All posts by mirandasnotebook

A Chat With | The Hardihood

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewDaisy Kristiansen and Leah Garwood-Gowers, founders of The Hardihood

I’m always keen to hear about female-led businesses, especially when they’ve been successfully founded by best friends. When I stumbled across the story of The Hardihood, which produces raw cakes as beautiful as they are nutritious and tasty, my interest was definitely piqued.  Daisy Kristiansen and Leah Garwood-Gowers were housemates who gave up sugar together one year, and, uninspired by the sugar-free dessert options available, decided to start making their own. The Hardihood was born, and quickly garnered a huge amount of success, with the cakes now stocked in Harrods, Planet Organic and Daylesford Stores, as well as available to order online.

Daisy and Leah’s first cookbook, Raw Cake, came out at the start of 2017, and their brand is clearly going from strength to strength in a remarkably short space of time. I took the opportunity to ask Leah some questions about her growing business.

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Would you tell me a little about your background? How did you both meet?

Daisy and I have been friends for years; we met at a dinner party in West London and became pals on the bus back to Hackney together that night. We later went on to live together and have many years of fun under our belts. Although we no longer live together, we’ve been running The Hardihood together since late 2015. Before we founded the business, Daisy worked in fashion and styling and I worked in hospitality and journalism.

How did the idea for The Hardihood originate? What made you decide to go into business together?

We’d both always leant towards the creative side of entrepreneurial spirit before starting The Hardihood, having had many ideas but little clue as to how to get them off the ground. The fact that The Hardihood’s success grew through social media almost overnight forced us to get serious about the world of business. There’s been a lot of faking it until you make it, and although we’re still learning on the job, we’re very confident about our vision for the future and feel grateful that, between the two of us, we have the passion and skills to stick at it.

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewAfternoon treats: ripe cherries and a Hardihood raw salted caramel cake

The Hardihood was born out of a number of factors. The first was creativity; we both wanted creative freedom over the project we’d be working on. The second was the desire to make the world a better place, which sounds dramatic, but it was around the time of founding The Hardihood that people were really waking up to the perils of refined sugar, and we wanted to make a dessert option that addressed this. We wanted to make a dessert that looked good, tasted good and felt good too. The third was building a lifestyle for ourselves and our employees that actively supported work-life balance; for example, having a work schedule that’s flexible enough for female employees to return to work after baby number two or in which male employees are able to take a generous amount of time off for paternity leave.

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewRaw cakes from The Hardihood

It’s wonderful to see an inspiring example of female friendship and business partnership. What is your advice to women who may be thinking of going into business with a friend? How do you make sure that your friendship remains a priority, and that you both feel heard and valued within the business?

It’s funny, we often say that we have to approach our relationship like a marriage these days. When things get tough it’s not like either of us can just leave the room, we’re both hugely passionate about The Hardihood being a success so whatever disagreements – professional or otherwise – we have, we have to face them head on, which I believe is hugely helpful for personal growth. It’s important to make space for honest and direct conversation, but it’s equally important not to get into the habit of treating each other too familiarly. When you’re spending such a lot of time together it’s easy to start speaking to each other as offhandedly as you would to your siblings and this can sometimes be inappropriate within a professional environment. You’ve got to be patient with each other and remember that you’re growing together, so your inputs are both equally valuable. Even though we’re only a small team of 3, we often sit down and talk about our company culture in ways that would support the size of the company we want to grow to. We value transparency, a can-do attitude, a good sense of humour and efficiency above all else, and so we push ourselves and each other to behave in a way that reflects this. At the end of it all, we’re still the best of friends and make time to discuss our lives like we would if we weren’t tackling the pitfalls of running a small business together daily.

What are your top tips for people who want to give up refined sugar, or create more general healthy eating habits?

Even switching your ordinary sugar to coconut sugar is a great place to begin. Or begin by getting in to the habit of reading the back of anything you buy that is packaged. A lot of the time sugar is sneaked into things that you’d consider savoury, like pasta source or hummus. It’s one thing indulging decisively in something, but eating something savoury and then discovering that you may as well have just had a donut is frustrating.

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewDaisy and Leah’s new cookbook

Would you tell me a little about your book, Raw Cake?

We always hoped the book would be an insight for beginners into the world of raw cake. It’s beautiful enough to be a coffee table book and accessible enough for everyone. We were both self taught raw chefs and we found that a lot of the books we read in the beginning were hugely complicated and contained ingredients that even google couldn’t find. We use a lot of repeating ingredients with the option to add superfoods throughout. We’re particularly proud of the glossary at the back – it tells you a little bit about each ingredient and what we find it good for.

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Follow The Hardihood on instagram, twitter and facebook.

Get the Raw Cake cookbook here.

All images, apart from the second listed, which is my own, courtesy The Hardihood.

