Today’s post is just a short and sweet one, kind of like these Snickerdoodles: really easy to whip up in a post-holiday-feast haze. I’m sure we’re all there right now, eyes slightly glazed over and not sure we can stuff another item of food into our bellies. But I’m here to tell you that yes! You can! And if you’re going to put anything else in there, it should be these.

What are Snickerdoodles? To me, they’re the most American of all the cookies. Chocolate chip? Please. Iced sugar cookies? Don’t make me laugh. Everyone knows these cookies. You can find them in lots of countries. But say the word “Snickerdoodle” to anyone who isn’t American or who doesn’t have a baking-obsessed American friend, and you might be greeted with a confused look.

Snickerdoodles are the softest, pillowiest, most moreish cookies that exist on this earth. If you can only have one, you are made of stronger stuff than me.

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What to Bake & How to Bake It: Courgette Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting

I’ve been an avid baker since high school, when I took to the kitchen like a baby deer takes to its legs for the first time—that is to say, very ungracefully, with much wobbling and more than a few trip-ups. One of those tender first memories of baking exploration came from the time I decided to make a pineapple cheesecake for my grandmother’s birthday. After a few attempts at cheesecakes that bubbled, cracked, collapsed, and failed to set, I lamented the old cookbook that I’d found the recipe out of, wishing I had someone to troubleshoot with, give me advice, or at least show me how a pineapple cheesecake should look. (Pro-tip: don’t use the canned pineapple juice for flavouring, as it has enzymes that prevent the cheesecake from setting. I learned this many years later.)

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Peppery Lemon Tart

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me getting excited about moving into a new flat back in June. Amongst many other more serious reasons for wanting to be out of the old one, I had another more personal, somewhat frivolous reason: my new flat had a brand spanking new kitchen. OH, what a kitchen! It had a shiny glass hob, smooth stone counters, spacious and clean cabinets, and the mother of all kitchen amenities (in England at least)… a dishwasher. If you’re a reader in America, you might not realize why this is such a big deal. Well, one thing I’ve learned from living as a student in England is that most flats don’t have the luxury of a dishwasher. I’ve gotten used to hand-washing my dishes–perhaps a bit too much.

The last time I went home, my parents and I cooked a big roast meal together. I’m used to cleaning up around the house when I visit so that I’m more of a help than a burden. After dinner I started in washing the dishes, scrubbing hard at the pan that the roast potatoes had been in. After about 20 minutes my mom wandered back in from the living room. “What are you doing? We’re waiting on you to start the movie.”

“I’m washing the dishes, mom, I’ll be there in a minute.”

“You can just put them in the dishwasher, you know.”

I looked over at the dishwasher, directly to the right of the sink, underneath the heaving drying rack where I’d been precariously piling roast pans, utensils, plates, and pots. Yes, I’d gotten so used to hand-washing the dishes that I literally forgot my parents had such a thing as a dishwasher.

So, yes, I’m a bit excited to have a dishwasher for times when I’ve dirtied a lot of dishes. And baking is certainly one of those times! I’ve been using my kitchen quite a bit to cook and bake, with the hopes of putting more recipes on the blog. However, as I’m sure seasoned recipe bloggers will know, most recipes take a few tries and tests to get right for public consumption. I haven’t found the time for most of them; luckily, though, this lemon tart turned out pretty spiffy on my first try. See?

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Breakfast in the Sky

The only time I’ve been to Duck and Waffle was last November. My friend Robin from Gothenburg was passing through London on his way to ATP’s End of an Era festival. I promised him I would take him to one of the best brunch places in London; having not actually been to Duck and Waffle yet, this was a bit of a gamble. I was trusting the rave reviews of many friends and foodies on Twitter, as well as the fact that it has some pretty stunning views of London. Despite it being a typical gray November day, and despite us being stuck at a table in the middle of the room, we loved it. In the interest of not totally pigging out (and also because we were trying to be frugal at a very unfrugal restaurant) we ordered three dishes – one each to ourselves, with one to share. I scanned the menu again and again, wondering which mouthwatering dish to pick. It was clear that I would have to come back, possibly multiple times, to experience all the delights.

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Ginstock 2013

World Gin Day and Ginstock 2014 are just around the corner. Tickets go on sale this Wednesday, and you may be wondering, “Should I buy one?” Hopefully, these pictures can give you a preview and whet your appetite for wetting your whistle with that most distinguished of spirits.

