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Life in the Bubble

Ever wondered what a week in the life of a Cambridge finalist is like?

Be warned. Those pictures you see of black-tie revellers collapsing on the cobbled streets in the early hours constitute a reality that only occurs over the course of a few glorious days in the summer. We like to call this fabled time 'May Week'. The majority of the time our lives are far less glamorous...

Monday: Waiting at King's Cross to take the train up to Cambridge for my last term at the University (my twelfth term!) Feeling virtuous, I buy a green juice from Pret. The taste of the celery and spinach makes my mouth pucker into funny shapes. Definitely not one of those bloggers who whip up their own green juices just yet. I arrive back in Cam, lug my bag to my house and unpack. Later I head to Mill Road to stock up on Asian goodies such as noodles and lychee puddings, then spend the next few hours revising for my Wednesday mock. In the evening I make a nasi lemak (classic Malay dish) with my Malaysian housemate and her boyfriend, and it tastes so good that I get all nostalgic for Petaling Jaya.

Tuesday: I cycle to the department and hand in my dissertation (!) Then it's time for my start-of-term meeting with my Director of Studies, in which I have my customary freak-out and chat about exam preparation. After lunch I head up Castle Hill to see the doctor and sign in at college, then spend the late afternoon and evening in the library doing more mock revision. During this work session I listen to Clean Bandit's new single, Extraordinary, about ten times on repeat, and try not to let anyone else in the library see my dancing. A has been playing it on the piano a lot lately because he's accompanying the singer, Sharna Bass, in an acoustic session on the 29th, so it's now firmly stuck in my head. It's already got over a million hits on YouTube and I'm pretty sure it's going to be the song of my summer. 

Wednesday: Spend the morning doing some practice questions and plans. Wander over to Newnham College to sit my mock, enjoying the Backs. Afterwards, I head to Caffé Nero for some post-mock sustenance and to go over some lecture notes from last term. I don't last long though because I'm so exhausted from the three-hour mock, which worries me, as in May I have five three-hour exams, and unfortunately four of them are spread across two days. Can I write for six hours solid? Twice?! When I get home I make a bowl of noodles with egg and spinach and let myself unwind by catching up on the new season of Game of Thrones. Feel in hindsight of episode two that it isn't quite the best choice of unwinding material - Purple Wedding anyone?

The Fighting Témeraire, by J.M.W. Turner, 1838
Thursday: I attend a six-hour revision seminar on British Painting (1720-1820) at the department, led by my Michaelmas term supervisor. Feel a bit scared at the volume of images and information I've got to know in less than a month. Drink three cups of Lady Grey (my work tea of choice!) over the course of the day to get me in a working mood.

Image source
Friday: One of my best friends and housemates is rushed to hospital with a kidney infection so I spend most of my day in Addenbrooke's with her. Work a little bit in the evening but my mind is on my friend, so I don't work very well. I empty my brain by watching the first episode of the new season of Orphan Black, a TV show I discovered last year and love.

Saturday: I go for lunch with my friend Anna at Michaelhouse Café. I choose a very tasty quiche with three types of salad and gobble it down too quickly to photograph it! We then head to Starbucks to revise until 6.30 PM. I unwillingly try another green juice - this time by Innocent. Sadly my tastebuds still aren't won round but it feels better than drinking pure fruit juice. See above for a pic of said juice and my revision notes - a typical vignette in exam term. A arrives from London.

The horror.
Sunday: I spend the day working on lecture notes about Hogarth and Reynolds, taking a trip to see my friend in hospital in the afternoon. I spot this terrifyingly colourful, giant fungus in a tree. I could never, ever become a mycologist - mushrooms are too creepy unless they're safely in a nice risotto! They make me think of the 'morel', the sentient fungus in Brian Aldiss' Hothouse. Later A takes me out for dinner at Côte and I order a delicious sirloin steak, green beans and a créme brûlée for pudding. I'm always so pleasantly surprised by Côte - like Byron, they never let me down!

Monday: A and I grab flat whites and pastries from the legendary Fitzbillies on our way to the University Library. Unfortunately the wifi isn't working properly in the UL so we decamp to EAT. I love working there - the upstairs level is always filled with light, there's strong wifi and lots of plug sockets! Oh, and it's usually empty *misanthropic chuckles* Over the course of four hours I transcribe five weeks' worth of lecture notes and add about a hundred images to a Word Doc repository for my visual exams. Pinterest comes in surprisingly useful for memorising images - who says social media can't help with revision? I receive a very exciting tweet from the beautiful Lucy from Fashion Me Now informing me that I've won her Flannels giveaway, including a Kindle, a Kindle case, summery beauty products and a £50 Flannels voucher. I never win anything, so this news absolutely makes my day and I don't stop smiling for the rest of the afternoon. Best work motivation ever! In the evening, A and I cook a creamy courgette pasta (recipe from BBC GoodFood - mmm!) and watch Kevin McCloud's new programme, Kevin's Supersized Salvage. It's about taking a decommissioned jumbo jet and upcycling every single part to avoid landfill horrors. The end products are really cool and it's making me think twice about how much I waste. 

