In Defense of the (Holiday) I Love

Valentines Day is the least popular holiday to publicly like. Sure, celebrate in private if you must- but for the sake of everyone around you, opt for a cynical and eye-rolling attitude of February 14.

The thing is... I LOVE this day. And this isn't coming from a girl who has spent her life showered with chocolates and serenades by suitors every Valentines. It's from a dorky girl who never had a boyfriend and now is thankful for a quiet pub dinner out with her husband to celebrate.

But the reason I love Valentine's Day is that is pushes me to say how much I love people around me. My husband, my kids, my friends.... and no matter how that is displayed (from cards to cupcakes), it feels good to indulge in the sweetness of caring- and being cared for- by others around you. 

My parents always included us in their Valetines Day celebrations... from my mom's heart shaped meatloaf to my dad buying all of his daughters flowers. We were included and felt so loved. I love sharing that inclusion with our kids now, too.

So I say... bring on the red velvet cake and chocolates. I'm happy to spend the day with a shower of glitter and cheesiness enjoying the people I love.

And you know... a few flowers around the house don't hurt either. Even if you *cough* might have bought them for yourself. 

Happy Valentine's Day! I love this blogging community and the friends I've made through being here. I hope you all feel valued and appreciated today!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on February 14, 2017 and filed under holiday, kids, family, marriage.

My Dallas | Del's Charcoal Burgers

The list of places we "must" eat at when we visit the States has, over the years, dwindled. The few places that remain are the places that ooze Americana and , to us, can't be replicated wherever else we may travel around the world. This list includes great Tex-Mex, old-fashioned cake donuts, and greasy drive-ins with chili dogs, tater tots and homemade root beer.

And when I'm in Dallas, my favorite spot to get classic burgers and frosty mugs of root beer is definitely Del's. 

Del's is about ten minutes away from my parents and near to the church I grew up going to. With its ancient Texas decor and setting in downtown Richardson, it feels so much like my childhood. Going to eat there is more than just a guilty pleasure- it's a trip down memory lane.

Plus, the prices are a little out-dated- so you'll feel like you really might be eating in the early 90's.

Don't try and make this experience more than it needs to be- stick to the classics like chili dogs, grilled cheese, onion rings and the like.

And I can never resist any place that makes their own root beer... especially when you can make it a root beer float with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream for $2.45.

Hop on over to Del's and you'll get a taste of one of my favourite Dallas bites!

Del's Charcoal Burgers | 110 S McKinney St, Richardson, TX 75081



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 27, 2017 and filed under eat, dallas, travel.

Pack Your Bags | Denver, Colorado

If you ever want to quickly educate your urban-raised, public transport-riding children on what life in America with a car is really like, strap them in car seats and keep them in the car for 15 hours as you drive from Dallas to Denver.

You'll most likely experience some screaming, chants of "Get me outta here!" and slow- rising mountains of trash from snack wrappers that you would have never dreamed possible... 

But there are perks to such extreme trips- like stopping along the way in cute towns, having Chick-fil-A more often than appropriate to admit and saving the $$$$ that it would have cost you to fly.

We spent a bit over a week in Denver with Tyler's sister and family for New Years. While, as you know, much of the time you have with family is predestined and arranged long before your arrival- we did manage to sneak a few extras into the week and get a really good feel for the city. 

A big thanks to everyone who kindly suggested places to go/see/try while we were in town. And thanks for the kind welcome to Denver- it's a great place and we love it more every time we are there.


DENVER BISCUIT COMPANY  | This spot was recommended by SO many people that we couldn't ignore it. Thank goodness we went, because it lived up to everything we had heard. Try the Franklin for our favourite: fried chicken, bacon and gravy on an enormous biscuit. If you order one of their cinnamon rolls to start (because you really should), you can easily share the sandwich between two of you. But I won't judge you if you each want your own.

VOODOO DOUGHNUTS | This "eclectic" donut shop hails from Portland, but their location in Denver seems to share the same magic. Open 24/7- Voodoo succeeds at making really great classic donuts (the chocolate glazed is outstanding) and some quirky new options. This shop should be rated PG-13, so just know that with young kids you'll either get some questions or you can leave them in the car with dad when you run in.... which may work best as parking is non-existent around the shop.

CART DRIVER | Head to this cool spot for really good pizza. Thin crust, a healthy mix of normal toppings with hip toppings like kale and it's friends. Booths are tiny, so best for date night or lunch with one (maybe two) smaller kid(s). Dress hip here. Even though it's relaxed, the crowd is cool.
 

TABLES | We went to an adults-only dinner here one evening and it was really great. This place marries all the qualities you want in a night out: cosy interiors, a menu that uses approachable ingredients to do yummy new things and a kind wait staff. The food was delicious (goat cheese, apple & fennel salad) and don't miss the skillet cinnamon roll with ice cream for dessert. Oof!
 

ACE | Ping pong tables. Great Asian food. Cool decor. Family friendly, but best for suited for tinier tots at lunch or early dinner. The name sums it up- all around Ace.
 