T&T 34 | Botanical Inspiration

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Botanical Inspiration for the Home

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week, Sophie and I are chatting about botanical inspiration for the home, as well as how flowers inspire our creative processes. Botanicals are huge at the moment, and we chat about why their timeless style is so appealing, as well as how flowers and foliage feature in our homes.

In today’s episode, we also make two important announcements: the first involves our plans for the podcast over the summer, and the second is a new PDF downloadable document (like our Hygge guide) that I’m currently working on, and which I hope you’ll find useful for the summer (listen to the episode to hear all the details on both these announcements).

Sophie also shares a particularly exciting Jump for Joy this week (many congratulations to her again), and as usual we exchange a favourite cultural recommendation in our Culture Corner section. It really is all go in this episode, so be sure to tune in to catch up on the latest news!

Listen to hear our ideas for botanical style in the home and how flowers feed creativity.

Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Last week, I joined a group of bloggers at the Artist Residence hotel in London for tea and croissants in the morning, before being bundled into Land Rovers and whisked to the new Artist Residence sister hotel in Oxfordshire, for lunch in the garden and a Dutch flower workshop with Bloom and Wild.

It was the perfect day for an outing, with bright blue skies and a pleasant breeze. The car journey seemed to take no time at all as I chatted with Milly (you may remember her from my Cornwall interview). We arrived just before lunch and were offered a glass of rosé and the chance to explore the hotel, which only opened in May.

I was charmed by the decor, especially the floral House of Hackney wallpaper that was such a striking feature. Some lovely ladies from Bloom and Wild, who were giving us a flower workshop in the afternoon, had set up a gorgeous display of blooms that made my flower loving heart very happy.

Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, OxfordshireBloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I also got to peep into one of the bedrooms, which was gorgeous and looked extremely comfortable. I would have enjoyed lingering in the tub in the light, airy bathroom and writing postcards at the vintage desk.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

After having a look around and taking a million photos between us, we headed out into the garden for lunch, our appetites whetted by the fantastic sounding menu that had been emailed round the day before.

Al Fresco Dining

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Doesn’t that look a delightful table? I felt summer had truly arrived as I took my seat and was offered some more rosé. The outdoor dining area overlooked the hotel’s lawn and vegetable garden, and I was delighted to learn that many of the vegetables and salad leaves served for our lunch were freshly picked from the garden.

The hotel had cooked up a fabulous feast for us. To start, we were given sharing platters of crispy whitebait with garlic sauce; mozzarella, pea, broad bean and mint salad; heritage tomato salad with ewes curd and olives; and scotch eggs served alongside homemade brown sauce.

The main course was lamb wellington, with buttered Cornish potatoes, a green salad (from the garden!), barbecued radishes (also from the garden) and violet artichokes. I was beginning to seriously doubt whether I could manage dessert (strawberries with toasted marshmallows, lime curd and strawberry sorbet), but when it arrived it looked so delicious I couldn’t resist.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

The food was all absolutely incredible, and it was glorious to enjoy it outside on a lovely day in excellent company.

Dutch Flower Workshop

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

After our meal, we went back into the cool, shady interior of the hotel for our Dutch flower painting inspired workshop. I was particularly excited for this workshop, as I love Dutch floral still life pictures, and there was a glorious selection of flowers awaiting us to help feed our inspiration.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, OxfordshireBloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Rowan, pictured above, talked us through the process of arranging our flowers, making it look incredibly easy as she finished her lovely floral display in about 10 minutes flat.

I settled down with a cup of chamomile tea and set to work, choosing a selection of blooms I liked best, and trying to create a loose, tumbling arrangement, featuring the striking colours that I often admire in my favourite Dutch floral artworks.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I sat next to the charming Briony from A Girl A Style, and we bonded over our mutual love for books, flowers and pretty teacups.

After a hair-raising moment when my display threatened to topple over, and I had to pop in a few dahlias to balance it out, I pronounced mine finished.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I don’t think I’ll be setting up as a florist any time soon, but I was still pleased with my result.

On being told it was time to leave, we were kindly showered with leftover blooms to take back home with us (I got some funny looks later on the tube as I maneuvered my way along platforms, weighted down by my spoils!).

It really was the most perfect English summer day, and I’m now contemplating buying some florist foam so I can have a go at some more flower arranging – practice makes perfect, as they say!

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

Oxford is always a favourite place of mine; I love its winding, cobbled streets, awe-inspiring buildings and quaint pubs. I used to visit Oxford quite a bit to see my friend Sophie during our undergrad years, but as life got busier my visits became far less frequent. Happily, though, this blog has inspired me to travel much more around the UK, and I’m hoping to visit Oxford again, either in the summer or early autumn.

