Japanese express – in Chiswick!

Last weekend we tried the express lunch at Chisou – the Japanese restaurant on Barley Mow passage in our beloved Chiswick. It was a complementary meal for the purposes of this review, but could end up being very expensive – as over the course of the meal we decided we definitely wanted to go to Japan! And developed a bit of a passion for luxurious sake! More on that later…

We won’t go quietly


I was a bit nervous around whether Chiswick Boy, six, would have a good time. He’s a joy to be with, and interested in food and new experiences. But it’s a ‘proper’ restaurant, not a colouring book or chips in sight, and I was mainly worried about him getting bored and making too much noise.


But the lovely crew at Chisou put us at our ease straight away.We were welcomed by the charming very hands-on Operations Director David. He won Chiswick Boy’s heart by providing him with spring wired chopsticks, which made it easier for him to use! If we ask Chiswick Boy about the restaurant now, the chopsticks are the things he mentions!


We got there at 1:30pm and were the first customers that lunchtime. So it gave us enough time to get settled (“I’ll sit there next to mummy, no next to daddy, does this cushion fit on my head, ooops I’ve dropped the chopsticks, look I’m under the table – it’s like a castle, can I have some water, I’ll sit next to you now mummy…”).



Express by name


The great thing for families is that the express lunch does what it says on the tin – it comes quickly. Which as we all know is an absolute blessing when you’re with kids. Once we were told this we were able to take a little bit more time over selecting our food, savouring the choices and lingering over the exotically named dishes.


Chiswick Boy loves rice so we took the director’s recommendation and ordered Iberico Katsudon (Iberico pork cutlet topped with egg).


We also went with two other dishes that he said were the most popular:



)

  • Ebi Fry Bento (Tiger prawn tempura coated in spicy mayonnaise and served with lettuce)
  • Chisou Bento (Assorted Japanese bento)

Each dish was a rather good value £9.95


Once we’d ordered we concentrated on enjoying looking at our surroundings. It’s a smallish dining room, and round, which makes for great acoustics. Our table was raised with wooden pillars and we felt private but close enough to stare pleasantly at the other diners as they arrived. People watching is definitely one of the highlights of eating out!



For goodness Sake


The real highlight for me was the sake. In my ignorance I had no idea that sake came in so many varieties – and so many price tags! Don’t worry, there are all price budgets accounted for – although I did see one or two special varieties at £380 a flask!


David said he would bring us a sake which complemented our meal selection. The ensuing cherry blossom sake, chilled, was delicious. It was indeed like drinking pure delicate cherry blossom.


Chiswick Man said that it reminded him of a single malt whisky menu in a Scottish highlands bar. So to keep the whiskey analogy, for me tasting this was like tasting smoky single malt after a lifetime of bells and coke.

Reader, I fell in love with it. I must admit I was too scared to look up the price tag in the menu. I am seriously going to get into sake now, and would go back just to try and taste some more from the menu.




The Doctor Who stage


By this stage my son was using the paper and pens we’d brought to create a story board for the Doctor Who film he's set on making. Completely stuffed and sated, we knew it was time to hit the road and let Chiswick Boy burn up some of that pork and rice at the swings.


Will we go back? Definitely. I'd never have thought of taking Chiswick Boy here but can say that it's a lovely place to take a family. It’s a great place to know about and the perfect spot to get a quick lunch, or even a lingering one.



The info

Chisou

1-4 Barley Mow Passage
London, W4 4PH

www.chisourestaurant.com

 

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That was the weekend that was

A weekend of Simple Pleasures

1. Very important milestone – Chiswick Boy did his first Fighting Fantasy book with me. My brother and I were obsessed with these growing up. I also loved the 'choose your own adventure' books which were slightly simpler.

The Fighting Fantasy books are a first step into D&D I guess…done with dice in hand and a pen and paper to keep track of skill/stamina/faith etc scores. They're written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone who were household and playground names in the 80s. Hurray for recreating my favourite decade in our house today!

Very sweet conversations today such as 'hmmm, it says if you have a magic sword you can go to page 141' 'I will go and make one mummy, hang on…DADDY do we have any tin foil…?'