STEUBENS | This is the sister restaurant to Ace and while the menu and decor are different- you'll find a familiar coolness that runs between both places. The menu at Steubens is all around solid: fresh sandwiches, smart salads, soups,  fish and daily specials that will pique your interest. The bar is pretty, too. We went for lunch and the Philly cheesesteak was enormous and everything I wanted. Also, you'll find no finer a kids meal in all the land than at both Ace or Steubens.

LINGER | The first thing you should know (and that people will tell you) is that Linger is on the site of an old mortuary. The next thing you need to know is that it's really good. We went here as a group and each ordered a couple of items to share with the table, as the menu lends itself to smaller tapas-sized plates from a variety of categories and flavours. The food is delicious, the experience is unique and the view of Denver from the rooftop is perfect. A fun date spot or place to go with a small group. Reservations recommended.
 

SNOOZE | While the lines can be seriously awful for a table, the menu is really fanstastic for breakfast. With great eggs and creative pancakes (pineapple upside down, please) and mugs of coffee- you'll be happy you stuck out with the wait once you have a seat!

BROWN PALACE AFTERNOON TEA | When we are back in the States, somehow afternoon tea often ends up being on the itinerary. Fine by me! But to be candid, most of them are... well, rubbish. I wasn't expecting much from this afternoon out- besides good company- but was really pleased with the tea. The hotel is a historic gem in Downtown Denver and the afternoon tea is actually like one you might have in England. The tea blends are strong, the scones are the right crumble and, if you ask, you can even get a second plate of sandwiches when you finish the first.

LITTLE MAN ICE CREAM | While the line can be daunting, trust that it exists for a good reason. The portions are small, so a single will be surprisingly huge. Solid standby flavours like salted Oreo aren't too be missed,   But don't shy away from the seasonal gems like the summery Peach Cobbler.


Reader Recommendations 

While we didn't get to try all the great places you'd told us about, here are a few that sounded especially tasty. 

@lhwellsy: "...eat at Cho 77! My fav!"

@dirtymartinidiaries: "As a born and raised Boulder girl, one of my favourite foods on the planet is the breakfast burrito from any of the Santiago's mexi restaurants. Their chain started in my town and they are heaven on earth."

@rs_wing: "Breckinridge Brewery is a really neat atmosphere and friendly with children. The one in Littleton is farm style with a huge fire pit, bocce ball, horseshoes...  I always get the fried chicken salad and the apple pie skillet for dessert."

@katiekloberdanz: "I have tons! ... Snooze for pancakes, Voodoo Donuts, Benny's for green chile rellanos, Lola for tableside guac..."



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 11, 2017 and filed under denver, travel, drink, eat, pack your bags.

Virtuous (and Easy) Leftover Turkey & Barley Soup

There's a common consensus that turkey leftovers are one of the greatest gifts of the holiday season. To be honest, I'm very happy to have one big plate of Christmas dinner and wait until the next year. (Leftover pies, however, are different.)

I like to use our leftovers to make something that feels a bit different... but doesn't require another trip to the grocery store.

After Thanksgiving, my mom & I put together this light soup that only required what we had on hand. The overall effort was minimal and the end result was really tasty. Plus, the barley seems to add a new texture and taste that shifts the dish from feeling like a recycled Christmas dinner... even if that is exactly what it is.

This recipe teams up with Denby's Invention Test to win some Denby cookware and product (!!!), so consider this one-pot recipe my official "Inventions Test" challenge recipe using my Christmas left-overs.


TURKEY & BARLEY SOUP

Serves 6

- 2 cups leftover turkey (or chicken), chopped or shredded
- 1 diced onion
- 5 large carrots, roughly chopped
- 3 parsnips, roughly chopped
- 5 celery stalks, chopped
- 1/2 cup leftover gravy, chicken stock
- 1/2 cup pearl barley
- marjoram
- thyme
- basil (dried)
- salt & pepper
-1 T gravy granules, *optional

In a large pot, cook onion in some butter or oil. 

When the onions are translucent, add carrots, parsnips, & celery

Cover with lid and let cook for 5-6 minutes until softened.

Add turkey and stir.

Add leftover gravy, if you have it to the pan. Add 1L of water. (If you don't have gravy, add stock or cube here and top up with water.)

Add pearl barley and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Before serving when I didn't have leftover gravy, I sprinkled some gravy granules in the soup to up the flavour a bit and it was really nice. You won't need too much though, just one tablespoon should do the trick!

Serve with crusty bread and butter.


We don't have a microwave, so I really rely on these cast-iron pots to move things to/from the oven to table- as they heat up really quickly and keep the food really hot once it's on the table. I used a piece from Denby's cast-iron range that I use for easy weeknight meals or fancier, slow-cooked recipes. I find it easy to work with and difficult to let me make mistakes. ;) 

If you're up for a chance to win some Denby product (and some friendly competition!), head to @DenbyPottery on Instagram or Facebook and take part in the "Invention Test" by sharing your one-pot recipe ideas using #DenbyCastIron and #DenbyOvenware. 


Looking for more ideas for dinner? Check out some of my most popular recipes: 

Honey Pecan Salmon | Champagne Risotto | Garlicky Mushroom Bruschetta



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post is sponsored by Denby, but recipe and opinions are original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 24, 2016 and filed under eat, holiday, recipe.

