Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Houghton Lodge and Gardens, Stockbridge, Hampshire

On a sunny day Houghton Lodge and Gardens in Stockbridge, Hampshire, is a beautiful place for afternoon tea, a wedding reception or simply a stroll around the gardens. It has an orangery, a manor house, various sections of gardens, a river running through the bottom and – this is the best part – a field with alpacas.
 

 

My husband and I considered Houghton Lodge as a wedding venue as it was in the right area and we were quite taken by the idea of the above – a former work colleague of mine got married in the church in the village and had his reception at Houghton Lodge in a marquee by the river and the photos looked lovely.
 
 
 
However, when we came to look around the venue and ask questions, we were rather underwhelmed about actually having it for our wedding. The orangery by the entrance and the attached conservatory looked to me like a garden centre café – albeit a nice one. As we didn’t want to get married in church, the only option for enough guests at Houghton Lodge was to hold the ceremony itself in the orangery, a long rectangular room that forms an L-shape with the conservatory.
 
What put me off was that we were told if we did this and hired the orangery for the ceremony, the conservatory would remain open to the public as the owners didn’t want to close the entire place for a wedding. That meant there would be complete strangers sitting literally just behind our guests watching our wedding which I thought was very strange! Admittedly this was nearly two years ago and perhaps things have changed so if you are considering getting married here then you should get in touch with the wedding coordinator and find out what they can offer.
 
 
The reason I mention this, though, despite it being two years ago is that I went back a couple of months ago for a friend’s birthday. She had chosen Houghton Lodge for afternoon tea, having never been here before and not realising I’d considered it as a wedding venue- I was looking forward to visiting and seeing the alpacas again.
 
As my husband and I arrived, I joked to him that we might find that there was a wedding happening while we had our afternoon tea – and there was! As we paid for entry to the gardens, the lady on the till told us there was a wedding party arriving in an hour and that part of the gardens would be shut but we could still access the rest of the grounds. It was actually a wedding reception so they wouldn’t be having a ceremony here and we had a table in the orangery set up for us to have afternoon tea, so I didn’t think we would be in the way.
 
I had a quick look around the top part of the gardens, which I think is the walled kitchen gardens, then went to sit inside and waited for my friends. There was a door from the orangery directly into the garden so I figured when they arrived we would go outside and enjoy the grounds.
 
I also tried out my macro lens after doing a macro photography lesson recently.
 
 
 
 
However, when the wedding party arrived this door was locked, meaning we had to stay in the orangery (watching the bride through the windows which must have been a little odd for her) and then if we wanted to go out, walk around the outside and down into the other gardens, which in my opinion aren’t anywhere near as pretty. In fact we headed towards the river and saw a marquee being set up for the reception and thought perhaps we shouldn’t walk through that part either, so went the other way and down to the alpacas instead. 
 
 
 
By the time some of my friends arrived the wedding party was already here, meaning they paid full price for entrance to the gardens on arrival only to find they couldn’t actually go into all of the gardens. It was also surprising that the cost of afternoon tea didn’t include entry into the gardens and we’d had to pay for that separately.
 
 
The afternoon tea itself was nice though nothing that special, and my friend had pre-ordered a vegan afternoon tea for one of our party which the caterers had completely forgotten about, and the only vegan item on the menu they could offer her was a vegetable soup.
 
 
We had a selection of sandwiches that were nice but fairly basic – ham, cucumber, cheese and smoked salmon followed by scones with cream and jam, and two or three types of cake – what I think was a lemon and pistachio savarin (a small ring-shaped cake) with icing, mini Victoria sponges and I think something else I can’t remember. I was a little underwhelmed, I suppose having had some amazing afternoon teas before, but it was nice enough (aside from the lack of promised vegan option).
 