 

 

2. Lovely Easter lunch with my brother, sister in law, their gorgeous baby, and my wonderful mum. Cue much laughter, noise, delicious chaos and late night renditions of 'play your cards right' with a giant pack of playing cards.

Plus my brother and I decided to spend quite a few midnight oil hours googling card tricks and trying to impress each other with them. Learning a card trick is actually on my 100 things to do in 2014 list. So one off the list…

Nothing so grounded and joyous as family times. I love my family! Thanks DH for all the cooking!

 

 

3. I decided I needed more plant pots and Geraniums so we went to Chiswick High St and had just assembled all the planting paraphernalia we needed in Robert Dyas when there was a power cut. No electricity equals no purchases.

Surely life was simple when goods just had prices on, and shops could process cash and add it up in a book?

But struck charity shop gold in Cancer Research where I found a latch hook rug kit for a fiver, perfect for Chiswick Boy's room. Er, once I've made it of course!

 

 

4. On Good Friday we braved the holiday crowds and went to the Natural History Museum, with packed lunch (my number one tip!)

Yes, we had to queue. Yes, nerves were frayed. No, we didn't queue again to see the dinosaurs. But we had a fab time. What child does not enjoy the natural history museum?

We followed it up with a trip to its neighbour, and my fave, the V&A. Bought a Moomintrolls sheet of wrapping paper that will make a fabulous framed print for our bedroom (yes, OUR bedroom – you're never too old for moomintrolls!).

It's easy to get stuck into spending time locally – Chiswick and environs have so much to offer on our doorstep. But it does do good to get out and absorb all that knowledge, art and culture that South Ken has to offer. It's what Julia Cameron, creativity tutor and one of my major inspirations, terms 'filling the well'. In order to create, she says, we need to fill our lives with enough experiences to fill the well, and give us enough rich life content to draw on when we write or paint.

 

 

Well there are the chief vignettes from our weekend. Back to school, work and everyday life tomorrow. Let's hope that this Easter Weekend has given us all enough joyous moments to 'fill the well' until the next grand pit stop…probably May Day weekend.

I hope that all my blog readers had a marvellous weekend too…xxxx

 

 

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A spring in my step – my London Designer Outlet £100 challenge

Champagne tastes and ale budget…that's a description of my shopping personality. I'm a firm believer in buy cheap buy twice, but as the wage earner in my lovely family, I don't often have the chance to buy the quality I'd like. So I've been blown away by my blogging challenge at the London Designer Outlet – a place where you can buy cheap buy twice as much!

I'd never heard of this great shopping centre before, nestled close to Wembley stadium. The unique thing is that every single shop is an outlet shop! So bargainous prices. And lovely quality.

Now I'm not a great fan of spending a day in a shopping centre. Don't get me wrong – I love shopping! But I don't like stress, mess or jarring jostling crowds. And I like a nice cup of coffee at frequent intervals where I can ponder perspective purchases and ogle the ones I've already bought!

I'm thrilled to let you know that this place really did tick all my boxes. There's even a vue cinema on site. So it would be a great place to bribe the family to come with you under promise of a family treat cinema trip aftewards (let's face it, you need DH to carry the bags. And it's much more fun shopping with DS! Well, as long as DH takes him for frequent intervals while I peruse bargains!)

Stop press: On Saturday 5 April London Designer Outlet will be hosting an exciting Spring Festival in Wembley Park – a vibrant and fun day out for all the family. The festival celebrates the best of London’s creativity and talent, with a range of music, live art, dance and a fantastic treasure hunt… all for free!

Children and adults are invited to take part in the exciting treasure hunt around London Designer Outlet, with a whole host of fabulous prizes on offer READ MORE


My £100 spring challenge

Now on to my blogging challenge. 'What's that' I hear you cry. To which I reply with unabashed joy, that it was a fabulous challenge to spend £100 (yes REAL money) on accessorising my home for Spring. As you know I've moved recently into a much bigger place (ie not a houseboat any more!) and this challenge was very timely!

Did I respond to this request with cool, collected calm? Did I say 'I'll think about it' and make them sweat? Did I heck! Not cool, me! And I'm no good at being po-faced. So there was a veritable scream of delight at my end when I got asked by the London Designer Outlet to take part in this challenge. Shopping! Spring! Accessorising! All those lovely spring colours – lime, orange, purple, yellow! A rainbow hued extravaganza of home delights!