"Nollaig Shona" from Galway, Ireland

No matter where you're from, Christmas just feels especially right there. I have grand visions of Dallas at Christmastime in a way that makes no logical sense-as we didn't have snow, cultured outings to make annual traditions of like the Rockettes, or any distinguishing factor besides it being home. (And as they say, there's no place like it at the holidays.) 

But sometimes you stumble upon a place that feels perfect- like you've walked into a real Christmas card. And while it may not be your home, it's easy to imagine why someone would be proud to call it theirs.  

That's how I felt when we arrived in the cheerful coastal Irish town of Galway a few weeks ago. The brightly coloured houses all sparked with Christmas cheer as shop owners mingled outside chatting to each other and hung decorations and painted Christmas scenes on the glass panes of their windows.

Sparkly lights twinkled "Nollaig Shona" across the street- wishing those who walked below a Merry Christmas in Gaelic.

So while I'm not sending out Christmas cards this year- I hope you can enjoy this Christmas card-esque view of this special town.

Find more of my posts on Ireland here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 22, 2016 and filed under travel, ireland, holiday, get out of town.

Peggy Porschen | A Piece of Cake

I toyed with the idea of hosting a Christmas party for our friends, but it started getting complicated and ended up feeling like showing up would be more a gift my friends gave me rather than a night to take care of them. So I scratched it, and instead ended up with a few solo dates with friends to celebrate Christmas with them before the big day.

Instead of gifts, they've ended up being dates with friends (or couples we love), and I have to say- I think this may become a new tradition. Because who wouldn't rather have a sweet afternoon with a friend instead of another candle? 

For my date with Amber, we wanted to do something pretty that we normally can't do with little ones in tow. So we headed for Chelsea in an uber- which normally takes way too long to reach via public transport with strollers- and went straight to the pink mecca of sweets, Peggy Porschen.

We ordered a round of cupcakes (salted caramel which has a caramel filling that's rich like Christmas toffee), an unrealistically perfect wedge of Victoria Sponge, jasmine tea & the cutest cappuccino this side of Buckingham Palace.

The place is sweet and tiny- definitely not one you can always count on getting a table at. (It's constantly flowing with well-heeled Instagrammers and their obliging boyfriends.) If the weather is nice, you can also grab a cosy table outside offering a view of one of the prettiest corners in London.

After we went to Peggy Porschen, we walked to Sloane Square- about ten minutes away- and then down the Kings Road. We listened to the Salvation Army band playing outside Peter Jones, tried on shoes on sale at half-price in LK Bennett, peeked at the glam crowd in The Ivy, and eventually ended up in a nail salon getting pedicures.

Soon after, the clock struck midnight (or 6:00pm) and we had to dash home back to life as we knew it.

We hugged each other goodbye, wished each other Merry Christmas and thanked each other for being a great friend to the other in the past year- which really is the most precious gift someone can give.

It really must mean I'm getting older and more boring when I can't think of anything I "want" for Christmas... but on nights like that, I realise I have more than I need.

Peggy Porschen | 116 Ebury St, Belgravia, London SWIW 9QQ


It's hard not to be in a place like Peggy Porschen and not get sweeped up in the Candyland cuteness! Here are a few items inspired by our day out.
 

One | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | TEN



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Anthropologie Gift Guide 2016

For me, there's an undeniable nostalgia and excitement that comes from walking into a mall at Christmas time with a list of presents to buy. I remember as a kid, we would all head to the mall and split up in groups to take care of finding everything on our list. I'd always have to be talked down from buying my mom a bejewelled brooch from the ladies section of Dillard's- thanks, dad- and would spend a while wandering around until I found a less obnoxious alternative. After a successful find, our little group would run bags out to the car and throw blankets over them to keep them hidden.

Running around together with Christmas carols playing, sales clerks in Santa Hats and the endless lines for Santa and Starbucks wrapping down the halls- it all added up to a moment that really only came at Christmas and signalled that we were just a few days away from Christmas!

While I love dashing around the high street in England for shopping these days, I loved going up to Brent Cross and wandering around inside the cosy mall in its Christmas hustle. It just felt like how Christmas should be.

I went up to see the new Anthropologie that opened this month. Needless to say, the combo of Anthropologie styling and holiday decor made it feel like I'd walked on to a movie set. (How do they always do that?)

They asked me to pick my ten favourite items for holidays gifts… which was no hard task! The only hard part was trying to find gifts for people other than myself. :)

ONE  | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | TEN

But really, this was the tip of the iceberg of what they have in store. While online might save time, you really need to make a day out of it and head to Brent Cross for a real Christmas shopping day.


Do you have fun memories of Christmas shopping? Or better yet- have you ever been a crazy Black Friday shopper? (I haven't ever been in person- just online!)



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 5, 2016 and filed under shopping, holiday, home style.

A Field Guide to British Christmas Dining

If you're new to England this Christmas, have found yourself visiting family in the U.K. or are simply looking to decode some terms from your favourite British Christmas movies, use this handy guide to help you navigate your way around the Christmas dinner table like a local.

1. CHRISTMAS PUDDING | The Christmas Pudding is the queen of all Christmas desserts- though, confusing to Americans- it's not a "pudding" like you may think of in all it's Bill Cosby-piano-playing glory. Pudding refers to dessert here, so this is a cake that has dried fruits and is soaked for months in booze. It is covered in some sort of cream and then, for dramatic effect, lit on fire when served. 

