Oxford on a rainy day – Foodies Festival

Despite a rather rainy day this Sunday, we went to Oxford for the Foodies Festival and regretted nothing.

From spiraled potatoes on a skew, to the biggest Persian wrap I ever had, Prosecco bars and coconut water, there was a lot to stuff your face with.

I started with olives – big, juicy, marinated olives.

Then moved on to the Persian wrap, packed full with fresh vegetables, hummus, more olives and beautifully cooked lemon chicken. It went down a treat with a glass of Rioja rose wine.

To my surprise, there weren’t many sweets and bakery goodies around. I was slightly disappointed, but pleased there weren’t more temptations to influence my waist line.

The best thing I took away from the festival was in fact a leaflet from this amazing company that delivers fresh organic produce to your door. You would think it’s super expensive and that they charge for delivery. The answer is ‘no’ to both questions.

Check out Riverford Organic Farms.  I can’t wait to order my first box of veg and fruit! (this isn’t a sponsored post or anything. I just get super excited about organic produce)

Once we were all fed up (pun intended) we went for a walk through beautiful Oxford. I made a quick stop at LUSH and got myself a deliciously smelling body scrub and a naturally hydrating face mask.

And we ended our day on a city rooftop, with cocktails and cupcakes. By this point I stopped taking photos, it was time to enjoy the view.

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A summer day in Brighton

Sit back, relax and enjoy! And that is what I just did this Saturday, after a particularly stressful week in London.

Brighton was superb, like a true British seaside town.  It’s my second time visiting, but this time the sun and incredibly high temperatures made everything feel even more special!

We sunbathed, stuffed our faces with ice cream and fish and chips, then tried to burn some calories by walking along the beach, up and down the beachfront, and across the Brighton Pier.

A good day was had by all!

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Hampstead Heath

Me and my friend Diana love spending our Sundays in Hampstead Heath. We don’t just take the journey up north because of the beautiful Parliament Hill view or the old-fashioned bathing ponds; we like to look at houses and day dream about how it would be like to live there.

So we imagine ourselves waking up every morning, taking in the view from our (separate) two-floor terraced houses and getting ready to go for a coffee at one of the local artisan coffee shops on the high street. Oh, it would be so lovely to shop for groceries locally from the quirky organic shops, take a walk up the hill with our kids to teach them how to fly a kite, and in the evenings have a glass of wine at those cosy little family restaurants that look like someone’s dining room. Who knows? Maybe one day…

Just to put into images some of those thoughts, here are a few snaps from Hampstead. I will probably update this post every time I go up there and can concentrate to capture the essence of this beautiful North London haven.

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Hampstead view by the ponds
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Hampstead pond
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Hampstead Parliament Hill
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View from Parliament Hill, Hampstead
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View from Parliament Hill over Highgate
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Sunny day in Hampstead Heath, August 2015
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Hampstead Heath
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Walk in Hampstead Heath

 

Brussels with a touch of Bruges

I took a trip to Brussels in May and loved every second of it. As you might have guessed by now, I am a foodie. In fact, my favourite part about travelling is getting to eat in lots of new places and experience new dishes.

That is how I discovered the most delicious beef stew, Carbonnade a la Flamande, which my boyfriend and I savoured in the coziest, most low-key restaurant in Bruges (Nieuw Walnutje). I remember it being particularly cold that day, and this comforting dish was all I needed to feel warm and happy again.

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Carbonade a la Flamande, Bruges
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Nieuw Walnutje restaurant in Bruges

While we’re talking about food, I need to recommend one of the best breakfast places in Bruxelles: Peck 47, Rue Marche Aux Poulets 47, Brussels, Belgium. This place has all my ideal breakfast/brunch meals accompanied by the yummiest and healthies smoothies and juices. Do not miss a chance to go check it out!

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Below are some highlights of Brussels, through my eyes lens.

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You must not miss the Maison Antoine frites, as they are the best in town!

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Maison Antoine, 1, place Jourdan, 1040 Bruxelles (Etterbeek)

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Delirium is one of the most famous places in Brussels. Apart from the fact it sells over 400 types of beer, it has a cool vibe that suddenly makes you feel alive and ready to party. And I am definitely not a fan of clubbing or partying. But there was something special about this place!