 
 
 
 
You can spend quite a lot of time here exploring the gardens and walking by the riverside, and there are things to look out for around the gardens that would be fun for children (such as a dragon and a topiary peacock) but in my opinion it was a shame both for visitors that they can be charged admission then told parts of the garden are closed for a wedding, and also for the wedding party who have to put up with random members of the public walking around and watching them. Some people wouldn’t mind that as you can’t always expect exclusive hire of your wedding venue especially if you are in a hotel but given the size of the gardens I am surprised that they don’t just close them to the public, or at the very least warn people when they book afternoon tea that there is also a wedding booked. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nigella Lawson's Croque Monsieur Bake


If you like a toasted cheese sandwich then you will love this croque monsieur bake by Nigella Lawson. It takes a bit more time but not much more effort and makes a great brunch or lunch. One advantage over toasted sandwiches is you don’t have to make them one or two at a time (limited by space in your grill or toasted sandwich maker) – you can make a large portion in an oven-proof dish. Nigella’s recipe says it serves 4-6 but I did this for two people one lunchtime recently.
 
The method is simple – spread your sliced bread with mustard if you like, or for those with more sensitive palates or who dislike mustard you could use butter or marg. Put some sliced cheese and ham into each sandwich – you could also be a bit more adventurous with your fillings if you like, but I stuck with ham and cheese.
 
 
Put the sandwiches into an oven-proof dish – don’t be afraid to really squish them in.
 
Beat eggs, salt and milk and pour over the sandwiches in the oven-proof dish. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight for the bread to get really moist.
 
 
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C, remove the clingfilm and sprinkle with grated cheese and Worcestershire sauce. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes and serve.
 
You don’t get the same crispy effect as you would with a toasted sandwich – these have a texture more like French toast or ‘eggy bread’ – but the oozy cheesiness is lovely.


 

 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Meal Planning 2017 Week 33

Finally we had some hot weather at the weekend so the barbecue we hosted for my father-in-law's birthday on Sunday was a resounding success. I'm sure it would have been anyway as it was lovely to have the extended family around (ranging in age from 7 to 70s) but sunshine really did help!

We were more sensible about catering than in the past, prompting my husband to wonder beforehand if we had enough food - and we still had leftovers! But we didn't have quite as much left over as usual which was good - though I did plan that we would have leftover barbecue food on Monday night for dinner.

Monday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner leftover BBQ food

Tuesday - working from home
Breakfast porridge
Lunch either chicken salad or leftover BBQ food
Dinner pasta with meatballs

Wednesday  day off to run some errands
Breakfast toast
Lunch probably out
Dinner lamb with roast potatoes for me, chicken chargrills for him


Thursday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch tuna bagel or sandwich
Dinner out with a friend

Friday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch sandwich
Dinner chicken fajitas/ enchiladas

Saturday
Breakfast toast
Lunch tuna melt bagel
Dinner sausage and apple casserole, followed by crumble

Sunday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch out at a charity open day so want a quick lunch - beans & macaroni cheese on toast
Dinner salmon with new potatoes and sweet potato wedges/ bbq chicken and wedges

Join in the blog hop!



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Paper 1st Wedding Anniversary Gift Ideas

Everyone has heard of golden wedding anniversaries and ruby wedding anniversaries, but if you’re not married yourself, you may not know that every year has a theme! The theme is supposed to represent the gifts that the husband and wife give each other, and there is a traditional list and a modern list - for some countries they differ slightly but this is what I’ve found online:
 
Anniversary   Traditional                    Modern            
1st                     paper                              clock                                                               
2nd                    cotton                             china
3rd                     leather                            crystal or glass
4th                     fruit or flowers               electrical appliances
5th                     wood                               silverware
6th                     sugar                              wood
7th                     copper or wool               desk sets/ pen and pencil sets
8th                     bronze or pottery            linens or lace
9th                     pottery or willow            leather
10th                   tin                                   diamond jewellery
11th                   steel                                fashion jewellery, accessories
12th                   silk or linen                    pearls, coloured gems
13th                   lace                                textiles, furs
14th                   ivory                              gold jewellery
15th                   crystal                            watches
16th                   -                                     silver holloware
17th                   -                                     furniture
18th                   -                                     porcelain
19th                   -                                     bronze
20th                   china                              platinum
21st                   -                                     brass, nickel
22nd                   -                                     copper 
23rd                   -                                     silver plate
24th                   -                                     musical instruments
25th                   silver                              silver
30th                   pearl                               diamond
35th                   coral                               jade
40th                   ruby                               ruby
45th                   sapphire                         sapphire
50th                   gold                               gold
55th                   emerald                         emerald
60th                   diamond                        diamond

 
I’m a bit surprised at some of the themes on the modern list – in this digital age, I doubt many people want desk sets, and electrical appliances doesn’t seem particularly romantic! (Then again I suppose neither does the more traditional tin). Furs are a throwback from a former era unless it means fake fur, and I do think it’s slightly mercenary that women can expect diamonds after only ten years of marriage rather than 60 – in fact according to the modern list, there are three opportunities for women to receive diamonds!
 