2. MINCE PIE | A Mince Pie. Not a "Mince Meat Pie," because meat in this pie is disgusting. Even if my Southern grandfather may have loved it- something about the idea of meat in a pie always made me gag. Now that I eat (too regularly) the real mince pies, the idea of meat in it really makes me shudder. A classic mince pie is nearly bite-size and full of dried fruits and spices. They're best served warm, in quantity of 2-3, and alongside a big mug of tea. These appear in every store in late October, are eaten by the millions in the lead up to and on Christmas, and then magically disappear from existence by the start of the New Year. 

3. BRANDY BUTTER
 | This is the aforementioned cream that is poured on top of Christmas puddings- but, as the name may imply, has brandy worked into it. Typically, the final product is served alongside a glass of brandy. 

4. TRIFLE | There isn't one specific recipe for a trifle, but assume it will come from a general pool of ingredients including: fruit, whipped cream, jell-o (or "jelly" as it's called here) sponge fingers and sherry. Imagine it layered up in bright layers and served in a big glass bowl to show off each layer.

5. GOOSE-FAT POTATOES | While much of the British Christmas dinner seems similar to a US Thanksgiving- they skip mashed potatoes and roast theirs in chunks in a pool of goose-fat. The result is a crunchy, golden potato that resembles a hoof more than a vegetable. It's the perfect consistency for absorbing gravy.

6. PIGS IN A BLANKET | These aren't the same crescent roll stuffed hot dogs you might be thinking of... but they are slightly similar. Small sausages ("chipolatas") are wrapped in bacon ("streaky"- just like us Americans like it) and roasted. These are served alongside the turkey to add saltiness to, what some consider, a bland meat. These are often also served as nibbles in the holiday season.

7. WASSAIL | This warm holiday beverage can either be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. The non-alcoholic will typically be a version similar to our cider. (Though ordering a "cider" will get you a cold, alcoholic beverage- so beware!) It can also be mulled wine which is wine that is cooked over the stove and, often, has fruits, cinnamon sticks and other spices added to it. It's for sale in most pubs and passed at most holiday events.

8. CHRISTMAS CRACKER | This isn't a pretty tin of saltines that is passed around- a Christmas cracker will sit on the the place setting of each guest. At some point in the meal (often debated as when the official time is- though I prefer sometime around the arrival of the main course!), these will be cracked with a loud bang, and everyone will then rifle through the insides of their cracker and share their findings with the table. The standard lineup of contents include: a paper crown (mandatory to wear), a silly joke that everyone loves to groan at, and a cheap toy or gift.

9. BREAD SAUCE | This is a sauce not for bread- but made of bread. It's really thick and clumpy, but it actually goes really well with roast chicken or turkey. Combined with cranberry sauce- it's definitely worth trying.


After you've made it through the meal, pat yourself on the back and get ready to cozy in for the Queen's Christmas address which broadcast every year on Christmas Day. The Queen will discuss the year gone by and it, somehow, makes the day feel perfect. (Even if you do quietly chat through the whole thing with your sister.)


Spending the holidays in England? Find my travel guide to London here and my guide to London with kids at Christmas here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 1, 2016 and filed under eat, drink, holiday, london, life as an expat.

Little London | Christmas (with Kids!) in London

In travel consults, I'm often asked if coming to Europe at Christmas is a bad idea. My answer is- most always- not at all! Christmas in Europe feels so magical. You simply can't beat the charm of a German Christmas market, sipping chocolat chair from a tiny cafe after shopping in Paris, or being absorbed into the grandeur of a carol service held in a candle-lit Westminster Abbey.

While so many destinations in Europe are steeped in various traditions, I'm biased to the way that London celebrates Christmas. It's a style that would make Dickens proud and Hugh Grant smile. In a big way, the city embraces the "festive season" and splashes out weeks of fun, holiday events full of the quirky items you've heard of in movies and books: mince pies served with mulled wine, nativity plays, potatoes roasted in goose fat, Santa's Grotto, and of course- the Christmas pudding.


You'll find no other time of the year to have so many great options for kids, either. Days out for families are all just waiting to be enjoyed during the run up to Christmas. I've put together a list of my favourites- the ones we share with our own kids and make into a yearly tradition.

CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING CEREMONIES | Each year, the major areas of town will have tree lighting ceremonies in early November to kick off the season. The bigger areas will often have celebrity performances and tons of festive fun. The largest ones are typically around Oxford Circus and Regent Street.


HYDE PARK WINTER WONDERLAND | This is our family's favourite Christmas tradition- Tyler & I have gone every year since we moved to England! Set up in Hyde Park (on the East side- between Hyde Park Corner & Marble Arch), is Winter Wonderland. Think of a State Fair and a German Christmas market having a baby. A really big baby. Entrance is free, but rides aren't. (You pay with tokens purchased in endless kiosks in the park.) Food is paid for in cash and most stalls now accept credit cards.

Come early in the day with kids to avoid the really long lines... and come hungry! There are so many great stalls and things to do- you're going to be glad you have room to eat.


