Saturday, 31 August 2013

weekend jaunts

To mark the last weekend of my summer holiday, which conveniently coincided with the bank holiday last weekend, Rich and I headed to Oxford for a couple of days of exploring. On the Saturday we mooched round Oxford; exploring various streets and shops, looking round Christ Church College (which inspired the Great Hall in Harry Potter films!) and stopping for a bite to eat at St Aldates Tavern. We then drove to Woodstock, home to Blenheim Palace, where we stayed in a lovely B&B right in the centre of the town. We arrived right in the middle of Woodstock's bank holiday weekend celebrations, with a mini music festival staged right outside our B&B! The street was buzzing with activity and a great atmosphere - we sat outside for dinner, alongside live music 'til about 10.30pm. It was a really mild evening, and despite wearing thick jumpers when the sun went down, it felt like we were on holiday! 

Anyway, the next morning we went to Bicester village (Rich is still convinced it is pronounced Bi-ces-ster) for a bit of retail therapy... we hoped. I was left pretty disappointed, and although very nearly convinced myself into buying a Michael Kors bag, left with nothing for myself. We did manage to buy a sweet present for Rich's niece-to-be, who is due in just over a month, from The White Company, and Rich spent a small fortune in Superdry - he was contented at least! Afterwards we went to the sweet little town of Burford on Kat's recommendation, and after a little walk around went for lunch in one of the many pubs, sat in a gorgeous beer garden in the sunshine. 

We had such a lovely weekend - we just wish we could afford to go on jaunts like this every weekend! Saying that, we're thinking about a weekend away in the October half term (teacher holidays dictate) - any suggestions?


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

bookworm #21

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I love Harry Potter. No shame! The first book came out when I was ten years old, and after a couple of months of it sitting on my bedside table and me thinking I was too cool for magic, I finally succumbed to the glorious world of Hogwarts, muggles and quidditch. I've read each book at least twice and can think of nothing I love more than sitting in my PJs on a Sunday afternoon watching the films! When I heard J.K. Rowling had released a novel for adults (note: not an adult novel) I was excited and anxious in equal measures. The hype surrounding The Casual Vacancy was huge, and again after months of putting it off I bought a copy and popped it in my rucksack for Malaysia. 

Now, let me start off my saying I liked this book. It took me bloody ages to read, as I wouldn't exactly say it's 'unputadownable' (technical term), but I liked it. I did feel, at times, that nothing happened however! The story starts with the death of Barry Fairbrother, which sends the village of Pagford into tail-spin over who will take his seat in the Parish council - a matter which caused a huge divide. This story talks you through a community's attempt to replace Barry Fairbrother, whilst at the same time showing you the mundane everyday of Pagford, and the not-so-mundane life of the individuals who inhabit it. Like in the Harry Potter novels, Rowling is excellent at bringing her characters to life, until you really feel like you know them. Although there were times this felt slow paced, the ending was just... wow. I've never felt so shocked by an ending! Overall I enjoyed this book, if perhaps a little long. 

I still will find it hard to come to terms with Rowling describing oral sex, and dropping the C bomb by page sixteen... whadda woman. I'm looking forward to trying her crime novel next!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

oh you tart

After making a pie, or my trout parcels, I often find myself with half a sheet of puff pastry to use up. Not sure what to do with it, I decided to chuck a load of stuff from our fridge on said pastry, and see what happened! Here goes...

You will need
Half sheet pre-rolled puff pastry
Feta cheese - crumbled
Tomatoes - sliced
Chopped black olives
Spring onions - sliced

Basically, lay out the pastry on some greaseproof paper, then layer on the tomatoes to start (use buffalo tomatoes sliced thinly if possible, these cherry tomatoes were slightly too tart) followed by all your other ingredients. The chopped olives I used were actually pre-chopped in a jar from Sainsburys and went really well with the feta. I used a vegetable peeler to slice the courgette into ribbons; discard the very first layer of peel. These cook right down so you may want to do some more on top when cooked. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a shake of dried oregano, and bake for 20-25 minutes on 180c, until the pastry is golden. 

Serve with a lightly dressed salad, and a chunk of bread if this doesn't fill you up enough! Perfect at the moment when the evenings are quite mild and bright and you don't always want a heavy dinner.


