BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Part 1

When driving through any part of London it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the city. The sounds of the train, the crowds, the big red double decker buses zooming by captivate your senses. The Victorian style buildings and random statues make the place look and feel like the world’s largest outdoor museum.

When you are here long enough you really start to take for granted the beauty of it all, but once in a while you have that one thing, that one picturesque, jaw dropping, “I have got to get a photo of this” kind of moment. That’s exactly what happened on our way back from Cambridge just getting back into the city. I was half asleep and “P” was driving. He told me that he had to show me something, a beautiful building. I was thinking to myself, “O.k., another old building…whoopty whoop”. To be honest, how spectacular could it be? We are just off a main thoroughfare in Neasden (once nicknamed The Loneliest Village in London). I see people walking, homes, and cars bustling by (nothing out of the norm), until all of a sudden I see a black gate with gold trim. He pulls over and tells me to jump out and take a look, so I do. Peering through the gate I can see a tall white building with flags flying from the rooftop. What…Is…This???

Through the gates

Through the gates


I know at that very moment I am looking at what has to be considered one of the Wonders of London, perhaps the world. Absolutely no exaggeration. I’ve seen beauty and perfection in the form of architecture but this is more than that. Just being close to the gate I feel something, a gravitational pull of sorts drawing me in. I want to see more. It’s BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir commonly known as Neasden Temple. It was closed for the evening but I HAVE to get back for a proper visit. This is indeed a hidden treasure that I want to explore.

Front View

Front View

Part 2 soon to follow…..

On a Quest for Comfort….Cocoa Makes a Quiche

I felt horrible for most of the weekend, suffering through a pesky summer cold. I didn’t get the opportunity to do most of what I wanted to do because of my late start from moving slowly, runny nose and cough. I did of course have time to run errands because the responsibility of being a mum and wife has no pity on the weary.

After my walk to the grocers I was worn out,  tired and of course HUNGRY. I think everyone knows that if I could take a bite with every breath I would and when I am feeling bad the urge to eat increases ten fold. It’s like curling up on the couch with your favorite warm blanket but instead you can find me with a hot plate and a fork. So with comfort food in mind, I decided I would make a Spinach and Feta Quiche….for the first time. This is what I came up with and how it turned out:

**I NEVER use proper measurements. I make everything to taste**


1 Roll of ready made short crust…or you can make your own but I didn’t have time for that!

1 Red Onion

4 fairly good sized mushrooms

3 small tomatoes or one large one

Loads of Spinach

Copious amounts of Double Cream (Heavy Cream)

A dollop or two of Sour Cream depending on how you like it

Feta Cheese (lots)

Mature Cheddar Cheese (Sharp White Cheddar Cheese) (lots)


Preheat oven to 180°C or 350°F

Follow the directions for preparing the short crust and forming it onto a pie pan

Saute the Red Onion, Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Spinach with a dash of salt and pepper to taste and put aside once finished

Pour the Double Cream and Sour Cream in a saucepan on medium heat

Add in Feta Cheese and Mature Cheddar Cheese until desired texture and consistency

A few dashes of salt and pepper

Combine the Vegetables with the Cheese mixture

Pour the contents into the crust lined pie pan and pop in the oven until the crust is golden brown and the mixture is piping hot.

Take it out, allow it to cool and set.

Plate up and Enjoy!

Finished product:

Spinach and Feta Quiche

Spinach and Feta Quiche

Turned out fantastically yummy. The hubby must have loved it, this is what the pan looked like by morning…..


Royal Baby WHO??

“P” always calls NuNu his “Princess” therefore in her mind I think that she believes that she is indeed royalty. I was sitting around yesterday (22-7-2013), watching the telly and there was no bigger news than the anticipation of the birth of “THE Royal Baby”. Funny enough, it seemed that NuNu felt some kind of way about it. She was sooo irritable! It was almost as if she thought she was being removed from her tiny throne.

nunu princess

To reassure her I took her out to get her very own crown….Much happier today!

Princess NuNu

Princess NuNu

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit


I’m good at making excuses for not working out. Some of my favorites: “I didn’t have time”, “I will get to it tomorrow” (as if I will be rewarded with more hours the next day), “The cat ate my gymsuit” (I don’t own a cat), and my all time favorite…”I can’t go running because my arm hurts!”

Since being in London I have done lots more walking than usual but with “P” working from morning until evening it’s been really hard to get in a good solid workout. I enjoy getting my workout on early in the morning as it’s a good way to start my day. UNFORTUNATELY I have yet to purchase a jogging stroller and I can’t find a single place that will allow me to workout with my 6 month old close by. Ok…yet another list of excuses!

I have been so tempted to just throw my trainers (sneakers) aside, grab a tub of Bon Bons, tune into Jeremy Kyle on the telly and call it a day. I mean really, don’t I get a little credit for walking to get groceries and trekking up the six flights of stairs to get to the flat?