I had a gleaming grin all morning at the outlet, and when I got home I kept on getting tingly glowing feelings and singing 'this is a £42 towel' or 'this fruitbowl should have been £24.50 but it only cost £8' and other such rhymes!

I got Chiswick Boy to lay out all my purchases on the bed for me for this lovely photo. And made DH admire each of my purchases many times.


Colour colour colour

Why is it so much nicer to step out of the bath onto a purple bathmat and wrap yourself into an orange towel? Or cut a lemon with a lime green knife. Or even tell the time by a retro-diner-red clock? My home is filled with pops of colour and that makes me happy.

Look though – I got a sensible black reading lamp. See?


Okay – rewind. Let's go back to the challenge.

For all my excitment, I was a bit anxious beforehand. See my comments on not liking crowds, plus Wembley sounded the ends of the earth away. But I got there by tube, bus (note to readers – be wary of buses with same number that stop at same bus stop ostensibly going the same way but then ACTUALLY go in completely different directions) and a hop, skip and jump. And wow – I'm a convert! And I would definitely go back. The place felt really uncrowded, the assistants were really friendly in every shop.

And the prices were bargainous!

My £100 was in the end surprisngly difficult to spend as everything was so darn cheap! I started by adding everything up that I wanted in the first few shops and then retreating with a coffee to decide on the final purchases – and at this point realised that everything on my list only came to £50!

So I went and looked at more shops, and ended up buying absolutely everything I wanted. I'm thrilled with every single one of my purhcases. They each give me joy. Thank you London Designer Outlet for a lovely blogging challenge! I will be back! Especially for family birthday presents.

Shop

Item

RRP

I Paid

Saving

Christy

Orange Savannah bath sheet x 2

Had an original price tag showing of £84 (£42 x 2)

£33.60 (£16.8 x 2)

£50.40

Marks & Spencers outlet

Retro task Lamp

Unknown

£11.50

Unknown

Purple fluffy bath mat

Original price tag showed: £11.00

£4.00

£7

Yellow latex-backed bath mat

Original price tag showed: £11.50

£4.50

£7

ProCook

Red Retro kitchen clock and timer

Unknown

£10:00

Unknown

5 piece knife set in Lime and acrylic see through block

Shop says that RRP is £38 (knives); £26 (block)

£19 (knives) + £9 (block)

Unknown

Villeroy & Boch

Green easter food cover

Original price tag showed: £11.95

£5.95

£6

Viners

Large trifle bowl (for use as a fruit bowl)

Original price tag showed: £24.95

£8.40

£16.55

30 piece cutlery set in lemon yellow

Original price tag showed: £30.00

£6.00

 

http://www.london-designer-outlet.com/

Retail Outlets9am to 8pm Monday to Saturday.

11am to 5pm Sunday

9am to 6pm Bank Holiday

RestaurantsOpen until late

CineworldFilms from 10am

Open until late


Getting there

Major arterial routes into London Wembley Park are via M1, M25, A1 and A406.

Set alongside Wembley Stadium and Arena, there are four car parks in close proximity, with a capacity for over 3,000 cars and a designated coach drop of point on Lakeside Way.

You can pre-book your car parking space or get details on pricing structure through Wembley Park's approved car park service provider CSP.

Getting here by Public Transport

Wembley Stadium is the closest station to London Designer Outlet

Trains from High Wycombe, Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, Denham, West Ruislip, South Ruislip, Northolt Park and Sudbury Hill stop at Wembley Stadium.

Wembley Park – Jubilee and Metropolitan Underground Lines – direct from the West End and City. Also from Uxbridge, Stanmore and Harrow-on-the-Hill; buses 83, 182, 223.

Wembley Central – Bakerloo Underground Line, London Overground and National Rail. From Watford, Harrow & Wealdstone, Harlesden, Queen’s Park, Kilburn, Kensington Olympia and London Euston; buses 83, 182, 223

Bus Routes – 18, 83, 92, 182, 206, 223, 224 and 297 all stop within a few minutes’ walk

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Celebrating the small stuff – the Chiswick way

Sometimes we need a reminder that it's the little things that make up our life – not the big bold brash decisions, but the day to day stuff. The routines, the simple pleasures, the sights sounds and feelings that make your life…well, make it your life really.