The last time I went to Oxford was to attend the Literary Festival a few years ago (you can read my post about it here), and, feeling that quite a bit has probably changed since then, I got in touch with a Miranda’s Notebook reader and Oxford resident, Aleksandra of Bunnies Are Magic, to give me a few insider tips to the city. She shared her suggestions, paired with gorgeous photographs, for a fun weekend in Oxford, experiencing a lesser-known side to this famous destination.

Aleksandra’s Oxford Tips

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

To a foreigner, the spires of Oxford are one of the UK’s most iconic landmarks.  I’m speaking as a foreigner myself, but also as a person who has now lived in Oxford for a fair amount of time (long enough to discover how hard it is to get from St Magdalen’s bus stops to the high street in July!). I’ve learnt there is more to this one-of-a-kind town than its tourist attractions – a whole host of different experiences waiting to be discovered.

Cocktail Hour

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ There are plenty of bars in Jericho, an area just slightly north of the city centre. Raoul’s has never disappointed me with their ever-changing menu, and then there is Freud as well, which is based in a very impressive old church building.

International Dining

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ If you’re a Thai food fan, Thaikhun it is a definite must.

++ For a budget restaurant option, try Turtle Bay. Their spicy mojitos are to die for, trust me, I am a true mojito connoisseur. You can enjoy your relatively cheap food while listening to some Caribbean versions of pop hits too. What’s not to love?

++ For a cup of tea with an Asian twist, the place to go is Formosan Tea Bar.

A Walk on the Wild Side

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ If you want to get a good idea of how rural Oxford can be, I suggest a walk by the Oxford Canal between Summertown and the town centre. The canal itself is a real treat for anyone interested in nature walks, and if you take the walk on a Sunday, you can enjoy Summertown market, famously known for its owl visitors (from the Heathrow Owl Rescue Centre).

++ Trap Grounds is a waterfowl haven. Tucked away between the canal and the railway, it may well be the only truly wild and uninhabited part of Oxford. Looking over the reeds, it’s the perfect place to catch the most beautiful of Oxford’s sunrises too; a little masterpiece of nature.

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ Port Meadow holds a great surprise for all unprepared visitors…ponies! They’re friendly if you approach them with care, and they will come to you looking for food, although I would advise treating them with a bit more caution than stable horses.

++ Christ Church College is surrounded by the most wonderful park (my very favourite of Oxford’s parks), that leads all the way to the Thames. You can find geese, swans, ducks, and even cows. If you follow the Thames back towards the high street, at the very edge of the park you will find a botanical garden too.

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

Culture

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ On 23rd June, a Jane Austen exhibition is opening at the Bodleian that I expect many Miranda’s Notebook readers might find interesting.

++ Oxford’s Phoenix Picture House is one of my favourite cinemas. Its atmosphere is hard to describe, with everything an old cinema needs and just a little bit more.

++ I also recommend seeing  the wonderful Creation Theatre perform one of their plays; something that everyone should experience at least once in their life.

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

Thanks so much to Aleksandra for her fabulous suggestions! I now want to book a ticket to Oxford straight away.

If you’d like to read more about Aleksandra’s life in Oxford, check our her blog. Aleksandra also writes more personal articles, such as 25 Wishes For My Future Self and How to Ruin Your Work Day. You can also find her on twitter, facebook and instagram.  

T&T 33 | Historical Fiction with Hannah Kent

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Podcast episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle podcast, I’m joined by the bestselling author, Hannah Kent, to discuss Hannah’s books Burial Rites and The Good People. Her debut novel, Burial Rites, has received international acclaim and is one of my favourite novels published within the last few years. The Good People, which was released in the UK at the start of the year, is equally gripping and also showcases Hannah’s mastery in evoking a sense of place, as well as her poetic writing style.

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

In my chat with Hannah, I questioned her about how her love for Icelandic culture and history began, the research process behind her books, what was most surprising in learning about Irish folklore and so much more. It was such an honour to speak with Hannah, and I hope you enjoy her compelling conversation as much as I did.

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

Listen to hear Hannah Kent’s fascinating insights into writing her historical novels, Burial Rites and The Good People.

UK Travel | The Great House at Sonning

UK Travel | The Great House at Sonning

A TEA & TATTLE MINI BREAK

A couple of weekends ago, I met my best friend (and Tea & Tattle Podcast co-host), Sophie, at Paddington station to take the train to Reading together. From there, we grabbed a taxi to drive us the short distance to The Great House, a luxury riverside hotel in Sonning, Berkshire.

It had been a few months since Sophie and I had seen each other in person, and even longer since we’d spent more than a few hours together, so I was very much looking forward to a proper catch-up. We were both in need of a restorative break after a particularly busy month, and I was very much looking forward to taking life at a slower pace for the next 24 hours. The prospect of riverside walks, good food and long, hot baths was incredibly cheering, and I couldn’t wait to arrive at the hotel.

