Wednesday, 18 April 2018

FOOD: The Greggs Balanced Choice breakfast and lunch challenge

Greggs balanced choice food review with comparisons including calories and Weight Watchers smart points for Costa, Caffe Nero, Marks & Spencer and Pret a Manger

So for the last year and a bit, I’ve been… er, healthy? As a lazy, junk-food loving girl it surprised me too when I stuck to it for so long, but it’s all about finding a routine that works for you. I still have junk-food, but a little less of it and a little more of the green stuff. And I actually exercise these days. Yeah, that part’s still weird.

Anyway, Greggs got in touch to ask if I’d like to take part in their Balanced Choice challenge to see how Greggs and their high street competitors fare when trying to eat healthily. Basically, they’ve partnered with Public Health England on their One You campaign, after studies revealed that on average people are eating an extra 200-300 calories a day. Things like that sugary soft drink, that large bag of crisps or that mayonnaise sandwich (or salad!) can all add up, and the new campaign is encouraging adults to follow a simple rule of thumb if they’d like to eat a bit healthily when on the go - 400 calories or under for breakfast, and 600 calories or under for lunch and 600 calories or under for dinner.

So! Armed with some giftcards and a rumbling tummy, I spent the last week eating breakfast and lunch at Caffe Nero, Costa, Pret A Manger, M&S and finally Greggs to see how they measured up. I'm including both calories and Weight Watchers Smart Points (SP) below. So let's see how everyone fared.

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Saturday, 14 April 2018

REVIEW: Olive Limes, Tring

Review of Olive Limes, Indian restaurant in Tring, Hertfordshire

A big reason why we loved Tring so much when we chose to buy a house here was because the little high street was packed with intriguing looking independent restaurants. We've managed to try several of them, but almost a year and a half on, there's still several we haven't made it to. One of them, until recently, was Olive Limes, an Indian restaurant on the very end of the high street, which is probably the closest restaurant in Tring to our house. Every time we've walked past, I've said to Matt, 'I want to go there!' but in between saving for a wedding and trying to lose weight, it just hasn't happened.

Luckily then, they took things into their own hands and invited us to an event there this weekend celebrating Bengali New Year. Sadly we couldn't make it as it clashed with my hen do, so instead they invited us in for a meal instead. And let me tell you, I'm now kicking myself for waiting this long. Best Indian meal ever? It's definitely up there.

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Sunday, 8 April 2018

EVENT: The Superfood Curry Company

Superfood curry company - Chilterns catering company for specialist dietary requirements including vegan, keto, paleo, gluten free, fodmap

One of the things I love about blogging on a local level is finding out about businesses that I might not have known about otherwise. And Tring and the surrounding areas have such a sense of community that it really feels like everyone gets behind independent businesses and wants them to succeed, which is lovely.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to the launch of the Superfood Curry Company, a catering company set up by Meena and Kim who previously ran the award winning Cinnamon Cafe. They took a break from catering due to family and health issues, and as part of their illnesses realised they couldn't eat their own food any more. And they started to think about all the other people who have really specific dietary needs, and how difficult catering events is for them so started to talk about how they could support them - and the Superfood Curry Company was born.

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Saturday, 31 March 2018

RECIPE: Feijaoda (super healthy and tasty Brazilian stew)

Recipe for Feijaoda a Brazilian stew, vegan, vegetarian and zero 0 smart points on Weight Watchers Flex

Lately, I've been cooking lots more than usual. It's nice - I tend to get into the habit of cooking the same things over and over, and get really lazy about pushing my boundaries. I have stacks of cookbooks that I've never cooked anything from, and it does sadden me a little. I love to cook, and I love to cook new things - there's nothing like that feeling when you take the first taste and it's not like anything you've ever made before. So I'm pushing myself to do that a little more.

Actually, this isn't a bad time of year to do that. Firstly, it's cold (STILL) and cooking is hot work. Secondly, I'm not going out a whole lot right now, so instead I've been picking a nice meal every weekend to make. We've had beef stew and tikka masalas and oh-so-many curries. And one of my favourite recent recipes - that's actually gone into my cooking rotation already - is this Jamie Oliver version of Feijaoda, a Brazilian stew.

I do turn to Jamie's recipes more and more - they're always super easy to follow and he's pretty creative with flavours, and I like how he bounces around between different cuisines, because that's what I do too.

Also, if you're doing Weight Watchers like I am, this recipe is 0SP which is amazing (rice etc would obvs be extra). I've made a few tweaks to the original - I cut back on the oil a little and switched out the okra out for green beans (it's nice either way). Also, I like to pulse the finished stew with a hand blender to thicken it at the end - totally optional, but I think it's good. And if you're NOT doing Weight Watchers, like my fiance isn't, you'll still enjoy it lots. Promise.

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Sunday, 25 March 2018

REVIEW: Bill's, St Albans

Food review from St Albans recommended restaurants - Bills gastropub chain
Food review from St Albans recommended restaurants - Bills gastropub chain
Food review from St Albans recommended restaurants - Bills gastropub chain

Although I don't live in St Albans any more, I still find myself back there a lot. I was born and bred in that town, and it'll always have a place in my heart. It's so interesting how much it's changed over the years - it's gone from being a pretty-but-boring place that's a 20 minute train journey to London to a really great destination for a minibreak, and a big part of that is the foodie scene.

I am - as you've probably noticed - very into food, so this is a good thing. But it's definitely weird seeing so many of my teenage drinking haunts becoming restaurants. I think the Fighting Cocks and the Horn are the only ones left! But the place I spent most of my Friday nights in my late teens to my early twenties was the Cross Keys which was the Wetherspoons in town (followed later by Lloyds, which was never so much my scene - not least because I never forgave it for taking over Hot Coles, the best cocktail bar in the WORLD, and turning it into their kitchen). But the Cross Keys, man. It was a total dive, but was the setting of so many great nights. So many not-so-great hangovers.

When it closed, a couple of restaurants tried to take over and didn't do so well, which was a shame as it's a great building. So when Bill's moved in a few years ago, I was really excited because my London-based pals had been raving about it for a while. These days, Bill's is in most towns and it's always one of the first places I choose for a good dinner (I went last week with work). So I was very happy to be asked to review the St Albans one following their awesome renovation - I mean, obviously I was pretty familiar with the menu, so I knew I was in store for a great meal. And I was!

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

WEDDING: Meet my new wedding shoes!

Rainbow Club Marcia wedding shoes - mary jane style with a strap and thick chunky heels

So there's less than two months now until my wedding and the planning is amping up. The dress fittings have begun, the bridesmaids and ushers have their outfits and we're starting to nail down the final details. It's both exciting and scary. I'm excited for the day, and after the day (I am seriously impatient to call Matt my husband) but I'm nervous that I've dropped a ball somewhere or forgotten something, and that's the scary part. The anxiety dreams are pretty much nightly at this point (but I like to think of them as warnings not to forget things!).

One thing I chose fairly early on was my shoes. At 5'1, I knew I'd want to wear heels, and I'm usually more comfortable in those with a strap as I have wide feet so often end up in shoes a size too big, which means they sometimes slip off. It's a lot to consider. So I was after some cute Mary-Jane type shoes, when Matt pointed out that I should look for a wide heel, too. It's a good point, and the reason he makes it is because he's attended several weddings with me where I've clutched frantically at his arm as my stilettos have sunk into the lawn.

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Sunday, 18 March 2018

REVIEW: The Akeman, Tring

Review of The Akeman in Tring, part of the Oakman Inns group - where to eat in Tring, food blogger, gastropub, pizza, burger
Review of The Akeman in Tring, part of the Oakman Inns group - where to eat in Tring, food blogger, gastropub, pizza, burger

One of the things that appealed to us about Tring when we chose to move here was all the awesome independent shops and restaurants around. You can count the chain restaurants on one hand. One hand that's missing three fingers. And that's nice. I'm all for a chain every now and then, but it often means you miss out on discovering new things. And new things are good.

On one of those first visits to Tring, we walked to a few houses we'd seen for sale to see what the area was like, and finished up with a light lunch at The Akeman, which we chose because we were big fans of its sister restaurant, The Beech House, back in St Albans. And actually since we've moved, it's become one of our favourite places. It's a great combination of restaurant and bar - you can go for a great night out and drink all the gins, grab brunch or a quick pizza, or have a slap up three course meal. I was overjoyed a few months ago to be invited to their reopening night after they expanded into the building next door, and it looks great now - there's all these extra little cosy nooks that are just crying out for a date night and a couple of bottles of wine.

At the reopening night, I got the chance to chat to Eamonn Borg-Neal, the general manager of The Akeman. His family owns all the pubs in the Oakman Inns group (there are a few around, including The King's Arms in Berkhamsted which is another favourite of mine) and I discovered that it's a small, beloved family business with their HQ in Tring. And I think that's my point about chains - when I was chatting to Eamonn, it was clear how much he and his family cared about the restaurants and it comes across when you visit them. We even got talking about Eamonn's plans to run a half marathon this month, in aid of Epilepsy Action, which is close to his heart as he's lived with epilepsy for several years.

We popped back a few weeks later to have a proper meal and see how the restaurant had changed since the renovation. Grab a snack - this will make you hungry.

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