I do think these lists are rather unrealistic because how many people can afford real diamonds? But still, I know a lot of people enjoy coming up with quirky gifts that fit each theme.
 
The first anniversary, paper, is quite good for people who may have overspent on their wedding or are still setting up home together – it’s also a fairly easy one if you haven’t gotten around to printing out wedding photos or doing a wedding photo album!
 
Here are some of my favourite suggestions for 1st (paper) anniversary gifts – and read on to see what my husband and I got each other!
  •  A card – you don’t need to give each other anniversary gifts on top of birthday and Christmas presents so why not agree from the outset you will just do cards?
  • Photo album, photo book or printing out photos to frame – of your wedding or honeymoon, or moments from your first year together, or a photo story from when you met right up to when you got married
  • A bunch of paper flowers – which you can fold yourself following an origami book, or buy ready made
  • A book – something romantic, or a copy (even a first edition) of a book they really love
  • The lyrics to the song you chose for your first dance, or your wedding vows, printed out and framed
  • A calendar made up of photos of you both
  • A personalised print like this or like this
  • A framed map, where you’ve marked places you have been together and places you want to go
  • A framed picture of your wedding venue – there are places online where you can commission a painting or line drawing, or you can frame a photo
  • A framed paper-cut picture like this or this
  • A scrapbook of photos and memories if you are the sort of person like me who keeps ticket stubs and mementos from places you have been together. You could also turn this into a memory board and frame to go on the wall.
  • A personalised notebook
  • Tickets to a show or gig or similar – the tickets are made of paper, or if you print an e-ticket that works too!
  • Write them a poem if you are feeling creative – this is a nice cheap idea. Or if you’re a bit more flush, you could commission someone to write a poem about your beloved!
  • Write them a love letter, or a series of love notes that you can surprise them with
  • A flying lesson – this is not strictly a paper anniversary gift, but you can give your partner a paper plane folded from a print-out of the details of the lesson!
My husband got me a fantastic anniversary gift which I hadn't spotted despite it being from Not on the High Street.com, which I had combed myself looking for gift ideas! It's the perfect present for me and shows how well he knows me, because I like to scrapbook and do papercrafts, and to make lists and fill in notebooks.
 
It's a wedding anniversary album, with 50 pages. Each page has the same layout, with a space for a photo, and places to write down where you spent your anniversary, what you gave each other and a space to write either some notable things that have happened over the past year or your wishes for the year ahead. It's really lovely and I'm looking forward to filling it in!


I was debating between several ideas for my husband and decided to get him two things - and after having a look online decided to make rather than buy them. First I went with one of the ideas I'd seen on various websites, getting the lyrics to our first dance printed out. It would have looked better if I'd had it professionally done but I don't think this looks bad at all - I selected a font and made different lines different sizes depending on how many words per line.

 
 Then because I wanted to do something a bit more creative I did a papercut of our wedding venue. A paper cut is where you use a sharp craft knife to cut out around a picture - every section must be connected to the edge of the paper otherwise you'd find parts of the picture come away in the middle. So it can be a little challenging but it's good fun!

I drew a sketch of the roman temple at the Larmer Tree Gardens which is where we stood during the ceremony (our guests were seated on the grass in front) and added some words at the top with our names and wedding date. As each letter has to be attached to the edge of the paper somehow the easiest way to do this is make the letters look like flags flying on bunting, and attach each letter to the bunting and attach the bunting to the edge of the paper.


The Larmer Tree has several peacocks which wander around and one featured in several of our wedding photos so I wanted to include a peacock in this picture. I decided to add some different colour and texture by using a peacock sticker that had little gems on it, and added a couple of other gems to the temple outline. I bought frames for each pictures as well.

