Monthly Archives: May 2013

Utterly decadent snack, or how to treat yourself on a Thursday

I’m taking a break from packing and tidying before my exciting trip this weekend! Thought I’d get into the swing of things with gloriously decadent snack as a departure from the everyday! I received a tin of beautiful Bloc de foie gras from Fortnum and Mason, with Gewurtztraminer wine and pink pepper…part of a luxury Christmas hamper last year. Paired with artisan crispbreads from Peter’s Yard and luscious muscat grapes from M&S, how utterly decadent and the perfect start to a weekend that will include a trip to Monaco to watch the Grand Prix!

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Check out the poochy photo bomb! He’s such a cheeky wee boy…

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#BEDM Day 12: Collecting

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I am a hoarder. And a shopaholic. I love the finer things in life, pretty things, things that make me smile. My house is full of these things…it is actually an ongoing struggle to keep it reasonably ordered and even then, I often fail miserably! I’d love to have a beautifully minimalistic, modern Scandinavian aesthetic but I love pretty objects too much!

1. Books
I have 4 big bookshelves filled to the brim (plus another smaller one in my bedroom and a makeshift number housing my collection of cookbooks). I’ll read anything, as long as it catches my interest in some way – biographies of Marilyn Monroe, modern and post-cultural-revolution Chinese fiction, Scandinavian thrillers, horror, noir, retro cookbooks, novels set in pre-Haussmann Paris, the life and times of such historic figures as Josephine Bonaparte and Madame Tussaud…anything goes! If I had my way, I would have a home library complete with reading ‘nook’, where I imagine my prized Eames lounge chair would sit.

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2. Tea pots

Now this is a strange one for me, as I so rarely drink tea! I do adore a well turned out teapot though, anything from a traditional Japanese number worthy of a tea ceremony, quirky Alice in Wonderland inspired pots to minimalist Scandinavian curvaceous styles. Maybe it’s my Alice in Wonderland obsession but I love the look and feel of a beautiful tea pot…though seldom for holding tea!

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Note: these are not tea pots I own, but just beautiful tea pots I like the look of!

3. Design ‘porn’ books
I am a total design geek, anyone I meet gets this within moments of meeting me. I walk into the Conran Shop, Heals, Skandium, Republic of Fritz Hansen and the first thing I do is make a beeline for the design books. Not only do I love to see beautiful examples of lighting, furniture and product design ‘in the flesh’, but I’m also fascinated by the processes the designer went through to achieve the finished piece. I have an entire bookshelf devoted to design books, which can get a bit…pricy! I do console myself with the knowledge I’m building up a gorgeous library that I’ll love for years to come.

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4. Art
If I were rich and famous, my house would resemble an art gallery. Seriously, if I could afford it I’d have a home full of beautiful paintings and stunning sculptures! I wouldn’t say there’s a particular style I’m fixated on, though I’ve always been impressed by the symbolism behind Dutch realism and the freedom and open composition of impressionistic works. My favourite artists are Wilhelm Hammershoi (a Danish realist), Berthe Morisot (a rare female impressioniste), and the sculptress Camille Claudel (whose poignant bronze cast, L’Age mûr , is one of my favourite works of sculpture to this day). As far as more modern works go, I’m a huge fan of the use of light…not surprising from an aspiring lighting designer! I am lucky enough to own paintings by the super talented Canadian artist Emma Hesse (the one I have isn’t the one shown, but in the same series entitled ‘Slipstream’

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…and this one by the absolutely wonderful glaswegian artist Jackie Anderson, who uses a delicate transparent wash technique giving an ethereal quality to her work. I bought this painting, entitled ‘Ruth, waiting’ (detail only shown) when I first moved to Edinburgh. I hadn’t bought my flat yet at this point, lived in a tiny shared rental apartment with nowhere to hang it…but I loved it so much I kept it wrapped in storage until I had somewhere to display it! Isn’t it beautiful?!

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Her other works also show this stunning, almost other-worldly, ghostly quality to her figures which I’ve not seen in any other artist’s work! The subject matter may be ‘ordinary’ but few execution certainly is not.

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A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet a very young but incredibly talented ceramic artist named Lauren Blakey at the One of a Kind Show at Exhibition Place in Toronto. Her work wasn’t the only art I picked up at the show, but I was so impressed (and disappointed I wasn’t able to bring more of her ‘cubes’ home in my already overflowing suitcase) that I emailed her the very next day to tell her how much I loved her work. She is inspired by nature, organic shapes, and the beauty in the unexpected (I believe one thing she’s referenced is the form and structure of seaweed). One day I will have a whole wall devoted to Lauren’s ‘cubes’!