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Takin’ it Easy at Big Easy

Fresh off the plane from my trip to America, you think that I would have immersed myself in all the things that London has to offer that I missed in my three weeks back in Alabama: good coffee shops, restaurants with carefully crafted small plates, bars that actually know what a Negroni is. But it wasn’t to be. Wilkes called me up a few days after I returned, just as I was recovering from an exam and still fighting off the fug of jetlag. Before my trip, he couldn’t stop raving about Big Easy and the ridiculous amounts of food you could have for the price; now that I was back, he insisted that I give it a try. So it was in this way that I ended up, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, deep in the cavernous recesses of Covent Garden’s newest restaurant.

The entrance to Big Easy in Covent Garden is announced with a brash, brightly lit neon sign, urging you down the tunnel into whatever culinary delights lie beyond. It’s vaguely reminiscent of tourist-trap restaurants such as Bubba Gump’s, and considering that they were capitalizing on a cuisine that is very near and dear to my heart (Southern BBQ), I approached it warily. The inside is huge, with an impressive wall of booze rising up behind the bar, requiring a ladder to reach the top rows. There’s just as much seating space downstairs as well. On a Tuesday lunchtime it was hard to imagine the entire restaurant being filled, but I’m sure it happens easily.

Once at our table, we ordered pretty quickly: I knew I wanted to try the lobster, which came with fries and a drink included; I also wanted to sample their array of barbecued meats, so we ordered the “Tastearama” platter as well. Wilkes got a Sazerac slushie to go with the lobster, and I went for my usual fare at any place that has it: root beer (but this time in the form of a float).

Dominion is one of the better root beers (though Abita is still my all-time favourite) and on a scale of “caramelly goodness” to “toothpaste”, it sits firmly on the “caramel with a hint of mint” side. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it, it brings out the sweet side even more. I happily sipped my giant, fizzy float until Wilkes’ Sazerac slushie showed up, complete with a stick of wormwood. Now, if you’re sitting there thinking “Alcoholic slushies? What a gimmick”, then consider this: alcoholic slushies are very much a New Orleans thing. You won’t find them in the dainty portions served here at Big Easy (arguably the only thing in the entire restaurant that comes in a dainty portion) but rather in 32 oz foam soda cups, served to you in a drive-thru. Yes… alcoholic slushie drive-thrus. (Normally these are found next to another south Louisiana staple, Raising Cane, a chicken finger drive-thru. My mom told me, with the shine of nostalgia in her eyes, of being a student at LSU and driving to get chicken and slushies sometimes after class.)

Anyways, the slushie was amazing. It had the sweetness of the bourbon and absinthe, with a delightful kick of booziness. Unlike lots of slushies, it was pretty well blended, so you didn’t have flavourless chunks of ice ruining the experience. My only qualm would be that I’d prefer to have quite a large glass of it instead of the size it is actually served in, but it would probably get dangerous really quickly.

Soon the waitress came back with the classiest of dining accessories: the single-use lobster bib. I’m sure there exist people in this world who have their own silken, embroidered lobster bibs, ready for every crustacean occasion. But for the rest of us, we have to rely on the bibs that are provided. With heads held high and dignity still somewhat intact, Wilkes and I tied our bibs on with a flourish.

And then the food arrived. The table of three guys next to us, who had barely made it through their own plates of burgers and fries with effortful groans, stared as two huge platters were set down on our table. They covered the entire surface and hung off the edges – it was a LOT of food. In hindsight, it probably could have fed three, if you could ever figure out how to split two halves of a lobster three ways. Our dignity retreated a little further away.

I didn’t mind so much though because the food was, for the most part, absolutely delicious. The chips were perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, but needed a bit of extra salt/spices to make them stand out. Thankfully, the lobster was perfect – the delicate meat had taken on a smoky flavour from the grill and only needed a squeeze of lemon and a tiny dip in the pool of clarified butter. We had originally ordered hollandaise as our dipping sauce, but it was a bit bland; the lobster didn’t need it anyways.

The “Tastearama” barbecue sharing platter was a behemoth of a plate, with ribs, chicken, pulled pork, potato salad, baked beans, and coleslaw. It was so massive that, after thoroughly enjoying my lobster, I only had room left to focus on the meats that were there. Wilkes said he enjoyed the coleslaw and the potato salad, though, so I trust his judgement. I’m not the biggest fan of coleslaw anyways.