The 40 minute train journey went by in a blink of an eye as we caught up on each other’s news, and we managed to hail a taxi immediately at the station, so it felt no time at all before we were catching a glimpse of the hotel as the cab manoeuvred its way across the pretty little bridge that led into Sonning.

Sonning is a charming, sleepy little village graced by the presence of some rather spectacular celebrities (George and Amal Clooney have a house in the area and are said to frequent the local pub, but sadly we didn’t spot either!). Neither Sophie nor I know Berkshire very well, so we were pleased to get a glimpse of English countryside new to us both, but also within such easy distance from London and Oxford (where Sophie lectures).

On arriving at The Great House, we were greeted with friendly smiles at the hotel’s reception desk, speedily checked in and shown to our room, a riverside deluxe.

ROOM WITH A {RIVERSIDE} VIEW

The riverside deluxe lived up to its name, with gorgeous views of the river, boats and willow trees from our window. Sophie and I decided to take some time to relax, enjoy the room and make a cup of tea before heading out for a stroll along the riverbank.

We were both delighted with our surroundings, which featured exposed brick walls, quirky prints and retro furnishings. I loved the old-fashioned bedside telephone, radio and fridge, as well as the stacks of vintage Penguin paperbacks on both bedside tables. Goodie bags had been thoughtfully left on both our beds, and we were excited to unpack bottles of cider, beeswax candles and boxes of sweets. The holiday spirit was truly kicking in!

I was extremely impressed by the bathroom (when you live in London, a bathroom of any notable size really is exciting), which was massive and boasted one of the nicest tubs I’d ever seen, as well as a magnificent walk-in shower that wasn’t much smaller than my office at home.

I made a mental note to take a bath later in the evening, and was pleased to see piles of magazines, including the latest Vogue, in our room, which I planned to flick through whilst luxuriating in bubble bath.

It’s clear that the staff at The Great House give careful consideration to the needs of their guests, and I was very pleased to find a wide selection of teas and a whole 1/4 pint carton of fresh milk in our little pantry and fridge area. I made myself a cup of English Breakfast and Sophie an Earl Grey, and we got down to the serious business of living up to our podcast name and having a good natter.

After an hour or so, we decided to take advantage of the glimmer of sun that was starting to break through the overcast skies and set off for a walk.

RIVERSIDE WALKS AND PUB DRINKS

Winding our way through the hotel’s spacious lounge and restaurant, we exited the terrace side and walked through a little gate at the end of the lawn, coming out onto the river path.

The stretch of river running through Sonning is exceedingly picturesque, and we admired the white, lacy clouds of cow parsley clustered along the riverbank and the lush green landscape. Willow leaves rustled in the breeze, making me think of The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame lived in Berkshire and was inspired by the countryside when writing his famous novel, and it was all too easy to imagine Ratty or Mole popping up on the riverbank. As it was, though, we only saw the odd cow and dog-walker!

Having mutual friends who lived in the area, we’d arranged to meet them for a drink at The Bull Inn in the early evening, so we headed back in the direction of the pub (a convenient 5 minute walk from the hotel).

The Bull Inn is a beautiful, old-fashioned pub, featuring oak beamed ceilings and wisteria climbing the timbered walls (it must look spectacular when in bloom!). Ordering glasses of white wine, we took our seats outside to enjoy the fresh evening air and exchange news.

After chatting for a while, it was time to return for supper, so we said goodbye and set off down the lane, passing the pretty village church on our way back to The Great House.

SUPPER

Sophie and I had worked up an appetite with all our walking and talking, so we eagerly made our way to The Coppa Club restaurant at the hotel. We were given a table right by the terrace, so we could continue to enjoy the view of the river and the hotel’s lawn, strewn with deckchairs for guests enjoying the long summer evening.

We ordered two glasses of rosé and picked up our menus, basking in the late-evening sunlight pouring through the large windows.

The all-day Coppa Club menu has a wide selection of tasty dishes at very reasonable prices, so it’s easy to see why the restaurant is so popular with Sonning locals as well as guests of the hotel.

To start, I ordered crispy fried squid with Sriracha mayonnaise and paprika, followed by veal schnitzel with all the trimmings (fried egg, capers and anchovies), and flourless chocolate and almond cake with orange crème fraîche for dessert. We’d also decided to share some side dishes: some mixed greens (peas, broad beans and asparagus) and skinny fries.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. Crispy fried squid is always a favourite of mine, and I liked the addition of a slightly spicy mayo. The schnitzel was just as good as any I’ve had in Austria, and as for the dessert…! You know chocolate is my weakness, and this was one of the best flourless chocolate cakes I’ve had. It was so rich I couldn’t eat all of it, but the mouthfuls I had were absolutely delicious.