Friday, 23 August 2013

mean girls - Guru Gossip

Before I start this post 'proper', I just want to make something clear - I'm not posting this to get sympathy, or fish for compliments. I'm posting this because I think it needs to be said.

The other day, whilst looking at my blogger stats I noticed I'd had quite a lot of traffic from the now infamous site Guru Gossip. Immediately, my heart sank. For those that may not know GG is a site where, essentially, people to go to have a bitch about bloggers, in the main part. Just by looking at the home page and seeing threads such as 'abhorred bloggers' and 'trash a guru' I feel disheartened. Surely people are over this sort of shit by now? Seems not.

Following the link on my blogger page, I came to a thread titled 'smaller, less talked about bloggers'. From what I can tell, this is yet another forum for people to discuss bloggers, such as myself apparently, who are 'small' and therefore don't attract as much hate as the 'big bloggers' - who deserve it, obvs (irony) - but people still want a moan. Getting to the point, someone started a thread 'there are so many bloggers out there and the market is over-saturated that these people are desperate for any sort of attention, even though most of them are carbon copies of one another'... which is where I come in. I was then given as an example of such a blogger, with someone taking offence to the use of the lettering on some of my images.

Now, I'm not here to defend myself, or justify what I do. I simply think this sort of thing should not be happening. Luckily for me I'm pretty secure in myself (that comes with coming to the wrong side of 25, I fear) and am able to take what these folk have been saying with a pinch of salt. For me my blog is a procrastination tool - as a teacher I work my arse off most of the working (and non-working) week, and this here blog is an escapism. When people slate it, I have to admit I don't really care - it's a hobby, and I will go on as normal. It would be nice if people didn't criticise, but hey, whatever. But for some, it means a lot more to them than that, and to have people pick faults and mercilessly bitch about what they do, its not cool. Working with teenagers I see too often the consequences and aftermath of petty bullying and 'flyaway' comments made online, which really can make some people's lives painful. You only have to watch the news to see cases of young people no longer being able to take the abuse they receive online; often from so-called friends, people posting anonymously, and for no just cause. When did this become normal?!

Maybe I'm just out of touch with the social media generation; I mean I'm pretty media-savvy, but fuck having to grow up with twitter, et al as well as dealing with what is already a stressful time in most peoples' lives. What happened to the sistahood?! Yes, I did just say that. And yes, I have a blog. No, that does not entitle people to slag me off merely because 'I've put myself out there'. I'm entirely aware that what I saw about my blog on GG is nothing compared to some of the horrendous things people get written about them, but this is exactly my point. Live and let live - life is too short to cause trouble and make people feel shit about something that, in the grand scheme of things, is fairly harmless. They talk about a blogging 'market' which has become 'over-saturated'... I can't be the only one who thinks this talk is a load of BS? Blog what you like, when you like, how you like. There are no rules. And if you don't want to read, then don't. Simple.

I guess this guy knows the score...


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

bookworm #20

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

After reading Sister by the same author, I was really excited to see this in my local charity shop and quickly decided it would be my first holiday read. As on the blurb on the back cover, this novel centers around Grace discovering the school in which her children are inside is on fire. I don't want to give anything away as this story is packed with plot twists and turns, and isn't always what you would expect. Its told from a really interesting perspective which allows you to empathise with different characters, while at the same time view the situation from a distance. I wasn't entirely impressed with the ending, but overall really enjoyed this read. Its a page turner, and makes for a great 'who-dunnit'!

Have you read Afterwards? What did you think?


Sunday, 18 August 2013

of the rainbow

Before I start let me just say this: don't be put off by the recipe containing trout! I know a lot of people are funny about fish, and often stick to what they know. Trout is a lovely flavour; quite similar to salmon (a little less 'fishy' in my opinion!), and in this recipe you could substitute the trout for salmon if you wish. This is a recipe from one of Fay Ripley's books which I just love - so may simple recipes with everyday ingredients. 

You will need: (for two people)
375g pack puff pastry (you'll only use half)
2 trout fillets 
2 tablespoons pesto
100g pack spinach
Lemon zest

Start off by cutting the pack of pre-rolled pastry in half. You can make your own pastry of course, but... well, why would you? Life is too short. Lay this on a baking tray lined with some grease proof paper. Wilt your spinach by shoving it all in a pan with the lid on over a gentle heat for a few minutes, then press as much water out of the spinach as you can on some kitchen towel. Lay the spinach in the middle of the puff pastry, and then top with the trout. Spread over a couple of tablespoons of pesto and finish with a sprinkling of lemon zest. Bring the pastry together into a parcel shape and squeeze the edges to seal. Brush over a little milk and then pop in the oven (180c) for about 25-30 minutes. 