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This next artist is one I’ve admired for years but have yet to own one of her works. I actually Claire Duguid
her in a local cocktail bar by chance, got to chatting to her before realising who she was! So talented, and a local Edinburgh lass. Her self portraits are to die for and her use of various lighting effects is unbelievable!

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I believe what you are drawn to collect shows so much about your personality. My ‘collections’ tell so much about me… 🙂

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#BEDM Day 11: Book Love

Sometimes there is nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a good book and a dog at your feet. Even with my house in chaos with the renovations, I know I can always find a nice spot, tucked away, to get lost in a book.

I was asked by a friend the other day, ‘How many of your books have you actually read?’ He was referring to my 3 massive library-style bookshelves that are crammed full of every type of reading material, and my honest reply was ‘about 70-80%’. I have a massive TO READ pile as well, which I’ve been working through…but then I see another must read, and the pile grows again!

My favourites have changed as I’ve changed and grown as a person; my current faves may be ‘replaced’ by new ones in a couple months time, so instead I’m going to tell you about 5 books that have changed my life.

‘Girl’ by Blake Nelson

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This book epitomises my high school years, I read it for the first time when I was 15, getting into ‘alternative’ music and gigging (for me it was industrial rock; NIN and The Tea Party were my favourite bands), boys, and partying. I didn’t dress like everyone else, I rocked a mini kilt years before ‘Clueless’ came out and I had a pair of industrial Doc Marten boots when they were still banned from school. The life and times of Andrea Marr read like my diary; a sheltered suburban teen discovering a whole new world and lifestyle, making mistakes along the way but taking every opportunity as it comes – whether on purpose or by bumbling, awkward, unsure accident. I’ve re-read this so many times and it always reminds me of being 15 again.

‘Fruits’ photographed by Shoichi Aoki

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Japanese street fashion at its best! I was gifted the first compilation of photographs from the cult magazine of the same name, and was struck by how confident and strong the sense of individual style was in kids so young – in most cases under the age of 18. I’ve always dressed a bit differently; even as a pre teen I was tearing out pages from European issues if Vogue, wearing my interpretation of high fashion and making bondage style dresses for my Barbies from balloons. Canadian kids weren’t into that style back then. When I got to high school it was a mishmash of grunge-inspired flannel shirts and hyper-sexy bondage gear…I was sent home from school a few times when I appeared in ‘inappropriate’ outfits on non-uniform days. I loved the gothic Lolita aesthetic long before I knew what it was, before street fashion began to dictate high fashion. I now have most of the Fruits books and still enjoy the diversity of fashion and individuality portrayed.

‘Boy’ by Roald Dahl

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Grade 9 English class, this book was my introduction to the ‘other’ world of Roald Dahl and established a lifetime of admiration for his work. I’d obviously read his works aimed towards a younger audience before this, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, but this book showed a different side to his writing. ‘Boy’ is an ‘autobiography’ of the author, but really that term is interpreted loosely – not a dry account of events but an intriguing insight into the imagination of Boy. I’d say it was a ‘gateway’ book, and led me to read some of my favourite Dahl short stories and novels…most notably ‘Skin’, which is rather dark but one of my favourite stories to this day.

‘The Endless Steppe’ by Esther Hautzig

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The primary school I went to was predominantly second generation Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, and second or third generation Asian kids…with a few Canucks thrown into the mix. Our reading lists (which were handed out before the summer holidays) reflected that, with a lot of material covering the Holocaust. This was an autobiographical account of the exile of Esther Hauzig née Rudomin to Siberia during WWII. Arrested in Poland in 1941, she and her parents were branded capitalists and sent to work in an internment camp in Siberia. Though not as widely read as ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, and though Esther survived whilst Anne did not, both were not only stories of these young girls but the brave people who tried to help them at great cost to themselves.

‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang

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As a second generation Chinese immigrant, born in mainland China but without any real experiences from living there (we left when I was a toddler) I’ve never really identified with Chinese culture. I consider myself to be Canadian and even find it a bit offensive when strangers ask me ‘where I’m from’ but don’t accept Canada as my answer. ‘But where are you REALLY from?’ they always ask. Sure I’ve heard horrible stories about the cultural revolution from my mum, but it all seemed so foreign and unfamiliar she might as well have been talking about a galaxy far, far away.. A friend of my dad’s gifted me a signed copy of Wild Swans when I was a teenager because my parents are Shanghainese, and Jung Chan and her family’s story is from that city – and the effects of the cultural revolution on a family very similar to my mum’s. This book is what sparked my interest in Chinese culture, and has led me to some of my favourite books such as ‘Shanghai Baby’ (Zhou Weihu), the works of Amy Tan, Xinran and Lisa See’s ‘Shanghai Girls’ ‘ and its sequel, ‘Dreams of Joy’ to name but a few!

