Thursday, 26 February 2015

Health | Barry's Bootcamp

Are you ready for this? The truth is as I enter the achingly cool underground club-style workout space that forms Barry's Bootcamp near Euston, London, I'm not sure I am. I've slept badly the night before through worry that the hardcore regime will simply break me and I'll run out crying or be laughed out the gym. But the enthusiastic receptionist greet me friendly, give me a towel and point me in the direction of the changing room in a very encouraging 'You can do this!' sort of way. 

I've come to Barry's Bootcamp to try the latest workout craze to hit London from America, a high intensity rave style workout session combing cardio and free weights in a session that boasts to burn up to 1000 calories in an hour. Entering the downstairs gym feels slightly like I've turned up for an underground rave but in a sense I have. Positioned in the corner of the room is a DJ who helps rev up the atmosphere with a seamless weaving of beats and accompanying atmospheric lighting. This is essentially a type of circuit training with two main bases: the treadmill and free weights.  

So first up I'm on the treadmill - the machines are clever and the use of carefully positioned mirrors all round the room helps motivate further. The girls on either side of me smile in a similarly scared yet encouraging way and I'm feeling pretty excited by the time we get going. Through a series of interval style session we do everything from sprints to inclines and as I scrape myself off the machine after 15 minutes to the free weights I'm already exhausted but exhilarated. On the floor a careful combination of dynamic weight training gets me grimacing and laughing at myself at the same time. Then suddenly it's time to jump back on the treadmill for what feels like a more intensive session. One more session on the floor and it's all over. It's been a full on an incredibly pumped up hours session helped massively by the enthusiastic and flawlessly performed class leader who perfectly works over the top of the DJ to encourage and motivate us.

At the end I get ready for work in the achingly cool changing room with luxury products flown in from New York, real showers (none of the usual gym rubbish where you have to continually press the button for a predetermined temperature trickle to come out) and hairdryers and straighteners. I leave and order a banana nut protein shake which is glorious and ensures I don't have to deal with sore muscles the next day.

I leave a convert - I feel strong and radiant. This isn't a workout - it's a way of life. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Home | Vintage Chair Restoration Project

About 5 years a go I bought these amazing vintage 50s chairs off eBay for £20 for four. They were, on the surface, not the prettiest but I could see that they had originally been incredibly cool before the years had taken their toll. Now with our house renovation fully under way I've been temporarily excused from woodwork painting duty to focus on some slightly more creative upcycling projects. First task: my beloved vintage chairs!

The seat and back pads are quite simply attached to the frame of the chair with a couple of screws so it was easy enough to remove these. I then sanded the thick dark brown paint off them to reveal a beautiful blonde, Scandi style, wood underneath. Once this was completely sanded (a much more time and physically exhaustive experience than I had expected) I then used Linseed oil on the wood to protect it and nourish it while still retaining the beautiful light coloured wood I'd revealed through my hard work. 

Next work: the seat and back pads. After a bit of thought I'd decided that I only wanted the seat pad to be covered in fabric. Whoever had originally covered the chairs had, I'm convinced, had a nail fettish. There were about 100 nails in the back board so it took a seismic amount of effort to remove all the plastic beige fabric, padding and the huge amount of metal from the wood. Once I was down to my raw materials of the two bits of wood I could then begin to breath life back in to them. For the back section this involved using wood filler on all the holes from the nails and then applying several coats of linseed oil to bring it up to the same colour as the frame. For the seat pad I decided to keep the wadding which was in pretty good condition and choose a green polka dot fabric to cover my chairs in. Cutting the fabric to size was a simple job of laying the seat pad on top and cutting with a 3-4 inch border. I then used a staple gun to stretch the fabric in to place and secure it making sure to create a seam so that the loose ends of fabric were hidden on the inside. For this you fold the fabric in on itself before stapling on top of the fold you have created.

Then I reattached the seat and back sections to the frame again and thus my chairs were restored! I'm not totally happy on the finish on the back section although I am pleased I didn't choose to cover it in fabric. It's very comfortable as it is and I enjoy the contrast. Unfortunately the nail holes had caused more damage than I'd expected to find. I'm going to pause on the project and work out if I want to do something else to hide the holes - potentially a fabric border around the back section using the same fabric as the seat pad or maybe painting them the back a pale grey colour. Let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Food | The Pullman First Great Western Train

Exeter via Pullman and Brompton

Are you ready to be taken back in time to a world where luxurious travel was as much about the journey as the destination? I’ve arrived at London Paddington ready to journey to the South Coast via a culinary railway treat. I’m ushered in to a beautiful classical architectural gem that constitutes the first class lounge complete with coffee and pastries. As I curl up in a leather wingback armchair I feel like I’ve been taken back to the magic of 1930s rail travel. All I need now is a leather suitcase and a mysterious date with a trilby-wearing stranger at the other end.