Chop in half across the two fillets (rather than down between the two) and serve with steamed summer green veg and new potatoes; we're obsessed with runner beans at the moment! My parents, and our neighbour have both had a huge harvest so we keep getting given big bags of the stuff... delish! 


Saturday, 17 August 2013

hold your ground

Dress ASOS Sandals River Island Bag Longchamp (Malaysian fakie!)

In our bid to make the most of the last couple of weeks of my summer break, last Sunday we visited Arundel. Wow. What a gorgeous place! The town itself is so pretty and quaint, littered with antique shops and gorgeous little boutiques. But the star attraction is the castle - both the castle itself (we paid £10 for a 'silver' ticket which got us into the grounds and keep) and the castle grounds are so worth a visit. We took the 131 steps up to the castle keep for amazing views of the town and river Arun, and explored the grounds and incredible gardens - the Collector Earl's Garden is just gorgeous. I never thought I would find gardens so... interesting! Clearly I am now a real grown-up. 


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

melanzane parmigiana

Aubergines seem to divide - you either like them, or your don't. For many, its the latter! But this recipe is so tasty, and a great addition to lamb steaks.

You will need: for 2-3 servings
2 aubergines
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 ball mozzarella
2 tablespoons olive oil
Tomato purée
Basil leaves
1 egg

To start, in a small pan warm the olive oil and garlic on a medium heat for a few minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes and tomato purée and leave on a low heat to cook while you do the rest of the prep.

Slice the aubergines into 5mm thick slices, brush a few of the slices with a little oil and cook in a griddle pan for about 5 minutes - flip half way through. Do in batches, and leave the slices on kitchen roll to absorb some of the oil when done. 

Now, time to layer it up! Start with a layer of aubergines, then some of the tomato sauce, mozzarella slices, basil leaves and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. Repeat until you've used up all the ingredients. Top with a beaten egg and another sprinkling of Parmesan. 

Bake for 20-30 minutes at 180C until golden. Some say this is a dish on its own - its not enough food for me on its own, so I usually serve with lamb steaks and vegetables. 


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

A taste of paradise

After a little delay - this is the second chapter of our holiday. We visited Malaysia between 19th July and 3rd August. I've already shared my photos from the first islands we visited in Malaysia; the Perhentians and Redang. After a week spent between these paradise islands, we moved on to the western side of Malaysia. 

Our first stop on the second half of our two weeks away was Penang. This was really a stop over point for us - there are no direct flights between Kota Bharu and Langkawi so we went via Penang, spending just one night there. In hindsight, I wish we had spent longer here! Penang (in particular Georgetown, where we stayed) is amazing - a real cultural highlight for us with scores of temples, clan houses and the like, as well as incredible food. In the 24 hours we were there, we managed to look round several temples and clan houses, including Khoo Kongsi Clan House (the largest in Malaysia), ate at some amazing hawker stalls, got a trishaw from one side to another and had one of the best curries I've tried. Phew! 

After our brief exploration of Penang, we hopped on a flight to Langkawi. After years of wanting to visit this place, I have to say I left disappointed. Compared to Penang it seemed virtually sterile and void of any real atmosphere. Saying that, we stayed in a lovely hotel with an amazing pool, cocktails on tap and at ridiculously cheap prices - Langkawi is a duty-free island! 

Now, this picture above. It might not seem all that, but I can safely say it was one of the best meals we had all holiday! If you ever go to Langkawi, you must visit Tomato. It looks pretty canteen-like from the outside, but serves the best local Malaysian curry at shockingly cheap prices (the dishes cost about £1-£2!). Not crazy-spicy, but super tasty and authentic. Delish!

