The Birthday List: Learn how to cook an artichoke.

How to Cook an ArtichokeConfession: I’ve been avoiding my birthday list.

My birthday was more than two months ago and I hadn’t looked at it since I posted it in March.

I’m not sure why this is. Probably because my life has felt full of to-do lists. Working overtime. Writing my book. Managing this site. Planning our wedding. Settling into our new flat. Growing my business. I’m constantly checking lists, ticking things off, and adding more on, so managing my free time by a list hasn’t felt very appealing.

I’ve been craving adventure and spontaneity, so I’ve just put my birthday list to the back of my mind and even considered ditching it completely.

How to Cook an ArtichokeIt was Matthew who suggested we cook an artichoke – one of the items from my list.

I was excited by the idea. It was a simple way to tick off one of my birthday goals. And it was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, hence why it’s on the list.

That’s the thing about birthday lists. They look like a to-do list but they’re all about prioritising the experiences you want to have and being intentional with how you spend your time. I take a pretty flexible approach to them, trying to tick off a couple of things a month (when I’m not avoiding it completely) but not getting stressed out when I don’t. I add things on when it feels good and forget about those I’m no longer keen on. And then there’s usually a marathon stretch of trying to do as many items as possible in the weeks leading up to my birthday.

Avoiding my birthday list wasn’t bringing me more spontaneity and adventure because when I take a break from the to-do lists, I just want to crash. The list is a gentle nudge to fit in those non-essential things that bring more joy and variety to my life.

How to Cook an ArtichokeLike cooking an artichoke.

They’re an intimidating vegetable with their spiky leaves and inaccessible fleshy heart. Neither Matthew and I had ever eaten one that didn’t come out of a jar first. But we watched this video and learned that the whole thing is rather simple, if a bit labourious considering how much you get to eat.

  • Start by peeling the stem with a vegetable peeler and trim it to around an inch.
  • Cut the spiky ends off the large leaves and then slice off the end to take the spikes off the smaller leaves.
  • Steam or roast for up to 40 minutes. Check on it regularly after 20. When a leaf pulls out easily, they’re done.

I hadn’t realized how little of the plant you eat. You just the scrape off the fleshy part of the leaf with your teeth and discard the rest. You can also dig out the hairy choke to eat the soft heart underneath all of the leaves.

We dipped ours in hummus and a truffle balsamic reduction, and then used the heart for a salad.

How to Cook an ArtichokeRocking out with your artichoke before you cook it is optional but highly recommended.

Have you ever cooked an artichoke? Would you like to give it a try?

Love, long weekends, and 80s rock ballads,

The Birthday List: 27 Before 28.

birthday-listI turned 27 on Saturday and if my weekend has gone anything like I’ve imagined, we’ve been swanning around Paris gorging ourselves on pastries, listening to jazz in underground grottos, and taking endless tourist photos in front of every romantic hot spot.

We’re taking the train back to London this afternoon, so I’ve scheduled this post to share my new birthday list with you!

My birthday list led to so many fun adventures last year, like taking a trapeze class and raving my way into the morning.

I’ve managed to squeeze in as many things from my list into the year as I could and have been relaxed about letting go of those I wasn’t very interested in anymore and adding to this year’s list those I didn’t get around to due to time or financial constraints.

This year I’ve been conscious of trying to find a good balance of tasks. Some big and some small. Some expensive and some free. Some time consuming and others that I can accomplish in an afternoon.

Here’s what I’m planning to do before my 28th birthday:

Go to a festival.

Take burlesque classes.

Drink absinthe.

Go on a mini writer’s retreat.

Take a cookery class.

Make a scrapbook.

Visit a country I’ve never been to before.

Go wildcrafting in London.

Learn transcendental meditation.

Plant a garden.

Watch The Godfather films.

Go to an equestrian event.

Attend a free coach training weekend.

Read Wuthering Heights.

Run 5k.

Take the Qoya teacher training initiation.

