Afternoon Tea

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This afternoon tea was a birthday celebration for one of my favourite people.

A little group of us went to The Goring Hotel – the thirty or so tables in the bright dining room were all stacked high with delights.

The combination of the loaded cake stands, the striped crockery and the reflective tea pots in the late winter sunshine was quite spectacular. Smitten, I took some photos in preparation for future painting sessions.

Afternoon tea classically involves dinky crust-less sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and beautiful, tiny cakes all washed down with gallons of tea. This afternoon tea had an extra element – a cold soup of potato and goat’s cheese, garnished with a flower petal – served first, in a little glass.

I felt like I could represent each element of the afternoon tea at its most flattering angle if I composed the drawing from the perspective of looking down at your own place setting and then sweeping the gaze up to the top of the cake stand. 

Totally delicious!


Yen Burger

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I had a little burger treat in the London Bridge branch of Yen Burger last month.

The burger and fries were so beautifully presented; nestled there in a bamboo steamer and surrounded by stripy paper. And the bun was branded with the Yen logo. I immediately had the urge to paint the food. I didn’t have time there and then so I took a few photos and added it to my to my to draw list.

The stripes have a joyful circus tent quality and definitely upped the challenge level of the painting project in a very positive way.

And a very tasty fast food fusion of the Japanese and Western it was too.

Mushrooms – Pen and Watercolour Sketch

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I found these gorgeous mushrooms at the Puntarelle & Co fruit and veg market which opens each Saturday morning in the railway arches of Spa Road. That’s approximately three minutes walk from my flat.

I was shopping for a vegan brunch that I’m hosting on Sunday. I’m planning to cook the mushrooms with olive oil, garlic and black pepper and serve them with avocado and homemade humus on sourdough bread.

I bought the sourdough bread from the Little Bread Peddlar, another arch-dwelling local business, on the other side of Spa Road to the veg market. Amazing to think that when I first moved in here 30 years ago there was only a sparsely stocked Spa mini-market, a chip shop and a dodgy pub. Now we’re spoilt with all manner of artisan goodies.

Just as well they only open on Saturdays though or I’d spend a blinking fortune!

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Cupcakes Rescue!

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I picked up these gorgeous mini cupcakes from the Lola’s cart in London Bridge Station last night. The cupcakes would otherwise have been chucked out at the end of business.

I was delighted to rescue them at the bargain price of four quid via the food waste fighting app Too Good To Go.

I spent a few happy hours sketching them today…I did eat a couple as I worked, just to check that they were still fresh, and yes, they were delicious. I’m saving the rest of them to share with my flatmates for this evening’s dessert, which shows great restraint on my part.

These mini cupcakes are pretty, cheap and exceptionally tasty – a perfect “paint it then eat it” project!

Thank you Lola and Too Good To Go!


Sushi Rescue!


sushi, sushi shop, healthy eating, too good to go, fight food waste, watercolour, painting, sketchbook, pen and wash, food illustration, illustration, drawingI was watching a telly programme about the menopause the other night. One of the most interesting things I learnt was that women in Japan suffer far fewer classic menopausal symptoms than their western counterparts. That’s because of the soy and fatty fish components of their diet. Of course having watched them eating sushi I fancied it myself. 

Over to Too Good To Go the anti-food-waste app, where they listed many sushi outlets, all with goodies to save from the bin at the end of the shift. I selected a Sushi Shop branch in central London which was having an early afternoon clear out at the end of the lunch session and popped over to pick up my box at £4.50 instead of £12.90 – that’s quite a saving.

I’d made myself the ‘paint it then eat it promise’. Once I’d got the outline down I couldn’t resist and it turned into ‘paint it while eating it’. Luckily the lunch box contained multiples of the same items so I still had references as I scoffed – I had to take care not to drop soy sauce on my sketchbook though.

The actual sushi box and the finished painting were only single units (below) but I made a collage with an app on my phone to transform the image into a square (top) which is better suited for Instagram.

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A delicious, nutritious, cheap and creative approach to fighting food waste – I love this new hobby!

Cake Rescue!

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I picked up this delightful trio of chubby cake wedges from the Konditor bakery near Borough Market. For a measly three quid! All courtesy of the brilliant anti-food waste app Too Good To Go.

Too Good To Go lets you locate and pay for delicious bargains at your favourite local food outlets, food which would otherwise be thrown away at closing time. 