FESTIVE AFTERNOON TEAS | At Christmas, tea rooms around London will swap out their regular afternoon tea menus for a Festive Tea. These teas are afternoon teas with a Christmas twist. Expect to get all the standard items like tea, scones and sandwiches:.. just with some seasonal items tucked in to the menu: turkey and cranberry sandwiches, mince pies and miniature Christmas puddings... and most will have a sweet children's version, too.

This is one of my favourite things to do in London with a little girl at Christmas, as it typically involves dressing up and strolling through picturesque streets for window shopping when you've finished.

CAROL SERVICE AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY | In the Advent Season, most of the churches will have carol services. We like to take guests to Westminster Abbey for their big one on Christmas Eve when we can get tickets. The service on the 24th is ticketed so you'll need to get tickets in advance. Tickets are free, but allocated in advance.

However, they have a few other services which do not require tickets. The full schedule can be found here on the Abbey's website.

ICE SKATING AT THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM | This is a great example of how doing something ordinary can become cooler when it's in a pretty place. Book tickets for ice skating in the courtyard of the Natural History Museum and you'll not only have fun- but some gorgeous photos to look back on.

You don't need to be a good skater to skate- most people there won't be! For the little ones, there are helpful little penguin/standers to push along!

SANTA'S GROTTO AT HARRODS | Again, this needs to be booked- but you can book a special trip to see Santa. When you enter, Santa will be waiting for your child(ren) and will speak to him by name. As they wait to see Santa, the children get to play games and explore his "workshop." It's really sweet and feels very fancy! See our visit here from last year. 

CHRISTMAS CAROLS AT TRAFALGAR SQUARE | This is a great free option for families on a nice day. Throughout the month, various groups and charities will sing carols in Trafalgar Square throughout the day. Take a seat on the steps in front of the National Gallery and enjoy the sounds of Christmas and Big Ben in the backdrop. It's best to bring a warm drink and some mince pies with you, too!


Looking for more ideas of what to do in London? Find my travel guide here or book a travel consult.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
 

Take Your Kew | Our Day Out with Fiat

When I shared about our day out with Fiat, I realized that I actually didn’t really share anything that we did on that day. I mean, in broad strokes, yes… but the actual details of the day were washed over by the bliss of having our own car to get around.

So how about this time around, I give you a bit more detail so that you can craft your own day out in at Kew Gardens, too. (Because I lived here for 6+ years without going, and no one else should wait that long.) We were lucky enough to go with friends who are annual pass holders, so they took us straight to the good stuff. I’ll try to be that friend for you, too, and get you right to what you want to know.


A DAY OUT AT KEW GARDENS | What to expect

 

ALL-NATURAL EATING | If you’re going to head out to Kew, I’d recommend eating there, too. There are so many food options on-site, that you can really make a day of it and have lunch there. We opted for lunch in the Orangery and were so pleased with the gorgeous food being served there. It was hard to resist getting one of everything!

If you’re on a budget or restricted by dietary issues, you could also pack a picnic and sprawl out somewhere on the grass or under a tree, too. Heck, if the weather is nice- it may just be the perfect space to plop your kids with their food and not worry about crumbs and spills.

If nothing else, just promise me that you’ll get a slice of cake and a hot beverage and sit somewhere for a while with a view. You’ll inevitably have some curious things wander your way… whether it is a proud peacock who struts over your way or a over-the-top Englishman decked out in tweed and wellies feeling just as smug.

BEE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE | You definitely don’t want to miss the Hive when you visit Kew. This is an enormous modern structure that was built to mimic a real-life bee hive. The sounds are supposedly based off what a real hive would sound like, if you were a bee. Standing in the middle of it and looking up and down feels amazing. (And I promise, your kids will think it is very cool.)

 

GO GREEN | You’ll definitely want to stop and visit the greenhouses along the property when you visit Kew. Trust me.

Not only are the muggy interiors a nice relief from the chilly weather, but the insides are just stunning. With tropical plants growing up and down the interiors of these historic greenhouses, you can actually visualize what so many of the spices that we daily use start as… and get an aerial view of the greenhouse when venture up the wrought-iron stair cases.


So there you have it… a day out at Kew Gardens. Expect a posh-but-curious crowd and plenty to keep you entertained along the way. I guess you could say the same thing about our ride, too. Getting to check out the Fiat 500 Lounge was seemingly straightforward, but each time we hopped back in the car- we seemed to find something else we liked about it. Whether it was being able to sync our phones up to the Bluetooth in under 30 seconds (seriously- is it ever that easy? Not for me!), quickly folding the rear seats down when we needed to run car seats between our friends house and ours, or just the unexpected amount of leg room we had in the front!

Our friend Reuben expected to feel crammed in the front, but even he was pleasantly surprised by how roomy it was when he drove it! 

So all in all… well, it was a day that packed a punch. It might haves seemed small and insignificant to zoom out of the ordinary weekend routine with Fiat, but it ended up being such a great day. I guess it all comes back to the old adage that good things really do come in small packages.

unnamed-20.jpg


*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post was sponsored by Fiat

Posted on November 24, 2016 and filed under friends, get out of town.

My Notting Hill | Continental Pantry

I used to look for quiet, independent places to work when we lived off Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill. I searched for that magic Bermuda Triangle of productivity where good food, quietness and wifi magically aligned.