The ribs had rendered almost all of their fat, so they were juicy and delicious, needing only a slight dip of bbq sauce to really bring out the flavour. The pulled pork was my favourite, with its soft, almost fluffy texture; it was rich, succulent, and burnt ends were hidden in the bowl for extra bursts of smokiness. Even though I could barely bring myself to eat it, I managed to try the chicken as well, which was also juicy and lean.

Our bill came out to just under £60, so £30 per person – and this was to stuff ourselves silly. That’s already a good deal for central London, so if you think that we easily could have gotten away feeding three people with the same amount of food, you could probably get out for around £20 per person.

In the middle of our meal Wilkes joked, as we squinted our eyes and stuck out our tongues while trying to crack into the lobster, that this was definitely not a restaurant to bring someone to on a first date. (I’d say the opposite: if they can’t deal with you wearing a bib at the table and or having a bit bbq sauce on your fingers because you enjoy the food so much, there’s probably a lot of other trivial stuff they can’t deal with and you’re better off without them.) Perhaps Big Easy is a great first date restaurant because, hey, you can only go up from there, right?

Despite its kitschy sort of facade, the simple fact is that Big Easy’s food is good. It reminded me of the tourist-trap restaurants simply because of its size; in reality, it also reminded me a bit of the small bbq joints you’ll see in Southern towns, just on a much larger scale. You’ll just have to get over the fact that eating here isn’t going to be a small, intimate, quiet affair. In my opinion, Big Easy is the perfect restaurant to bring a group of friends to so you can order a few platters and all dig in indiscriminately, hoping that through a team effort you’ll be able to finish the hefty portions of food. It might take a little while, but that’s ok. Order another round of slushies, eat to your heart’s content, and take it easy.

White Mulberries

I’m going to tell you about one of London’s best kept secrets. Well… okay, that may have been the case last week, but I guess I can’t really claim that anymore. White Mulberries recently won London’s Best Coffee Shop in the (seemingly out of the blue) Coffee Stop Awards and has been featured on the Evening Standard and London Live. Awards aside, though, White Mulberries is the kind of coffee shop that was quietly puttering away in their own corner of London, not making much fuss, but doing things very well. It was a hidden gem of a shop, and though those of us that knew about it before may grumble at the potential rush and lack of seats, I won’t begrudge them their newfound fame and increased revenue. It’s still very much a gem, just not so much a hidden one anymore.

One obstacle you have to face when visiting White Mulberries is navigating the potentially confusing maze that it St Katharine’s Docks. It’s ok, I got your back. Let me show you:

Being a Southerner (both in the US and in London), I approached St Katharine’s Docks by walking across Tower Bridge, admiring its beauty in the spring sunshine.

Just over Tower Bridge, you’ll see a set of stairs going down to the riverside, right next to the Guoman Hotel. You’ll be faced with a choice, dear coffee drinking friend – there is a Starbucks right there, staring you in the face. Walk past it to the left, into the dock area, and continue on towards the forest of boat masts.

Follow the path as it curves left, sticking to the water’s edge. Soon enough you’ll be faced with another choice – behold! Another Starbucks. But your iron will shall soon be rewarded, if you continue on but a little further. Cross the bridge just beyond the turret-like cafe and you’ll come to a twee little row of shops and restaurants looking out over the assembly of yachts. Congratulations – you’ve made it past the gatekeepers and passed the test. You’ve found White Mulberries. You have chosen…. wisely.

White Mulberries is the kind of cafe that feels homey the instant you walk into it. From outside, where a smattering of tables and chairs offer waterside coffee-drinking opportunities, you can see that most of the small shop is mostly taken up by their counter with its array of cakes, pastries, cronuts (oh yes), and small savoury offerings. There are a few seats in the window at the front and a few along the lefthand wall, which is currently home to a few pieces from the Coffee Art Project.

Owners Peyman and Rana and their friendly baristas pull their shots on a gorgeous enamel white, 2-group La Marzocco FB80. Their V60 and Aeropress array sits behind them on the counter, quietly waiting and ready in case you decide to try one of their filter coffees. Their grinders, three for the two different espressos and one for decaf, are not labelled with coffee varieties or roaster names that may be unintelligible for non-coffee nerds. Instead, they are helpfully labelled with tasting notes to help you decide which you might want in your coffee.