The good weather makes the guilt set in and my dream of being a proper lay about (couch potato) is short lived. With the weather being beautiful for what seems to be an unexpected lengthy summer (going on two weeks of pure sunshine), “Go England!”, I decided to walk to the outdoor gym. Sunshine+Baby Friendly Gym=NO EXCUSES.

I was thoroughly impressed. I am by no means a gym junkie but this place offers everything for the reluctant as well as those that religiously hit the gym. Outdoor gyms are very popular in London and you can find them in many neighborhoods. I didn’t really “get it” at first considering the weather typically isn’t good enough to frolic in let alone do chin ups and leg presses.

I was instantly amazed that I could park NuNu’s pram right beside me as I put in my best attempt at pull downs and sit-ups. There are some serious pluses to working out in this environment.  I am joined by other parents and their children, and people of various ages and stages of muscle tone. The machines are all powered by body weight so you won’t hear any clinking of weights being thrown about. Also, it’s open air and on a good day you will have a nice gentle breeze that will whisk away the usual smells you will get in an indoor gym. The greatest benefit is that it will save you the colossal membership fees associated with joining a gym in London.

This particular space is gated and has 4 “Zones” (Upper Body, Cardio, Lower Body and Core Strength). I moved along through each one, pushing NuNu along the way. By the time I got to the second zone she was fast asleep and I continued my workout.

Zone 1: Upper Body; Pull Downs, Chest Press and Pull Ups

Zone 1: Upper Body; Pull Downs, Chest Press and Pull Ups

Zone 2: Cardio

Zone 2: Cardio

(left to right) Zone 3 Lower Body, Zone 4 Core

(left to right) Zone 3 Lower Body, Zone 4 Core

The following day I’m super stoked. Going to the gym! I jump up, put my trainers on. I’m ready! Then I look out the window and I see an overcast sky. Looks like rain is coming. Oh well there goes my enthusiasm…maybe I will go back tomorrow…you know, when I have more time….

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, by Paula Danzger (1974)

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, by Paula Danziger (1974)

I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor” ~ Joan Rivers

Sunny with a bit of side eye!

My fingers are crossed that this weather continues! It has been warm, sunny and no rain for just about 2 weeks now! I’ve been practically prancing down the street just from feeling the sun on my shoulders and smiling for no reason which prompts NuNu to give me the side eye…..I’m convinced that she is a bit embarrassed by her Mum!


Cocoa’s Greedy Grieving Rant….Salad Cream?

Hi, My name is Cocoa.  I love food. The only reason that I exercise is to make room for more food. I live to eat. I’ve moved to England and now I am grieving.

Since I’ve been in England I have subconsciously made lists of things that I miss the most about the good ole USA. I call this the typical “expat grieving process”.  Sadly it is mostly centered around food, not being able to find the food that I want, and nearly having a breakdown in the supermarket when  (insert baby tantrum here) ALL I WANT IS RANCH DRESSING!  Now,  don’t get me wrong, I miss my family and friends, they are number one on  my list but coming in a VERY close second place is FOOD.

In the beginning I was in DENIAL, also known as Step1. I would tell myself, “This can’t be real life”. In total disbelief and shock. One of the luxuries of living in America is having an abundance of over-sized SUPERmarkets that are lined with choice after choice of what we call the simple things, the additions, the toppings. Things that you would assume you could find in ANY supermarket around the world.

Yes, I’m talking condiments. Who would think that something as little and simple as condiments would nearly cause me to erupt in a manner that I almost cause an international incident on aisle 6? I am livid to say the least! What do you mean there is NO RANCH DRESSING? This had to be a fluke. This isn’t happening. I went to several grocers and even to the local outdoor market and couldn’t find ANYTHING that resembled Ranch Dressing.

As I get home from a pointless walk to the supermarket I was in need of  an immediate intervention! Enter, my better half, my voice of reason, my knight in shining armor, “P”. I tell him that I can’t find Ranch Dressing and he walks to the fridge and my face instantly lights up! Did we have some all along?! He pulls out a bottle and hands it to me.

Aww heck no! Is this some kind of joke? It’s about to be a fight in here! What on earth is SALAD CREAM????

Salad Cream?

Salad Cream?

Needless to say, I quickly entered into Step 2: ANGER . (No need for details just know that my smile was upside down)

Step 3: Bargaining. Ok, maybe I will try it out. Maybe it’s not that bad. WRONG. This stuff is nothing more than glorified, repackaged, renamed, Miracle Whip. Seriously, it’s Miracle Whip. Would you put Miracle Whip on your lovely leafy salad? NO.

Step 4: Depression. Woe is me. I’m a precious American living abroad and there is nothing more important going on in the world aside from my food issues. Do you hear my cry? No one is listening.