It's a bit different, very personal to us, and homemade with love.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: The Larmer Tree Gardens, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire


I celebrated my first wedding anniversary in June and as the day fell on a Sunday we decided to go back to our wedding venue, the Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire. We attempted to recreate one of our wedding photos - albeit without the professional wedding photographer as you can tell!



We also enjoyed spending the day with my parents, sister and niece, who was still a bump inside her tummy on our wedding day. The weather was glorious on our anniversary - I was actually glad it hadn't been that hot on our wedding day!

It was great revisiting the different spots where we had had wedding photos taken, some of them with our guests but also a few secluded romantic ones by the dell.


 The Larmer Tree gardens have plenty of things to explore from pathways between hedges leading to statues, a pretty garden within a garden called the bride's quarter, an old stage dating from 1866, a dell (basically a pond with a beautiful view), a grotto an of course the roman temple where my husband I tied the knot. There's even a trail of fairy doors around the gardens for children to seek out.



The gardens were first open to the public as 'pleasure gardens' in the 1880s and 1890s then closed for most of the next century until 1991 - there's some fascinating information about the gardens' history on the website.

 
The main pavilion isn't normally open to the public; this is the new building behind the hedge from the main gardens where we had the wedding breakfast in one room and the band and dancing in the room next door, spilling out onto a terrace where people toasted marshmallows over a fire pit.

The peacocks rule the roost at the Larmer Tree and won't bother you mostly - they do sometimes try to steal food if you're not careful, but otherwise seem totally harmless. They are so used to people, they think nothing of strutting around and showing off their tail feathers and effectively posing for photos. Look up when you arrive and you will probably find one or two sitting on the roof of the visitor centre.

 

 There's a Café with seating both indoors and outdoors, that has a small selection of food, drinks and ice cream. My husband and I wanted to spend a bit of time at the Larmer Tree on our own before my family arrived and then were a little hungry as we hadn't had lunch, though we'd had a big breakfast and it was too hot to really want to eat. So we sat inside in the little Café (there were no tables left in the shade outside, and it really was too hot) and had a cheese scone (the hubby) and a piece of Victoria sponge (me). The cake was delicious - though you can bring your own picnics to eat on the grass in the gardens, the Café is lovely for a snack or, as we did later with my family, a drink and an ice cream.


 We bumped into our wedding planner (technically she is the head of events at the Larmer Tree, as they do all sorts of things there) who remembered it was our anniversary which was a nice touch, given how many couples they must see every year.

If you're in the Wiltshire/Dorset area I highly recommend the Larmer Tree gardens for an afternoon out - and if you are considering it as a wedding venue read my more detailed post about our wedding!

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 32

Best laid plans and all that... last week I didn't make a couple of the meals I had planned, one night because I was home too late and the other because it was the end of the week, I was unexpectedly working from home and decided I really fancied roast potatoes, so put some in the oven with a pork chop! It might be August but the barbecue days seem an awfully long time ago....

Monday
Breakfast museli with yogurt and tinned fruit
Lunch bagel with soft cheese
Dinner pork chop with sweet potato mash for me, chicken pie and mash for him

Tuesday
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch tuna melt bagel
Dinner curry with leftover chicken

Wednesday
Breakfast museli with yogurt and tinned fruit
Lunch bagel with soft cheese
Dinner pasta with meatballs

Thursday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch at an event all day
Dinner either out or will get something on way home from event

Friday
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch pasta salad
Dinner lamb with new potatoes; chicken in breadcrumbs and chips for my husband who doesn't eat either

Saturday
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch bacon sandwich for him, tuna melt bagel for me
Dinner Chinese or Indian takeaway style kit from Tesco, as I will be having an online order today and lots of food to prep for the barbecue tomorrow.