There’s a degree of mystery involved since you’re never actually sure what you’ll get in your ‘magic bag’ when you pitch up to collect your goodies. But if you choose outlets with good reputations and many starred reviews you’ll not be disappointed.

I promised myself an evening of cake indulgence if I painted my edibles when I got them home. A carrot (cake) over stick approach to motivation in these first few confusing days of the new decade, when the atmosphere is sticky with new resolutions jostling in the fug of festive overindulgence.

I love making pen and wash sketches of food. I find that looking forward to eating it when the job’s done helps me focus – I work fast and, hopefully, loose!

I did share the cake with my flatmates and will definitely be using Too Good To Go again soon. Very soon. 

Artwork in India (11) – Sikkim

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The inspiration for this watercolour portrait / food illustration actually originated in Kalimpong, West Bengal but since I completed the painting in Sikkim here it sits.

Of course our travel plans for Sikkim originated in Kalimpong too. While we were waiting for the unusually long winter to turn to spring we’d both finished reading PG Tenzing’s very entertaining account of his Royal Enfield motorcycle trip around India ‘Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke For Directions’. Rob wanted to go and see Gurudongmar Lake, the highest in the world – a sight which had moved Mr Tenzing to tears.

A bit of research into the permits required by foreigners wishing to explore Sikkim revealed that that would not be possible; the farthest north we were allowed, even with a restricted area permit, would be Zero Point – some 15km south of Gurudongmar.

Armed with warm coats, half a dozen passport photos each and the same number of passport and visa photocopies we left Kalimpong in a shared jeep (having purchased two seats apiece for the sake of comfort). We disembarked an hour or so later in Rangpo, the closest Sikkimese border town.

 It took about half an hour to swap some photos and photocopies for an inner line permit which granted us permission to stay in Sikkim for two weeks.

Sikkim was an independent kingdom until 1975 when it became part of India. It is bordered by Nepal to the west and by Tibet to the North and East. China’s invasion of Tibet has made those borders extremely sensitive so access is carefully monitored.

We continued our journey from Rangpo to Gangtok, the Sikkimese capital, in another shared jeep; the vehicles were lined up and waiting for passengers in the market square, a short walk from the foreigner’s permit office.

gangtok, sikkim, sky, clouds, mountains

No smoking, no spitting, no cows, no dogs, no littering. Such are the rules in Gangtok and the benefits are palpable. It’s the cleanest and calmest city we visited and seemed very well off too. Of course we disregarded the no smoking rule but only in secluded places.

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We took the advice of the guesthouse owner and booked three tours; handing over all the remaining photos and photocopies to get the required permits. We explored the area around Gangtok on our first day, visiting the beautiful Rumtek and Chorten Buddhist monasteries, and the Banjhakri waterfall, which is touristy but lovely nevertheless.

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The following day we took a six hour round trip with a driver and a guide to the frozen lake at Tsomgo. Complete with yaks, snow fall, stunning mountain views, a trip in a cable car and stops for steaming tea and momos – it was a glorious day out. 

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Our third tour was only three days and two nights long but it felt like an epic adventure. Again we had a driver and a guide (above centre) who made the six hour journey up to Lachung very comfortable. We made several stops to admire waterfalls, drink chai and make use of roadside toilet facilities – 5 rupees for a pee, 10 for a poo!

We passed through a couple of military checkpoints, each beside big army camps, where our permits were inspected and our details noted. 

The Lanchung Valley is absolutely stunning; with little farm cottages nestled on plateaus between huge mountains above and cliff drop waterfalls down to the Teester River bellow…billowing clouds gave it a timeless, mystical air. Enchanting.

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We stayed in a little wooden cabin with a balcony overlooking the valley (view above) and were provided with a very efficient heater and plentiful, simple food.

It was dusk and raining when we arrived (a delightful sound on a cabin roof) so the snow capped mountain view that greeted us at dawn was hugely exciting if not totally unexpected.

We were a bit surprised that we had to be supervised if we wanted to leave the property grounds, even for a stroll around the tiny village.

The following morning we took a trip as far up north as the recent avalanche allowed. Nature trumped our Yumthang Valley permit, the road was well and truly blocked and the clearance effort would take several days to open it again. 

A friend looked up our location on Google Earth and sent it by WhatsApp…we may have been way out in the sticks but the telecommunications were 21st century!

We returned to Gangtok elated by the mountain views and took a few days rest before leaving Sikkim by jeep; handing in our permit at the Rangpo office before we re-entered West Bengal.