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Quick stop: Fifi & Ally, Princes Square (Glasgow)

I was working in Glasgow today and stopped off at Fifi & Ally for a quick coffee during my break. Unabashedly quirky with Osborne and Little ‘best in show’ wallpaper adorning the walls, tempting pastries and gorgeous tiny salt and pepper shakers…wish I’d had time to stop and sample the famous red velvet cake!

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#BEDM Day 10: Travel Dreams

9:00am. I’m sitting at my computer this gorgeous Monday morning, facing out onto the park, quiet before the school kids from the local primary descend for P.E. and play in the Links. This may be my favourite time of day.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have lived in some of the most amazing places. I was born in Shanghai, lived there for the first couple years of my life before moving to Costa Rica and up through Mexico. My parents and I eventually ended up in Toronto, and I’m forever grateful we did before the influx of immigration from China. I was one of the lucky ones, I learned to speak English and French by the time I hit primary school because I was one of the few immigrée kids in my kindergarten class. I still spoke Shanghainese at home, but at school my friends were ‘Westerners’. By the time I hit junior high, so many Chinese and HK national kids had entered our school that they formed their own, very insular group. They spoke only in Chinese, listened to Canto-pop, and by the time we were in High School they only dated amongst themselves. I was lucky enough to have friends from all walks of life, cultures and backgrounds…my closest friends in school were from Lebanon, the Philippines, Scandinavia, and good old school Canucks.

During high school I lived in a small town in Switzerland called St Gallen, a few hours outside Zurich. There I learned to speak German, tasted the best jam doughnuts in the world, and went on weekly ski trips to the alps during the winter with my school. My parents had moved to Luxembourg at this point, so at the weekend they came to collect me and make the 5-hour drive home through 4 countries home. We moved to Montreal for my final year of high school, then it was off to St Andrews for four years of undergrad and some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met…and good friends to this day!

My parents were great believers that travel is good for the soul, and took me on holiday everywhere when I was wee. By the time I was 12 I’d been all over Asia, Europe and Latin America. We did city breaks in Paris, London, Zurich, Milan and Amsterdam, visited art galleries and some of the most beautiful restaurants in the world. We skied in Innsbruck, Chamonix, Banff, Lake Placid and Rusutsu. There were beach holidays in Waikiki and Phuket. I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the most amazing places in the world and meet some fantastic people. Now with a lot of my friends having kids, I realise quite how difficult it must have been for my parents to travel with a wee one and am grateful they did! I think it may have been one of the reasons I decided to go work in Paris for a summer, and move to Scotland for uni instead of staying in Canada.

So what are my travel dreams for the future? I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world I wouldn’t love to go, or even revisit. I know as soon as I post this a hundred other places will come to mind!

Dubai
One of my closest friends from high school has moved there to work, and I’d love to visit her when I’ve got the cash. Firstly the architecture looks amazing, I adore middle eastern food and I can’t wait to go shopping there! Like I said, I’ll need to save some serious pennies though!

Australia Particularly Brisbane or Sydney, where I have friends from uni and art school. All the Aussies I know are the most chilled folk with a love of partying, good music and are super friendly! I think I’d prefer heading to a city rather than a beachy holiday though…I’m always needing to be doing something on holiday and I don’t find lying on a beach sunbathing particularly relaxing! Oh and I’d love to visit Bill Granger’s restaurant in Sydney!

Paris
I’ve been to Paris many times, even lived there for awhile…but it’s one place I always want to go back to time and time again. I still maintain it’s one of the few cities where I understand the metro system (along with Tokyo), I adore walking the Haussmann-boulevards, my daily fresh croissant breakfast and an orange pressé, spending weekends at the vintage market at Clignancourt, shopping and loveburgers at Café Etienne Marcel (64 rue Tiquetonne, Metro Etienne Marcel), the Palais Tokyo where we saw an installation of Darth Vader heads, some of the best Korean BBQ, Colette, Domaine Marie Antoinette at Versailles, cocktails in the Latin Quarter…

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Copenhagen
I spent quite a few summer holidays in Copenhagen during my high school years, maybe that’s where my fondness for tall, Nordic men came from? Hmm? The Danes are super friendly, I adore Scandinavian design and would love to visit the Radisson SAS for some up close and personal with Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair!