Every so often I remember that I mean to blog more about this stuff. After all, it's the stuff I love reading about on other people's blogs. I like the gentle domesticity of people's posts that detail their day – warts and all.

But sometimes we feel shy don't we? Shy that the day to day choices we make aren't interesting enough, or don't build up the picture of the life we thought we'd have when we daydreamed out the classroom window or listened to angsty teenage music in our bedrooms.

Sometimes – dare I suggest – we feel guilty being happy. Guilty that the life we've carved out, often through a series of synchronistic twists and turns so different from what we planned, is enough – makes us happy. That the small moments – the joyous rapture of your child as you lift them up and spin them, the sun shining on your hand, are joy-making.

So in homage to all the small moments happening right now across the world, here are the small moments from my weekend. (PS here's my secret – I don't think any of the below are small moments at all, they all make my heart sing with joy. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I arrived at this point in my life relatively unscathed and with a wonderful son!)

1. My mum's been here so Chiswick Boy gets to hang out with his granny and there was an air of excitement all weekend. We were excited to be showing her our new house and eager to see what she thinks of our post-boat landlubbing.

2. We went to the Knitting and Stitching Fair. We bought various little bits and bobs – probably spending as much as if we'd splashed out on something 'big' – but we both find it hard to resist something small and shiny or a piece of cute ribbon. Or coffee and cake!

Sparkly stuff from the knitting & stitching show. So unpractical. So lovely!

3. Saturday was piano lesson. I feel very proud of taking my son to piano. I learnt the violin growing up but secretly really wanted to learn the piano. I'm teaching myself now. Creating music is an amazing gift. I'm really pleased my son has this in his life.

4. We went to Chiswick High St. DH kindly said resignedly 'no doubt you'll be giving me a call when you want somone to carry all your purchases home'. I really wanted to get a garden bench from Robert Dyas but felt I should resist. So instead I got some new flower pots and some compost. Plus a solar powered meerkat on a log for Chiswick Boy. Bless.

Close up of pattern on the Boden skirt.

5. If you follow my blog you know I'm a bit of a charity shop fashionista. There's a charity shop circuit you can do in Chiswick, which goes down Chiswick High St and up Turnham Green Terrace. (One day I will do a map and make it available on my blog with all my favouite Chiswick routes on it). At the weekend I only had time to do one – Cancer Research – and lucked out with a Boden knee length skirt. In linen and perfect for spring. I do like charity shopping – it's a win win win situation. Win 1 – goes to charity. Win 2 – it's cheap. 3. It's guilt free (which is a combination of points 1 and 3).

6. I am passionate beyond measure about the free bookshop on Chiswick high St. Chiswick Buzz made a lovely film about this place and I do beseech everyone to go in and make use of this wonderful resource. The layout and general ambience is as good as any second hand bookshop I've been in. They're lovely to kids and they seem to have a high yield of new stock. Anyone can go in and take three books, which are then stamped. My son loves it and the man in there is so kind and has a real interest in books. Lovely, lovely people.

Stamped book

7. We ate outside! DH made a Sunday Roast (free range chicken) and we ate on the lawn at our much loved outdoor table. Eating outside is something we did most nights in the summer when we lived on the boat, and it feels so good to be doing this again. I felt like I was in the South of France!

Vino with lunch of course

8. We got some more of Chiswick Boy's toys out. When we were living on the boat we were so short of space that we had to store a lot of stuff under the boat. It did make me sad knowing that Chiswick Boy's train set and cars and garage and all his garden toys were there… but you need to understand, there was literally nowhere to put them – no floor space left. Now that Chiswick Boy has his own big room and we have a lovely garden, the toys can come out. There was a poignant moment when Chiswick Boy was holding up his Bob the Builder vechicles and asking me what they were called. We both used to know these off by heart and now we're struggling to remember. Could not fathom what the red one was called at all.

9. We haven't managed to get the wii set up yet, so can't get netflix on the tv screen. We get it on the ipad, but I've noticed that the playlist is different depending on which gadget you use to access it. This is a long way of my telling you that my mum and I have a tradition of watching an episode (or three!) of Hitchcock Presents whenever she visits. But we had to settle for Fawlty Towers instead. Pure comedy genius – still working 40 years later!