Sophie said her choices were fantastic as well. She went for a fresh crab, avocado and crostini salad to start, followed by corn fed chicken with potatoes and house slaw, and a mini butterscotch pudding for dessert (a rather more restrained choice than my own!).

After our lovely meal we waddled our way back to the room, and Sophie propped herself up on the massive (and very comfy) cushions to read in bed whilst I grabbed Vogue and ran a hot bath.

BREAKFAST

The next day, we got up at a fairly leisurely pace, making some more tea and taking turns to use the magnificent shower. We both mentioned how much we liked the toiletries provided, which were by FAIR CosmEthics and smelt heavenly.

Sophie had to get to Oxford by lunchtime, and I had a long to-do list waiting for me in London, so we made our way down for breakfast at 8.45. The Great House has a very large downstairs dining space, with comfy corners filled with large, squishy couches and shelves stocked with books, as well as an impressive bar and numerous tables.

Breakfast was served in an attractive corner of the restaurant, featuring pale wooden floors and a large fireplace.

We ordered tea and coffee, and Sophie settled on the Full English breakfast, with fried eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms, black pudding and toast. It looked amazing!

I was very happy with my own choice, though,  of avocado toast with  poached eggs and kiln smoked salmon.

By the way, note the gargantuan cup of tea in the photo above – big enough to satisfy even my early morning tea needs!

A HOTEL TOUR

After polishing off our breakfasts, I left Sophie to get her things together as I was given a tour of the hotel by one of the lovely managers, Trudi.

I was interested to learn that The Great House had only recently undergone an extensive renovation, redesigning the rooms and extending the hotel to include the various buildings scattered around its small courtyard. The hotel now offers many more rooms, ranging from their smallest ‘cosy’ to impressive suites and an event space ideal for weddings. For those with canine family members, you’ll be happy to know that dog-friendly rooms are offered too!

++ Coach House Apartment ++

The Coach House apartment is a truly impressive space, featuring an extra room that can be used for either sleeping or as a TV room. It even has its own popcorn making machine, making movie nights even more appealing.

++ Clock Tower Family Suite ++

I especially liked the Clock Tower Family Suite, which had the most adorable little beds for children, as well as a spacious lounge area.

++ Clock Tower Suite ++

 With its large meeting table and separate bedroom and seating area, the Clock Tower Suite is the perfect choice for any business gatherings.

I was also shown some other deluxe and cosy rooms, and I was so impressed by the top-notch design and comfort of all the rooms. The common aesthetic helps to provide a consistent quality of experience, whatever the room size.

Finally, just as the rain was starting to fall in earnest (a pleasant Sunday had given way to wet and windy Monday), I was whisked across the courtyard to see the large, long event space, dedicated to weddings and other big gatherings.

I loved the beautiful fireplace at one end of the room, and the french doors that opened out onto a spacious patio, with lawns leading to the river. Apparently, it’s quite common for brides to arrive by boat!

After my tour, I quickly got my things together, so we were downstairs in time for our taxi, which the receptionist had kindly arranged for us.

Sophie and I parted at Reading Station, having agreed we’d had the most marvellous time and plotting further adventures together!

++ Rooms start from £60 a night (what a bargain!) at The Great House. Click here for more information and to book. ++

Note: our stay and meals at The Great House were complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

T&T 32 | Wedding Etiquette Tips

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, Sophie and I are discussing our tips for navigating wedding season. We’re sharing our thoughts on appropriate etiquette for wedding guests, as well as voicing our opinions on the +1 debate. We’d love to hear what you think about this issue too!

Sophie and I also had a mutual ‘Jump for Joy’ this week: our trip to Berkshire together, to stay at The Great House in Sonning. We went for riverside walks, enjoyed wine at the local pub and had plenty of tea & tattle time in the gorgeous hotel. It was so fun to take a mini trip together, and we’re already planning the next – I’m hoping to join Sophie in Oxford in July, once we’re both through our teaching commitments.

In Culture Corner, Sophie shares a book series she recently discovered and is loving, and I talk about the fantastic audiobook that’s currently making my photo-editing process a lot less tedious.

Listen to hear our best tips to guide you through wedding season.  

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

One of my favourite things about June is the abundance of peonies. Evoking romance and early summer, these beautiful, billowy blooms are often sweetly scented and come in a variety of charming colours: white, pink, red, yellow and coral. Understandably, peonies are enormously popular on Instagram, as it’s hard to resist liking a snapshot of fluffy pink petals, and they’re a delightful flower to photograph.

Unfortunately, though, peonies are notoriously pricey, so whenever I buy a bunch, I like to think I can make the most out of my money. I work hard on photographing a variety of different shots to showcase my blooms, without (hopefully!) boring my audience, and I also take care of my peonies so that they last as long as possible.

In celebration of June’s theme word, bloom, on Miranda’s Notebook, I thought I’d share my tips and ideas for getting the most photos out of your peonies.