I’m of to Exeter St David’s on the latest offering in luxury travel from First Great Western. Partnering with chef Mitch Tonks they have launched a new menu on board the UK’s only daily fine dining rail car service, the Pullman. Featuring produce sourced locally to the railway line and beautifully fresh seafood straight from Brixham market, this fusion of classic whirlwind romance and exceptional dining is a combination that is sure to be a hit.

Sitting in a luxurious wide carriage, at a linen covered table, I order a Cornish white wine and as we begin to slip out of London I feel as though I’m already far away from the noise of the city. Specially sourced, the white Cornish wine from Knightor, is a revelation – I’ve always been hugely suspicious of any English wines but this really is a delicious delight. The Trevannion is light, fresh, floral and a beautiful English offering.

Knightor Trevnnion Cornish white wine   
To start I order the fresh crab from Devon - a dish featuring both the white and brown meat (£10). As tastes and fashions have changed, brown crab meat has been dropping off more and more menus but it’s great to see the deeper flavoured dark meat partnered against the sweeter white meat here. On to mains and I’ve opted for Mitch’s personal recommendation the monkfish (£25). A beautiful meaty piece of perfectly cooked fish is presented before me served with a mint and caper sauce and traditional British sides including cauliflower cheese. The next time someone tells me there is no such thing as traditional British food I’d like to wave the Pullman’s menu in front of their nose. Taking influence from Italy and France but firmly rooted in the traditional British palate, the menu is classic and reminds me strongly of home which seems appropriate for a train that might be whisking you away from the city to your beautiful seaside home.

Crab starter

Monkfish main
For desert I’ve opted for the West Country cheese board, served with Somerset quince jelly (£9). Beautifully creamy and an incredibly generous portion later, we roll in to Exeter St Davids after just 2 hours and I feel a million miles away from the chaos of the capital.

West Country cheese board
I’ve brought Bertie the Brompton, my new folding bike, with me and we’ve got 40 minutes before catching the train back to London. While the rest of the Press traipse over the road for hotel coffees, Bertie and I are off on our guerrilla style speed tourism adventure. I’ve never been to Exeter but it’s the town my mum went to university in and after a quick scan of a map before leaving I’ve worked out it’s only a mile from the station to the city centre. I hadn’t quite bargained on that being up a stonking hill but Bertie is armed with two gears and more than capable of the challenge. I’m rewarded at the top with the beautiful Saxon cathedral dating from 1200. It’s vast and the ceiling inside is completely incredible: in fact it’s the longest vaulted ceiling in England.

Bertie outside Exeter cathedral

Inside Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral
Back on the road and up hill a bit further I find Rougemont Castle, built by William the Conqueror soon after 1066. Now just tumbling walls and sections of the gates remain but it’s impressive nonetheless and you can imagine how this prominent hill side fortification would have been a stronghold back in the Medieval times.

Rougemont Castle 
Mural in Exeter city centre
Bertie and I whiz back down the hill to the station and I’m back with time to spare before the train. The other reviewers look round confused “Where’ve you been?” They’re half way through their coffees and I meanwhile am flushed with the excitement of a new city and a small but mighty adventure. “Oh, just nipped round Exeter quickly, did the tourist thing” I reply nonchalantly, grinning to myself.

As I step back on to the train I’m plotting my next visit – a chance to take on both the beautiful old-school romance of the laid back first class travel with the highlights of the exceptional food produced on the Pullman train and a chance for Bertie and I to get out and about on another adventure.

By stepping back in to the past, I feel I have come face to face with the future of travel: because, after all, shouldn’t the journey be as important as the destination?

Me with chef Mitch Tonks

Monday, 9 February 2015

Life | Two oldies adventures

I want to tell you about a rather amazing power couple I know. Both in their 60s, they aren't your usual OAPs. On Saturday, the wife, Philippa, left to go round Indochina for 4 months - more accurately 'flashpacking' - "Haven't you heard of it?" she asks, "it's the glamping of backpacking." She's starting in Bangkok before heading off to Myanmar (known to most of us by it's old name Burma) before heading round Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and ending up back in Thailand. All of this on her own.

Meanwhile the husband of the couple, David, had been plotting which mountains around the UK need to be ticked off his already rather impressive list. Under the disguise of learning to use the appliances in the house, he has booked train tickets to the furthest reaches of Scotland and planned all the trips that would usually make Philippa roll her eyes. A typical trip includes taking a train all the way from London up to Wick in Scotland before cycling to get to a mountain "But it will be cycling through thick snow!" he tells me excitedly. Not your normal holiday.

On top of that, David bikes 25 miles a day round London and when Philippa is in London she nabs the standing spots at the Royal Opera House and pays single figures to watch 5 hour long arias.