I'm sad to say that I could never quite find the right space just out the steps of our flat... until now, when, of course, we no longer live there.

At Continental Pantry, you'll find a small (but mighty!) menu offering light breakfast and lunch items. Don't expect heavy cooked options- no eggs or pancakes- but lighter choices like yogurt, homemade granola and berries or avocado toast buried under tomatoes.

The coffee is good and the quiet room in the back is surprisingly sunlit and very well designed.

The front of the store has dry goods from all over, you guessed it, "the continent." French mustards, Italian meats, and all the other essentials you may need.

And luckily, it's next door to my favourite chocolate shop in London/the galaxy, MELT... so not only can you get a great space for working or meeting a friend, but you've also got the perfect route for picking up one of their popcorn bars (incredible!) on your way home. That may not contribute to the end-goal of productivity... but surely, it can't hurt?

Continental Pantry | 57 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, W11 2AA


Find all of my favourite places in Notting Hill in my travel guide to the neighbourhood here



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

A Day (& Some Knights) With Fiat

Having a family in London gives us access to so many wonderful things-  world class museums, some of the finest eateries, and endless opportunities to experience major events in person (Wimbledon, the Olympics, the Royal Wedding, etc.). Sometimes I think about the things my kids have seen or do on a normal basis, and it blows my mind a bit. What seemed foreign and exotic to me at 25 is everyday life for them before they’ve even started school. London is an incredible place to have a young family in so many ways.

But the truth is, life in the city with kids is also physical in a way that I can’t explain. Every outing comes with the challenge of physically getting us there. Each fun weekend plan comes with nearly equal parts of transport to get us there- which normally results in a cocktail of buses, trains and ubers that is pretty exhausting.

We are finally at the point in life when we crave to get out of the city in free time- hoping for some space to run free and explore with the kids. Just at the same point in time that we’ve been seriously talking about getting a car, Fiat offered us one of their iconic Fiat 500 series cars to drive for a day. We, in all our middle-aged-yuppie delight jumped at the opportunity faster than you can say “Organic flat white” and started scheming up how we would spend our day gliding around without fussy bus drivers or uber drivers crunching on potato chips as they drive you.

We opted for heading to Kew Gardens- which, until this moment, had felt like too much of a hassle. Google Maps has it as an hour away from our home by public transport… or a measly 20 minutes by car!

When our car was dropped off, we all stared out the window at it non-stop. I could hardly get the kids dressed, but finally- we had all our clothes on, tossed some diapers and snacks in a bag, tossed our stroller in the boot (read: “trunk, ” if you’re American) and cheered as our friends pulled up to join us on our day out to Kew.

And then from there? Well, I wish I could give you a monumental break-down of the journey there. but the truth Is, it was just really easy. The kids chattered and sang in the back, I navigated and played DJ, and Tyler drove.

Because we had a car, we suddenly had the best of both worlds- access to an amazing city without the standard hassle of doing them. Plus, when you’re in a cool car like a Fiat 500- getting there becomes a fun part of the adventure, too.

It was tiny enough to squeeze into a small parking space on our street, and yet roomy enough to fit in two car seats and a stroller. Oh, and you can get an automatic car… which is really handy if you’re an American and/or need a free hand for trivial things like passing juice bottles back to kids in the back. It was the perfect fit for our family to get out and go.

And while it may not have broken our backs to get out to do something fun this time, it may have just been the final straw to break the proverbial camel’s back and push us into finally getting a car! (Because let’s be honest…. Going out with kids has enough challenges and it’s nice to take a shortcut when you can!) 

Looking for an escape from the urban burden of public transportation? Check out the Fiat 500 line here!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post was sponsored by Fiat

 

Posted on November 18, 2016 and filed under get out of town.

Pack Your Bags | York's Teddy Bear Tea Room

Hello from a train to Edinburgh. The rain drops on the windows compete in number to the fingerprints of my children. Ha! Only 46 minutes left, but who's counting?

I wanted to share this adorable stop in York that has become a favourite on mine in the past few years: Stonegate Teddy Bears. While the store downstairs will lure in children with its shop windows stuffed with, you guessed it, teddy bears- the tiny tea room upstairs is what will get mom & dad to gladly stick around.

The Teddy Bear Tea Room

Perched above the adorable Stonegate Teddy Bear shop in the city centre of York is the Teddy Bear Tea Room.

Wind your way up the stairs to the second floor (well, third, if you're an American) and head to the room on the left. If the table by the window is open, snag it and enjoy the gorgeous views of the nearby York Minster.

The menu has been newly expanded to a range of items that spans across your daily meals- from breakfast, lunch and tea. While there are endless option listed, make sure to ask about the daily rotation of cakes- as they are homemade and absolutely worth getting.

While portions may be bigger than you might expect, don't worry- I can proudly say that a single person can polish off a slice on their own.

The room was decorated for Christmas and Michael Bublé's Christmas album was playing on the speakers. With the cold winter night coming out above the street and the Christmas mood set, I realised that it was officially that time of year. What a way to start the festive season!