It's not all bad however, being in Langkawi provided me with one of the funniest holiday memories to date... in hindsight, that is! We'd heard great things about the cable cars in Langkawi - views over Malaysia and stretching to Thailand, taking you up a whopping 708m above sea level. We hopped in and just as we did, it started to rain. Sigh. The rain got worse, until we were traveling up in a downpour, along with gales and thunder and lightening. 'Cos everyone wants to be suspended in the sky, in a metal box, when there's thunder and lightening, right?! When we reached the half-way point, we jumped out and were hit by the full force of the rain and wind... we literally got soaked right through to our underwear. After taking refuge in a prayer room (obvs) we were told it was now time to hop back into the cable cars, as they needed to shut it down due to the awful weather. Joy! But before we came down, we had to continue up hundreds of feet (surrounded by a bubble of cloud) before being able to come down. We had to sing Disney songs to ease the terror - genuinely thought I would take my last breath whilst singing 'Be Our Guest'. Apparently I do a great Mrs Potts impression however, I clearly make a good teapot. 

This is my 'holiday memory' I have shared as part of the Travel Supermarket Holiday Postcards competition. Fingers crossed!

And finally, Kuala Lumpur. We flew into KL at the start of our trip, and left from here for home at the end. I love Kuala Lumpur; the city is buzzing with life, has shopping to die for (everything from high end designer brands in the incredible Pavilion mall, to Petaling Street for super cheap and convincing fakes) and is brimming with culture and tradition. On our last day, before our flight home in the evening, we visited Batu Caves. Just outside of KL, these are a must-see (picture above and below). At night, we visited Jin Alor for yet more amazing street food, check out the size of these prawns below! And no trip is complete without checking out Pavilion Mall - over 500 stores from Burberry to Forever 21, as well as countless restaurants, spas and cafes. We had breakfast at Loaf on the last morning; they did some pretty tasty pancakes and french toast with fruit! Just before our flight we went for a cocktail in Sky Bar on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel. Incredible views of the Petronas Towers and a fab way to end our two weeks in Malaysia!

So, that's my holiday pictures done! I've just got one more post for you, and that is some holiday outfits. Apart from that, I promise I will now stop going on about Malaysia. Maybe. Honestly though, if you're thinking of booking an Asian adventure, I would 100% recommend Malaysia. I've now been twice and am desperate to go back a third time... anyone want to pay?!

Monday, 12 August 2013

poppy seeds

In recent months I've started to move away from baking chocolatey cakes and puddings, and towards more fresh, fruity treats. My key lime pie has been a big hit since I first tried it at our family picnic, and this lemon and poppy seed loaf seems to be following suit! A slice with a cup of tea is a perfect mid-afternoon treat, and doesn't feel too naughty.

You will need:
200g plain flour
100g caster sugar
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (plus a sprinkle extra for luck)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Zest of one lemon
150g natural yogurt
75g melted butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing - 
4 heaped tablespoons icing sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To start, mix together your dry ingredients - flour, sugar, poppy seeds, bicarb of soda, and lemon zest. In another bowl combine the yogurt, melted butter, eggs (remember - one whole egg and one egg yolk, discard the white) and vanilla extract. Once both bowls are well mixed, combine. Spoon the mixture into a lined loaf tin - I love these loaf liners, they make life lots easier! Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean, at 180C.

When cooked, transfer to a wire rack to cool. While still warm, ice your loaf by mixing the icing sugar with one tablespoon of the juice from the lemon you zested earlier. It is quite sharp, so use less lemon juice if you'd prefer.

The yogurt keeps this loaf really moist and light for days - enjoy!


Thursday, 8 August 2013

home comforts

Since arriving back in the UK on Sunday after two weeks in Malaysia, I've enjoyed making the most of the rest of the summer holidays (loving teaching right now!) and the lovely town in which I live. Yesterday I met up with Tabitha who lives just down the road, and we went for lunch and cake followed by a mooch around town. The sun showed his face and we went a little mad buying books in several local charity shops! As much as I love travelling to new climates and experiencing different cultures, being back home is also pretty nice. I still have a serious case of the post-holiday blues, but days like this are making it much more tolerable!

With only a couple of weeks or so left of the holidays, Rich and I are planning some fun day trips and things to do at the weekends. Any Surrey folk know of anything fun (and fairly inexpensive) going on? We're also planning a day in Mudeford and trip to Oxford which I'm looking forward to - again, any suggestions would be fab!

I've still got some more Malaysia snaps to share with you, along with a cheeky recipe, bookworm post and outfit snaps. Stay tuned!

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