10. Listening to the twilight chorus, that amazing bird song you get as the sky begins to darken. Amazing that here in the heart(ish) of London it sounds like you're in the middle of the countryside. Just a bigger backdrop of traffic hum sets it apart. Which I don't mind – traffic coming to and from the best city in the world!

That's it from me. What are your small moments that make your heart song with joy?

 

 

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We’ve left the boat – ahoy dry land!

Over the last seven months we’ve had the chance to try out a long-held dream, to live literally on the beautiful Thames, in a houseboat. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you’ll know I blogged about this dream earlier in March 2013…then in July 2013 by a series of synchronistic events, we got the chance to try it and fell for the opportunity hook line and sinker!

This week we’ve moved out to become landlubbers again. Back on dry land, it’s now time to reflect on life afloat, how it affected us – for better and worse – and what it feels like when you get the chance to try out a dream.

I guess Dickens puts it well enough – ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ In fact we got there in the best of times – July. And saw it through the worst of times – winter.

Are we glad we did it? Oh yes. So many dreams never see the light of day. And although living on a boat was relatively more simple than some of my other dreams (go back and live in Paris; take a year out and go travelling as a family), achieving one dream makes the others seem a little bit closer.

In the end of course there was nothing amazing about the way I lived on a boat. An opportunity came up – practically fell from the sky onto my head – and I took it. I said yes.

 

And back on dry land

Why did we move out of the boat? Rather prosaically, our agreed lease was up. We had said we’d take it for six months while the owner looked for a buyer. We were there for seven. Did we think of buying it? Of course. Every single day. In fact, with house prices so ridiculous in London, buying a boat seemed – still seems in an odd way – the best option for us.

But there were a few problems with living on the river. Nothing that can’t be faced up to – even enjoyed with that British thing we do of enduring discomfort with a Blitz spirit. In fairness, a lot of the problems we faced could have been tackled if we owned the boat. Things that were fixable or addressable if you own it and can invest in the repairs. (Lack of heating; terrible damp and condensation; no space for a washing machine; leaks.) But they’re not things that are feasible when you’re only renting, and only for half a year.

I’m still half looking for a boat to buy, and I would definitely prefer to go for one that I could do up and renovate, to make it have a few more creature comforts (or at least less discomforts!)

But what a lot to miss

My goodness, how I valued those sunrises and sunsets, the friends made with swans and geese, the majestic sight of the heron skimming across our roof, the Huckleberry finn appearance of my son as he took to beachcombing like a duck to water (and we saw lots of those).

How my heart soared to be close to nature and notice subtle changes in the seasons and tides, that I’d never paid attention to before.

 

Here are my top 10 memories I’ll carry with me from the boat forever. And in true balanced Blitz spirit, I’ve added my top 10 discomforts!

1. Walking over to the island – the glorious deserted Brentford Ait at low tide.

2. Camaderie on the river during the storms, with neighbous helping tie up neightbous boats.

3. Eating outside every night in summer and cooking on the firepot.

4. Coming home from work and seeing the smoke from all the other boats doing the same.

5. Sleeping deeply, lulled to sleep by the slow ebb and flow of the tide.

6. Being so close to nature – feeling every drop of the Thames come in and then out again – seeing the depth change, the seasons change, the view change.

7. Watching my son finding treasures in the strand, as excited as any explorer.

8. Watching traffic go by – from paddleboarders to kayakers.

9. Feeding the birds – right from our back door.

10. Discovering that onesies are the ultimate insulation.

 

What do you think of our journey to life afloat and back to dry land?

 

 

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Funky Swedish design for mums and kids

Okay I admit it – I'm a bit of a Nordic fan. From crime fiction to pastries, I can't get enough of the cool, effortlessly funky and chic, yet sharpishly urban lifestyle.

So I was thrilled to see that Swedish designers me&i have added some new items to their spring and summer range.

Look out for some reviews on my blog soon…in the meanwhile here's a bit of browsing pleasure for your coffee break! (And not a murder in sight – although that's not the case for the Nordic title popping out of my handbag at the mo!)

