Sunday, 27 July 2014

Essential Festival Survival Packing List

It's that magical time of year when there's a plethora of British festivals to choose from - snap up tickets fast and you can still see some of the most exclusive bands and performers on the planet whilst enjoying the English summer. Sunshine, the great outdoors, and live music - what's not to love?! I partied last weekend away with festival dyed sheep at Latitude festival in Suffolk, which was an absolute blast, but I learned the hard way that packing well for a festival is essential to your overall experience.
Weather conditions can change very fast and when you're staying in a tent, you want to ensure you have everything you need to get through the weekend in as much comfort as possible. I first met gal pals Harriet and Tamsin at Latitude festival two years ago. They are brilliant company and always look chic throughout a festival come rain or shine - or even when hugging a tree! 
As seasoned festival goers, I picked Tamsin and Harriet's brains to create the essential Festival Survival Packing List, to ensure you have all the necessities to get you through a festival this summer. Here are some items you cannot leave the house without!
  • A Festival Bag - to keep all your precious possessions with you at all time. Extra bonus if it's waterproof and features a cross body strap to free up your arms. 
  • Dry Shampoo - when decent showers are limited, this spray on haircare product is the best solution to looking well coiffed.
  • Waterproof Jacket - it wouldn't be a proper English festival without an inevitable downpour when you are least expecting it. A lightweight poncho or waterproof jacket is an absolute must have. 
  • Sensible Footwear - bring at least two pairs of old shoes you don't really care about getting damaged (or never being the same again post festival). Remember to pack wellies -walking in the sticky and oozy mud in sandals is not fun - take my word for it!
  • Wet Wipes & Loo Roll - not the most glamorous of bathroom accessories, but these are definitely essential items you will regret not bringing. One trip to a festival portaloo will bring this truth home real fast.
  • Face Paint, Novelty Glasses & Festival Flair - probably one of my favourite aspects of a festival is the opportunity to dress as crazy and wacky as you like. You can't go wrong with glittery face paint, neon body paint and pink Vegas showgirl style lashes! Bring your cheap and cheerful sunglasses rather than an expensive pair to avoid disappointment.
  • Bin Bags - don't underestimate the importance of a bin bag! They come in very handy during downpours and when packing up all your possessions at the end of a festival. My friend Anna has even made a poncho out of one.
  • A Handheld Mirror & Towels - these items are not provided at festivals and you will miss them if you don't have them. Simple as that!
  • Battery Powered Charger - Skip the lines and the overpriced cost of charging your phone or camera with a battery powered charger. Just remember to charge it pre-festival otherwise you won't catch a snap of Lily Allen up close and personal!
  • Air Bed & Flag For Your Tent - go one up on the price point for an air bed in your tent. Your body will thank you for it. Attach a recognisable flag to your tent to make locating it amongst the 1,000s of other tents that much easier.
  • Insect Repellant & Sunscreen - lather up on sunscreen during the day and insect repellant at night. A festival is that much more enjoyable sunburn and mosquito bite free. Aloe vera or after sun is handy to have too!
Whether you're headed to Wilderness festival or Burning Man this summer, I hope these packing tips come in handy - enjoy the fun and music!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Vienna, City of Fabulous Cakes & More

Last weekend I had the chance to explore the beautiful capital of Austria. It's true what they say about visiting Vienna: you will eat endless amounts of cakes, you will be tempted to buy a ball gown and gloves for the upcoming ball season, and when you aren't wandering around one of the many impressive museums, re-fuelling with a large tasty schnitzel is a must. 
Schnitzel: it's what the Austrian doctor ordered
72 hours isn't nearly enough time to see all the sights of Vienna. If you are thinking of heading to Vienna soon, here is what I recommend packing into your itinerary:

LET THEM EAT CAKE
I've never been to a city where cake eating was a daily ritual and necessity - and  yet, the people of Vienna are very trim and energetic. Must be something in the Viennese coffee! Here are some tasty treats you cannot leave Vienna without trying.
Apfelstrudel - one of your five a day?
Sachertorte is such a typically Viennese pudding that it should really be pictured on their bank notes. There are different recipe variations, but essentially Sachertorte is a double sponge cake with a layer of apricot jam underneath thick chocolate icing. It is delicious! Hotel Sacher is an institution in Vienna but it is also a tourist trap. When I saw a line out the door of visitors waiting to buy a piece of Sachertorte, I went to Demel instead for my afternoon Viennese cake fix. 
Originally founded in 1876, Demel is a world famous Viennese chocolatier, pastry, and cake shop. Vienna takes its coffee very seriously and there are more than a dozen different types of coffee available in Demel's bustling cafe. The selection of cakes, chocolates and pastries are incredible, but save room for the signature violet and blueberry ice cream! If you're lucky enough to have a sneak peek downstairs, you will encounter a land of couture Demel cakes worth a staggering amount with A-lister client testimonials on the wall from the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor and more. The cakes are almost too pretty to eat:
SHOP
There are plenty of luxury designer shops and chain fashion stores to choose from in Vienna's 1st district, but my attention turned to local designer Lena Hoschek. A former intern of Vivienne Westwood, Lena's designs are fabulously flirty and feminine with influences from the 1960's. 
Photo credit: lenahoschek.com
Just trying on one of her yellow and white picnic chic dresses made me feel like Mad Men's Betty Draper. The search for the perfect summer party dress is now over! Realising my credit card sadly couldn't take any more damage from Lena Hoschek's latest collection, I headed over to the super hipster 7th district and perused some vintage shops...  
...where I quickly realised that the 80's are back - Vienna Calling anyone?!
Sadly these leopard wedge Gaga-esque beauties weren't available in my size:
Bring a sweet treat back home to your loved ones with Austrian Mozartkugeln Chocolates, which are sold in every shape imaginable and make great presents. There are chocolate stores all over Vienna, but I always find myself shopping for goodies in a local grocery store no matter where I travel. 
The Vienna grocery store chocolate selection!
RELAX
Yes, I am drinking the Park Hyatt hotel Kool Aid as their PR, but it's hard to beat staying in the brand new Park Hyatt Vienna, which opened last month. The hotel is exquisite from top to toe and the location is very central. 
The 100-year-old building was formerly a bank, so there are lots of historical Viennese influences discreetly displayed throughout the hotel. History buffs will have a field day here! The charming hanging artwork pictured in my room is actually an enlarged typically Viennese brooch.
For a dining experience you won't forget, try The Bank restaurant, which is elegant and glamorous in appearance with a WOW, I want to try everything! menu to match. I feasted on grilled beef tenderloin Rossini with madeira sauce and summer truffle on top of potato gratin. It was easily the best steak I have ever had.  
Even if you aren't necessarily a spa person, you have to check-in to the hotel's Arany Spa for a swim in the golden brick lined pool, where the bank's vault was once located. This is as close to gold as I will probably ever get!
Fashionistas will love the hotel's very chic Coco Chanel inspired mirrored staircase. 
Make your way up the stairs in the afternoon to find an array of cakes, pastries, chocolates and more. I'm telling you, it is a mystery that everyone in Vienna is so thin!
Lemon drizzle cake with cherries and eclair
Three flavours of summer truffles, swoon!
EXPLORE
Vienna is home to so many historical buildings and museums that it's hard to know where to start.  If you're tight on time and weather permits, I would suggest walking around the city for a dose of culture and fresh air. St Stephen's Cathedral is absolutely marvellous and well worth a visit. It's in the centre of the city with a massive spire, so you can't miss it! 
We beat the afternoon heat in the Belvedere museum and admired one of the latest 'must-see' exhibitions in the museum's Austrian gallery, Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. It's there until the end of August 2014, so go quickly to avoid disappointment! 
I was most impressed with the stunning Austrian Parliament Building on Ringstraße boulevard and can only imagine how gorgeous it must be inside.
You can't help but love Vienna's fashionable street cart horses, which wear these colourful headpieces to keep the flies at bay- the stylish way! For a dose of serious horsey culture, book a tour of the remarkable Spanish Riding School in advance as tickets sell out quick. 
After a day of sightseeing, you can treat yourself to a super healthy vegan, rice milk, coconut milk or oat milk ice cream at Veganista, which is the health-conscious hangout in the 7th district's Neustiftgasse street. The basil flavour (aka 'Basilikum' in Austrian) is one of their specialty flavours. 
A trip to Vienna wouldn't be complete without a coffee stop in the historic 130 year old Cafe Central, which is famed for once being a popular meeting place amongst Vienna's poets, artists, writers and philosophers. The building's remarkable architecture will take you back in time and the menu isn't too shabby either.

Vienna offers so much: history oozing from every corner, some of the world's best music, delicious food, a vast selection of museums to explore and brilliant shopping. I can't wait to return for a longer visit and hopefully one day attend a Viennese ball. I may have to lay off the chocolates if I want to fit into my ballgown though!
Tschüss!