Step 5: Acceptance- This is where I am at this moment. After my meltdown I have decided to take matters into my own hands, literally. Out of pure desperation and to save myself the time of hunting down the simple things I have now become the Queen of Condiments. I just make my own.

**I NEVER use a proper recipe/measurements. I make everything to taste**

Ranch Dressing Ingredients

Ingredients: Mayonnaise, Lemon, Dried Parsley, Sour(ed) Cream, Black Pepper and Salt

Ingredients: Mayonnaise, Lemon, Dried Parsley, Sour(ed) Cream, Black Pepper and Salt

A few squirts of fresh lemon

A dollop of sour cream (Soured Cream for those in the U.K.)

A few dollops of mayonnaise (yes mayo is a big thing here)

A pinch of salt

A pinch of black pepper

Sprinkle in some dried parsley (and any other herb that you like)

Turned out pretty good. My husband loved it and he is even more of a foodie than I am.

In all fairness I will say that after all of this my hubby was able to find one grocer that carries Ranch Dressing. Not to  risk taking a step back in my bereavement I will just continue to make my own.


You may think, “All of this over Ranch Dressing?”  No. I am a bit more rational than that! Here are a few examples of other food related disappointments:

Chocolate Chocolate Cake (This isn’t the disappointment, what is being done to it is the let down)

Double Cream and Chocolate Cake

Double Cream and Chocolate Cake

This was a delicious slice of cake with smooth chocolate icing. Apparently smothering it in Double Cream is all the rage. I tried it just to find out that Double Cream is code for Heavy Whipping Cream! Yuck! Who does that?

Pie, Mash, Liquor and Eels (Yes, EELS)

A. Cooke's  Traditional Pie, Mash, Liquor and Eel Shop-48 Goldhawk Rd, Shepherd's Bush, London; (photo) Liquor, Mash and Eel and Pie

A. Cooke’s Traditional Pie, Mash, Liquor and Eel Shop-48 Goldhawk Rd, Shepherd’s Bush, London; (photo) Liquor, Mash and Eel and Pie

Yes people, those are EELS! As “P” and I were taking a stroll through the neighborhood he pointed out A. Cooke’s Traditional Pie, Mash & Eel shop. He explained that Eel and Pie shops were popular in the 1800’s because it gave poor and working families an affordable, hot meal option. It’s not a shocker to see an old building with it’s original signage up around here so I’m thinking that for sure they aren’t selling this meal in this day and age. WRONG AGAIN. I took a peep through the window and I see a simple menu hanging and yes, it was advertising Pie (Pastry), Eels, Mash (mash potatoes), and Liquor(a parsley gravy). The eels come jellied or stewed. Yum. I haven’t tried it because I am vegetarian but if you are ever in London look this place up. If it’s lasted this long it must be good!

Beans on Toast (Self explanatory)

beans on toast

Ok, like many people, I grew up eating baked beans. I’m not knocking it completely because it is a good “comfort food” but  on a restaurant menu??? Now they are just taking advantage of hungry people.

Hot Dogs in a JAR??

Hot Dogs aren't so hot when they come in a jar!

Hot Dogs aren’t so hot when they come in a jar!

I found this American classic in the “World Foods” section, on the shelf with a few other varieties. Everyone knows that hot dogs are sort of an acceptable form of mystery meat but to put it in a jar makes it seem like a down right science project! In many locations throughout England you can get them packaged in a jar OR can!

Spotted Dick! (uh….ok)

Spotted Dick in plastic cups or tin can

Spotted Dick in plastic cups or tin can

Spotted Dick….sounds appetizing right? Well, don’t be taken aback if you see it on a menu around these parts. Spotted Dick is a traditional English pudding that contains dried fruit (typically currants or raisins). You can find this on the dessert menu at a restaurant or in your local grocer in a can. Outside of it’s name, I actually tried it and it wasn’t bad at all. It is not of the consistency of what we call pudding in America. It’s rather spongy like a muffin filled with fruit with subtle hints of cinnamon. I will certainly have this again. Don’t tell anyone but I can see myself as a “closet” Spotted Dick lover, that is, until I can get over the embarrassment of ordering it from a waiter!

It would be totally unfair of my inner food critic to only address my “less than great” food experiences in the UK.  Look out for food and restaurant reviews coming soon!

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch” ~Orson Wells

Cocoa goes to Kilburn, Portobello Market. Eeeek! Notting Hill!

Unbelievable! It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. So beautiful that “P” (my hubby) and I decided to do a little exercising at the neighborhood outdoor gym. This is the first weekend since we have arrived that the sun has been shining and there isn’t a drop of rain or a single cloud in the sky!

It makes me giggle now, but when my hubby and I were doing the long distance thing I would laugh at him when he would say, (insert sexy British accent here), “The weather is beautiful daaahling (darling), it’s so hot out”. Hilarious! Considering it would only be in the mid 60’s! Now I understand what he meant. When it comes to the weather in London you really have to take what you can get when you can get it! Soooo, in this heatwave of 20° (68°F) , we head out, baby in tow to a little area in north-west London called Kilburn.

Kilburn, divided amongst 3 London Boroughs (Brent, Camden and Westminster) seems to have everything you need without the hustle and bustle that you will find as you get closer to Central London. Don’t be fooled by it’s location though, on a fab day like today the streets will be busy and parking can be a beast.(I suggest taking the bus or underground). After FINALLY finding a park we walked the High Street (what we Americans would call Main Street), Kilburn High Rd, where you can find a great number of shops that sell everything from groceries to shoes. Kilburn High Rd is also the location of the quaintest little market with stalls of shoes, fresh fruit and other knick-knacks. The market is a pretty cute place to walk around but it’s so small that you will be done before you can even blink an eye!

(NuNu doing what she does Kilburn)

(NuNu doing what she does best…Sleeping…in Kilburn)

I didn’t get enough, naturally wanting to be “on the go” we took off and had my father-in-law drop us at Ladbroke Grove….Eeeek! Can you say NOTTING FREAKIN’ HILL! Ok, Anyone that knows me MUST know that I LOVE the movie Notting Hill starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. I am huge a Rom Com (Romantic Comedy) fanatic and this one does it for me! Needless to say I WILL NOT sleep until I find the Travel Book Shop featured in the movie. As I was walking I was literally feeling all warm inside just thinking that it could be around the corner! I am such a dork!

Notting Hill, Dir. Roger Michell, Universal Pictures,1999; The Travel Book Shop

Notting Hill, Dir. Roger Michell, Universal Pictures,1999; The Travel Book Shop

Ok, back to Ladbroke Grove. It’s basically a road located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Apparently this is where many psychedelic/ rock and underground bands were formed and found to include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees,The Clash. It’s also one of the main thoroughfares for Notting Hill Carnival. Not to mention it is the gateway to the World Famous Portobello Market!

Joe Strummer (The Clash) mural by artist Emma Harrison

Joe Strummer (The Clash) mural by artist Emma Harrison on Ladbroke Grove

Wow…the sounds, the smells, the people, the atmosphere! As you walk through the market you can’t help but groove to the sounds of the many genres of music coming from the stalls. I heard a little Reggae, some classic Michael Jackson, folk, alternative, and even a bit of jazz. Just walking through is like a symphony/live concert/street party full of pure entertainment! I felt as if I were taking a trip around the world. Every culture, every ethnicity, every color, every kind all partaking in the goodness of Portobello Market.

I didn’t take as many photos as I should have but I will be going back in the near future. Total sensory overload! I was too busy people watching and wanting to touch and purchase everything that I saw! Handcrafted jewelry, original art, tailored dresses and coats, collectors items and not to mention food from every corner of the world…this place has it ALL!

**Disclaimer: By no means are these photos intended to capture every bit of goodness available at Portobello Market**

(Portobello Whole Foods, 266 Portobello Rd, North Kensington, W10 5TY)

The sign says it but when you go in you will find so much more.  Can you say Fresh, Organic, Natural, Healthy, Tasty?

The sign says it but when you go in you will find so much more. Can you say Fresh, Organic, Natural, Healthy, Tasty?

Inside of Portobello Whole Foods...Yum!

Inside of Portobello Whole Foods…Yum!

Delicious Goodness!

Delicious Goodness!

On the Street:

Huge vats of Paella!

Huge vats of Paella!

Bar Mau Mau...Live Music and Food

Bar Mau Mau…Live Music and Food

Za Zá Authentic Italian Gelato

Za Zá Authentic Italian Gelato

Couldn't pass it up. NEEDED two scoops...Caramel, and Cream and Chocolate Gelato

Couldn’t pass it up. NEEDED two scoops…Caramel, and Cream and Chocolate Gelato

NuNu must have eaten it all when my back was turned. Must have been tired of all the breast milk! Naughty girl!

NuNu must have eaten it all when my back was turned. Must have been tired of all the breast milk! Naughty girl!

The Spice Shop, 1 Blenheim Crescent , W11 2EE~ Any and every spice you can think of in this place!

The Spice Shop, 1 Blenheim Crescent , W11 2EE~ Any and every spice you can think of in this place!

Chillies!~The Spice Shop

Chillies!~The Spice Shop

The Spice Shop!

The Spice Shop!

Very cool street performers...literally performing in the middle of the street!

Very cool street performers, The Trouble Notes…literally performing in the middle of the street!

“Without people, you’re nothing” ~Joe Strummer, The Clash”