Ferment veggies.

Go to the Edinburgh.

Read Infinite Jest.

Try voga.

Learn calligraphy.

Host a dinner party.

Learn how to cook an artichoke.

Celebrate midsummer.

Take Veronica’s Parlour class.

Go to the seaside.

Create an art wall.

Have you written a birthday list? I’d love to read it, so please share yours in the comments if you fancy it.

Love, polka dots, & raspberry cupcakes,

Photograph from Oh Happy Day.

The Birthday List: Go to Harry Potter Studios.

harry-potter-studio-tour02I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books since I was 11 and waiting for my Hogwarts letter ever since. Growing up, when one of the new books would come out, we’d always have to preorder two copies and pick them up the day they came out so neither my brother or I had to wait to read it.

Naturally I’ve been wanting to visit the Harry Potter studio tour since moving to London but I wasn’t sure it would be worth the expense (tickets are £33) and it requires a whole day as it’s out in Leavesden. But my dad bought me a ticket for Christmas so a couple of weeks ago, Colette came into town and we made the journey.

harry-potter-studio-tour01 harry-potter-studio-tour03You can take one train from Euston to Watford Junction and then there’s a shuttle bus that will take you directly to the studio. It was an easy journey and we had fun drinking pink cava and gossiping on the way.

I was looking forward to the day but had no idea what to expect but the entire experience far exceeded what I could have dreamed up. From the second we entered the studio doors until we stumbled out the gift shop doors over five hours later, we were squealing giddily and running around in nerdy glee. Whether you’ve reread every book obsessively or just watched the films, I’d recommend a visit to any Harry Potter Fan.

harry-potter-studio-tour05 harry-potter-studio-tour04You have to buy a time-specific ticket in advance and there is a bit of queuing when you arrive and then you enter as a group, first watching a short introductory film and exploring the Great Hall together. After that you’re free to explore the rest of the studios at your own pace and to stay as long as you’d like (they told us the record was 13 hours!).

Our approach to the day was to do it all. Get the audio guide. Ride the broom (and fly the car!) in front of the green screen. Drink butterbeer. Take pictures in front of every photo op worthy set piece (there are a lot). Stamp pieces of paper at the stamping stations because we didn’t have passports. If it was on offer, we gave it a try.

harry-potter-studio-tour06 harry-potter-studio-tour08I think soaking up every part of the day really enhanced our experience. Looking back, you’re not going to regret standing in one extra queue and it sure is fun to have a giggle thinking about how silly we looked swinging around on those broomsticks.

There’s so much to see and do and we didn’t want to miss a second of it. You get to look at fully laid out sets, interactive exhibits, costumes, props, the creature studio, the conceptual models for the films, and a to-scale model of Hogwarts that they used with a green screen for filming all of the flying scenes. They’ve done such a wonderful job making it both visually stunning and really informative. We watched the Deathly Hallow films over the weekend and kept exclaiming that “We saw that!” or “We know how they did that!”

harry-potter-studio-tour07 harry-potter-studio-tour09Plus they’re adding and changing the tour all of the time. The Hogwarts Express is arriving in March and depending on the time of year, they have different seasonal exhibits.

We’re already planning a return visit for next year!

harry-potter-studio-tour10harry-potter-studio-tour11If you’re planning visit, be sure to put on your witchiest costume and wear a comfortable pair of shoes. I generally don’t have a long attention span for exhibitions but we were there for over five hours. And if it had been warmer out or we’d started earlier in the day, I think we’d easily have been there longer. There’s so much to see and do and when you get to the end of it all, there’s an amazing gift shop. I could have emptied my bank account in there but made due with a black “Witch” mug.

In the end, it actually felt like fantastic value for the cost of the ticket. The entire experience created a real sense of child-like wonder and it was absolutely amazing to see one of my favourite fantasy worlds brought to life!

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Have you been on the studio tour?

Love, chocolate frogs, and butterbeer moustaches,

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