Sunday
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch: hosting a family barbecue for my father in law's birthday. The weather forecast is OK but not exactly hot!
Dinner probably won't want a lot of dinner, either leftover barbecue food or something simple like cheese on toast

Join in the blog hop!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Relax It's Your Birthday Pineapple Stamped Card

I was really pleased when I found this set of pineapple rubber stamps and dies in a local charity shop for £2 - it's a bit quirky and something I would have hesitated to buy, as it's fairly niche - I'm sure there are various designs you can do with pineapples, but most of my stamp sets are more versatile. However, I'm often envious when I see cards people have made with unusual stamps that are perfect for a specific sentiment which is why I decided to add these to my stash.  Pineapples also seem to be really in at the moment!
 

I used two of the three large pineapple stamps - one has the outline of a pineapple on a clear stamp, so you get the pattern in the middle, and the other has a solid bottom so you still see the pattern but the sections of the skin are dark, and on the top half it says 'it's your birthday'.

I stamped both of them with blank ink onto yellow card, repeating the full pineapple once, and then separately stamped the greenery on top with green ink onto white card. I cut it out and stuck that on top of the pineapple.

The 'relax' sentiment is another stamp from this set and the 'best wishes' is from a different set.


I'm sharing this with CASology where they want a 'clean and simple' card with the theme 'juicy'. Clean and simple cards normally have one main image and I have stamped three pineapples, but together they form one image, and there is lots of white space around them.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Waterloo Cafe, Wootton St, London and Photoion Photography School


Believe it or not, I'm really into photography. I say believe it or not because I know that some of the photos on this blog are not very good at all. When I cook a meal from a new recipe for dinner, and want to take a photo, it's often 8pm already and I just want to eat, not faff around with cameras and lights, so grab my mobile for a quick snap!

When I do have time I put in more effort - I've got lights, backdrops, an expensive camera and a variety of lenses. I tend to use my Canon 5D more for days out, holidays and - one of my favourites - portrait photography, whether that be people or animals.

I've done a few courses now with the Photoion Photography schoolfood photography, portrait and now macro photography.

 

 
The courses, taught by Ion, are really good – you don’t need the most expensive camera and you learn all sorts of techniques and tips, plus Ion will help set up some shots so you get great pictures on the day. With food and macro in particular it is hard to get the same shots on your own afterwards, unless you are very talented - but even then you may not have all the equipment or the understanding of the exact angle of light needed. Either way, I've had a lot of fun learning and trying out what I've learnt at home afterwards.
 
The classes are taught near Waterloo station which is fairly easy for me to get to, though as it does take a while I left extra time and arrived quite early before my class. I decided to go and get breakfast somewhere nearby and found myself in the Waterloo Café. It looked very cheap and cheerful - not a greasy spoon though but several of the other patrons were workers in high-vis jackets perhaps having breakfast or a break from work.

Downstairs there is a counter where you can buy food to take away, including some pastries and doughnuts that looked very good, and upstairs is a seating area with menus and waitress service. I didn't fancy breakfast 'proper' - I don't like full English and didn't want a sausage sandwich- so had a cheese toastie and a Ribena (which is basically juice, right?!). It was simple but good and set me up nicely for the rest of the day.

If you're into photography I highly recommend the Photoion Photography school - check out the different courses they offer on their website.

 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lemon Meringue Celebration Cake


This cake was easier than it looks to make, and a dream to eat - it looks really impressive and trust me, it tastes even better!

The recipe comes from Fiona Cairns’ Birthday Cake book but is also available online here.
 
Making meringues is sometimes a bit hit and miss; I followed Fiona Cairns’ recipe mixing egg whites with icing sugar, which was a first – I normally use caster sugar. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my egg whites to form soft peaks – the mixture was still quite runny. It may have been that there was some grease in the bowl or on my whisk but I thought they were clean – eventually I gave up and decided to make the meringues with caster sugar, which worked fine!
 
 
 
I followed the recipe for making the cake batter and the cake turned out really well. I forget how good crème fraiche can be in a cake – it’s delicious, though you need to be careful about leaving the cake out too long on a hot day (I’d rather not refrigerate cake if I can help it).
 
 
 
I found it tricky to make the almonds around the sides look neat but I still like the effect. With the meringues placed on top this is a pretty cake, and one that looks a bit special without needing to go to a lot of effort with decorations or covering it in fondant. A lovely cake for a birthday or a summer's afternoon tea.