So that's a typical week in finals term, featuring lots of TV and food. I can't wait to show you all May Week - it's far more photogenic!

Have a productive week! I'll leave you with some links for your Wednesday.

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Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

Many moons ago, I came across the crowdfunding video for Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium. I'd heard about the numerous neko cafés in Japan (not the ones where girls dress up like cats in Akihabara - cafes with actual cats!) but never thought they'd come to London.

Of course, when crowdfunding concept became reality, I had to go.

I booked A and I in within the first few days of the site going live, almost spazzing out with excitement. I wasn't at the level where I was crying because I wanted to pet all the cats, but I was pretty darn close.

Lady Dinah's is a short walk from Shoreditch High St and Brick Lane. We arrived a little bit early for our slot, so we milled around Brick Lane eyeing up the street art and vintage shops in the sunshine. 

When we entered the café, we were ushered to the back to wash our hands and to hear the golden rules for Cat Café visitors. No petting cats while they're resting, no picking them up, no letting them eat your food!

The design of the place is very cool. It's the cats' home and is essentially a cat paradise. There's little steps built into the walls for them to pad around, a cat palace with lots of little hidey holes, a hammock, and lots of comfy sofas to laze about on. If I were a cat, I'd want to live there for sure!

Sadly, I've never owned a cat so my only experience with them is petting them at my friends' houses or in the street. These ones were quite different to the 'house cats' I've come into contact with. Some reluctantly allowed us to pet them, but others were very slippery and aloof.

Despite A's best efforts, the kitties seemed to be more interested in playing with boxes, Maru-style, than with us humans.

I assume that the cats are very used to humans because of the volume of customers that go in and out of the café every day (and therefore aren't interested in us at all!) We didn't mind, though, as they were super cute to look at, and I didn't want to disturb them too much. They just made me want my own cat! Also, I'd been distracted from the lack of cuddling by the tempting tea menus...

We ordered a pot of English Breakfast to share and a big slice of red velvet. I wasn't expecting much as I thought the focus in the café would be on the cats rather than the food and drink, but was pleasantly surprised. In the past when I've tried red velvet it's been quite synthetic or dry, and not tasting very chocolatey, but Lady Dinah's red velvet was layered with delicious cream cheese frosting and was very moist and chocolatey. Plus, it came with fresh strawberries, which turned out to be an ideal combo. Yum!

After tea, the cats decided it was naptime.

I was feeling a bit sleepy myself (and in need of food) so A and I headed down to Brick Lane to grab some lunch from the famous Beigel Bake.

A ordered the hot salt beef and I ordered a smoked salmon and cream cheese.

Beigel Bake's bagels are legendary, but I wasn't too enamoured with mine. I thought it was fairly dry and could have done with a bit more filling to make it more tasty. Then again, that was probably my fault for not ordering the salt beef. I had a bite of A's and it was hot, mustardy, salty...in a word, delicious. 

The boy clearly thought so too.

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium is located on Bethnal Green Road in Shoreditch.

You can prebook through their website, though apparently they're fully booked until June!

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Dissertation Binding and Dino Chocolate

I'm very happy today. Why? Well, because yesterday, I went to Tottenham Court Road to get a certain text printed and bound.

That's right! After weeks - months - of griping and grumping, my undergraduate dissertation is finally finished! I've sworn I won't look at it at all now - I like to think it's been bound and gagged. I actually had a nightmare last night where I agonised over writing 8,139 words instead of a nice round 8,140 (yup, my subconscious is that lame). Must remember that it's out of my hands now.

Sadly I'm not in much of a celebratory mood despite having finished, as I now have to throw everything I have into revising for my exams, which are a fingernail-biting mere six weeks away. While these will be the fourth set of examinations I've taken at Cambridge, they're the only ones that actually count towards my degree. Faaaantastic. So I've even asked A to change my Facebook password. Desperate times, desperate measures. With that in mind, I probably won't be able to devote the time to blogging more than once a week for now. I know it was very silly to start a blog in the middle of finals...But hopefully from June onwards I'll be back to my adventurous ways.

Here's a couple of lovely links that were thwarted from appearing in a Clickable Adventures post due to binding-related preoccupations.