Artwork in India (10) – West Bengal

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Next stop Kolkata, West Bengal (3 hour taxi from Khajuraho to Satna then 20 hours on the train to Howrah Station), which we approached with some trepidation.

For a huge city it was, however, a revelation: friendly, fairly relaxed, fairly clean, really beautiful and easy to negotiate on foot.

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With cheap, delicious street food to boot; Kolkata is famous for kati rolls – egg dipped flat breads which are fried and rolled around the tasty filling of your choice.

We passed a few fun days wandering around the Park Street neighbourhood, exploring the city’s green spaces and crossing the Hooghly River by ferry.

Our next target destination was Darjeeling the famous tea town. I had a romantic idea of Darjeeling – quaint and charming, nestling up there in the Himalayan foothills and the opportunity to arrive there in the heritage ‘toy train’ was irresistible.

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We flew to Bagdogra, spent the night in Siliguri and the next morning promptly arrived at New Jalpaiguri Station for the advertised 8:30am departure of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway service from the narrow gauge platform.

At least an hour late, the tiny engine pulled up with three little carriages in tow. It took at least another half hour for the engineers to prepare the train for the trip up the mountain.

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The journey (scheduled to take seven hours in total) was indeed picturesque; the little train pluckily chugged upwards taking several fascinating ‘z reverses’ to accommodate the incline. 

Then, 15km short of Darjeeling a piece of the engine fell off, the train stopped and it became apparent that we would have to make our own arrangements to finish the journey by road.

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Luckily, at dusk, after an hour or so of flagging down vehicles with little or no space for hitchers the lovely man (second right) in the photo above pulled over. He breezily packed us and our new German friends and all our luggage into his warm, comfy car and expertly drove us the hour to town.

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The first first thing that struck me was the cold. A see your breath in the house cold. A wear all your clothes in layers, in bed, cold. Luckily our homestay host provided a heater and hot water bottles and the view of Kangchenjunga from the balcony (at 6am before the clouds rose) was stunning.

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The food was fabulous too, inspiring me to immortalise this delicious and typical Indian breakfast of puri sabji. The puri are fried flat breads which puff up and are chewy and crispy at the same time. Sabji or sabzi is the generic word for cooked vegetables, usually in some sort of gravy.

We met up with our new German friends in a local Tibetan style restaurant to reminisce about our toy train misadventure and feast on momo and wanton (both dumplings)…a meal so delicious I was again inspired to capture it in paint.

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Of course we drank some excellent tea in Darjeeling too and took the obligatory tour around the Happy Valley tea factory. But Darjeeling is not the charming hill station town of my imagination; it has a few pretty parts but is generally damp and dank, congested with traffic which makes the air foul with fumes and suffers from cascades of rubbish dumped down its sprawling labyrinth of terraces.

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We spent our last Darjeeling days at another homestay, the beautiful Little Singamari and were treated to yet more fantastic home cooking.

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This is a fantasy amalgamation of my favourite dishes cooked by Ramila, our hostess.  

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We set off for a few days in Kolbong and stayed on an idyllic organic farm. The two hour jeep ride to reach the farm was a bit of a roller coaster ride, one local lady promptly threw up as soon as she exited the jeep at her stop.

Luckily the driver made a slight detour for us so that we didn’t have to drag our luggage up the last kilometre of track to the farm.

The weather was warmer, the air cleaner, all our food was home cooked, mostly homegrown and organic. Our hosts were delightful but could only accommodate us for a few days as they were busy with another project. It was hard to leave.

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We decided to head for Kalimpong, a chilled out town with a similar climate to Kolbong where we could wait for the weather to warm up before we set off to explore higher altitudes without freezing.

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We both succumbed to bugs, one respiratory and one gastrointestinal, nothing major but enough to make us grind to a halt. Luckily we were in safe, comfy accommodation with a nice view…a good place for rest and recuperation.

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I was inspired by the gorgeously bright colours used to paint the murals in the prayer rooms at two of Kalimpong’s Buddhist monasteries when I made this portrait of Rob. I also love the way they include the cloud and flower motifs. Kalimpong is well known for its orchid nurseries hence my choice of flower.

Sushi Time

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With no Vejer Sketchers outing planned for today, I promised myself a lunch of takeaway sushi on the condition that I made a pen and watercolour sketch of it before eating…this has to be a perfect definition for delayed gratification and certainly helped to whet my appetite and really appreciate the artistry of our local chef at Sushi Time.