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You cannot go visit Brussels without trying some local mussels and sea food paella. However, you will be overwhelmed with choice. I can’t recommend a particular place, but do bear in mind some of them offer rather mediocre dishes.

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Day trip to fairy tale Bruges

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World famous Belgian waffles! Word of caution: don’t pick the cheap 1 Euro waffles they sell on the streets, do some research into proper, authentic waffle houses in Brussels. We had the most amazing fresh waffles in Bruges, at Missault.

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Bake Studio – My Dream to Start My Own Business

A while ago I chose to go back to Romania and start my own business. Well, actually to continue what my parents started more than 20 years ago, but run it independently.

Here’s the story.

I’m pretty sure that many of my friends in London didn’t quite believe I was actually quitting my perfect job to open a bakery in Romania. They probably thought I was crazy!Capture 2But almost two years later, and my quirky bakery was starting to become reality. Yes, it was a little premature to talk about it before I’d even settled for a location, but I am a strong believer in talking about your dream as if it had already happened. That way there is a greater chance of it actually happening.

So, a year and a half and a corporate job later, I came up with the concept of Bake Studio – Creative home baking. This was not easy, nor did it come to me in a dream, or it struck me one day while I was doing the dishes. This was a long, creative and experience-gaining process during which I first started another (completely different) ‘brand’ called Buchete de Prajituri (Cupcake bouquets). Since October 2013 I started making cupcakes and cupcake bouquets – dealt with lots of chaos, learning experiences, failure, stress, panic, etc. – and evolved into making more elaborate sweets for events. Most of those sweets I made myself. I was the one buying the ingredients, taking orders, making them, delivering them, doing the admin. Those of you who know me already know that my parents have a bakery and you are probably wondering WHY I didn’t just teach the team there to make my cakes and I just went to pick them up.

Well, the truth is that the women working there have been with our family business for over 20 years and we do appreciate them greatly. BUT they have no energy, time or desire to deal with my control-freak needs. I want my sweets to be perfect, made from separate ingredients that I source myself, and following my recipes. And also, the cake shop is in a small town near Bucharest, and not in Bucharest, where I actually lived. Which made it hard to oversee production and deliveries at the same time. Some of the basic stuff I usually delegated, especially when I had many events happening at the same time, but I took care of the finishing touches, flavours and texture combinations. It was a great job, which I thought I wouldn’t trade for anything else, but it was intense, very stressful at times and very physical.

Bake Studio, in my vision, is a rustic, London-style bakery, with home made sweets, fresh juices, great coffee and a wonderful, relaxing atmosphere. This name only came to me this year (2015) in January. I honestly don’t remember how I came up with the name, but I know I first wanted to name it BAKE. But this wasn’t strong enough to reflect my vision and somehow I thought of a studio (perhaps because I dated an animator with an animation studio and a musician who used to always be in the studio…not at the same time! haha). So I combined the two words and magic happened.

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Ottolenghi Islington – perfect example of what I want my bakery to look like. I do not own the rights to this photo.

I thought about my bakery every day and still do,  I felt very happy to have had the chance to explore my creativity to this extent.

The journey had already begun. I had a brand identity which I was super proud of and a clear vision about what Bake Studio was going to be like. And that is the biggest step towards making it happen.

Next on the list were: trying to get funding outside my own savings, budgeting, finding the right location, renting, equip and set it up, put together the dream team, create the menu, open for business. And as you can tell, many things could have gone wrong at each step of the way.

And they did. However, things becoming more complicated had nothing to do with my decision to move back to London.

I started hearing this voice deep down telling me ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ And it started getting louder and louder until I heard it very clearly. I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t the right time to open my bakery and I had a lot more to learn and explore. But that was going to be in London, the city that inspired me to ALWAYS follow me dreams and my gut instinct.

And here I am today. I’m not giving up on Bake Studio, I am simply being true to myself and brave enough to put it on hold until I can properly make it a success.