1/ SOURCE YOUR PEONIES

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ June is the height of peony season and is the best month for buying them. I especially like to buy my blooms from flower markets, where good deals are offered. Columbia Road Flower Market generally sell three bunches of peonies for £20 – just make sure to get there early to avoid the overwhelming crowds! It’s also a good idea to check your local farmers’ market; I recently picked up four bunches of peonies that were going for a great price at my market in West Hampstead.

++ An important tip to remember when buying peonies is to go for bunches where the buds are already starting to open slightly. Peonies should be harvested when the buds are at the ‘marshmallow’ stage – they should feel soft and spongy to the touch. I’ve learnt that very tight, hard buds often never open, which is a disappointing waste of my flower budget. When I know that I want to photograph my peonies very quickly, I’ll go for ones that are, for the most part, fully opened. These blooms won’t have such a long vase life, but they’re great for when I’m in a rush to get photographs.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook || Scarlet and Violet Florist, London

++ If you’d like to treat yourself to more unusual peonies in a wider variety of colours, then it’s sensible to fork out for special ones at a good quality florist. So far, I’ve found that the standard pink and red varieties are easily found at markets, but for more unusual blooms, I head to my nearest first-rate florist: Scarlet & Violet. Some gorgeous varieties to look out for are: Coral Charm, Raspberry Sundae, Bowl of Beauty, Fairy’s Petticoat and Duchesse de Nemours (aren’t the names delightful?!).

2/ TAKE CARE OF YOUR BLOOMS

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ Peonies have a good vase life and – if well cared for – should last a week or two. On returning home with your flowers, cut their stems straight away, as this helps them to take up the water. Remove excess leaves and any below the water line. Regularly (every other day) recut the stems and add fresh water. You shouldn’t put too much water in your vase, as you should be replenishing with fresh often anyway.

++ If you don’t want to use your peonies straight away, then it is supposedly possible to store your buds for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Simply remove all leaves and put your stems into a plastic bag, lined with paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Check every few days and discard any that show signs of mould. When you’re ready to use them, pop them into warm water with some flower food. I’m keen to try out this method myself sometime! I’ve also heard that you can preserve any heads of flowers you snip off in tupperware in the fridge for a few weeks, so I want to give that a try too.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++If your peonies are taking a while to fully open, then try holding them over hot, steaming water (I’ve had mixed success with this, but it’s worth a try if you’ve got some very stubborn ones!).

++ Apparently a splash of lemonade mixed in with water encourages flowers to bloom quicker (I’ve yet to try this and am keen to find out if it works!).

++ It’s always a good idea to keep some flower food to hand, but if you run out, then ½ a teaspoon of sugar and a drop of bleach in the water will do the trick.

3/ PLAN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ Planning is arguably the most important step in my photography process. I have a strict weekly budget on flowers (I don’t usually spend more than £10 on average), and yet I use blooms in every single flat lay I photograph, so I need to make sure that I get a range of images from every bouquet I buy. Whenever I buy peonies, which are a more expensive purchase, I’m especially careful about the planning stage in my photography.

++ Most weekends, I set aside a photography morning or afternoon and snap the majority of my indoor shots featuring flowers. I generally buy my flowers the evening before or on the same day, so I photograph them at their freshest, although I’ll also take the odd picture during the rest of the week too.

++ Although I’m often inspired by the flowers I buy each week and the props I have at home, I’ll also research possible shots by spending time browsing Pinterest or the books I collect that feature exceptional floral photography. Taking time to seek inspiration helps feed my own creativity and keeps my ideas feeling fresh.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ I also take time to think about upcoming blog posts I have planned, or products that I want to feature, and what types of floral photographs I’ll need for them. For instance, I knew I wanted to get a photograph of the lovely book, Paris in Bloom, alongside a bunch of peonies, as I thought the matching pinks would look lovely. Also, I regularly use floral backgrounds that I photograph myself for the imagery on Tea & Tattle, so I try as often as possible to get suitable photos for the podcast, especially when I buy peonies, as they look particularly pretty as backdrops (like this one).

4/ TAKE A VARIETY OF PICTURES

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ A great way to get the most out of your peonies is to tell the whole story of your purchase. Photograph the market stand or shop where you bought your flowers; the peonies at your feet in an attractive market basket (perhaps with some other market purchases too); you walking along a pretty street with a big bouquet over your shoulder; the peonies laid out on a table at home, as you trim the stems; and finally arranged in a beautiful vase. Even if you don’t use all of these images on your instagram grid, they’re perfect to share on stories.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++Try to photograph each stage of your peonies too: first in bud; then as they blossom and  colours change and fade; and finally the petals dropping from the vase.

++ Take photos from different angles and focus in on details or zoom out. You can photograph the bouquet as a whole, but  also zoom in to snap individual flowers.