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Amsterdam
I must be one of the few people who doesn’t visit Amsterdam for the ‘usual’ tourist reason…I am a huge fan of Dutch Realism in the style of Verneer and Jan Steen (though one of my favourite artists of all time is the Danish Wilhelm Hammershoi, who paints in that style), and I am addicted to Old Amsterdam cheese. A beautifully aged Gouda with a distinctive tang that is just incredible.

Tokyo
I spent a week in Tokyo visiting an old friend from uni, shopped til I dropped and had some of the tastiest food…from cheap-as-chips noodle bars where orders are put through a vending machine and made fresh to order, to kaiseki with elaborate flourishes and mysterious ingredients. I even visited the Alice in Wonderland restaurant in Ginza! Aside from foodie adventures, I did some serious shopping along Takeshita Dori in the Harajuku area and a super-funky department store called LeForet catering to a young, club kid aesthetic. And my fascination with swords and samurai drew me to the Japanese Sword Museum, the Edo-Tokyo Museum and a peculiar ‘museum’ called Japan Sword where any of the pieces on display can be purchased.

Monaco
One of my dreams since I was a wee girl was to watch the F1 in Monaco, still in my opinion one of the most amazing Grand Prix races in the world – and one of the oldest I believe? Well I’m a lucky, lucky girl – I managed to get some very cheap (as in free) tickets to go see the 2013 race! So in just shy of 2 weeks time I shall be in Monaco, watching the race I’ve been watching on telly since I was wee…in person!!!

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#BEDM Day 9: Social Media

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I’m rather fickle with social media; whilst I have a twitter, a Flickr and a Facebook (as well as a few now-defunct ones such as Bebo and MySpace) I go through periods of constant update followed by periods of…total silence. Yes, I’m that person who takes months to upload my photos to Facebook following a night out, and then one night when bored, my friends will be hit with 10 albums at once!

Facebook is the one old stalwart I’ve remained true to, though from 2009-2011 I did disappear…commitments with uni and, if I’m honest, a very unpleasant relationship and an unwillingness to broadcast a cheery front or depress my friends with my dire chat.

I use it to keep up with friends abroad, and use it as a messaging platform to chat to the friends I see all the time! I fear I’m a constant stream of consciousness sometimes.

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#BEDM Day 8: First Job

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Just joking!

I’d had a few very random part time jobs whilst at school (concession stand worker, receptionist in uni dorms, security for the Toronto International Dragon Boat Festival) but my first proper job was during my summer hols between 3rd and 4th years of uni…I think I may have been 21.

I’d lived in Toronto almost all my life before uni; my parents and I had moved to Canada well before the influx of immigrants from China and Hong Kong. There’s a massive Chinese community now (including not one, but two Chinatowns), and my dad had heard through the grapevine that the daughter of the premier cheongsam maker in the city was looking to hire someone for the summer for her boss…a designer with a studio near College and Spadina.

No interview, I just turned up on my first day and was asked to shadow one of the pattern makers – it was such an unbelievable experience, from having no working knowledge of the fashion industry other than an incurable interest…to getting right into the thick of things.

I was responsible for (along with two other girls, Carrie and Sith) everything from making a rough pattern from a sketch, pattern adaptation, grading, some draping, sample cutting and production…and we also took turns working in the retail shop. Our studio produced pieces for two other retailers, and one of the most amazing things to me was the ‘pattern store’ – a library of all past patterns organised by type – trousers, skirts, jackets etc. There was every feasible shape and style in there, and when making a new pattern these were used for reference.

I loved working there, the girls were lovely and it was fabulous getting such an opportunity to work in fashion on that level. I got to know so many people in the garment district – primarily in fabric wholesale and retail – who I still speak to today. When I’m in Toronto I can still get a wholesale discount on dressmaking material, over a decade later!

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Ch-Ch-Changes

The past few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind, and if I’m honest I’m feeling just the slightest run down.  Too much fun, celebrations, getting reacquainted with some very old friends and meeting amazing new people, flat renovations seriously underway…it’s all been a bit much for little ol’ me!  I’ve also (finally!) started doing a bit of design consultancy work, which is very exciting but at the moment I’m not giving up the day job yet! 

