help be be drawn to the gloriously glitzy Christmas decorations – the huge wreaths, the piles of golden fir cones, and the massive tree with it’s small heap of presents placed around it. (No, I don’t think those packages were empty. Yes I do think they were full of magic.)

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The hotel is made up of six individual canal houses neatly stitched together with personality and charm. Most of the buildings had been a bank, and the old safety deposit boxes remain – now a feature in The Vault Bar, providing storage for single malts and aged cognacs.

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Behind the beautiful buildings is a large private garden (the largest in the city) which, in the spring, bursts into colour with thousands of tulips.

Looking up to the rooftops, along the undulating roofline, there’s an interruption of houses so small they look to be only good for Borrowers, or bees.

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When the Waldorf Astoria brought the bees to the city they made every effort to welcome them. The Queen bee arrived by Rolls Royce and was walked up a red carpet to a welcoming reception and ceremony fit for royalty. I would have dearly loved to have been there for this experience, but it’s okay, my imagination is vivid and I can picture it all quite well. (Her crown was a work of art!)

Everywhere I looked I spotted charming details – odes to the past, marble and plasterwork, and a finish that looked like it had just been completed yesterday. Maintaining such historical buildings is an ongoing task, and one that the Waldorf Astoria appear to do with unseen precision. Not a thing out of place, not a chip in the paintwork, nor a crack in the ceiling, everything thing is perfect as it should be. It might be odd, but I am always most impressed by these things!

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I had the most peaceful and comfortable nights sleep I have ever had away from home. Eight solid hours, undisturbed. I didn’t want to leave.

For breakfast we ate the Waldorf Astoria classic of Eggs Benedict, sat in the calmness of the gently toned Librije’s Zusje restaurant, sipping hot tea and discussing what we’d do next time.

Next time I’d dine in the 2 Michelin starred restaurant, drink cocktails in The Vault Bar and take afternoon tea in Peacock Alley. I’d have lunch in the Goldfinch Brasserie, swim in the beautiful pool, and have a treatment in the exclusive Guerlain Spa. Next time.

I feel happy to think that there could be a next time. One night might not be enough (it wasn’t!) but it was such a delight to extend a work trip and make it into a superb getaway, that it feels like a real privilege to even be able to think ‘next time!’

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Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city, and the Waldorf Astoria, Amsterdam for hosting me and my guest for a night in their incredible hotel.

Amsterdam – Working Away & Taking Time to Explore the City

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Travelling for work seems at first to be a very exciting thing, but flying in and out of cities without seeing a true glimpse of them doesn’t sound at all fun to me. So, when I was invited to give a talk at Foam Museum in Amsterdam I felt it was important to try and make a bit more of it.

After dropping my bags at the stunning Conservatorium hotel and having a quick rest and refresh, I headed over to Foam to do my talking at the Photo/Video Edition. The event was great fun, and although much of it was in Dutch (and my translator got told off for talking, so I had no idea what was going on) it was really great to meet and speak to so many people afterwards, and to make plans for future visits.

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In the morning, having woken to a beautiful sunrise, I headed off to a meeting, then for a quick cheese toastie and waffle stop and a think about what to do over the next couple of days.

I’m not much of a planner when it comes to these things, I’m more of a haphazard wanderer to be honest, and even the best made plans get broken when I’m around (and easily distracted by all the things).

We meandered through the streets, down to the station, zig zagging back along the canals, car spotting, bike spotting, window shopping, taking everything in.

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In a narrow and unassuming street we found the door to Restaurant LT Cornelis and climbed the stairs to their cocktail bar and restaurant.

Three buildings made into one, respectfully maintaining the character and evidence of the building’s heritage. The visible wear and tear of well over 100 years still evident in the space, especially on the spiral staircase up to the private dining area.

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Copper stills lined up as lampshades over the bar. High ceilings, blue grey walls, golden velvet, a ginger martini just for me – I could live here!

“It’s our mission to enable all to experience the absolute delights of the Dutch cuisine. By combining the current with the past and the purest ingredients we strive to offer our guests a legendary experience.”

We  sat, overlooked by a large reproduction of the famous Dutch painting of the Meagre Company (also known by it’s original title of ‘Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw’) and worked our way happily through the five course menu.

The restaurant has only been open nine months but you’d think that people had been going there for years, they seemed so happy and comfortable. The staff were lovely and cheery, they appeared to take pride in everything.

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The amuse bouche was good, and the Ossenworst was pretty special (smoked beef sausage with Amsterdam pickles, kohlrabi, silver onion and rye bread sauce). The Sirloin was cooked to perfection and beautifully flavoured (Dutch beef with a beet jus, cream cheese stuffed onion, sweet shredded onion and a melty, crunchy onion crisp with confit potatoes), but the chicken and fries ‘Appelmoes’ was just awesome (soft chicken with salty gravy and chicken liver, sweet apple sauce and crispy potato). I’ve never had chicken and apple before. Apparently it’s a dutch thing, a childhood classic that everyone knows. I’ve been educated and enlightened!