My mom heard we were going and offered to buy each of the kids a teddy bear. (Classic Grandma move.) Viola immediately found the most sparkly one with a pink scarf and named her "Cinderella Bear Two," as "Cinderella Bear" is at home on her bed. Harrison grabbed a panda, among 40 other items, but since this was the cheapest and cutest- we decided that was the one for him. He hasn't touched it since.

We love the Teddy Bear Tea Room and it's one of those simple stops that makes traveling to the same place a fun adventure for us... and our kids, too! ;)

Find more of our favourite places in York here, as well as my travel guide to England here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
 

One Day + One Knight in Paris

This is a post about a trip to Paris... but don't be expecting a ton of tips and tricks. This one was quick and dirty with only time for the essentials- pastries, driving by the Eiffel Tower and going to a rock concert. But that's enough for now, just keep reading for all the random fun.


On Saturday, I woke up to the smell of hot croissants baking in the oven and the sound of Viola dragging her baby doll up the stairs to wake me up. The rain was totally dumping on the roof above our room and it felt so nice to have no huge rush to hop out of bed.

We got dressed and headed to a birthday party for one of our family's favourite little girls. To say it was gorgeous was an understatement. You've probably heard me say it before after my baby showers (first & second) she hosted or her wedding in Hawaii- but my friend, Amber, can host a party like nobody's business.

Every gorgeous detail was thought of, in true Amber style.

I guzzled down a huge mug of coffee, one of her homemade cinnamon rolls, a fruit kebab...ok, fine and part of a bagel, kissed my crew goodbye and headed to St Pancras for the Eurostar.

2.5 hours later, I rolled into Paris, slapped on my favourite red lipstick and headed straight for the Champs-Élysées. 

I, fortunately, was dropped off on the corner by Monoprix who was, fortunately, having a sale. I ran in, surveyed the scene and ran out with a few pieces that are going to get worn really hard this winter.

Then I ran across the street to Laduree where I met a group of my students who had arrived in Paris earlier that morning. We got a table and I ordered us a bunch of desserts and drinks. When a giant silver tray arrived with plates of miniature art pieces arrived, we all felt so excited.... We were in Paris! On the Champs-Élysées! Eating the prettiest food!

When we finished, we walked up to Salle Pleyel where the Panic at the Disco concert was opening its doors. One of my best childhood friends happens to be married to the band's guitarist, Kenny, and they graciously got my students great tickets to the show... AND sweet Kenny chatted with them, was hilarious with them and... even made an amazing boomerang with us. Ha!

With everyone happy and in their seats, I said goodbye and rushed to find a cab. I asked the driver to pass the Eiffel Tower on the way to the station. Well, it wasn't exactly on the way, but I was fine with that. And it was totally worth the detour.

Then, we stopped in front of Gare du Nord with enough time for me to run into McDonalds (no regrets), buy my obligatory box of Fauchon biscuits from duty free and get on the train back to London.

It's one of those days that seems a bit crazy and at the risk of falling apart when one thing goes awry.... but in those glorious moments when everything goes smooth, man.... you're so glad you did it.

Looking for more Paris posts? Find my Paris posts here, as well as my comprehensive guide to Paris here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on November 14, 2016 and filed under france, paris, friends, get out of town.

Have a Heart | Carve a Heart

The last few weeks, I've had fun talking about Halloween costume ideas with Viola. We have thought up fun ideas, looked up costume ideas for them and finally, settled on one that would work for her and Harrison. I clicked "Buy Now" on my Amazon app and they arrived the next day. It couldn't have been easier.

In fact, most things about our lives are pretty easy. The basics are exceptionally easy for most of us living in the first world...heck, I have all the food my family needs delivered to my door the next day for £0.99.

But I think if we are honest, many of us have quiet moments when we wonder... what if. What if all the basics were suddenly gone. How would we cope if we found our families without access to the most fundamental things for survival.

The past few months, my heart has ached for Syria so much. I read articles about what is happening in Aleppo. I read articles about families drowning in the treacherous attempt to get away from their home- the one place in the world that should feel the most safe, but no longer does. I read about what the masses of children alone in refugee camps- shivering in the cold weather, without parents, without money, without food and without hope.

I know I'm not alone in feeling helpless for these people. When I learned of World Vision's #CarveAHeart contest to carve a heart into a pumpkin- I jumped at the chance to do something.

The campaign is asking people to carve a heart in a pumpkin and share it during the days surrounding Halloween. And they are also asking people in the U.K. to text HEART to 70060 to donate £3* and help support the work.

So today, we picked out pumpkins and carved them in hopes that somewhere a child sleeps more comfortably, or a mother has food to keep her energy up so that she carry her child further, or a father can watch his family be taken care of in simple ways that he hasn't been able to provide for them in too long.

And I'll be honest- getting to give that small gift couldn't have been easier, too.

This post isn't sponsored... but please know that it is me trying really hard to "sell you something..." I hope you'll grab your phone and text World Vision now to help someone in (serious!) need.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on October 29, 2016 and filed under kids, holiday.

Free Tutorial | The Perfect English Scones

This week, all of my students came over to our house for a special guest lecturer: Geraldine. Now, you may not know Geraldine- but for those of us that are lucky enough to know her, you'll know she is an amazing organiser... and a willing partaker in sweets.