They really are rather cool and I really am a bit jealous of their adventures. Plus they're my parents! 

They've both just started a blog talking about their adventures home and away, check it out - they are hilarious and unexpectedly adventurous. 

Philippa (AKA mum) is travelling under the ruse of An Oldies Adventure
David (AKA dad) is getting up to no good over at An Oldies Misadventure

So a toast to the coolest oldies I know: Team Levey.

An Oldies Adventure checking in at the airport

An Oldies Misadventure crossing a river in Scotland

Friday, 6 February 2015

Health | Introducing Bertie

There is a new man in my life and I'm totally head over the heels besotted with him. We met a couple of weeks a go online and then I picked him up yesterday in central London. He makes me giggle, feel great about myself and I totally love being seen with him. Honestly, it's the perfect relationship. My new man is none other than my first ever Brompton named Bertie.

Bertie is an S2L which, for those of you who dont speak Bromtpon jargon means he has flat handlebars, 2 gears and mudguards. It also means he is nice and light and super zippy. He is the most gorgeous deep blue colour and folds up like a dream. 

About two years a go I set myself the challenge of proving I deserved to own a good folding bike - rather than simply say I would ride it all the time no matter what the weather, I bought a cheap Raleigh folder and set myself the challenge of putting my money where my mouth was. I became cycling obsessed but have really struggled on a busy commute to not let the bulky, heavy bike affect my enjoyment of the ride. But with Bertie my life is transformed! A tiny, neat and clean fold (by clean I mean the chain folds inside the bike meaning when you carry it around you aren't left with greasy smears across your clothes) and a super speedy and easy commute. 

More adventures and some modifications to follow but for now - bye from me and bye from Bertie.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Food | Healthy Eating Steam Oven Style

I've been invited to check out the latest gadget for the kitchen by the gang at Miele: the steam oven. A cross between a microwave and the hob, a steam oven works by creating steam eternally then blasting it in to the area with your food (known as the cavity) when it reaches the temperature you've set it to. This means you can make the perfect soft dippy egg in just 4 minutes. And because the technology works on density not volume one egg takes four minutes and sixty eggs take four minutes. Impressive. 

Miele Steam Oven

Not an egg fan in the morning - maybe you're a porridge obsessive? I'm reliably informed that porridge is the best in the steam oven. Put your normal cereal bowl in at 100 degrees for 10 minutes. One bowl is the same as 5 bowls so you can make batches for the whole family in one go. Plus features like the delayed start mean you can put your porridge in before you go to sleep and it will be ready when you wake up. Mind blown. But not your porridge: because it's such a gentle way of cooking there isn't the same chance of your porridge blowing up unlike the microwave. Honestly, I can feel my life being revolutionised already.

As we strive to find new ways to be healthy in our fast paced society, the steam oven might be a real answer. Banishing the need for ready meals and cutting down cooking time on many things this really could revolutionise the way you cook and the way you cook healthy. Because of the gentle cooking method, more flavour is retained in what you cook so there is no need to add fats in the form of butter or oil. For a great, healthy dinner how about Goan Salmon with rice (recipe below)? 

The ovens themselves range in terms of ability and, the unfortunate catch, price. While the freestanding steam ovens - which I believe to be the future replacement for the microwave - start at around £700, the built in ones range from £1000 to over £3000. If you've got money to splash on a new kitchen but are a bit of a cooking novice then the top of the range ones have some impressive functions like automatic programmes where you can select three items you wish to cook and it will calculate the temperatures and timings for you. So you could do chicken, brown rice and tenderstem broccoli for a nutritious, healthy super without the stress of not knowing how or when to cook things. For the novice cook who has never ventured further than a ready meal this has to be the first step to healthy home cooked meals without the stress of not being a confident cook.

Goan Salmon with rice and cucumber raita
Using a Miele Steam Oven - Serves 4

4 salmon fillets

For the recheado paste
4 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 lime, juiced

For the cucumber raita
150ml natural yoghurt
1 cucumber, grated
Small bunch of mint, chopped
1 tsp salt

200g white basmati rice

How to make it

1. Combine all the ingredients for the recheado paste in the jug of a blender, process to a smooth paste, and rub all over the salmon. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes, but no more than 4 hours.

2.     Place the rice in a solid container and cook on the top shelf of the steam oven at 100° for 10 minutes.

3.     In the meantime, squeeze as much water as possible from the cucumber and mix with the rest of the raita ingredients, check the seasoning and set aside.

4.     Put the salmon fillets on a perforated container and steam alongside the rice for 4 minutes at 85°.

5.     Heat up 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan over a medium high heat, and once the cooking time has elapsed, add the salmon fillets and pan fry very quickly, for no more than 30 seconds on each side. Serve together with the rice and raita

Goan Salmon with rice and cucumber raita

All dishes cooked in a Miele steam oven