 


 

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Pile of Presents Birthday Card

This is a nice and easy birthday card to make but one that is clean and simple but quite colourful at the same time. I often find it easier to make feminine cards so this one is good for a male or just someone who doesn't like butterflies and flowers!


The presents are from a simple sheet of stickers that had gifts of different sizes and shapes; I chose the rectangular ones and varying heights in blues and greens as I thought they went together nicely. The sentiment at the top was from a rubber stamp and I went over the word 'birthday' in green Promarker to match the rest of the card.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Meal Planning Monday Week 31

It's been another busy week where I've barely managed to blog; I was away on Friday and Saturday staying at my sister's and spending time with my 8-month-old niece which was brilliant. Now it's Sunday afternoon and I've realised I need to plan the week's menu and go food shopping before the shops shut in a couple of hours - oops!

Monday
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch couscous with chicken and feta
Dinner lasagne

Tuesday - working from home
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple
Lunch baked potato with cottage cheese
Dinner fish pie for me, chicken pie for him

Wednesday
Breakfast museli with yogurt and tinned fruit
Lunch vegetable soup with a wholemeal roll
Dinner leftover fish pie as I'll be home a bit late and my husband is out

Thursday
Breakfast museli with yogurt and tinned fruit
Lunch couscous with chicken and feta
Dinner pork chop with sweet potato mash

Friday
Breakfast museli with yogurt and tinned fruit
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner lamb with new potatoes; chicken in breadcrumbs and chips for my husband who doesn't eat either

Saturday
Breakfast porridge or yogurt
Lunch chicken fajitas
Dinner salmon in a creamy sauce with sweet potato wedges for me; barbecue chicken and wedges for him

Sunday
Breakfast porridge or yogurt
Lunch Welsh rarebit on wholemeal toast
Dinner roast chicken (didn't do last week)

Join in the blog hop!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: Escape from the Room, Sutton and Wildwood, Cheam

Room escape games are the latest craze – in fact I’m a bit late to the party as they have been around for a couple of years. You have 60 minutes to solve various puzzles inside a locked room, ultimately earning your way out before the timer runs out. The puzzle has an overarching story, usually a mystery of some kind, but the puzzles are a combination of hunting for items around the room and thinking laterally to figure out connections.
 
For my birthday this year some friends and I did Escape from the Room in Sutton. It was the first escape game for any of us so we didn’t know what to expect. This one was set up by an enthusiast who designed his own game and converted a couple of rooms in his house, so it’s in the middle of a residential street. The house setting works with the theme of the mystery about ‘Old maid Milly’; I won’t go into details about the puzzles as I don’t want to reveal any spoilers but it was great fun and we finished in 57 minutes, with just three minutes to spare!
 
I’d booked dinner afterwards in Cheam Village – even though I don’t live far away I had never been there before. I found a place online called Wildwood which looked really good – bright and colourful with a menu based around pizza, pasta and the grill. There’s a deli section at the front, they provide activity packs for children and the menu is extensive and reasonably priced – we had a group including meat eaters, a vegan and a child, and everyone was happy.
 
 
Unfortunately service was extremely slow – they weren’t particularly busy on the Sunday evening of the May bank holiday weekend but we had to wait a very long time for our drinks and even longer for our food. The food was worth the wait though – at least mine was. Two of our group had the sirloin steak (£15.95) and didn’t think it was particularly good.
 

 
I shared some meatballs in tomato sauce (£5.75) as a starter which were tasty, followed by a calzone pizza. Most restaurants that have calzone (folded) pizza have just one or two variations, but Wildwood has all its pizza toppings with an option of classic, calzone or ‘giganti’. I had smoked ham and rocket and it was delicious. There was a side of fries on my plate which I think was meant for someone else so I passed them over!
 
 
 
If Wildwood can sort out its service I think this would be a lovely place for diners of all kinds – perhaps not a romantic meal but a fun date night, or a family, or a group of friends celebrating a birthday.
 