Noticing all the big, beautifully labelled Koppi bags lining the shelves, I went with that choice for mine and Rob’s lattes. This is a new espresso blend from Koppi called Red Clay, comprising 20% Costa Rica Santa Rosa and 80% Brazil Don Nenem. The resulting drink was a latte where the bold, full-bodied, smooth espresso shone through despite the amount of milk. It had natural sweetness, notes of toffee and almond, and a cheeky boozy, bourbon-like aftertaste. It reminded me of the bourbon caramel latte I had back home in Auburn at Mama Mocha’s, except this was simply the milk and coffee tangoing together in tasty harmony.

The milk is steamed to perfection – not too hot or too cold – and even though we let our lattes sit as we chatted, they never became bubbly. Our lovely latte art stuck around right until the very last sip.

Though this is a shop dedicated to that lovely stuff we call “coffee”, staunch British tea drinks need not fear. They’ve got that down pat as well. “So very English”, indeed.

Whether you’re a coffee or tea drinker, I highly recommend making the pilgrimage to White Mulberries, especially on a sunny spring day like we’ll (hopefully) be seeing a lot more of now.

White Mulberries
D3 Ivory House
St Katharine’s Docks

Mon – Fri 7 am  – 6 pm
Sat 8 am – 6 pm
Sun 9 am – 6 pm

Birmingham Two Ways: Part 2, BLOC Hotel & York’s Bakery

If Hotel du Vin isn’t your thing, or you’d like a cheaper alternative for your stay in Birmingham, then BLOC Hotel might be the answer you’re looking for. Might. Ah, what to say about BLOC? It’s a very interesting concept: adapting ideas from the best design in hotels around the world, and distilling down into a more cost-effective option. BLOC seeks to offer pared-down chic at great prices.

When Chloe and I went to book our rooms for the SCAE superheat, it was very last minute. Checking price comparison websites for hotels in Birmingham turned up a pretty scary spread – most of the hotels were over £70 at this point, even the Travelodge. I’ve stayed in Travelodges before and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I’m not paying £70 for the “privilege”. I was pointed in the direction of BLOC Hotel and to my surprise, their rooms were much cheaper than almost anywhere else we could have stayed that didn’t look totally run down and scary, or was 30 minutes outside of town. I booked it, told Chloe our rooms were sorted, and prepared myself for 4 intense days of photos.

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Birmingham Two Ways: Part 1, Hotel du Vin

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting England’s “second city”, Birmingham, for the UK Barista Championship “superheats” (which I covered for Sprudge with Nico Halliday – read about it here, here, and here). I also had the pleasure of staying in what is possibly Birmingham’s finest hotel: Hotel du Vin. What a name – it conjures an image of luxury already, doesn’t it? The “boutique” hotel chain is anything but your average chain. Each hotel is sui generis, true to the particular history and architecture of its chosen city and location, from Grade II-listed warehouses in Bristol, to a former asylum in Edinburgh, to the former home of a shipping company in Newcastle.

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M1lk, Balham

Food on social media is a double-edged sword. It can tantalize and inspire, like when Clerkenwell Boy posts endless montages of picture-perfect brunches or THOSE donuts; or it can be a sad, washed out train wreck of ill-lit food, which may or may not have looked appetizing before it was attacked with an iPhone – we may never know. In both cases it can be equally as torturous to take in such images. Personally, I had been waking every weekend to such torture in the form of M1lk’s Instagram feed, filled with mouthwatering descriptions and carefully styled photos of their pancakes. Never the same from week to week, I watched a parade of these beauties pass before my eyes:  “buckwheat pancakes with bananas, caramel, toasted almonds, Nesquick mascarpone”; “buckwheat pancakes with blood orange jam, hazelnut popcorn brittle, vanilla bean mascarpone”; “buckwheat pancakes with banana, Oreo mascarpone, almond macadamia brittle, Nutella caramel”; “buckwheat pancakes with burnt apple, milk marshmallow, lemon verbena, lavender”. Clearly, there’s a mad genius locked away down there in Balham, churning out these pancake combos like no one else in London. My will power failed me last weekend and I decided it was high time to go check out what was going on all the way out in Zone 3.

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