I also wanted to wish everyone a happy Easter, Passover (or just a plain old happy weekend!) I was lucky enough to receive a Jurassic-themed Easter chocolate this year from best friend Jess (c/o Choccywoccydoodah). A and I have eaten his tail and many of his Smartie scales and think he's great. I was incrediblymildly obsessed with dinosaurs when I was little. My life ambition aged seven was to be a palaeontologist and my favourite thing in the world was the Diplodocus cast in the Natural History Museum foyer. I was so dino-crazy that I managed to ruin my parents' manicured little garden one soggy day by digging a load of mud up and crafting several piles of Jurassic Park-style, erm, excrement. Parents were not best pleased. Anyway. Fifteen years later, diplodocid-shaped chocolate still presses my buttons. Jess clearly knows me well! <3

Congratulations to everyone else who's finished dissertations this week, and lots of love to those still agonising over theirs. It's a long hard road, but you're so nearly there! If you're still working on yours, let me offer you a piece of advice that my mum came up with earlier this month. Think of your dissertation as a house. If you're still in note/research stage just start putting together the foundations - lay down the floorboards, construct the walls, get the windows put in. Once that's done you can start to prettify and worry about the details. You can plaster and paint those walls, put in some light fittings and carpeting, furnish the place, and clean up. It might seem unfathomable but my thousands of notes finally came together into a dissertation after months of stress, and so can yours! The moment you see the final product in front of you, printed and bound with a lovely shiny cover, is a very special one indeed.

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Regent's Park

On Sunday, I was itching to get out of the house.

I finished off my dissertation draft in the early afternoon, (that's right folks, I'm finally at the end of the diss road!) pinged it through to my Director of Studies, grabbed a pair of sunglasses and headed out with A to catch some rays.

It was the day of the London Marathon so we knew the centre of town would be swamped. I had three very simple priorities: a green space, some lunch, and some time to read a non-academic book. A had one: ice cream.

We're very fond of Regent's Park after having one of our first dates at London Zoo (it was a good one - I pointed at everything and got very excited) so decided to catch the tube there.

We picked up a Pret lunch from Great Portland Street. I had crayfish and rocket sandwiches, a blueberry probiotic yoghurt drink and some kale crisps. All solid choices. Then we sprawled out on the grass to munch our lunch with some good books. I was reading Shift, the sequel to Wool, which I loved. There were some more fantastic twists in the follow-up, and I now can't wait for exams to be over so I can finish the trilogy with Dust! Read more about the books on my TBR list after I've finished my exams here.

After lunch we had a little stroll around to walk off our sandwiches. Regent's Park really is gorgeously planned out - it was constructed in the 1860s and really reminds me of the Jardins des Tuileries in Paris, which would have been designed and implemented at roughly the same time. It's got similarly long, sweeping tree-lined boulevards and beautiful fountains.

I may have had an immature giggle at the shape of some of the manicured topiaries.

A cute squirrel decided to pose for me.

We walked all the way over to the far side of the park, stopping to admire a cool sculpture of a big cat and his female companion about to pounce.

A and I couldn't resist a bit of pounce-posing ourselves.

They sold ice-cream tubs in the park, but A was really after a cone. We hightailed it back to Queen's Park, found the nearest ice-cream van and got a 99p cone each! With all the trimmings. So nostalgic. (See Instagram shot below, in which I am clearly too thrilled with my cone to care about my makeup smearing all over my eyes). Hey - we may be in our 20s now, but we're still kids at heart.


Light Cobb Salad

This is a salad for people who just can't get excited about veggies.

Let me sell it to you...It's got cheese and bacon in it. Yeah, that's right. Actually I'd say it's a bit of a cheat salad - the tasty, non-green elements pretty much outweigh the actual veg!

I was singing the praises of Byron Burgers' Classic Cobb Salad in my Mini Adventures post the other week. I've been craving another plate of it so much that I decided to recreate it - and what I made ended up being a pared-down version that was a bit lighter, but still delicious!

Here's what you'll need.

Two gem heart lettuces

Two avocados

2 eggs, hard boiled and shelled

Pancetta (fried)

Blue cheese

This recipe is only loosely based on the Byron salad, which also features raw spinach, diced tomatoes and cucumbers and grilled chicken in it, before anyone says that this just ain't how you do a Cobb Salad. I just used what I had in the kitchen. You've gotta work with what you've got. Though I would have liked to have some tomatoes in this!

Chop up your lettuce and lay it on a large plate.

Slice all the rest of your ingredients into small cubes and arrange in rows on top of the lettuce.


That's it! Super easy, isn't it? As long as you've prepped your eggs and pancetta, all you'll have to do is assemble everything. The Byron version had tons of bacon and blue cheese on it as well as a creamy vinaigrette, but I held back on all of these. I used just half a small packet of pancetta and a quarter of a pack of blue cheese to give the rest of the veggies some flavour, and sprinkled some olive oil over the top instead of making a mustard-based dressing. Much healthier and easier on the wallet (the Byron salad retails at £10.75, whereas this salad cost about £4 to make). The beauty of salads is that you can play around with quantities and ingredients. This recipe will serve one person as a main or two people as an accompaniment to lunch or dinner - A and I shared it alongside two steaming bowls of carrot and coriander soup.