 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Vegan Watermelon Sorbet and an Easy Watermelon Cocktail


I had a real ‘I carried a watermelon’ moment on holiday. My husband and I were staying in a small village in Gozo (an island off Malta) and had walked to the local grocery shop to buy food for the week, having been told the shop would deliver. Forget Tesco two-hour delivery slots: we purchased our groceries, told to pack it into an empty cardboard box and leave it in the corner, and they would bring it to us in about half an hour.
 
Almost an hour later there was no sign so I left my husband in our rooms and went over to the reception of our apartment complex - and found the delivery driver there asking directions. I hopped in his car and we drove over to our building, where he proceeded to unload the car. I asked if I could carry anything, which is how I ended up ringing the bell on our apartment door, and my husband opened it to find me standing there holding a giant round fruit and uttering the immortal line from Dirty Dancing: “I carried a watermelon!”.
 
Watermelon is delicious when the weather is hot; you can freeze it in cubes or munch on a whole slice. There are loads of recipes you can make with watermelon as well.

Watermelon cocktail
 
While I was in Gozo I made an impromptu watermelon cocktail given I had very few tools and ingredients; cut a few chunks of watermelon and discard the seeds and muddle in the bottom of a tumbler until the watermelon has broken down a bit (you could also put it in a blender if you wanted a smoother drink).
 
Add a splash of rose wine (or more than a splash, if you like) and top up with lemonade. If possible, enjoy beside the swimming pool as I did!
 
Watermelon Sorbet
 
We had a barbecue last weekend despite the weather, as it had been organised several weeks in advance and there wasn’t a suitable date we could postpone to. It was rainy and not particularly warm so most people were indoors – luckily we have a gas barbecue with a lid so we could still cook outside!
 
I made a couple of desserts in advance, including the chocolate ice cream from a KitchenAid recipe I made once before (but leaving out the chocolate chips this time), which is delicious. I needed a vegan dessert as well and decided to make a very simple watermelon sorbet. Simply dice some watermelon and remove the black seeds and put in a blender with some sugar syrup (which you can buy in a bottle or make yourself). Spoon into a plastic container and freeze overnight or longer. You will need to take the sorbet out of the freezer for an hour or so before you want to serve, as it will be rock solid; after an hour at room temperature you can scoop it into bowls and enjoy.
 
 
I was so busy at the barbecue I forgot to take a better photo!
This month’s Food ‘n’ Flix challenge is hosted by Chef Sarah Elizabeth who has chosen the film Dirty Dancing. I loved this film as a teenager and there’s something very timeless about it even though it’s 30 years old (I can’t believe that!). The idea of the challenge is to share a recipe inspired by the film and having had my own ‘I carried a watermelon’ moment, that was the inspiration I chose.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 30

We had a barbecue at the weekend which was fun despite the weather - the rain put some people off though and we had about half the number of guests we expected, so we have a lot of leftover food! I need to eat healthily though it's tempting to try to use up all the leftover food as well, so I'm going to allow myself one 'treat' meal then get back on the healthy eating bandwagon - especially as I'm away for a bit at the weekend visiting my sister and her partner and my baby niece.

Monday
Breakfast  porridge
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner hotdogs and leftover potato salad

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch jacket potato with tuna
Dinner chicken pasta carbonara in the slow cooker

Wednesday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner not sure as I will be home a bit late - going shopping after work for some bits for my niece

Thursday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner pie and mash

Friday
Breakfast porridge
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner at my sister's

Saturday
Breakfast at my sister's
Lunch at my sister's
Dinner back late so will decide what to eat based on when I get home

Sunday
Breakfast TBA - might have a lie in for the first time in weeks!
Lunch bacon sandwich for him, mackerel in mustard sauce on toast for me
Dinner roast chicken

join in the blog hop!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Charlotte Tilbury, Blow Ltd and the Delaney, Aldwych, London

For my birthday this year I had a day of pampering. I'd gotten a voucher for a makeup session at Charlotte Tilbury in Covent Garden for Christmas which I had booked to do on my birthday which was a Saturday at the end of April.
 

It didn't get off to the best start as I realised in the morning I'd had no email confirmation, as I'd booked over the phone, so I rang just to double check all was ok - only to find they had no record of my booking! Naturally I wasn't thrilled but luckily the manager said they could fit me in anyway at the time I had booked for (since I had booked a blow dry elsewhere afterwards).