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The dessert, to me, was bizarre, a real insight into dutch flavours and a challenge to my tastebuds. Meringue, sea buckthorn berry, shredded dutch carrot, white chocolate mousse, crunchy caramel biscuit, with a gravy, yes gravy, of yellow carrots. Tangy, sour, sharp, kind of astringent, occasionally only ‘almost’ sweet. I can’t say that it’s something I’d choose to have again but I do think it was a taste worth trying.

If I lived in Amsterdam I’d probably make LT Cornelis my local. I’d be like the cool one out of Cheers (was there a cool one? There wasn’t a cool one) sat at the end of the bar with my personalised ginger martini tankard and a pocket full of sweet snacks. I’m sure I could blend in.

Full of food and happy, we made our way back to the hotel. Amsterdam is such a safe and busy city that it feels perfectly fine to wander the streets at night, and it’s nice to see everything in a different light (or dark, as the case most often is at nighttime).

After a good nights sleep and a good breakfast of truffle-topped Eggs Benedict, we checked out of the Conservatorium and got a car over to the Waldorf Astoria, where we stayed for our third and final night of the trip.

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Having explored the superbly beautiful hotel we wandered out, making a beeline for the zoo. I don’t normally visit zoo’s, but so many people had suggested that the zoo was the last place we should think about going, it kind of became top of the list out of inquisitiveness.

We were on the way to the zoo but an exceptionally large palm pushing it’s self against a condensation-blurred window lured us in to De Hortus (that and the iamsterdam city cards burning holes in our pockets!) and we were lost for hours.

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Amsterdam’s De Hortus Botanicus was founded in 1638 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. What a magnificent place. Green parakeets flew from tree to tree, as two large herons sat watching. In the butterfly house were hands of green bananas, small golden pineapples and these things that looked like deflated balloons.

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Leaving De Hortus we continued on our journey across the city, grabbing frites and mayonnaise from a street stall, and as the daylight dimmed we headed to catch the Water Colors Cruise and see the Amsterdam Lights Festival from the water.

Glass roofed boats chugged up and down the canals as the flashes of many tourists cameras fired simultaneously.

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The Lace by Choi + Shine Architects was by far my favourite installation. Fifteen metres long and suspended above the canal, The Lace pays homage to the traditional Dutch bonnet, and is made from over twenty miles of hand crocheted cord! Utterly stunning (and probably very weighty).

After our excursion we headed over to De Culinaire Werkplaats for dinner. From the vast and varied information I had passionately pressed upon me throughout the evening I’ve attempted to narrow the concept down to the following for you:

De Culinaire Werkplaats is an interactive experimental art gallery vegetable restaurant performance with a freestyle story-telling menu of ‘a selection of japanese world views in 5 courses’ sharing the message of sustainability, future food problems, and food scarcity.

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We sat, balanced atop tall 3 legged chairs, concentrating on not falling, and were presented with a run of dishes, all of which, we were told, related to Japanese culture.

Rice and beans in a bowl with brown water poured over it as a ‘tea ceremony’.

Gold and silver clay covered purple potato with sauerkraut, chestnuts and prunes.

A smoke filled box with beans wrapped in cabbage leaves and buckwheat noodles, and a flower on top.

A paper wrapped ‘gift’ of raspberry and almond.

A Japanese garden of build your own dessert – Wasabi flavoured sesame seeds, fish shaped sour tasting jelly, trimmings of cress.

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I would have liked to enjoy the food, but for me the multitude of mixed messages needed to be refined and matched with food that is full of flavour. A gold and silver clay covered potato may make a artistic statement (this one was about the beauty of ageing, I am told) but it does not demonstrate the idea of sustainability (the waste of clay, silver and gold paint), and even though it was purple and shiny (and rather regal looking)  it was still a plain potato.

My favourite bit was the part where you had to take your own dishes up to the sink when you’d finished eating. I thought that was quite nice.

Food for thought? Absolutely, if you’ve got €90 burning a hole in your back pocket, several hours to spare, and a personal selection of seasonings.

Luckily I filled my chubby boots with the most delicious Eggs Benedict only hours later at the Waldorf Astoria and all was right in my world again.

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Foam Photography Museum Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS

Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, 1071 AN

Restaurant Lt. Cornelis Voetboogstraat 13, 1012 XK

De Hortus Botanicus Plantage Middenlaan 2a, 1018 DD

Water Colors Cruise Departs from Prins Hendrikkade 33a (opposite Central Station)

De Culinaire Werkplaats Fannius Scholtenstraat 10, 1051 EX

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

iamsterdam City Card €75 for 72 hours and totally worth it if you plan to do lots –  includes unlimited travel on public transport, a free canal cruise, and entry to most museums and attractions.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city.

 

Welcome to the World of Karen Harvey: photographer, writer, creative consultant… self proclaimed cat whisperer, chicken wrangler and chief cake taster!