I reckon this one is best eaten alfresco in the spring sun!

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Mini Adventures #5

So. I've clearly been eating my stresses this week. (Kummerspeck, anyone?) Over half of my mini adventures are food-related! Pretty sure it's A's bad influence - he's come to stay with me for a couple of weeks and, being a sweet-toothed male, loves to eat at least one pudding a day. I weighed myself on Wednesday and I'm hovering around the top end of what I would consider to be my average weight range, so I might need to cut down on those puddings pretty darn soon...:P

Here's what I've been loving this week.

1) Digging into a box of Pierre Marcolini Palets Fins chocolates. Part of the joy of these chocolates is how beautifully designed they are. That typography is gorgeous, plus they're so thin that they snap in half with one bite. They only have a small amount of filling in them too, so you won't feel like a total pig if you only have one at a time. (Yup...I'm in denial). My favourites have been the Praliné Pistache Noisette and the Caramel Mangue. 
2) Watching Monkey Planet - a new BBC 3-part documentary about primates that A and I have become a wee bit obsessed with. It's amazing how closely related we are to primates. My favourite moments so far have been the scene where an orangutan mimics humans having a wash by soaping up next to a river, and the part in the second episode where presenter George McGavin (who is GREAT) uses his iPhone to demonstrate how some species of monkeys have established a proto-language. We've been snuggling down to watch it on iPlayer on Thursday evenings, and I fear I'm going to be bereft without it when it ends this Thursday...

3) Ordering pizzas late at night from Sacro Cuore, my favourite local pizza place down in Queen's Park. It's had some bad reviews regarding its customer service but I've never experienced that as I always order and pick up. Besides, the pizzas themselves are deliziose and that's all I care about! Tartufata, my pizza of choice every time I order, is the absolute bomb. 

4) Seeing the blossoms shedding on the streets. It's like walking through a Japanese anime in Queen's Park right now; pink blossom petals fall gently to the ground in the spring breeze to swirl around your feet in little eddies. I hope that was a sufficiently gagworthy description. Seriously, though, if I could get married in a grove of blossoms in the spring (somewhere warm) with petals falling all around me I totally would.

5) Trying Gü's new After Dark pots - 'Gü York Cheesecakes'! So tasty, and they were on offer. Just one of many puddings that has disappeared into my tummy this week. My life is wild, I know.

6) Hanging out at A's grandparents' place in south-east London. Their garden is so pretty, with a winding path that leads to a little semi-wooded area of bluebells. We had fun picking bay leaves for future Italian-inspired recipes and sitting in the sunshine.

7) Working chez Gail's Kitchen in Bloomsbury. I love Gail's - all the pastries are wonderful as they taste home-cooked, and they have a fair few branches around London now (including one on my doorstep in Queen's Park). For lunch I had a juicy sausage roll with tomato sauce...and then a slice of their incredible carrot cake. Ok, I have no one to blame for my pudding addiction but myself.

8) Wearing a panoply of jumpers. My house is so cold at the moment, even when it's warm and sunny outside! Walking out of the house is literally like transitioning from the dead of winter to spring. Ok so maybe this isn't the most adventuresome of the things I've done this week, but it means I'm getting an extra bit of use out of all the jumpers I'm going to have to pack away soon! (Who am I kidding...jumpers come in useful all year round in good old Blighty). This one's a favourite, bought from Topshop last autumn. And yes, although it's mercifully over-exposed, I am makeupless in this selfie. I wear very, very little makeup, if any, when it's dissertation/revision o'clock. And frankly the hair is lucky if it gets brushed.

8) Counterbalancing all that pudding eating with some healthy smoothies! Ok, maybe not totally healthy. I know drinking smoothies and juice is basically like pouring sugar down your throat. But the two I drank this week kept me hydrated, and had a few 'super' ingredients in them too, so they were hopefully better than nothing! I had a Bliss Blend from Crussh - a tasty blend of coconut, mango, pineapple and orange, 98% fat-free probiotic yoghurt and their 'bliss blend booster', a mix of vitamins and amino acids that's supposed to activate mood-improving endorphins and relax the body. I also tried out the new 'ENERGISE' drink from the Innocent Super Smoothie range. It's got guarana and flax seeds in it alongside strawberries, cherries and apple. There are much healthier green smoothies available from both Crussh and Innocent, but I clearly wasn't feeling virtuous enough this week. Clearly. Erm...maybe after exams I'll do a big detox?

A lot of these photos go straight on to my Instagram, which you can follow below if you wish to see more of my gluttonous escapades!