++ If you’ve bought a bouquet featuring lots of different kinds of flowers, then after photographing the bouquet as a whole, separate out the flowers and photograph them  individually, or as smaller posies.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ Finally, once your flowers start to fade a little, snip the heads off to use as a pretty feature in your flat lays.

5/ KEEP IT FUN 

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ As they’re so popular, peony shots can occasionally border on the cliché. There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but try not to just snap your bouquet next to some macarons and Love X Style X Life by Garance Dore. Instead, get creative and think of ways to add an element of fun and surprise to your images. Thinking a little more outside of the box is a skill I’m trying to develop in my own photography at the moment, and I had fun playing around with the above peony ‘ice-cream’ shot last weekend.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

I hope you find these tips helpful! If you’re inspired by this post to photograph some peonies, then do please let me know – I’d love to see what you come up with.

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5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

A LONDON STAYCATION

Last week, I was lucky enough to celebrate the start of half-term by spending a night at The Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell, one of my favourite areas in London. I’d never had a proper London staycation before, but after my wonderful time, I hope to have a few more! It was one of the most fun, relaxing experiences I’ve ever had in London.

Checking into The Zetter Hotel definitely felt like checking into 24 hours of fun and freedom, but without any of the hassle that usually must be got through before a holiday: no panic over passports and tickets, no drama when trains to Gatwick are  inevitably cancelled, no 5am alarm clock…etc etc. I simply hopped on the metropolitan line for 20 minutes, before getting off at Farringdon station and ambling happily towards the hotel.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

If you’re visiting London, then Clerkenwell is a lovely location in which to base yourself. Full of history, fantastic restaurants, and independent shops, it still has an undiscovered, unspoilt air that makes it special to Londoners (scroll to the bottom for some of my suggestions as to what to do in the area).

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

Only a short walk from the station, I passed through an ancient archway to find myself at the hotel, which is situated in a very pretty courtyard, across from The Zetter Townhouse (a sister hotel, serving fantastic cocktails in a beautiful setting) and The Modern Pantry (I love their afternoon tea).

The Zetter Hotel is housed in a renovated Victorian warehouse and is beautifully designed, befitting an area that celebrates urban aesthetic (I’d just missed Clerkenwell Design Week, which ended before my stay). The hotel is also notable for its sustainable features and was given a Gold award for Green Tourism. I was amazed to learn that the hotel’s water comes from their own bore-hole under the building!

Downstairs is the stylish restaurant and wine bar, and these rather gorgeous lifts lead up to the 59 rooms:

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

Aren’t they fabulous?! Here’s a closer look at the quirky wall design:

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

After ogling the lifts, I was warmly greeted at the Reception desk (this marked the beginning of the absolutely outstanding service I received at the hotel) and told I was being checked into a rooftop deluxe room on the top floor. I was then whisked up in the elevator and shown around my room.

ROOFTOP DELUXE ROOM

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

My rooftop deluxe was absolute heaven – spacious and comfortable with floor to ceiling windows opening out onto a gigantic private balcony. I loved the soothing colour scheme and mid-century style furniture, which added such elegance to the room.

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Comfort, as well as style, is clearly carefully considered at The Zetter Hotel, and there were lots of pleasing touches, like the snazzy espresso machine (which made very good coffee), free wi-fi, fresh milk, a well stocked fridge and nibbles, REN products in the bathroom,  fluffy bathrobes and the wonderfully comfy bed. There was even a hot water bottle, complete with knitted cover, for colder nights.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

I also appreciated the thoughtfully chosen bedside Penguin books (I adore Margery Allingham mysteries!), magazines, bottled still and sparkling water and delicious chocolate truffles. If only my own bedside table was kept readily stocked with such lovely supplies!

ROOFTOP VIEWS

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

To my mind, though, the truly spectacular feature of the room was the magnificent balcony. I made a cup of tea and sat and drank it on one of the deckchairs, enjoying the sunshine and the fantastic views of the city.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

I had a few hours to spend before supper at the hotel,  which my lovely friend Claire was joining me for, so I passed the time happily reading on the balcony in preparation for an upcoming Tea & Tattle interview and having a few more cups of tea (room service responded instantly to my request for more milk).

COCKTAILS AND SUPPER

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

It felt no time at all until Claire was tapping at my door, and after showing her round my room and admiring the views together, we made our way downstairs for the complimentary wine cocktails that are one of the perks of booking a room in advance at The Zetter.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

We both went for white wine sangrias (so refreshing!), which arrived with a serving of plump green olives, and we happily chatted away as we perused the menu, trying to decide what we fancied. I snapped a few photos of the Wine Room and Restaurant, as I loved the striking bar and plush, jewel-coloured furniture.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

I was very impressed with the menu, which was reasonably priced and offered a delectable selection of dishes. I’d like to go back with my Mum soon, as she works very close by, and dinner at The Zetter would make a lovely post-work treat one evening, especially as it’s her birthday month!