I had a two hour session and was shown looks for daytime and evening, perched awkwardly on a high stool in front of a huge mirror with lights around the edge, feeling slightly crammed in next to the other women (most of whom had brought a friend or their mum) seated around me. I think I expected the session to be more of a makeup tutorial and there was a degree of finding colours and looks that suited me but I'm not sure I took a lot in about how it was being applied which was a bit of a shame.

I didn't realise as well that their two hour session is quite unusual and most people have an hour. It was described on the website as a 'makeup wardrobe' to find colours and a look that suits, but when I had the conversation with the manager about how they had lost my booking, she said they didn't offer the makeup wardrobe session any more and it shouldn't have been on the website (though it was) and that the person taking my booking shouldn't have done so in the first place! They did honour the booking and give me the session I had booked and paid for but I could tell that after about an hour and a half the girl doing my makeup was really struggling for something to do and it was a bit like 'shall we add an extra bit of highlighter'... still she did her best and did a good job and I was happy  with the rest (though I'd advise anyone else to just book the one hour session) - and ended up buying several products to take home. The manager even slipped an extra product into my bag to make up for the confusion over my booking.


Then it was on to Blow Ltd, a blow-dry bar in nearby St Martin's Courtyard. They don't do hair cuts but will style your hair in a selection of styles, and also do hair and makeup. There was only one other person in there having her hair done at the time who turned out to be one of the other stylists - they were quiet so were practising on each other! I was surprised they weren't busier for 5pm on a Saturday afternoon but I'd never heard of this place before until I was googling where to get a blow dry. They did a great blow dry and the girl was happy to adapt the style to my hair type and talked to me about what I wanted rather than just have me point to one of the eight options pictured on the wall. I'd definitely go back and get another blow dry if funds allowed - though I'm not normally the type of person to get glammed up to go out on a Saturday night!

I met my husband outside and his reaction to both the hair and makeup was 'wow'. He'd come in to London to meet me to take me for a birthday dinner. My criteria for choosing a restaurant was 1) somewhere I hadn't been before 2) somewhere near Covent Garden 3) somewhere worthy of a birthday dinner 4) somewhere with a menu that would suit both me and my fussy-eater husband.

I found the Delaunay online and couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before. It's run by the same people as the Wolseley, a high-end restaurant my husband and I went to for my birthday a couple of years ago. It stands on the corner of Aldwych and Drury Lane and is apparently popular for pre-and post-theatre dining, which explains why it was really busy when we arrived then emptied out dramatically just before 7.30!

The other reason I was surprised I hadn't heard of this place is because I love German food, having twice lived in Germany. The Delaunay describes itself as a European cafe - it has a cafe section and the main restaurant - but from looking at the menu the food seems to be German or Austrian-inspir ed. There's a fair bit of seafood including crab and oysters, sardines and scallops, and 'normal' things like a burger but the fact that the eggs section is called Eier and the daily specials Tagesteller is a bit of a giveaway. They have Wiener Schnitzel and chickens schnitzel , a whole section of German sausages and a dessert selection that is decidedly Germanic, from Black Forest Gateau to Sachertorte to apple strudel.



I was in heaven. My husband had their chicken schnitzel which he'd eaten in Austria and really enjoyed, and I picked a mixture of two types of sausage - a Frankfurter and a Berber Wurstel, which was a pork and garlic sausage, stuffed with Emmental cheese down the middle, and wrapped in bacon. It came with a small portion of potatoes and sauerkraut (I love sauerkraut and don't think I've ever had it in a restaurant in the UK before) - but as I didn't know it came with those, I'd ordered a side of spätzle, which is like a kind of pasta that you typically get in southern Germany and Austria.

 
 
The cheese was actually a bit much with the richness of the sausage and if I had this again I'd stick to a plain sausage, but otherwise it was really good. For dessert I had a piece of strudel which came with an edible biscuit plaque where the restaurant had written a happy birthday message - I must have mentioned my birthday when I booked, which I thought was a nice touch. So if you are yearning for a little bit of Germany and Austria in London, or just want to try something a bit different, I strongly recommend the Delaunay.