 

http://www.meandi.se/en

M

 

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The Lego Movie

How good was the Lego Movie? Mega stupendously good actually. It really was. Why haven't they made this film years ago?

I loved every minute. I loved the in-jokes about lego. I loved the way it appealed to kids but had a level of jokes that could be enjoyed on an adult level. For goodness' sake, I even loved the song that was meant to be an archetypal really annoying song. Not cool, me. :-)

I winced at the price I have to say – £25 to take me and one six year old to the cinema. I shall be watching out for the kids film clubs at weekends from now on I can tell you!

But for a shared experience with lots of laugher and toe-tapping, good humour and escapism – yea go on then, that was priceless!

11 out of 10.

Now what shall we see next?

 

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A week in the sun

Well we are back from what has become our annual week in the tenerife sunshine. And firstly let me say how blessed I feel that we have had this wonderful break. When I was growing up holidays were something that other families had. Jealous looks at the tanned school fellows coming back from places like Corfu and South of France bearing trinkets and anecdotes to swap with their best friends in the playground.

We had books. Lots of them. And massive games of imaginative role play and treasure hunts devised by my brother and I. And given a choice I'm sure that a house of books and impromptu theatrical performances probably did more for me than an annual week on the med.

But I am a girl who hankers after adventure, with wanderlust and bookishness running in equal measure through my veins. So it makes my heart soar that I can take my family away. This last week has been one of pure joy, play and social media blackout. I made the decision to unplug my ipad (usually glued to my handbag) AND my iPhone and have a complete break from twitter, blogging and email.

Thank you to everyone for not unfollowing me due to my seven day burst of inactivity!

I understand that the uk has actually been quite sunny over the last few days, so I don't feel too bad giving the run down of my top moments from the last week in tenerife. Full travelogue with recommendations to follow (if you're like me you jump at the chance of cutting the research and just copying bits of other people's holidays if you trust them!)…

 

1. Lying in the sand listening to the waves lap as my son constructed a Sandwall to protect mummy from the tide

2. Pretending to sleep while watching my son bond over beach tennis with his uncle

3. Brimming with pride watching my son get braver at swimming under water with his ever patient dad in the apartment complex pool

4. Leaving my partner and sister in law in charge of the kids, while my brother and I took our mum out for cocktails at the lovely Arona Gran hotel, with resident hotel pianist on top form!

5. Going to a water park and listening to my son squeal with delight going down one of the slides with his aunt, while I squealed in partial terror going down it with my partner!

6. Eating the most gorgeous tomato and onion salad in the world, at a fab, locally recommended and cheaply priced fish restaurant with a lively Spanish band playing in background.

7. Transitioning from my needing to leave the apartment at 8:30 am to make the most of the day, to learning how to relax and lounge by the pool and on our terrace

8. Sitting outside our apartment eating fresh melon cuddling my son and my gorgeous 10 month old nephew

9. Sitting in the local firmly ex-pat bar with my brother ostensibly to use the wifi, but really marvelling at the local Beatles tribute act's ability to raise a crowd from slump to hand waving joy!

10. Finding our favourite, unassuming, firmly local bar in the cathedral square, and enjoying our barriquito – espresso, milk, Lemon liquor & condensed milk. Heart, soul and body affirming!

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Toast and marmalade – Hen Corner course review

A couple of weeks ago I had the great fortune of attending one of Hen Corner's courses. I've wanted to go on one of these courses for a long time – Sara from Hen Corner writes amazing blog posts that are inspiring and infectious in their enthusaism for a little big of country living carved out in London.

I was on the toast and marmalade course – which promised a day of domestic pleasures, baking bread and making marmalade from scratch.

Sara from Hen Corner gets to it!

The day of the course was one of those drizzly days that we've had so much of recently.

I turned my collar up and walked to Hen Corner, looking forward to a day of being cosy and warm.

Sara opened the door with a beam and ushered us (for I'd met someone else attending on the doorstep – the lovely Justine) through her hall and into a very welcoming and warm conservatory next to the kitchen.