In the end, I settled for English asparagus, crispy hen’s egg and cured ham, followed by rib-eye steak, chips and béarnaise sauce, with chocolate mousse for dessert.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

Everything was mouthwateringly good. The asparagus was perfectly cooked, and my steak was fantastic: tender and flavourful. The chips and béarnaise sauce were dangerously more-ish too, and of course a chocolate dessert is always a winner in my book, especially when it’s so beautifully presented. The meal was excellent: classic, skilfully executed and exceedingly tasty.

We washed it all down with a carafe of white wine from their wine on tap selection, which is a super idea that means you’re offered many fantastic wines at very reasonable prices.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel

Claire very much enjoyed her supper as well, going for beetroot salad with goats curd, pine nuts and apple, followed by cod with seaweed crushed potatoes and creamed mussels, and Amalfi lemon posset with raspberry compote for dessert.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell

I’d like to try all of those dishes on a return trip myself! It was so much fun chatting with Claire, who was filling me in on her exciting travel plans and great book recommendations. In contrast to our usual London meet ups, this time I had a 1 minute travel time back to my room after saying goodbye –  the ultimate luxury for a Londoner!

BREAKFAST

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell

I had a fantastic night’s sleep; the pillows were incredibly soft, the room was the perfect temperature, and I was amazed by how quiet it was, considering I was sleeping in the heart of a busy city.

After my usual journaling, stretching and instagraming in the morning, I felt quite hungry, despite the impressive meal the night before. I got dressed, first delighting in the walk-in ‘raindance’ shower, before heading down to breakfast.

I went for the Zetter Full English Breakfast: eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, tomato, mushroom and black pudding, with copious amounts of tea of course. It was delicious and certainly set me up for the day!

EXPLORING CLERKENWELL

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell

I was quite sad to leave the hotel, but consoled myself by making plans to meet up with my friend Arthur later in the day and having a thorough stroll through Clerkenwell. I thought I’d list a few suggestions for fun places to go within the immediate area, should you fancy spending time at The Zetter Hotel yourself:

// The Cloister Garden //

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell

Opposite The Zetter Hotel is the Museum of the Order of St John, which is well worth paying a visit, especially for the courtyard garden, which is a beautiful and tranquil space.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell

// Marby & Elm //

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell | Marby and Elm

This fun stationery shop, across the road from The Zetter, is the perfect place to go to stock up on quirky, colourful cards and notebooks, and it sells a lovely selection of candles inspired by London locations – I was particularly taken with the Hampstead Heath candle, but you could stick to your surroundings and go for the Clerkenwell Blue scent!

// St John Bread and Wine //

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell | St John Bread and Wine

One of my favourite places to go in London, St John Bread and Wine  is only a short walk from The Zetter Hotel. The St John Restaurant is fantastic too, but I generally stick to a glass of wine and the bar menu in the evening, or a cup of tea and sweet treat in the afternoon. Typically British fare is offered: the eccles cakes are famous, and I love the seed cake and vanilla custard doughnuts too.

London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell | St John Bread and WineLondon Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell | St John Bread and Wine London Staycation | The Zetter Hotel Clerkenwell | St John Bread and Wine

// The Zetter Townhouse //

London Staycation | The Zetter Townhouse | Clerkenwell

Finally, even if you’re staying at the The Zetter Hotel, it’s well worth nipping over the cobblestones to their sister hotel, The Zetter Townhouse, which has one of the prettiest front doors in London and serves fantastic cocktails in beautiful surroundings that make you feel as if you’re in a rather grand English drawing room.

+++ Rooms are available from £258 inc VAT at The Zetter Hotel. You can check availability and book here. +++

Note: my stay and meals at The Zetter Hotel were complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own. 

T&T 31 | One Dish Meals With Rukmini Iyer

Rukmini Iyer Interview

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week, the food stylist and writer Rukmini Iyer joins me to discuss her career in the food industry and her fabulous new cookbook, The Roasting Tin. Rukmini started her professional career as a lawyer, but realised her real passion was working with food. I was so interested to learn more about how Rukmini transitioned from law to becoming a food stylist. In today’s episode, she shares the important lessons she learnt from spending time in a professional kitchen and competing on Master Chef.

I bought The Roasting Tin when it came out in April, and I’ve been so enjoying Rukmini’s easy, delicious recipes. We chat about her inspiration behind the book and her tips on meal planning, as well as some of her very favourite recipes. I’m sure, like me, you’ll feel inspired to pull out your roasting tin from the cupboard and get cooking straight away!

Listen to hear all about Rukmini’s new cookbook and some great tips for making healthy, home-cooked meals when juggling a busy schedule.