Monday, 30 June 2014

BLONDON'S Summer Superfood Salad

At the risk of sounding a bit pathetic, one of the things I miss most about America is the extensive range of salads available no matter the season! Just try comparing your average salad menu in London to say the salad selection at The Cheesecake Factory and you will see what I'm talking about. I don’t usually like to mix sweet and savoury foods, but I recently constructed a fruit filled chicken summer salad based on one of my favourite American salads, Panera's Strawberry Poppyseed and Chicken salad. It’s healthy, easy to prepare, credit card friendly, and is an ideal lunch or dinner for those warmer summer days when you want something light yet filling. It is so refreshing and healthy, you can’t help but love it. Here are step-by-step foolproof instructions on how to create my Summer Superfood Salad:
Prep time: 30 minutes; serves 4

Summer Superfood Salad Ingredients:
- 2 cups of cooked boneless chicken breast
- 2 cups kale
- 1 cup watercress or lettuce of choice
- ½ cup crushed almonds
- 2 cups of grapes, halves
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- ½ cup light or regular feta cheese
- 1 ripe avocado
- a pinch of chia seeds
- a pinch of sea salt
- juice of ½ a lemon
- a pinch of chilli flakes

Start with watercress or lettuce and two cups of kale. I lean towards watercress as I find it’s a nice balance paired with kale for a salad base.
Next up, add two cups of washed halved grapes. Halving the grapes with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors is probably the most time consuming step of making this salad, but halving the grapes makes the salad extra juicy and is well worth the fuss! 
Pour in two cups of halved grapes on top of the base of the salad. If you’re trying to channel your inner domestic goddess, then neatly place the grapes in a corner of the salad – this step isn’t necessary whatsoever but will add to the final effect. You’ll see for yourself soon enough! 
Then add one cup of ripe blueberries adjacent to the grapes in your salad. It’s starting to look rather colourful, isn’t it?
Now for a dose of heart healthy and natural fat carbs, add a half cup of crushed almonds to the salad. It should be pretty easy to find crushed or chopped almonds in a supermarket, but if all else fails then whizz whole almonds in a food processor briefly or crush them with a rolling pin whilst inside a sealed bag for the ‘crushed’ almond effect.
Add the half cup of crushed almonds to the other corner of the salad. 
Slice up half a cup of feta cheese into neat small blocks. I was trying to be extra healthy due to the fact that bikini season is on my doorstep, so I opted for light feta cheese.
Toss the feta cheese blocks next to the crushed almonds in the salad.
Avocados are one of my favourite fruits. They are filled with antioxidants, a variety of vitamins and are a good source of fiber. I used an avocado in this salad as a creamy and healthier alternative to dressing. Make sure the avocado is ripe otherwise it will make mushing it up much more challenging. 
Cut up the avocado into small pieces in a mixing bowl - watch your fingers as avocados can be slippery!
Add a dash of sea salt for extra flavour…
…followed by a pinch of chilli flakes for extra kick in your salad. As you can see, I LOVE chilli and tend to go overboard in the spice department. Add as much or as little as you wish.
Then cut a lemon in half and squeeze the lemon juice onto the avocado and spice salad dressing mixture…
…it should be looking like this:
Using a small fork, stir and mush the avocado mixture as best as you can, so it almost resembles a more runny version of guacamole. 
Add this creamy mixture to the centre of your summer superfood salad, which should be channeling the colours of the rainbow by now.
I have joined the chia seed fan club recently and can’t help but sprinkle them on vegetables, stir fries and salads as much as possible. Personally, I find chia seeds to be rather tasteless , but they give you energy, add a nice crunchy texture, and are a great source of antioxidants and omega-3. 
Sprinkle a small layer of chia seeds on top of the salad. 
Last but not least, add two cups of cooked chicken to the salad. I prefer to use a rotisserie chicken for extra flavour and to save the carcass to make home-made broth, but feel free to use your cooked chicken of choice for the salad. 
This eye-catching salad is great for sharing. If you’re having people over then I recommend placing one cup of chicken on each side of the salad, so you can let guests serve themselves to whichever parts of the salad tickles their fancy. Be warned, this dish is a crowd pleaser and will make your friends think you can cook!
Even though this salad always looks far more fancy when you arrange it in the bowl by ingredient (as pictured), I find it tastes best when it’s all mixed up together, so I typically ruin my picture perfect salad within minutes of creation. If you're prepping this salad for your next meal, remember that it also tastes great chilled.Whether you’re entertaining on a budget or just want a quick and tasty health-conscious dish this summer, this superfood salad is always a hit. Happy summer salad-ing!