Many of my favourite memories with her involve wandering the streets of Italy in search of a(nother) cup of gelato or eating her pavlova in the garden after Sunday lunch, but... my favourite memory has to be one rainy day when Viola was tiny. Geraldine had invited me over and we both arrived to her house a bit drippy from the rain. As I peeled off wet layers off us and sat Viola on the carpet to play, Geraldine walked in from the kitchen with a small mountain of hot scones, mugs of tea and small bowls of clotted cream and jam. It was a simple moment that was so lovely and warm.

And now, I force her to recreate it for my students. That'll teach her to be less charming. Ha! :)

The day was perfect- her in her Cath Kidston apron and matching oven mitt, her cute authoritative statements on scones as someone from Cornwall ("scone" as in gone, and not "scone" as in stone), and watching her wander from group to group helping them roll out the dough to the perfect height before cutting.

And whaddaya know? The scones came out perfect- just like they do every time.

And Geraldine had Viola and Harrison following her every move... just like they do every time, too.

If you're looking for a classic -and simple!- scone recipe, here's Geraldine's recipe. What my students pay for in credit hours, you get for free. (Just pay me back in an invite when you make them, please?)


Scones

Ingredients: 

  • 225 g/8 oz of self-raising flour

  • pinch of salt

  • 55 g/2 oz butter

  • 25 g/1 oz caster sugar (or standard white sugar in U.S.)

  • 150 ml/5fl oz milk

  • milk to glaze

Method: 

  • Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

  • Mix together the flour and salt and rub in the butter.

  • Stir in the Sugar and then the milk to get a soft dough.

  • Turn on to a floured work surface and knead very lightly. Pat out to a round 2cm/0.75in thick. Use a 5cm/2in cutter to stamp out rounds and place on a baking sheet. Lightly knead together the rest of the dough and stamp out more scones to use it all up. 

  • Brush the tops of the scones with milk.

  • Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden.

  • Cool on a wire rack and serve with butter and good Jam and maybe some clotted cream. 




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

My Notting Hill | Fabrique on Portobello Road

I got a chance to spend the morning in Notting Hill this week. It had been a while since I'd been there and even longer since I saw my friend, Amber. We met up for a quick breakfast in those precious hours when children's school hours align and it was perfect.

Notting Hill turned up the charm with bright sunshine and its sidewalk's endless catwalk of well-heeled residents. People chatted over posh breakfasts on cafe tables in the sun, walked tiny dogs while chatting on their cell-phones, tucked small present-like parcels of food into shopping bags and just embraced all the pretty yuppie stereotypes one might have for this London neighbourhood.

Now that we are gone from Notting Hill, I'm relying on Amber to keep me up to speed with what is new there. And luckily, she didn't let me down. She trailed me along Portobello Road to the tiny cafe, Fabrique.

This bakery/cafe offers fresh baked loaves of bread and various sweet offerings... but don't get distracted by the offerings and get their cinnamon roll.

Not the vanilla-sugar dusted one. The standard. I thought I knew better and ordered the vanilla, but Amber ordered the original "just so I could try it, too." After all, that's what friends are for, right?

Initially- I thought the space was cute but that these famed cinnamon buns looked dry. The good news: after a few nibbles in, I realised what a moist little treat it was! (Also- apologies to everyone who hates the word "moist." I do, too, but couldn't find a suitable alternate when describing this. Ha!)

The lattes are good, but having them served in a crystal tumbler makes them taste even better. Don't fight that truth, it's science.

Hit up Fabrique when you head to Notting Hill. Its placement on Portobello Road makes it an easy stop on your visit to the Saturday market.

Fabrique12 Portobello Road, London, W11 1LA


Headed to Notting Hill? Find all my favorites here in my travel guide or search #aspiringlondon on Instagram.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

My London | Falling for St. James

I'm not sure what it is about fall in England, but it just feels so homey and .... mine. Maybe it's because it's a city that is shared it hoards of tourist for so much of the year, that these quiet months in between make it feel like you have it all to yourself.

Or maybe it's because we first moved to England at this time of year, and it all feels so nostalgic and sweet.

Whatever it is... I love it. I love the coats. I love the long dinners in pubs. I love the mugs of hot tea that suddenly feel imperative throughout the day. I love it!

On Saturday, we left Parliament where our group was touring and headed home via St James Park. After realising we hadn't had lunch yet, we grabbed a couple of sandwiches and bags of chips/crisps from the snack stand and headed to have an impromptu picnic.

We rented two of the iconic green & white striped chairs (for the first time ever, actually!) and had an hour of just enjoying the break together. To our surprise, the chairs were really inexpensive to rent- only £1.60 an hour. Worth every penny!

 

With Hyde Park and Regents Park being so BIG, I often forget what great spots St James and Green Park are. Both are the perfect little retreats for a quick break on a busy day in the city.

 

But the best part of the day was definitely when I was looking back through my phone of the pictures we took. Apparently, monkey see, monkey do! Viola & Harrison are taking the Knight kissing pics to the next level. Ha!

 

Find all my favourite places in London in my travel guide here.

And if you want to dress for fall like a Brit, here are some pieces that work for cosy days wandering in small villages or a crisp mornings shopping in South Kensington : 



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy