Sunday, 31 May 2015

Guilt-free Eton Mess


I'm tracking on Weight Watchers properly at the moment, and it's actually going pretty well. It's one of those things that if you're going to do, you have to put your all into it. Doing it half arsed means seeing half arsed results, and that's frustrating.

It's all coming back to me though - just how much easier batch cooking makes it, and all the incredible treats I can still sneak through within my points. Did you know an M&S fillet steak is just 6 points? I KNOW. Amazing. We had a rare empty weekend recently, which was amazing - we've been so busy lately that it was nice to just be lazy and spend some quality time with the sofa. I did a fair bit of cooking to stock our freezer up with meals, but I wanted to make a real dessert that didn't involve completely blowing the diet. And this is it.
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Friday, 29 May 2015

Gin tasting with Nicholson's Pubs


I love the idea of gin and tonic, I really do. It's always seemed such a classy, grown-up drink - probably because it's what my mother always drank. But as an adult, I just can't get on board. It's not the gin, actually, that gives me problems - it's the tonic. I hate tonic.

Gin isn't my favourite spirit either - I'm much more of a vodka or rum girl, but I don't mind it, and so when I was invited to a gin tasting at Nicholson's Pubs recently, I thought it would be a good chance to educate myself and maybe find the gin of my dreams. The gin tasting was a collaboration with Olivia Williams, author of Gin, Glorious Gin - a great present for any gin loving friends you might have. I've just started reading it and it's really interesting. The event was a chance to find out a little about the history of gin, how it fits into the Nicholson’s story and learn more from the distillers themselves about the wide variety of gins on offer.

We listened to a talk on each of the gins and then tried them - the first was Adnam's Copper House Gin. Straight gin is a bit too strong for me, but even though the strength of the alcohol, I could really taste the citrus notes - Adnam's has notes of juniper alongside sweet orange and hibiscus, don't you know. I'd quite like to give it a go with some bitter lemon, next, which I think would really complement the orange flavour.


Next up was Bombay Sapphire. NOT a fan. Despite learning about its floral nose and spicy finish... it just tasted like pure alcohol. Here's where I should point out that a gin tasting isn't like a wine tasting - you shouldn't feel obligated to finish the glass. I mean, plenty of people did, but when it's a strong spirit (and you already have a couple of glasses of wine in you) then a few sips is perfectly respectable. Took me a little while to realise that.

We then tried Williams GB Extra Dry Gin from Chase Distillery which was fine, it just didn't leave much of an impression on me. Because the final gin was Ophir, which I LOVED. It's really unusual, packed with spices to give it Asian flavours, such as cumin and cardamon. We were given ginger ale to go with it, which fit it perfectly, but even straight, it was delicious. I haven't managed to find a full sized bottle yet, but when I do it's going to become my drink of choice, along with a wedge of lime.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Peanut & chilli noodles


I am a big fan of the discount bit in the supermarket, as god knows I love a bargain. I've done very well out of it in the past, but I'm also guilty of just grabbing things and then wondering later what on earth to do with them. Such as the pack of pork mince I bought recently. 84p! I would have been a fool not to!

But then it got popped in the freezer, taking up space, as I wondered what I could make out of it. Pork mince is a bit weird. It hasn't got a huge amount of flavour - I've made burgers out of it before and been a bit disappointed as they were rather nothingy. So I thought, stubbornly, that this batch of mince must be turned into something GREAT. Pinterest came to my rescue, as usual, and I mixed and matched a few different recipes to create... this.
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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Simple strawberry cheesecake mousse (that's really hard to mess up!)


For someone who loves to cook, there are a fair few simple recipes that I've never made before. For instance, I've never made shepherd's pie. I'm sure it's not difficult, I've just never got round to it. The same goes for mousse. I'd been led to understand that mousse is pretty simple to make, but making it has never come up - even though I bloomin' love mousse.

We were having Fiona and her hubby round for dinner the other day and I was pondering what dessert should follow our Mexican feast. We had strawberries to use up in the fridge, so strawberry mousse won. I started off following a recipe, and then realised after I'd finished making them that I'd completely forgotten to measure the amount of cream I used, or the amount of strawberries, so I actually had no idea if I'd made mousse or just strawberry flavoured cream. What I could vouch for, though, was that it tasted really good, so even if the consistency wasn't right, it didn't matter all that much.

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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Paris is always a good idea.


It was actually over two months ago now that we visited Paris - I'm not sure why it's taken this long to put the photos up! General uselessness, I suppose. Eurostar had a sale late last year, and we were thinking of booking for February, but then we realised we could go a couple of weeks later and be there for our first anniversary. Turns out, if you book Eurostar that early, it's practically sale prices anyway - I think it was £79 each. It costs more to get to some parts of the UK!
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Monday, 11 May 2015

Tabure Kitchen - Turkish tapas in St Albans



Moving back to the centre of St Albans has really made me notice how fond I am of my little city. I've got into a habit lately of going on after-work walks, and it's lovely to take in the beautiful scenery and all the independent shops and restaurants that have sprung up. I find myself mentally writing Buzzfeed type lists of all the reasons to visit... and they all revolve around places to eat, obviously. Because in the past, it felt like St Albans never had to try because it was just 20 minutes from London, but now it's started making an effort and it suits it. And me.

On the subject of restaurants, I was invited to a preview night of a new local restaurant, Tabure (rhymes with cabaret). This was extremely exciting as there are never any blogger events in my town - no trains required - and it was a chance to meet some elusive local bloggers. There ARE others like me out there, it turns out. It was also extremely exciting because Tabure sounded like an incredible restaurant - Turkish tapas, the brainchild of a couple who'd lived in Turkey for several years.
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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Cotswold Fayre Young Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year


When I was at uni, I busied myself in my spare time with a serious Livejournal obsession. When I wasn't reading (English degree - LOTS of reading), I was writing angsty entries, meeting friends that I'd keep for life and making hundreds and hundreds of icons. Some of it seems like a waste of time now, I must confess. Not the part about making friends, obviously, but the rest... well, if it had been a blog, like this one, I could have been cornering the market early and getting all the benefits that come from blogging. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

These days (I am very very old) a lot of students seem to have a better idea of how to fill their time. Lots of them ARE bloggers, then there's those that intern during their holidays, or work with brands on student marketing during term time. And apparently, 80,000 students in the UK run a business while they study. That's a pretty epic number. Even something fairly simple like an Etsy shop takes a lot of time and work, so it shows serious commitment.

To support these young entrepreneurs, Cotswold Fayre has launched a start-up support scheme - the Young Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year. The initiative aims to help food entrepreneurs aged between 16-25 who are looking for help and support with their business - the winner will get £1000 to help grow their company, plus monthly mentor meetings with business advisors to help grow their plan, and will work with a designer to grow their brand identiy.

It's a great idea, and really worth your time if you're young and starting a business of your own, from making cupcakes in your kitchen to launching your own food truck. The food and drink industry always needs new blood, so supporting young people making their first steps into business is a great thing. Imagine finding something you love and making it into your career - wouldn't that be amazing?

Applications for this year’s award open on 1 March 2015 and close on 30 June 2015. The application form can be found on www.cotswoldfayre.co.uk. The pics are of last year's winner, Chris Hannaway from Overly

~+~ .

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Investing in yourself (part 3!)


So it's been a couple of months now until I vowed on here to take a bit better care of myself and stop feeling so rubbish. I don't know whether I'm going to keep doing monthly updates forever, but I quite like reporting back to you all on here. It's how my brain works - writing stuff down helps me make sense of it all. And sometimes, when you feel like you're not achieving anything, it's good to remind yourself that you are.

Get moving:
The biggest changes is how active I am now. In the 6 weeks since I've had my Fitbit, I've done over 466,000 steps (about 185 miles). I'm really pushing myself to walk more. I go on long walks every weekend, plus after work two or three times a week, and on days when I work in London I make a point to walk if I can, rather than get the tube. Often it doesn't even take much longer. I keep trying to beat the previous week's step target, and I can feel my legs getting stronger. The aches are actually back, but that's only because I'm pushing myself harder and so they feel like good aches from working hard and building up muscle.

Eat healthy:
Up to a week ago, I hadn't lost any weight. That was been pretty disheartening, if I'm honest. I really felt that if I ate a bit healthier and got more active, the pounds would start coming off, but they didn't. I thought maybe I was gaining muscle - I really had nothing at all when I started being good, so it's a little plausible. But even so, I don't think it's enough of an excuse. So last week I went back on Weight Watchers properly. What I realised is that I'm ignoring treat days and snacks and they're adding up. I need a bit more structure to make me more aware of those little extras, to make me reduce my portions and in a week I saw a 5lb difference on the scales. I'm only doing it online for now, but I think the combination of the 'it all counts' mindset and the increased activity should help. I have so many clothes that don't fit that I'm desperate to wear!

Less processed crap:
I bought a Blend Active and I love it so much. I'm really enjoying my morning smoothies. I add oats, so they're filling and I've been experimenting with other extras. I've recently started adding chia seeds as they have lots of health benefits - I'm on the lookout for a magic metabolism booster though. Going back on Weight Watchers means I probably will be a bit more reliant on diet versions on food than I have been, but I see it as a temporary measure to get some weight off, and then I can switch when I'm trying to maintain.

Make more effort:
I'm being useless. I bought a couple of new dresses in the DP sale but as I have so few clothes that fit, they become boring to me really quickly. I don't feel very attractive at the moment, if I'm honest. At work, in particular, in a sea of trendy people, I feel SO frumpy. It bothers me, guys. It bothers me a lot. But if I'm serious about wanting to lose weight then I don't want to give in to being this size and spend a fortune on a new wardrobe. This is so heavily tied into the diet and exercise changes that I'm trying to make because I know how much better I'll feel about how I look if I lose weight. I wish it had less of an impact on me, but there it is.

Skincare routine:
I'm still using micellar water instead of face wipes, but even though I've bought a new cleanser, I haven't actually used it yet. Being pretty crap on this point, tbh.

Yeah, I know, I did quite a job of starting this post in a positive place and then derailing into negativity. But sometimes that's life, isn't it? I'd be a bit dubious of a blog like this if it was 'Everything is great!' all the time, because everything is never completely great. But I know that I'm making positive changes and it's having a good impact on my body, and although I might not be seeing that impact yet, it's happening. It's a marathon, not a sprint, right?

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Reasons to be Cheerful #15

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts. Sometimes it gets harder to list those reasons to be happy, especially when life gets you down. I always have to shake myself and remind myself that I have a roof over my head, people who love me and money in my pocket, and a lot of people don't have one, some or any of those things. But sometimes the small stuff can feel extra big, can't it?

In that spirit, I'm focusing on the small stuff today. Seven little things that make me feel a bit more cheerful, and hopefully they will too.

Source

1. Kittens
I LOVE KITTENS. I really wish they could create a breed of cats that just stayed tiny forever. Like a chihuaha... but a cat! I would buy them all up. As long as they were happy and didn't suffer or anything like some posh breeds that can't breathe or walk properly. But if that's all fine then yes. KITTENS FOREVER.


2. Shiny shoes
I swear, Jones the Bootmaker makes the shiniest shoes ever. I haven't bought new shoes for the longest time - I've changed, apparently - and I miss that feeling of strutting around and beaming at your feet. Right now I'm wearing a pair of shabby patent ballet pumps that used to have ribbon on them, but it all unravelled so I yanked it off and now there's a bald patch on the patent. I am a classy bird. New, shiny shoes would definitely improve matters. Especially these beautiful sandals.


3. Cloud dress
I could write poetry about how much I want this Cath Kidston dress. It would not be good poetry, but the sentiment would be there. It's just so perfect! The shape is supes flattering, obvs, but we all know it's about that pattern. It's so happy and summery and lovely! Maybe I'll treat myself to it for the wedding I'm going to in June.


4. Pudding
Something involving all the chocolate will always make things better (unless you're horribly allergic to chocolate or have a tummy bug, in which case, here's a lovely glass of water). I want this in my face.


5. Going out for dinner
Or lunch! Or breakfast! I just love going out for meals. It's actually not something I do all that much these days, but when I do, I appreciate the hell out of it. Also, you know what makes going out for a meal even better? When you have a voucher (I'm digging Voucherbin right now) and it's way cheaper than it's meant to be. Then it's like the ultimate in treats because it's BASICALLY FREE.


6. Being outside
It really does make me happier, especially this time of year when it's just starting to get warm. I've been using it as an excuse to get out and get walking, even just to the shops. I've been loading up my little leather rucksack with my Sainsbury's shop and cheerfully strolling the mile and a half home. Being active is actually quite a good feeling.


7. Being inside
Because, actually, the evenings are still pretty chilly, and there's a big furry blanket on my sofa, and SO much goodness on Netflix right now. Spring basically means you can do whatever you want. It's the best.

~+~ 
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Sunday, 3 May 2015

Red pepper, cheese and bacon frittata


I think I've mentioned already that we've been freaking epic lately at using up the ingredients we have on hand. I've generally been pretty good at that, but after a year of dividing my time between my parents' house and Matt's flat, it's so great to have total control of what's in my kitchen and know exactly what's in there. Our fridge is usually pretty empty which sounds lame, but it's my ideal situation - it means that there's no waste of fresh ingredients and we're working our way through the cupboards and the freezer. We buy what we need, and we use what we need. Perfect.

When I got my camera out to take photos of this frittata, Matt was like 'Seriously? Everyone knows how to make this!' but I'm not sure. I'd never made a frittata until last year, and it's something I just wouldn't have thought about as a leftovers meal. And I know a lot of you are still feeling your way with this whole cooking thing, so I'm all for sharing the simple, tasty recipes. Anyway. It's basically an omelette, designed for those that suck at omelettes (like me!) as there's no flipping - you just finish it under the grill. You really just need eggs and veg, and maybe some cheese, and you're sorted. So this is based on what we had, but feel free to change up the meat (or remove it completely), use different veg and mix up the cheese. It's mostly about the eggs.
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Friday, 1 May 2015

Individual nacho cups


I'm obsessed with making Mexican food. I hadn't realised just how much we ate it until the other week, when we were planning to make a Mexican feast for Matt's parents on the Saturday night... having eaten quesadillas for dinner the previous two nights. We were entertaining again on the following Wednesday, and were debating doing burrito bowls. "But we can't do Mexican for the third time in a week, can we?" I asked Matt. "To be honest, I would happily eat Mexican food every single day," he replied. And I agreed. Mexican food for all!

I'm sure the kind of Mexican inspired dishes I make would not pass much muster for anyone from Mexico - I'm far too cautious with the chilli, for one - but I can't say I care too much when it tastes this good. It makes me feel so joyful about our connected, multi-cultural society, because it's so possible to sample different food and to find unusual recipes at the click of a button - unheard of for my mum's generation, for instance. We live in a pretty amazing age.

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