The course is priced at £35 and I think it's a bargain – considering how much home cooked food Sarah throws in. We were welcomed with proper, good coffee – and homemade ginger biscuits. It was the first snack of many, as Sarah kept the coffee and biscuits flowing throughout the day. At lunch we stopped for a delicious homemade pumpkin soup, accompanied by a freshly baked homemade loaf, and gorgeous organic cheddar and butter. With a selection of cordials.

At tea-time we stopped for afternoon tea – another one of Sara's gorgeous creations appeared again. This time a chocolate cake, incredibly rich and more-ish.

But what of the course itself I hear you cry! Well let's just say that I went from knowing nothing about making marmalade and very little about baking bread, to going home with my own proudly baked loaf and a jar of gorgeous marmalade.

Sara runs the course in the organised way that you imagine comes from running a household of children, husband, cats, bees and of course hens, with a veg patch thrown in and a sideline in preseves and pickles.

She made sure that we kept to schedule in the morning – talking us through each stage carefully. We selected flours, measured, kneeded, proofed, shaped… as the bread rested we made tracks into the marmalade. Slicing, boiling, sieving… just look at these photos of gorgeous domestic culinary industriousness!

In between we chatted and Sara told us about how she came to be at Hen Corner and the rhythmns of her year and day.

Listening to Sarah tell us the history of her smallholding, while we kneeded and listened to the rain fall on the conservatory roof, we were transported into a meditative state – it was as I imagine life might be in a medieval kitchen, listening to stories as we prepared meals! Although of course without the absence of iphones to take proud pictures of our handywork!

Sara runs bespoke courses for hen nights, special birthdays etc. And I think this would be a truly wonderful way to spend a special day in the company of friends. You can also attend one of her everyday courses, as I did.

We all took home a goodie bag with our bread, marmalade, some freshly laid eggs, and the recipes printed out.

I'm already looking foward to my next Hen Corner course – I have my eye on the family hen keeping one.

Do go on one of these courses – they're good value and you will learn something that you can use for the rest of your life!

 

Read Sara's great blog and sign up for a course at http://hencorner.com/

 

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Work / life balance show, London – win tickets

Work / life balance is something very close to my heart. And so I'm thrilled to be offering this competition to win tickets to the Work & Family Show at ExCeL London on 21 & 22 February. I have three pairs of tickets up for grabs. It looks an amazing and practical show. Sponsors include Guardian Careers and Sky. Speakers include Jenny Willott, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs. In fact the exhibitor and speaker list is vast and impressive – ranging from Red Magazine to key employers like Royal Mail and Rolls Royce.

Firstly, let me say that I think ALL mothers are full time mothers, and all mothers work full time too! It's just that some mothers work outside the home (or inside the home for that matter) for payment.

We all need to find work/life balance. It's been a struggle for me, and it's something I'm still juggling. But working for an employer with family friendly policies helps. Last year I moved to condensed hours – working a full week of hours over just four days – and it's had a major positive impact on my work/life balance.

Keeping all the balls in the air – family, blog, work, hobbies, housekeeping – isn't easy. That's why I think this Work & Family show is an amazing idea. The stats are incredible. Oliver Black, Director of My Family Care, says:

“Over 2.2 million are not working in order to look after their family. More than 60% of these are looking to return to work but do not know how to and don’t appreciate the number of family friendly businesses that are out there. This is exactly who this show is for – helping talented parents find businesses and services who see the efficacy of installing family friendly working practices.”

How to enter

Either leave me a blog comment below, or tweet me at @chiswick_mum – with one adjective that describes the search for work/life balance. eg difficult, rewarding, scary, fun.

You can use this format if you like:

Yes – I'd like to win your tickets to the work/life balance show. Finding this balance is YOUR WORD.

Send your entries by 10pm Tuesday 11 February. I'll be passing the winners' details on to the show organisers on Wednesday 12 February. Good luck!


More key info on the show:

Areas include:

· Recruitment & Employers – Work Opportunities (sponsored by workingmums.co.uk)

· Career Advice & Personal Development – Education & Advice

· Image, Style & Media Resources – Personal Branding & Development

· Family Services, Enablers & Networking – Support Systems

· Franchise, Self-Employment & Start Up Business – Going it Alone

Tickets are available from www.theworkandfamilyshow.co.uk

Opening times:

Friday 21st February: 9am – 5pm

Saturday 22nd February: 10am – 5pm


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