I’ve made a decision to give myself a wee health kick, which is shockingly long overdue!  Whilst there will always be a special place in my soul for good old artery clogging, buttery, comfort rich food (especially when cooking for friends!), I can rustle up a healthy feed and I’m going to make it my mission over the summer to show some love to the fish, the brightly coloured veg, the gloriously ripe fruit!  I actually adore healthy food, but this long hard winter has taken its toll…Oh and I think it’s about time I get outside and get some exercise in as well!

I’ve also decided to give my blog a wee facelift; I never did like my old theme, I felt it wasn’t quite ‘clean’ enough but being TOTALLY computer illiterate, I’d kept putting it off and putting it off.  If I’m honest, I was hoping I would find someone to reformat and basically redesign the look, but realistically that costs cash money and with 3 holidays planned in the next couple months and basically pouring money into getting my home just so I just couldn’t justify forking out!  I like the new look though, much cleaner and in keeping with my aesthetic!

Happy days!

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#BEDM Day 7: Pets

I talk about my animaux. A lot. My friend Barbara calls them the menagerie; there’s His Royal Rhodness (my beautiful 3 year old boxer-cross pup), the gender bending kitten, and of course The MaoMao Experience. The thing I love most about my posse is their district personalities, their sheer cuddliness, and of course their strangely similar looks!

RHOD

He’s my wee man, my best friend, the ultimate wing man…I can’t express how much I adore this dog, from the moment I brought him home – would you believe the 26kilo hulk of a dog was once smaller than a cat? He’d be mortified if he knew I was posting this, but when he was a baby MaoMao took a hiss and a swipe at him from the bed…he was so terrified he peed and poo’d himself! Poor wee thing was shaking with fear, I couldn’t even tell him off!

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Rhod and his wee brother Gilbert adore each other, they love to pose for pics together and every morning I’ll wake up to find them cuddling each other on my bed. Pooch has even been known to use the kitten as a footrest!

GILBERT

Mr Fluffy, Sylvester, Sir Gilby Fluffikins…the newest addition to the family! I adopted wee Gilbert in January of last year after my darling MaoMao went missing – the house felt empty without a cat, and my friend scouted a wee kitten in Fife. When I went to pick it up, the owners told me it was a wee girl…so I named her Alice. Just by chance when I took her for her shots, the vet (accepting my word she was a female) checked to make sure the wee one was cleaning itself properly, and noticed she was definitely a he! Cue much hilarity trying to come up with another name!

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Gilbert is the most chilled cat ever, he’s been known as the Magician’s Assistant for his abilities to flop in the strangest positions…He’s just over a year old now and massive! This is one wee man who doesn’t realise he’s a cat, he’s been known to follow Rhod out on walks and I think he’s just waiting to grow as big as his brother!

MAOMAO

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Ah, Princess. My darling Chairnan MaoMao, the communist cat. I’ve had her since I was at St. Andrews…which makes her a grand old dame of 13 now. This cat has been with me through thick and thin, lived in 4 flats together, and countless flatmates. She rules the house with an iron paw! Rhod is very protective of her. She used to get bullied by the neighbourhood cats so I sent him out on the balcony to scare them off – he barked at them til they left her alone! I’ve even seen him stand guard over her.

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MaoMao is definitely the diva of the family, she doesn’t stand from any nonsense from her siblings and she’s not afraid to put them in their place!

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#BEDM Day 6: Bank Holiday

Ah, bank holidays! I used to get so excited about these when I still worked in an office…as I work from home now, and I’m self-employed, they don’t have the same impact on my psyche!

So today, on this lovely sunny Bank Holiday Monday…I decided to catch up on some work! I had a couple documents to translate which thankfully took less time than I’d anticipated, so when I got a message from a friend during my ‘lunch break’ requesting my presence for cake and coffee…of course I suggested Lovecrumbs in the West Port.

They do a mean cappuccino…and an even meaner cake! This is where I used to go for my breakfast fix when my tattooist was based around the corner. I love this area of Tollcross verging on East Fountainbridge, with funky vintage clothing shops (Herman Brown), Edinburgh’s triangle of strip joints (colourfully dubbed the ‘pubic triangle’), the futuristic Point Hotel and the gateway to the Grassmarket…not to mention the cluster of secondhand book shops and curios.

We spent a lovely afternoon sipping cappuccinos and tucking into cake, plonked in the back by the vintage piano used as seating. I couldn’t resist a slice of lemon drizzle loaf cake drizzled with rosemary scented syrup!

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Yum!

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