5 Business Principles I Learned From Babysitting a 5 Year-Old

In my many endeavours to live a full and happy life, I decided to also follow my old desire to work with kids, whilst organising the first steps towards opening the bakery. While waiting for additional funding, I have enough spare time to dedicate myself to this activity as well. I learned a lot of business principles from this adventure.

So one day, almost immediately after posting my ad on a babysitting website, I came across a lovely family of entrepreneurs with whom I immediately bonded and we agreed on a short collaboration. For a whole month, I spent 3-4 hours a day, four days a week, with their five year-old son.

David is a very smart kid, with a strong personality and lots of energy. He’s also very sweet, well-spoken and not afraid to put me in my place if I do something he doesn’t like.

Here are the five things I learned and will most certainly apply in business.

1. The customer is always right

This is indeed an old saying, and everyone knows it, but it still was a test for me in terms of my inner discipline, flexibility and ability to ‘do as I am told’ 🙂 Which doesn’t necessarily come easy to me.

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I have a strong personality, but when you’re babysitting, you are no longer in charge. Obviously you do keep your authority as a carer, but you don’t decide what the child eats, when they go to bed, whether they should be disciplined in certain situations. I am describing a healthy babysitting relationship, because psychologically, you cannot replace the parents just because you are taking care of the child. There are clear boundaries and you are more of a mature play buddy rather than the child’s parent.

So it doesn’t matter if you agree or not, you follow the rules the parents establish and, as David was quite independent already, the rules the child establishes. Luckily, I didn’t have any issues with this, but it just got me thinking that if I did, I could not even voice my opinion. That would be unprofessional and quite rude. Like telling your customers that if there’s something they don’t like about your product/service, they should go somewhere else.

Similarly to having a business, while you might like doing things YOUR way, you have to listed to your customers. You have to play by the rules they establish (if they are your target audience).

2. Variety, variety, variety

Daily, if not more than a few times a day, I had to switch it up and come up with a different game, activity, dance. I’ve never had to improvise this much in my life. But I think I did quite a good job. I loved it as much as he did, if not more. We would start our day by playing with Lego pieces, then start a battle between our spaceships run by dinosaurs, and end up building a fort between the sofas where only David could take shelter. And he would then come to destroy my army with his invisible powers. Talk about an exercise for the imagination!

One thing’s for sure. Kids get bored easily. So do customers. Make sure you keep a fresh feel about your brand, vary your menu or your product/service offerings.

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3. The rules are always changing

This was my least favourite part. The moment I thought I got the hang of a game, the rules would change. If I was winning, the rules would change. If I wasn’t creative enough to add value to a game, the rules would change. Every day, the rules would chage! And I am someone that appreciates a well oiled mechanism that works well in its pleasing routine, she says poetically.

Not the case here. Nor will it be in business. Rules are always changing – whether there are new government procedures you need to implement, competition appearing over night, people leaving your business, things don’t stay uneventful for long. Get used to this, learn to adapt, don’t let change stress you out or get the better of you.

4. Keep them entertained

You guessed it. Kids like to be entertained. A lot. And I am not necessarily a clown, but I do know a thing or two about running indoors, playing air tennis
(by this I mean randomly hitting balls in the air, inside the house, while trying not to break anything), making funny faces, dancing and baking 😉 And this was very useful indeed while trying to earn David’s respect as a worthy play buddy.

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The principle obviously applies in business, but under the umbrella of adding values, communicating on the same level with your audience and keeping them engaged through your activities (e.g. social media posts and campaigns, newsletters, offers, gifts, etc).

5. Distraction goes a long way

You’d be surprised to find out how MUCH you can accomplish by using distraction techniques with kids. I actually wasn’t aware of this, since I don’t have kids yet, but you can feed them, get them dressed, even do something that would usually annoy them. For David (and probably many children) the TV did the trick.

While it isn’t recommended to distract your customers as a way of tricking them, I think of distraction in business as packaging. 🙂

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Yes, and you should admit it too, great packaging and product presentations go a long way. I will apply this ‘distraction’, but as a way of enhancing the value of my products, not as a way of hiding flaws or other negative issues.

There you have it. Five good ol’ business principles worthy of considering. Thank you, David

What about you guys? What else have you learned from working with kids